Just got a new katana in ^_^ so figured I'd make a post all about it, with pictures and all.
Generaly swords come in a few varieties.
There are your standard "wall hangers" these include 99% of the katana you can find out there, like the "Highlander" katana, the "authentic ninja sword" etc. These are all made out of stainless steel (220 or 440), and are very dangerous if you try to use them. Mainly to yourself. These blades are prone to shattering, have rat-tail tang (a tang is a part of the blade thats in the handle), or no tang. These tend to cost anywhere from $15 to $200, depending on how nice they look, and how big of a sucker you seem to be to the seller. The hamon (wavy line on the edge of the blade) is usualy etched in by machine.
The sword I have doesn't fall into that category ^_^;
It's a cutting sword, fairly well made for tameshigiri (cutting practice). The sword is differentialy tempered, with a real hamon line (produced by tempering the metal with clay). A proper hamon will generaly go all the way through the edge, and thus be identical on both sides). This makes the edge harder then the back, allowing the sword to cut better, and absorb more stress.
It's the Tokugawa Katana by Hanwei, a chinese company that specializes in swords, and has a very strong line of good katana blades. This is one of the mid-range pieces, and is a limited edition sword, being a replica of the type of katana that were favored in the 17th century tokugawa shogunate.
The sword blade is 28 1/2" in length, and weighs about 2.5 pounds. It's well balanced, and the handle is about 11" in length. This is slightly shorter of a sword then I prefer, but I can live with it.
sword in saya (scabbard)
The tsuka is the handle of the sword. The tsuka-ito or handle wrapping is leather in this case. The same is imitation unfortunately (the white part of the handle) it's supposed to be sting ray skin, but when costs are cut, they tend to use plastic substitue.
The menuki or the handle ornaments (there to improve grip) are gold plated sakura flowers. The kashira on the end of the handle is rounded in higo style, as opposed to jidai, which would have been a flat cap.
Here you can see some of the tsuba, the mekugi (bamboo peg, holding the blade in place), the habaki (brass collar for the blade), and the seppa (brass washers around the tsuba, for better fit)
You can also see the hamon in this picture.
It's an interesting design. If you hold the sword wrong, it could certanly rub your skin the wrong way. I like this tsuba, but I may see about changing it later.
kashira or the cap on the end of the handle. You can also see the leather wrap nicely here.
a close up of one of the menuki here. gold plated sakura flowers. I generaly prefer smaller menuki, but these aren't too badly done.
kissaki or tip of the blade closeup. You can see the hamon nicely here as well. Also the yokote which is the line separating the kissaki from the blade body is clearly visible. (that seeming discoloration in the shinogi-ji or blade flat is just a reflection from a lamp)
This is a good low to mid-range sword, and I am very happy with it. The balance is nice, and it feels light enough for regular use.
In about two weeks my iaito will come, which is a non-sharp katana used for iaijutsu practice. That sword is coming from japan, and the furniture on it is somewhat nicer. However, it is made from an aluminium-zinc alloy, and as such can not hold a blade. It's the type of sword you start training with, and generaly work with until about 4th or 5th dan black belt in most schools. When the iaito arrives, I'll be taking pics of that as well ^_^;
Also at that time my sword maitenance kit will arrive, and I will be able to take this sword apart (as well as the iaito) and I may post pictures of what a dissasembled blade looks like, if people are interested ^_^