The Best Japanese Sword for under $300 is MONOTEMPERED...

The best Japanese sword for a beginner would have to be both relatively inexpensive and able to take a beating

Luckily, in recent years sword makers have taken the Katana to whole new levels of durability that no historical original could ever dream of - simply by "Monotempering" them - i.e. they have no hamon (at least not a real one), but are the same hardness all the way through.

And these swords have gained tremendous popularity, both in the dojo and the backyard for simply being TOUGH..

When they first hit the market in early 2000 or so, most were laughed off by traditionalists as many were merely sharpened Katana shaped crowbars at best (to be fair, some were - and still are).

But at many more progressive dojos, these swords began to gain acceptance, started to evolve - and now, are in a league of their own.

The first swords to hit the market using this progressive design concept came from a forge in China called the "Huano" forge owned by Fred Chen, and his forge made the first through hardened blades for Cold Steel and Dynasty Forge from Monotempered 1060 Carbon Steel..

One of the first models of monotempered swords, the Musha series by Dynasty Forge

Dynasty Forge isn't really around much these days, and their swords while still good value are now above the $300 price point and availability is sporadic.

Dynasty Forge Musha

Machine polished and a simple design, they were the first monotempered blades yet still represent good value $324.95

On the other hand. the Cold Steel Warrior Series certainly is still quite widely available, and while many would balk at calling them the best Japanese sword in this category, the old adage that they "handle like a crowbar, cut like a lightsaber" certainly appeals to enough people to have kept them in production all these years.. But again, they are priced just ABOVE $300 (actually they are priced a lot more than that usually, but we are talking about the best Japanese sword prices around, not the MSRP)

Cold Steel O-Katana

It's big and it's bad. In a good way.. Tough but a little too heavy. $379.95

Cold Steel Warrior Katana

"Handles like a crowbar, cuts like a light saber.." $305

For a while, they had the "Monotempered Beater" market to themselves. But all of this changed in 2005 when Cheness Cutlery decided to try and make some Japanese swords for serious JSA (Japanese Sword Art) Practitioners on a budget - and were followed a few years later by Hanwei's dramatic entrance with the Raptor series..

Hanwei's Raptor Series

Developed by Shihan James Williams from the Bugei Trading company, the Raptor series are a range of tough, no nonsense 5160 spring steel blades that represent 5 of the main types of Japanese sword geometries.

While the blades are great, many people complain about the fittings (most notably, the blocky axe like handles), and as such the Raptor series swords are  commonly used as the foundation for a DIY custom sword project.

Hanwei Raptor Nanbokucho

Designed by Shihan James Williams from the Bugei company, these are excellent blades but not without a few issues. $296

Cheness Cutleries 9260 Spring Steel Katana Blades

Cheness Cutleries first attempts to crack the market were not all that amazing. Their first line were 1060 carbon steel blades with cheap fittings that they sold at a lower price than what cold steel or Dynasty forge did.

But things changed dramatically when they started experimenting with 9260 Spring Steel, a silicon alloy steel usually used in fencing foils but when used to make a Katana confirmed suspicions that it would add a new element of strength and durability.

Combine this with big, beefy blades with plenty of hira niku and their swords soon established a reputation for solid durability that is very hard to beat, a reputation that I have tested many times and found to be true..

While, the fittings are admittedly very basic and the blades often cosmetically somewhat lacking, they are solid entry level swords that have sold consistently since 2005 and offer some great bang for your buck with several unique designs on offer.

I would not say they are the best Japanese sword for under $300, but they are pretty darned close. Take a look at some of our hands on reviews and you will see why..

Cheness Monotempered
9260 Spring Steel Katana Reviews

Cheness Cutlery O-Katana

Handles surprisingly well, the 9260 blade on this one is tough enough to chop into a steel barrel. $299.99

Cheness Cutlery Tenchi Katana

Tough as nails, the workhorse flagship of the Cheness 9260 Spring Steel line $279.99

Cheness Cutlery SGC Katana

Specialized Goza (mat) Cutter. True beast of a sword with a wide profile 9260 Spring Steel Blade. $299.99

But even great sword makers have their off key moments.. This next one, probably not their best Japanese sword...

Cheness Cutlery Kurome

Not quite a 'fail' but definitely not their best use of 9260 Steel.. $249.99

Now while Cheness were making quite a splash, another company, also started in 2005 (it was a pivotal year for the sword industry, SBG itself was also started in 2005!) had been quietly refining the Monotempered beater.

After all, the best Japanese sword is only as good as its weakest point, and their goal - to make the very best Japanese sword for the dojo and the backyard for under $300 without cutting any corners..

Ronin Katana - quite possibly the best Japanese swords under $300...

同田貫
Torso Cutters?

The unique style of blade Ronin uses is of the Dōtanuki school - literally 'Torso Cutter' (i.e. capable of cutting a man clean in half with a single swipe).

Click here for more info

同田貫
Torso Cutters?

The unique style of blade Ronin uses is of the Dōtanuki school - literally 'Torso Cutter' (i.e. capable of cutting a man clean in half with a single swipe).

Click here for more info

Ronin Katana have always done things a little differently.

Their earliest model swords were 1045 carbon steel Dojo line blades, made from the most basic functional steel possible. But they put the money into getting them hand forged and expertly tempered, and when it came to the fittings, went the whole hog and used the best raw materials and techniques available.

This was impressive enough. But on top of this, they had a little secret..

They used a type of blade that may be the best Japanese sword geometry for a monotempered steel Katana - a savage style of no-nonsense, cutting blade known as the Torso Cutter - The Dōtanuki (pronounced, Doooor-tah nu key) with a unique blade style and geometry that was renowned for durability on the field of battle (and in times of peace, actually banned by the Shogunate because they were TOO effective!).

However, when they stepped up and started producing a range of tougher steel 1060 carbon steel versions called the Dojo Pro series - we just had to test them out the only way we know how.. By subjecting them to all manner of harsh cutting tests and abuse.

Video: Ronin Katana Testing Compilation

The relentless cutting power of these blades has to be seen to be believed

To say they passed is an understatement, and as you will see soon enough, for under $300 they are an absolute bargain - and our top recommendation for readily available monotempered beaters...

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro
Monotempered Katana Reviews

FEATURED REVIEW

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro Series

One of a series of 31 models - all with heavy duty, no-nonsense mono-tempered 1060 carbon steel blades and the best fittings available at swords in this price point.

Here we not only test them out to the max, but we even take a trip to where they are made in Longquan, China. $294.99

Don't just take my word for it though. Here are some second opinion reviews, starting with one by Marc Ridgeway, the iconoclastic gentleman who discovered the somewhat legendary "Bamboo" Katana who takes a closer look at two of their blades (the Dojo Pro line are all basically the same blades, the only difference is the tsuba and the style/coloring of the fittings)..

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro 2 & 4

Double review of models #2 and #4 - and the first sighting of the legendary 'ghost' hamon. $294.99

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro #8

A close look at the 29" bladed model # 8 reveals not just a workhorse, but a beautiful sword in its own right, inside and out.. $314.99

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro 3,5 & 9

The ultimate review of not one but three swords by three SBG members, yet they all come to the same conclusion... $294.99

Conclusion/Summary

In summary, which of these is the best Japanese sword for backyard cutting or the dojo?

Naturally, best is a personal thing - all of the swords here are good (we don't bother to review bad swords usually and no one willingly buys a bad one) but here is a quick brand overview:

  • Dynasty Forge (1060 carbon steel) are simple but consistent, if a little dated and the most expensive of the lot
  • Cold Steel (1055 carbon steel) Swords are made by the same forge as Dynasty and are made in much the same way but heavier and tougher 'sharpened crowbars'
  • Hanwei Raptors (5160 spring steel) have great blades and good handling but often issues with the fittings and are often used as a base for DIY customization projects.
  • Cheness Cutlery (9260 spring steel) have the toughest blades, but very average fittings and overall could use some cosmetic refinements. Like with the raptors, they are a good base for customization.
  • Ronin Katana (1060 carbon steel) are balanced best between blade and fittings with buffalo horn, silk ito, etc.

And the end of the day, it boils down to personal preference, and hopefully after reading all the reviews you will have an idea of what best suits your own style and preferences to get the best Japanese sword you can.

Further Resources

Many of the swords here in this section are truly up SBGs alley as it were. They are tough, sub $300 and perfect for beginners. As such, over the years we have been impressed enough with what they have to offer new sword buyers that the swords listed here are made readily available at our very own SBG Sword Store

But don't let your search for the best Japanese sword end there. The sword market is always changing, new boutique players come and go every year - and while the swords listed above are bedrock and have withstood the test of time - you just never know what you will uncover if you look hard enough.

Just remember, Monotempered (sometimes called through hardened) blades above 1045 carbon steel with fittings strong enough to hold up to what the blade can do and you can have some serious backyard cutting fun!


I hope this information on the best Japanese sword types for beginners has been helpful. To return to A Beginners Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords from The Best Japanese Sword for Under $300 is MONOTEMPERED, click here


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