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Use shims of different thickness to get the right shape.

How to Make a Bokken (Japanese Wooden Sword)

Custom Bokken

Here I describe the method for making a bokken, which is a Japanese wooden sword. These swords can be displayed or used for martial arts practice. The sword shown here is made from two colors of wood (white oak and brazilian cherry) to give it a nice looking contrast.

The skill level required using this method is moderate. A more challenging option would be to do this only using hand-tools.

That being said, 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.

Overview: - Basic dimensions - Making the bokken - Terminology - Notes & Cautions

I suggest that you borrow or buy a bokken 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.

Understand the Blade Dimensions:

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

Rip two pieces of hardwood to ¾" x 1-1/2", at least 42 inches long.

Joint one of the 1-1/2" 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.

Use an existing bokken 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.

Use a planer or jointer to straighten one side of the bokken. This one had a 1/8" bow in the center.

After one side is fairly straight, rip it down to about 1-1/4", cutting off the rough side. Turn it around and rip the other side, down to 1-1/8".

Plane or sand the bokken down to 1" to get the sides smooth. I use a planer instead of sanding whenever possible (saves work and doesn't make a lot of dust)

Route the bokken on all four corners with a 1/2" 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

Chisel in the small shoulders for the Tsuba

Cross-cut the blade end to length (40 inches)

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 bokken 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.

Sand the entire bokken with 180 grit. If you used sharp planer and router blades, this should go fast.

Seal the bokken with three coats of sealer. Sand again with 180 after the first coat, then 220 grit 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.

Bokken Terminology: - 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.

Tip

The bokken 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 bokken look unique. I haven't found anywhere you can buy one like this.

Warning

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 bokken, 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. Don't do anything you think may be hazardous - its not worth it. Disclaimer: I assume no liability if you pursue this project. No information here is intended to override the safety instructions for your equipment or your common sense.