Samurai Sword or Katana is a combination of several pieces that are mounted together according an overall design usually requested by the holder. The final item is a custom weapon or decorative piece that all the parts are chosen carefully and in perfect harmony; each piece is an important trait of the final design.
Actually, mounting a Katana is more like creating a painting or a sculpture, and every piece to mount is like the area that receives the painting tool. Making the Katana is to select the different pieces to mount, prepare them -generally they are handmade or hand forged to preserve the traditional traits and because handmade pieces are unique- then put them together in a definite way. Each piece has its place which defines its role.
The Tsuba complex is a very particular group of pieces that are put together to support the tightness of the mounted pieces, to ensure the balance of the Katana and fulfill an esthetic end. Habaki, known as Blade Collar, is placed over the Tsuba as the piece of ring that closes the complex; it has a particular shape that embraces the blade and ensures the symmetrical equivalence with the Fushi piece.
Habaki is destined to receive some strikes from blades and therefore the material should be shock resistant and hardly altered. The Katana Habaki is made the way it is easy handled manually; important characteristic because it is the key piece for any restorative maneuvers to conduct on any piece mounted on the Katana.
What is Habaki?
Habaki is a piece of forged metal that has a rectangular shape seen from the side. The border tend to go down when approaching the Edge of the blade. Habaki has a particular region called shoulder; it is the region applied against the spine which is shorter than the sides It has the shape of the blade when it is seen from the front or the back.
t is made to tightly embrace the blade base where the tang meets the Tsuka, but it is only in direct contact with the Tsuba. It can be simply shaped with no ornaments and it can also carry several art works of illustrations and patterns. Its initial duty is to close the whole system after mounted the Katana pieces.
Blade Collar can be made of a many materials as may request the Katana holder. The material has to be soft because it is intended to slip over the blade without leaving scratches; this is important because Habaki is placed in last and the blade has to go through. In the beginning of the process, the Habaki is wider than the Blade; then it becomes tight. Moreover, the Blade Collar is to remove for every repair process conducted on any part of the Tsuba complex and the Tsuka complex.
Generally, Habaki is made of Gold, Silver, Copper and some other alloy such Shibuichi, which is an alloy of Silver and Copper, and Shaduko, which is an alloy of Gold and Copper. Actually, copper is more common in Habaki making.
The material to use must be easy to forge, because it will take strikes and hit from other blades and may lose the shape and become loose; the restoration and repair works should be easy. Even when it is deformed from the outside, the material of the Habaki is as soft as it does not alter the shape of the blade; it is always easy to remove and repair without altering the blade.
Making Of Habaki:
Habaki is the result of folding two pieces of the same metal to form the shape and create the hole. The main piece, the greater one, is treated in order to create a triangular shape with it by hammering it and induce it to bend.
Then between the two meting borders forming the triangle top, another piece is inserted to close the ring like piece. The produced interstice is tested before closing the piece because it has to fit the blade.
The sword smith may repeat the operation many times until the blade is tightly enclosed within the Habaki hole. It is important that the blade can move inside that hole because the goal is to close the whole set of pieces mounted to form the Katana and keep the Habaki easy to remove. The process is therefore to conduct delicately and with extreme attention.
There is no threat to scratch the blade because the material of which is made the Habaki is soft enough. The Blade Collar is specific; because it is made up on a test of tightness, each piece is only applicable for the blade it was tested on.
since every hand forged blade is unique, every Habaki is absolutely unique. The uniqueness adds value to the piece. Some works of polishing and cleaning are applied using sand and charcoal, but it is suitable to do them after Tsuka and Tsuba are in place to complete the overall design.
The Habaki can be ornamented with different and various patterns and illustrations of animals, art works. The purpose is to complete the overall design of the requested Katana. As the Katana holder can select the design of the Habaki, it is important to take in consideration the overall design and particularly the arrangement of the Tsuka- Tsuba complexes, because of the tight relationship of Habaki to the several parts.
The Katana holder can request particular patterns or illustrations to print on the Habaki or can select one from a list proposed by the Sword Smith. Considering the advice of professionals is the best option to preserve the overall design of the blade.