View Full Version : Making a Tsuka.

2nd March 2006, 03:11
Ok if you had access to nice equipment and was a good wood worker, how difficult would it be to make a custom tsuka to fit a blade?

Specifically the blade would be meant for say 10 1/2" tsuka, but would hypothetically be fit into a 13-14" tsuka. Does this make absolutely no sense to do?

Let the learning begin!

Brian Owens
2nd March 2006, 04:54
It's best if the nakago (tang) runs almost the full length of the tsuka. Otherwise, stress can be applied unevenly to different parts of the tsuka and nakago. However I have seen longer-than-original tsuka added to blades, so it can be done.

Like any other craft, learning to do this is best done under the guidance of a skilled teacher.

2nd March 2006, 15:17
Making a functional tsuka isn't an insurmountable goal, even without first hand instruction. How hard it is depends on what your goal is. I've seen some very solid, simple, "tactical" tsuka made that should hold up for years of hard tameshigiri. If you want a more traditional tsuka it will be more difficult. If you want to make your own hardware (fuchi, kashira, etc), then it takes on a whole new level of complexity. The difficulty also depends on what type of tsuka-maki you choose. Even the simple styles take considerable time and effort to do correctly.

As for the length difference, it is not uncommon to see a tang that is shorter than the tsuka. I think the guideline is the tang should be at least 3/4 of the tsuka. I could be wrong on that though. How much shorter it can be will depend on how well the tsuka is constructed.

Your best bet would be to bounce over to swordforum.com and search. This topic has been covered at length.

2nd March 2006, 15:34
Just as an observation -- just because it has been discussed to death somewhere doesn't mean it was covered with any sort of experience, knowledge or insight. And even if there is 50% good info mixed with 50% bad info, if you don't know what you're doing how do you decide what's correct and what isn't correct? So grain of salt regardless of where you read it. Including here... ;)

But... Sure, making a tactical style tsuka isn't difficult. Making a good tsuka (in the sense of a traditionally made, flowing, graceful tsuka) is a lot more involved. It helps greatly to work with someone who has done them before. And nothing replaces experience. Ask people who've made a lot of them for practitioners and you'll find that they're very time consuming to do well even with experience. Lots of time carving, fitting, shaping, etc.

That said... by all means give it a shot. Remember fit is critical on the nakago. And remember to offset the seam slightly. And softer woods like poplar or alder are good replacements for honoki if you don't have honoki. Soft woods for a tsuka are okay if the core is correctly carved and subsequently correctly finished and wrapped. Hard woods don't tend to work well because they will sometimes corrode the nakago. In addition hard woods are difficult to carve which translates into a poorer fit. And a poor fit means rattle which means degradation with use which means the tsuka is worthless. Fit is critical.

Traditionally *most* tsuka tended to be short. So shorter nakago weren't an issue. Longer tsuka are fine on moderate nakago if correctly made and finished. If the nakago is *really* short you need to re-evaluate whether you really want a long tsuka...

2nd March 2006, 16:42
I find the hard part is getting it thin enough on the outside so the wrap is a reasonable thickness for the hands without going too far and cutting into the inside where the tang is...

2nd March 2006, 17:11
Yup. Really the issue is more about how all the parts work together. A larger nakago will mean you'll need larger fuchi kashira to accomodate the nakago, wood, same', and ito. There are ways to work around various things like using panel same' instead of a full wrap when the nakago is tall while the fuchi is more moderate in size. I've blown through a few cores over the years myself, however. Makes good kindling for the fireplace... ;)

Other things that confound the issue is the matching of the blade and nakago shaping with the tsuka shaping. The style of tsuka seen on iaito is not the only shaping out there, but many try very hard to match a pronounced waisting in the tsuka along with some curvature but want that for a larger blade that might not have a curving nakago. If the nakago is taller or it doesn't curve well with the overall blade curvature, doing a waisted, curving tsuka may simply not be possible without alteration to the nakago. But if you can go with a larger fuchi kashira (say 40-41mm fuchi) sometimes that buys you extra wiggle room for more subtle shaping. But if you're using more "conventional" sized fuchi of something like 37-38mm, well, it can be night impossible to build a strong, graceful tsuka on a larger katana. For many of the larger blades I've polished and mounted I've had custom fittings made, usually in the 41mm size for the fuchi. It was necessary because more conventional fittings simply wouldn't work. Larger antique fittings are out there, but they're hard to find because they get snapped up so quickly.

Over the years I've had a number of martial artists commissioning swords send me fittings that were *way* too small for the sword they commissioned. A larger sword will tend to have a larger nakago which means everything else needs to be scaled up to accomodate a safe, sturdy construction.

Anyway, there's a lot of "art" and "eye" to carving a nice tsuka. And it really depends on how good is "good enough" when we start talking about do-it-yourself projects. But you have to start with properly proportioned fittings given the sword in question.

4th March 2006, 21:09
Go for it. You will be suprised at how well you can do even if you have never done it before. I carved my handle out of hickory wich was tuff but the end result was worht it. I also did a full same skin wrap. I folded the paper wedges and did the ito wrapping also. From soup to nuts. I ordered the fuchi and kashira online. The hardest part was the omote knot! Good luck. If you would like photos of the one I made give me an email. I got all my information on how to do this online. As far as years of abuse. I will let you know in a couple of years!

Tim Mailloux
5th March 2006, 21:14
Having made several tsuka myself, I would say go ahead and give it a try. Even if it doesn't work out so well you should only be out a couple of bucks for the wood as long as you don't buy anything else until you carve the channel.

I will say that it is much more difficult than one would think of. There are just so many details I would have never though of without the advice of a pro. Especialy carving the channel for the nakago and aplying the same. The first couple I made seemed really nice and tight at first. But after a couple of months they were really loose and I had to keep shimming them. Then there is wrapping the ito. Still my weakest part of making a tsuka. Not only is it hard to do an average job, it is also not very fun and murder on the hands! The last couple of tsuka I have made I have had wrapped by a pro. I made sure that the same covered tsuka was a bit long before I sent it off to be wrapped. That is becuase the overall lenght of the tsuka between the fuchi and kashira depends on the width of the ito being used to wrap it. This way the guy doing the wrapping for me had to just trim a bit off the end of the tsuka and shape the end to seat the kashira. The overall result was very nice. I figure I saved about 50% by doing it that way.

I have to add that the only reason I am able to do as much as I can, is becuase a very understanding and talented sword polisher/mounter spent a ton of time writting down very detail instruction on how do do this stuff, and when I say detailed I mean detailed! Even with these detailed instructions I was still constantly asking him questions on a daily basis. I can only imagine how much he must have dreaded checking his email and seeing a message from me. It must have taken me 5 or 6 tries before I carved the first core that I though was suitable to finish.

One thing to consider. Taking into account the cost of fittings, same, and ito. Unless you REALLY want to make your own tsuka I would just have Fred Lohman make one for you. Don't know what he charges now, last I checked it was about $300 for a completly new tsuka with fittings.

Below are the approximate cost for the materials I used to make the last tsuka I did 100% of the work on. All materials were purchased through F. Lohman and Bugei Trading Company.

Wood for the core: $10
Same-gawa: $60 for a low quality peice. It was also hard to work with
Fuchi / kashira / menuki: $100
Sythetic suede ito: $50
Total materials : $220

For a couple of bucks more I could have had a very good user tsuka done by a pro at F. Lohman. Just some food for thought.