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How to Make a Japanese Bokken

intro How to Make a Japanese Bokken

Here I describe the method for making a bokken, which is a Japanese wooden sword. The skill level required using this method is relatively low. A more challenging option would be to do this only using hand-tools. Take nothing for granted and keep safety as the most important aspect of the project. Make sure you are comfortable with the use of all the tools you use.

step 1Overview
Contents: Basic dimensions Making the Boken Terminology Notes & Cautions Dedication I suggest that you borrow or buy a boken before you start, so you can get the feel and see the details of what you are making. It will also help you set up the curvature of the one you create. Hopefully you are already training with one at some level, so you have an understanding of the balance it should have. Ganbate kudasai (Japanese for good luck)

step 2Basic Dimensions

Note that the blade is the side with the radius Make the bowed shape by gluing two pieces of wood together, clamped in position.

step 3Ripping the Wood

Rip two pieces of hardwood to inch x 1-1/2 inch, at least 42 inches long. Joint one of the 1-1/2 inch sides of each for to make a smooth gluing surface. The two pieces used here are white oak and Brazilian cherry. Both are very hard woods, which will take strikes well in practice.

step 4Gluing it up
Use an existing boken to establish the shape that you will bend the two pieces of wood over. You want to get a reasonably close match on the inside curves. Clamp the center first, then work your way outwards. Clamp directly over all the support sticks, and then at the ends. Fill in clamps afterwards. Let the set-up dry for about 4 hours. Wipe off what glue you can. Once dry, scrape off the glue that has pushed out.

step 5Planing
Use a planer or jointer to straighten one side of the boken. This one had a 1/8 inch bow in the center. After one side is fairly straight, rip it down to about 1-1/4 inch, cutting off the rough side. Turn it around and rip the other side, down to 1-1/8 inch. Plane or sand the boken down to 1 inch to get the sides smooth. I use a planer instead of sanding whenever possible (saves work and doesnt make a lot of dust)

step 6Routing
Route the boken on all four corners with a 1/2 inch round-over bit. Cross-cut the handle end to clean it up. Mark where the tsuba will sit (10 inches). Route the 45 degree chamfers, which become the backside of the blade. Route close to where the tsuba is marked, but not into it, you need to complete it with a chisel (sharpen it beforehand). Cross-cut the blade end to length (40 inches)

step 7Form the Blade Tip

Rough-cut the blade tip shape. I used a miter saw, but a band-saw would be best. Sand or grind the shape to the basic curve. Sand or grind the sides of the tip to shape, blending them back. I used a simple drum sander mounted to a drill press, with a small support block to hold the tip. Take your time with this, since the boken is almost done, and this is the easiest part to make a mistake with. Finish up by hand sanding the tip to remove any marks.

step 8Apply Finsh

Sand the entire boken with 180 grit. If you used sharp planer and router blades, this should go fast. Seal the boken with three coats of Acrylic sealer. Sand with 180 after the first coat, 220 after the second. The third coat should not require sanding. If it is still rough at that point, re-sand with 220 and do a fourth.

step 9Boken Terminology (Nihon-go)

Kissaki: the tip. Mune: the back of the blade. Monouchi: the cutting portion of the edge, the 1/3 closest to the kissaki. Chu-o: the middle third of the blade. Tsuba moto: the third of the blade closest the handle. Tsuba: the guard, not present on most Aikido bokuto. Tsuka: the handle. Shinogi: the ridge between the mune and the edge. Shinogi-ji: the flat plane between the mune and the shinogi Jigane: the flat plane between the shinogi and the temper line (edge). Ha: the edge Tsuka gashira: butt end of the bokuto.

step 10Notes & Cautions

The boken made here is for actual practice, so I chose the hardest wood I had. It is very satisfying to use weapons in practice that I have made myself. Two colors of wood make the boken look unique. I have not found anywhere you can buy one like this. Use only sharp bits, blades and chisels. Burn marks and gouges will show. I suggest you make two and keep the best one. There is very little wood used in a boken, and it saves you a lot of pain if you make a mistake. Making two is almost the same effort as making one. If they both turn out, give one away. Use safety equipment: eye protection, ear protection, guards, push-sticks, brain. Do not do anything you think may be hazardous its not worth it. Disclaimer: I assume no liability if you purse this project. No information here is intended to override the safety instructions for your equipment or your common sense.

step 11Dedication
I dedicate this to Master Eric Johnson, who has taught me the beginning steps of the bokken. He is the founder of the Tien Tae Jitsu martial arts system (