One of the things that makes the Japanese sword (Nihonto) unique is the way in which the blade is constructed by laminating different types of steel together to forge the blade. These lamination techniques give the sword its strength, durability and resistance to breakage. Numerous lamination techniques have been tried over time, but the major methods have remained in use for many centuries. These same techniques are used by modern sword smiths when forging new swords (shinsakuto) today. The value of a sword is in part determined by the complexity of its construction. Historically various schools of sword smiths used specific construction methods. These methods of lamination have been determined by metallurgical analysis of numerous antique sword blades. These lamination methods together with the differential hardening of the blade to give a hard edge (hamon) while maintaining a softer blade spine make the Japanese sword one of the most durable and break resistant swords known. .

Code to different types of steel

maru kobuse sanmai shihozume makuri
wariha orikaeshi gomai soshu

Of these methods of construction, the "maru" or non-laminated is the poorest. The "kobuse" was and is still used (especially on WW II period swords) ; but the "honsanmai" or simply "sanmai" is the most common lamination technique used in forging the Japanese sword. The famous sword smith Masamune used the "Soshu" seven layer construction method.

See actual blade cross sections of Japanese swords,
courtesy of Ted Tenold, Harvey Stearn and Mike Christianson.


The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Leon and Hiroko Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara; Kodansha International Ltd, Tokyo and New York, 1987, ISBN 0-870011-798-X.

Laminating Techniques in Japanese Swords published by W.M. Hawley, 1974.

Comments on the Construction of Japanese Swords by Harvey Stearn, BUSHIDO: An International Journal of Japanese Arms, Vol 2, No. 3, January 1981.

Introduction to Japanese Swords by W. M. Hawley, 1973

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