Custom Katana Lines – Similarities and Differences

At the SBG Sword Store we offer three different brands of customized katana. Each line has a lot in common, but also many critical differences – and here will will take a detailed look at what to expect, why they each have different options available , why the different price points and everything else you need to know to be able to make the most informed choice possible as to which line best suits your own unique needs and requirements.

First off, the similarities – every single one of our lines is made from differentially hardened T10 tool steel with a real hamon. The amount of blade polish, the style of hamon and the overall quality will vary depending on the brand selected – but they all have this steel simply because in my experience, it is the best modern steel for making a differentially hardened blade.

Why? Simply because it is very strong for a differentially hardened tradional style blade and the hamon tends to come out quite prominently, requiring less polish to really bring out the details than most other sword steels.

In terms of strength, we have tested T10 tool steel swords on a large variety of targets, from saplings, super thick bamboo, pork leg bone and meat, to metal poles, 55 gallon steel drums and in every case the blades have held up incredibly well. You can see this testing in our review of the Ryujin line here and the SBG custom line here – but to cut a long story short, this steel holds up much better than any other steel type when it comes to a traditional blade, most of which are not really all that strong – but T10 just works really well for a dual tempered blade..

Here is some of the earliest testing I did that showed just how tough this stuff can be:

Additionally, it takes and holds a very keen edge – making it tough but also capable of very precise cutting. But finally, it also LOOKS great – the hamon is always prominent, though how prominent, its style and how well polished depends on which custom line you go with..

From Left to Right, Ryujin, SBG Custom and Elite Choji of the Forge Direct Line

From Left to Right, Ryujin, SBG Custom and Elite Choji of the Forge Direct Line

A real hamon is a hard thing to photograph and will often fade in and out of view depending on the angle of the light source. But the photos above give you some idea – the Ryujin line is not as highly polished as the SBG Custom Katana, and the SBG Custom Katana not as highly polished as the Choji Midare Hamon (a very hard cloud like hamon style).

The only sword that throws a bit of a spanner into the works of the natural progression of the varying quality levels is the Ryujin Elite Choji Midare sword, which is close to the SBG custom katana in terms of polish, but well below that of the Forge Direct Choji Midare line, which is not surprising as they are forged by master smiths..

The Next real point of difference are of course, the fittings..

All the fittings are not interchangeable between the three main lines, as each line is made by a different forge and via different assembly methods. There is some overlap with the elite Forge Direct line, in that they have some of the fittings from the Ryujin line and some from the SBG custom line, but what you see is what is available – you can’t mix and match between the three sword lines, so if it is a particular tsuba set that you are after and you cannot see it listed on another katana line, then we cannot add it to that line.

Another point of difference is the number and type of customizations.

Variations of Customization Options By Line

The Ryujin line is the most basic, there are only 8 available tsuba choices, 8 available tsuka (handle) color choices and 10 different types of saya. You cannot select the color of the rayskin, nor length of the blade – though there are models such as a bo-hi (fullered) and no-hi model.

Ryujin Customization Options

Ryujin Customization Options

The SBG Custom katana has considerably more freedom because they are made to order, but they are made to order within the confines of a tried and tested system we have developed over the years. There are three blade lengths available, 27-29″, bo-hi or solid bodied blade, 25 iron tsuba sets and 16 elite work hardened copper themed sets to choose from, 10 ito colors, black or white rayskin and 12 saya to choose from, plus optional upgrades such as folded steel, leather ito and rayskin wrapped saya..

SBG Custom Katana Options

SBG Custom Katana Options

The Forge Direct Custom Katana line has the MOST customizations available – so much so that it is about as close to a fully customized sword as possible, at least in terms of fittings. The Blade length can be specified, 26, 27, 28 or 29″ and there is an optional O-Katana blade available for $125 more. It has most of the Ryujin tsuba sets available (12 sets total) and 28 elite work hardened copper sets, some which are the same as the SBG custom line, others exclusively for the Forge Direct Elite line. There are 9 SILK ito handle colors available, 5 colors of rayskin (white and black, plus red, purple and yellow), 8 different types of hard wearing silk sageo, and a whopping 36 styles of saya – many of which are extremely expensive for us to produce, but all included in the set price..

Forge Direct Elite Customization Options

Forge Direct Elite Customization Options

Price and Lead Time Variations

The final main difference is of course, price, and how long it takes to receive your custom design.

The Ryujin swords are the fastest and the most affordable, starting at $229.99 for a limited option model and up to $499.99 for the Elite Choji Midare version. These swords are actually assembled in a workshop based in Chino, Los Angeles – the blades are pre-made and shipped in along with the components and because of this, they can be shipped out within a week..! (lead time will vary depending on their workload, sometimes they take a couple of weeks or so, but they are definitely the fastest option).

The SBG Custom Katana is the somewhere in the middle in terms of price, $429.99 for a Katana without any upgrades, but they take the LONGEST to make because the swords are batched together over a period of one month, and then forging commences which can take 2-3 months. Finally, they are shipped as a batch to a team in Canada who goes over each sword, ensuring the customizations are correct and checking for defects before final shipping. The advantage is the extra quality checks are not charged for, so these are best for people who are not in a rush and who are on a budget. Shipping is FREE to the USA and Canada too, $60 elsewhere.

The Forge direct Elite Choji Midare hamon line are made to order by master smiths and shipped directly from the forge for a flat rate of $899.99 within 4-6 weeks after ordering (may take a little longer on occasion if there is a delay with the component supply, but 4-6 weeks is the average). They are fast to ship and the most customizable, but the downside is the price, even though to be honest it is as tight as humanly possible (all of our custom katana lines are priced as fairly as possible, for the amount of work and risk our markup is much lower than it should be – but this is all a part of the SBG service philosophy).

Conclusion

So here is a quick summary. All the blades are made from the same type of steel, differentially hardened T10 – but they are made by different forges and at different levels of refinement.

The component choices vary by each line and they are NOT interchangeable with the other lines. What you see is what you can get.

The price varies depending on the base quality plus the number of possible customizations. Our cheapest line is the fastest to ship, but has the lowest number of options. Our mid level line has quite a few available options, but takes a loooong time to ship (3-4 months, sometimes more, after placing your order). And our high end line is the best quality with the most customization options available and ships fast, but costs more..

We would like to think that between these three lines there is something for everyone, for every taste and every budget. True enough, these are not 100% custom swords – if it does not appear on the dropdown menu as an option, you can’t choose it. We don’t do engravings, we can’t vary the handle length, specify a specific type of menuki (small handle ornaments) or anything too fiddly (we learned the hard way, it is beyond the scope of this kind of project, to get something so specific you need to be spending thousands and waiting YEARS). But it never ceases to amaze me the imaginative creations our customers come up with to creating a truly unique sword that best suits their own individual style from the available options. Even on the Ryujin line, it is incredibly rare to see two swords exactly the same – and I think that this freedom of choice, to design your own personal sword, is what makes our custom katana projects so rewarding and so much fun.

Enjoy the process, and if you have any questions just let us know. We are always happy to answer your questions.

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