Properly forged swords last a lifetime, or at least they should. Unfortunately, properly forged swords are few and far between these days. Sure, a knight could have found one during medieval times or a Samurai could have found one in his local village, but Joe Schmo in the of the twenty-first century will have to really search for a well forged damascus steel katana sword if he wants one that will last. Thankfully our livelihood does not depend on these weapons of war any more.
While stainless steel might work for forks, spoons, and butter knives, it does not work well for swords. Any sword made of stainless steel does not qualify as genuine because it just will not last. The forging and metallurgical processes that make this sword cause the metal to literally become brittle.
This does not mean that a sword love should completely shy away from this type of metal. On the contrary, many of these swords make for some great decoration in the home. Think about how a pair of Cavalry swords might look in a crossed pattern on that large blank wall in your den. If you love shiny aesthetics, this might work better for you than a painting.
Swords made of 5160 have proven themselves much tougher than those made of stainless steel. We find this type of steel in truck springs, so the steels durability only makes sense. After all, it has the ability to support tons of weight without breaking, so surely it would withstand a few hundred pounds of pressure that accompany a sword swing.
Other types of tough steel exist as well. The form L6 has recently become popular for its durability. Japanese swords often use this with a clay tempering method. Many times the beautiful swords are not the durable ones. Because we no longer need these little weapons, great smiths are a dying breed. While some will opt for metals like 01, D2, or A2, these fall into the steel realm and thus only work well functionally. You wouldn’t want to hang them on the wall as show pieces.
The quality of steel will vary as much as the variety of steel. Where a steel sword is manufactured matters just as much as how it is manufactured. For example, many third world countries like India and Pakistan will use recycled steel from the same tough truck springs we talked about earlier. The result often times is not pretty: swords will literally crack under pressure. This does not occur all the time, but far more often than desired. Recycled steel does not always result in a bad sword. Some of the best swords out there come from forged welded cables and Russian anchor iron.
In the end, a buyer is always taking a risk when he purchases a sword. But if he examines all of the factors, he can at least minimize the risk and know what he is buying.