Handmade Bokken for Martial Arts

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Introduction: Handmade Bokken for Martial Arts

About: Hi, my name is Hamish, I’ve been practising various martial arts styles for over 15 years. I also have a keen interest in woodworking and various crafts alike. I am a huge advocate for research, study and f…

Introduction

I want to start this instructable by stating that I am a huge advocate for research, study and facts. I believe there is no point knowing the how if you don't know the why. Due to this my writing style may be a little long winded, but it is my hope that by following this guide you not only learn techniques to make a bokken but also learn some history and useful facts that you can take into future projects. If you want to jump right in then head to step 3.

Firstly what is a bokken?

A bokken (or a bokutō as they are instead called in Japan) is a Japanese wooden sword used for training in kenjutsu. For the purposes of this guide I will use the term bokken as that is what I learnt it as. If you are interested you can read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/bokken

Why I Choose to Make a Bokken

I have recently started studying the techniques of the Japanese sword known as Kenjutsu. Kenjutsu is an umbrella term for all schools of Japanese swordsmanship encompassing techniques from styles such as Aikido, Kendo, Ninjitsu, Iaido and many others. As part of this study I needed a bokken. While bokken can be purchased from martial arts stores, I specifically needed one for sparring, one which would hold up to the punishment of direct blows against another bokken. Finding one strong enough was difficult so I turned to making my own.

Step 1: Step 1: Choosing the Right Wood

Selecting the Wood Type

As mentioned above I needed to make a strong bokken for sparring. There are a large number of woods out there, however most are not very good for making a bokken, and even less are appropriate for sparring. I spent quite a bit of time researching appropriate woods for use. One resource I found quite helpful is https://www.zaimoku.org/. Read through the Excellent Woods, Acceptable Woods, or Australian Woods sections, then pick out a type of wood that you would like to use for the project.

As I am located in Australia I used the Australian Woods section. The main woods I have been working with are Spotted Gum, Red Ironbark, and Blackbutt as seen in the first photo.

Selecting the Right Piece

When selecting a piece of wood for your bokken try to find one without knots or large cracks (2nd picture). If there are small cracks around the edges this is ok as they will be removed during the shaping process. Lastly you want to orient the grain so that it is running vertically (3rd picture). By doing this you have multiple layers of wood taking impacts instead of only a few. If the grain is running horizontally you will eventually have layers peeling.

Step 2: Step 2: Choose Your Style

When I first started making bokken I found it difficult to locate information on dimensions. I came across the following resource which I refer back to all the time. Read through it and pick out what style shape and dimensions you are interested in. https://www.seidoshop.com/blogs/the-seido-blog/31...

To give you an idea here is a picture is my most recent bokken which is styled after the Katori Shinto Ryu model. If you are unsure what style to use follow the details below.

  • Wood - Red Ironbark
  • Total Length - 97 cm (38.189 inch)
  • Blade Length - 70 cm (27.56 inch)
  • Tsuka (handle) length - 27 cm (10.63 inch)
    • Tsuka (handle) height - 38 mm (1.5 inch)
    • Tsuka (handle) width - 27 mm (1.06 inch)
  • Zori (curvature) - Kyo Zori
  • Mine (spine) - Hiramine
  • Kissaki (tip) - Kantogata

During this tutorial I will be making a small bokken to pair with my main one pictured above. If you would prefer to make a small one the dimensions I will be using are.

  • Wood - Red Ironbark
  • Total Length - 55 cm (21.65 inch)
  • Blade Length - 38.5 cm (15.15 inch)
  • Tsuka (handle) length - 16.5 cm (6.5 inch)
    • Tsuka (handle) height - 35 mm (1.37 inch)
    • Tsuka (handle) width - 26 mm (1.02 inch)
  • Zori (curvature) - Kyo Zori
  • Mine (spine) - Hiramine
  • Kissaki (tip) - Kantogata

Step 3: Step 3: Tools and Materials

  • Materials

A piece of wood close to the dimensions of the bokken you want to create. If you have skipped to this section get a piece of oak that is 1m long, 45mm high, 30mm wide. Then follow the dimensions listed for my bokken under the choose your style section. I get my wood cut fairly close to size at the mill to save time.

  • Safety gear
    • Safety boots in case you drop anything on your feet
    • Safety glasses to stop flying wood chips
    • Gloves to avoid splinters and cuts
    • Dust mask to protect from fine wood particles
  • Marking and measuring
    • Steel ruler and or builders ruler for shorter measurements
    • Measuring tape for longer measurements
    • Combination square for squaring off edges (not essential)
    • Vernier callipers are amazing for getting smaller measurements extremely accurate but are expensive (not essential)
    • Painters tape for masking off sections
    • Pens and pencils for marking
  • Rough shaping tools
    • Hand saw for cutting wood to size
    • Wood planes for shaving off corners (not essential)
    • Chisels for removing larger sections (not essential)
    • Spokeshave is a more accurate version of a plane (not essential)
    • Wood rasps are great for quickly shaping the wood and can easily replace all the rough shaping tools
  • Fine shaping tools
    • Files for cleaning up edges
    • Sandpaper and block for final smoothing
  • Other tools
    • Clamps for holding down material
    • Rubber or wooden mallet to be used with the chisels
    • File brush for cleaning the files
    • Water stone for sharpening all bladed tools
    • Rags for wiping off sawdust
    • Workbench for working on obviously

Step 4: Step 4: Measuring and Marking

  1. Assess the wood and choose where you will have the blade, spine, handle and tip. I write on the sides so I don’t lose track.
  2. Using the painters tape or masking tape, cover one side of your wood (1st image). This makes it easier for marking.
  3. Mark where the handle (tsuka) and blade are going to end (2nd image)
  4. Divide the blade into 3 equal sections (2nd image) shown as 1, 2, 3
  5. I then measure from the top of the wood and mark at 35mm which is the height of my final piece. I then repeat this but measure from the bottom. This then gives me 2 horizontal marks which are translated across all vertical lines (2nd image)
  6. Decide where you want the blade curve based on what you chose in step 2. I will be curving from the start of blade section 2 (3rd image)
  7. Draw lines from the top edge of the wood to the upper mark on blade section 2 (3rd image)
  8. Draw lines from the bottom edge of the wood at blade section 2 to the bottom mark at either end (3rd image)
  9. You should now have a flat V shape, however this is a little to sharp so we need to make it more curved
  10. Draw a straight line from where the angled lines meet the vertical lines either side of section 2 (4th image)
  11. Lastly I cut off the tape on the upper and lower sections using a ruler and knife (5th image)

Step 5: Step 5: Rough Shaping

  1. Cut your piece of wood to length leaving a little extra on the tip end
  2. Now we need to remove the wood that is exposed from the tape. I demonstrate 2 methods here based on what tools you have available
    1. You can make a number of small cuts with a hand saw then use a chisel to remove it (1st image)
    2. Or you can use a rasp (2nd image)
  3. Use the rasp to clean up the sides and remove the tape (3rd image) you should now have a nicely curved piece of wood.
  4. Use the hand plane to quickly remove all the edges (4th image) if you don't have a hand plane the rasp can be used here instead
  5. Using either a spokeshave or the rasp continue to further round the edges on the handle and the blade (5th image) leave the spine for now.
    1. Aim to have a profile similar to 6th image. At this stage I use my Vernier callipers to keep checking width and height until they are right
    2. For the blade I follow the same profile being used for the handle
  6. Using the rasp again cut 45 degree angles either side of the spine while keeping the top level (7th image). Aim for a profile such as the one you chose in step 2 or if you are following me 8th image

Step 6: Step 6: Refining the Shape

This step is all about refining the shape until you are with happy with it.

Using a fine file start to refine and smooth the overall shape of the bokken. The 1st image shows the difference between a filed section (top half) and one from the rough shaping stage (bottom half).

2nd 3rd and 4th images show progress and various angles during the fine filing stage.

Once I have given the bokken a once over with the fine file I cut the tip. Cut the tip based on what was chosen in step 2. If you are following me 5th image shows the cut tip.

I then continue to refine the overall shape with the file until I am happy with it. It is a little hard to instruct exactly how it should be done as its comes down to feel and experience.

6th image shows the bokken at the end of the refining step.

Step 7: Step 7: Finishing

To finish we need to sand, clean, bone, and oil the bokken.

Firstly if you are not sure what boning is, it is the process of compressing the wood fibres to make them denser. This means it lasts longer and is less likely to flake or splinter. It is commonly performed on wooden bats for baseball and cricket. If you are not intending to use the bokken for sparing you can skip this process.

  1. Sand the bokken back with a 120 grit sandpaper (1st image)
    1. Bone the bokken by rubbing another piece of equally hard wood up and down the length of the blade
    2. Boning will create dents and marks on the wood, sand it with the 120 grit sandpaper again to remove these
    3. Repeat as many times as you wish, 2 - 3 is enough
  2. Sand back with a 240 grit sandpaper (2nd image)
    1. Wipe the bokken down with a damp cloth to clean off the sawdust
    2. This also makes the grain protrude slightly
    3. Sand back with the 240 grit sandpaper again
    4. Repeat this 2 - 3 times
  3. Oil your bokken (3rd image).
    1. There are a few options here, you can stain it, oil it, or varnish it. I have always chosen to oil as it does not seal the wood and gives a better feel during training. I have found that varnished ones tend to cause blisters.
    2. For oiling I use actual walnuts. I learnt this trick which is used for restoring marks on wooden furniture. Take a walnut, break it in half to expose the flesh of the nut, then rub it on the bokken. The 3rd image shows the difference the oil makes

Step 8: Step 8: Complete

Now go swing it around, just don't hurt anyone or break anything.

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