Affordable Replicas of Japanese Swords

Japanese swords are very popular. They come in many different styles and are available at many different price points.

As such, it can be hard for the beginner to make sense of it all and get the most authentic replica - at a reasonable price point. And that is where this guide comes in..

Here we will take a close look at fully functional Replica Japanese swords that you can readily buy between $200 to $500 that closest match the real thing due to one special forging technique known as differentially hardening..

Traditionally Forged Differentially Hardened Katana


For more info on the various techniques used to create an authentic Samurai sword, click here

There are several techniques used in the forging of authentic Japanese swords that are replicated on sub $300 Katana.

The most common technique is folding ("Damascus Steel"). It sounds fancy, but all it means is that when making authentic Japanese swords, traditionally the steel is folded in on itself several (from 7 to as many as 16) times to remove impurities inherent in medieval Japanese steel, which was of a somewhat poor quality and consistency..

These days, considering the quality of modern steel, such techniques tend to be of cosmetic value only (i.e. they don't make the sword and BETTER, indeed they can sometimes make it worse!!).

Another more advanced technique used to make authentic Japanese swords is lamination, but this takes a master to do it properly, and so is too cost prohibitive - decent laminated swords start at at least $1000, no where near the sub $300 price point we try to aim for..

But there is one additional unique technique that is still very relevant in the creation of authentic Japanese swords - a technique that is difficult to do correctly but not so much that someone cannot be trained to do it well, and the by product of this process is the wavy and beautiful temper line on the edge of the blade that authentic Japanese swords are renowned for: the Hamon.

The SBG Gallery of Entry Level Hamon!

(click on the images to open - can you spot the fake?)

A real hamon is the result of differential hardening. In other words, the edge of the sword is made much harder than the shock absorbent spine.

If authentic Japanese swords were as hard all the way through as they are on the edge, they would be too brittle to use in combat. On the other hand, if there were as soft as they are on the back, they would quickly lose their edge.

The differentially hardened sword thus combines the best of both worlds, and is achieved by a process that involves covering the spine of the sword with a special clay before heating and quenching the blade, hardening the edge and creating the visible temper line between hard and soft.

99% of all 'Samurai swords' in our target price range have a fake acid etched or stencil ground 'hamon' because, naturally enough, this process adds a fair amount of time and extra costs into the production of a sword. As a result of this extra cost and effort, there are only a handful of swords to choose in our sub US$300 price range from that are truly differentially tempered (though the number is steadily growing)...

Below are two of the cheapest, though - as might be expected - both have some drawbacks, the first one more serious, the second, its main issue - simply availability..


Global Gear

Price Range: US$190

OVERVIEW: While the handling is excellent, this low priced sword does cut a lot of corners (and not so much paper).. Not bad, but probably better to spend a few extra bucks..

Click here for the full review

"Bamboo Fast Cutter"


Price Range: $199.99

OVERVIEW: This limited edition design with a sleek profile and minimalist 'hamidashi' tsuba was actually designed by our editor and chief. This is his hands on evaluation and review of how it turned out.

Click here for the full review

For the serious collector or practitioner, you need to spend a little more money. But not anywhere near as much as you might expect..

Martial Arts Grade Katana by Hanwei

Probably the best known Katana with real hamon in our target price range are the Practical Katana series by Paul Chen, owner of the Hanwei forge.

The original and the first ever sub $300 Katana was the Practical Katana series - the Practical, Practical Plus and the Practical Pro. Chances are your local dojo still has one knocking around somewhere. And for older collectors like myself, chances are your first real Katana was probably a Practical Katana or a PPK (Practical Katana Plus).

The only problem is, with increased competition they are not quite the value that they used to be. But they aren't THAT dated yet...

Hanwei Forge Classic Practical KATANA Series Reviews

"Practical Plus Katana"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $322-490

OVERVIEW: The PPK was my first real Katana, and so this review was also my first as was also one of the original reviews on SBG back in 2005. The review has been revised several times, but I hope still captures the magic of what it feels like to own your first real cutting Katana.

Click here for the full review

"Practical Pro Katana"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $336-510

OVERVIEW: Hanwei's thickest blade with an extra long handle for maximum leverage, the Practical Pro still holds it's own. Here we see it with a cameo appearance of it's main competition and see how it compares, plus take a first look at a problem common to all Katana at this price point..

Click here for the full review

"Practical Katana"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $230-350

OVERVIEW: The Practical Katana is looking very dated now and no longer offers the kind of value it once did. But even back then it wasn't always met with a standing ovation.. The current pricing vs value for money ratio pushes the overall rating down to 2/5..

Click here for the full review

The influx of new differentially hardened Katana on the market from a variety of makers challenged Hanwei's number one position. It became sink or swim time for the Hanwei forge in our sub US$300 price range, as the standard 'Practical' series started to look more and more dated..

Instead of just lowering their prices, Hanwei stepped up to the challenge and drastically improved their entry level functional replica authentic Japanese swords range with their Elite and XL blade geometry lines.

While these swords are not the strongest or most durable in our price range, they have the keenest, most frighteningly sharp blades - 3' long razor blades, though with all the attendant limitations you might expect from such a sharp sword as well..

But used with precision and care, they are certainly a whole lot of fun, and put Hanwei back in the game again.

Hanwei High Performance Katana Reviews

"Practical Elite Katana"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $239-360

OVERVIEW: The sword that started it all has had a makeover, and the result is an incredibly ("STUPIDLY") sharp Katana that, according to our esteemed reviewer Marc K. Ridgeway, handles more like an authentic Nihonto than "any other production sword I have held (yes heresy I know)"...

Click here for the full review

"PPK Elite"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $349-530

OVERVIEW: The Practical Plus Katana is back with a vengeance with the PPK Elite. It has all the things that the original should have had, such as high grade cotton wrap ito, a razor sharp blade that cuts tatami effortlessly and (much) more. Often bypassed, it's well worth a closer look.

Click here for the full review

"Practical XL light"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $250-380

OVERVIEW: While the handle components are a throwback to the original PK, the blade geometry is unique and makes this an incredibly effective, razor sharp cutter unlike anything else at this price point. But it is a precision tool - a little fragile feeling but such a joy to cut with.

Click here for the full review

"Practical XL Katana"

Hanwei Forge

Price Range: $237-355

OVERVIEW: The solid bodied blade version of the Practical XL Light, it has a little more blade presence but is still perfect for precise, dojo cutting and a great price too, though the fittings really could be a lot better.

Click here for the full review

Martial Arts Grade Katana by Cheness Cutlery
(the 'other' Paul Chen)

Yes that is right, by pure coincidence the two leading men of the sub $300 differentially hardened functional replicas of authentic Japanese swords are BOTH called Paul Chen.

It's confusing at first I know, but that is where the similarities end - Paul Chen from Hanwei lives in Dailan, China and his forge produce many different types of swords at many different price points - the sub $300 Practical Series are but one small part of the whole, their entry level offering. But the 'other' Paul Chen from Cheness Cutlery lives in suburban San Diego and has been specializing in sub $300 Katana since ..

And in this case, I personally think that while the competition is extremely close, Cheness Cutleries underdog entry to this class just inches across the line with his Kaze (Wind) Katana series, a Katana and Ko Katana or Wakizashi blade, which was "the result of many popular requests for a clay tempered (hardened) blade using our 9260 Silicon Alloy Spring Steel.." and is the progeny of the first serious sub $300 Katana to challenge the status quo, the (phased out by the Kaze) Kanbai Katana..

Anyway, read the review and decide for yourself. They are not perfect by any means, but it may well be the best choice for $300 and under..

Cheness Cutlery's Differentially
Hardened Katana Reviews

"Kaze Katana"

Cheness Cutlery

Price Range: $299

OVERVIEW: I know for a fact that they squeeze their margins to keep this sword at under $300, it's not sold at many places (only the manufacturer and SBG now) but we selected it as our entry level Katana of choice because it is probably the best tried and true all rounder.

Click here for the full review

"Kaze-ko Katana"

Cheness Cutlery

Price Range: $229

OVERVIEW: The Ko Katana is a Wakizashi short sword length version of the Kaze Katana with a normal length two handed tsuka (called a Ko-Katana). A compact companion version, but just as effective...

Click here for the full review


Click on the image for the Archived Review

Kanbai Katana: This is the original sword that posed a challenge to the previous sub $300 monopoly by the Hanwei forge, and the concept blade that the Kaze Katana quickly evolved into.

Higo Katana: In their early days Cheness made a line of three traditionally made Katana in addition to their (soon to be famous) dojo grade beaters. This cousin of the Kanbai, the laminated Higo Katana.

Other Functional Replicas of Authentic Japanese Swords

So far we have covered the biggest players in our sub $300 Katana field, the lighter weight blades by Musashi and Munetoshi, the Paul Chen's (both the razor sharp Hanwei and the best all rounders, Cheness). But every now and again, another player steps in to give it a try..

To date, none have quite succeeded in cleanly taking the title. Here's one that turned out to be something of a diamond in the rough..

"AISI 1060 Dragon"


Price Range: $219-399

OVERVIEW: The Dragon by Ryumon was an undiscovered diamond in the rough. It had a few things wrong with it, true - but once uncovered actually proved to be a serious contender - and because of the relatively low price point, still is.

Click here for the full review

And here is one that kind of flopped..

Indeed, it exhibited many of the worst characteristics of entry level Katana - but it had an interesting surprise, and proved once and for all that a blade that seems blunt to the touch, could still op your arm off..!


Click on the image for the Archived Review

The KoBuke: By Valiant Armory didn't quite get it right. The fittings were awful, the blade looked ok but seemed blunt as a stick and only the saya looked good. But it cut. Surprisingly well. It may be discontinued, but this is a must read review.

SBG's own modest contribution...

The SBG Custom Katana!

Over the years we watched many manufacturers try to create the ultimate sub $300 Katana - the perfect balance between price and traditional forging techniques. While some came close - no-one quite nailed it. So growing increasingly frustrated, when the opportunity arose in 2008, we decided to try our own hand at it...

In short order we realized that trying to make a traditional Katana blade and have it mounted properly for under $300 involved too many shortcuts. To create the best value for money, highly traditional martial arts grade Katana we needed to concentrate on what was ESSENTIAL, regardless of price, and then do our best to bring it to the table at the lowest margin possible..

Though not before some EXTENSIVE testing of course!

VIDEO: Destructive Testing

Testing on a tree branch, and then a 55 gallon steel drum..!


Read the full background about how and why the SBG Katana Projects came about, what they achieved and where they are heading into the future. Click the image below for the lowdown.

Official SBG Custom Katana Reviews

"SBG Custom Katana"

Sword Buyers Guide

Price Range: $399-550

OVERVIEW: From making some early custom designed prototypes to offering the same opportunity  to the wider collecting community, the SBG custom Katana fills the void between the entry level swords and the higher end stuff, but personalized!

Click here for the full review


Finally, inspired by the SBG Custom Katana - one of the most exciting sword projects that started in 2015 was the Ryujin Katana line which was the brain child of one of the founders of Musashi Swords, Mr Sam Sung..

Taking the same style of T10 tool steel sword as the SBG Custom Katana, the number of options are less - but what makes them revolutionary is how FAST they are made as they are assembled in the USA..

And they cut pretty well too - with the most basic model proving to be surprisingly durable..

"Ryujin Custom Katana"

Price Range: $229-599

Designed by Sam Sung, one of the co-founders of Musashi Swords, these swords are not just the fastest, most reliable way to get a customized sword, but they proved to be extremely durable and highly effective cutters with some real surprises..

Click here for the full review

Further Resources

There's an absolute mountain of information on authentic Japanese swords over at the various Sword Forums - just using the search function there will uncover an absolute goldmine of useful info, user reviews and more. Check it out - highly recommended, though almost as addictive as collecting authentic Japanese swords! ;-)

Sources for Tatami Mats

Since the MugenDachi Company stopped selling tatami mats direct to the public in 2009, it has become increasingly hard to source good quality tatami mats.

Some lovers of authentic Japanese swords have resorted to using beach mats, however it takes up to 3 to 4 beach mats to equal the same level of resistance that a single tatami mat offers, making this something of a false economy..

Luckily, there are now three main distribution points for real MugenDachi tatami mats here at Sword N Armory for the North American market, Karasu Swordworks in Europe and Ozi Tatami in Australia.

Happy (and safe) Cutting!!

I hope this information on authentic Japanese swords has been helpful. To return to A Beginners Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords, from Affordable Replicas of Japanese Swords, click here

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