View Full Version : Mekugi insertion

6th September 2006, 02:47
Hi Guys,

I received my shinsakuto from Japan yesterday signed Mitsuhiro/Kanetsugu. While everything is of decent quality, including the blade and fittings, i did notice something odd. The mekugi is entered through the left side of the tsuka instead of the side where the palm covers the tsuka. Ive always been told that it should be put through the right side. Would this be considered a "fault" as such?? Is there any way to alter it? Is it still safe enough to use for cutting/iai??

Kind regards,

Jeremy Hagop

6th September 2006, 10:47
try switching it round, and see how it fits.
also, havea word with the manufacturer if you are still not sure.

6th September 2006, 14:27
Jeremy, I already answered this question (posted by you exactly) over on Bugei's forum. I imagine you probably cross posted it everywhere as is your usual habit. I'll just paste my response there here...


If you look at a book like Kapp and Yoshindo's "Craft of the Japanese Sword" you'll see that a sword will be forged. The mekugi-ana will then be drilled 2-3 fingerwidths (give or take) from the end of the habaki moto. There you go. That's it. Often times the smith will drill the ana where they want it. Then everyone from then on will have to either deal with placing the mekugi *right there* in the koshirae or drilling new mekugi-ana (which isn't something you do casually).

Later when it goes for koshirae the location of the ana is already set. Where that will appear on the finished tsuka (which side, which set of openings, etc.) will depend completely on the width of the fuchi, the thickness of seppa, the thickness of the tsuba, the compressed width of the ito and the wrapping style. It might go in omote, it might go in ura. Sometimes it could go either way. Remember that in most styles of wrap the diamond opening on one side is exactly opposite the crossovers of ito on the other. So if you go dead center in an opening the pin will be covered on the other side by the ito. That's not necessarily bad if you make the pin before hand, but it makes it a serious pain in the butt to get the pin out later and/or to make new pins for the sword (which is something people should do. If the ana is slightly offset you want the side that has the largest amount of the opening uncovered by ito to be the insertion side. Simple because that makes it easiest to deal with the pin insertion without screwing up the wrap.

For modern pieces since I deal with some smiths I work with directly I will frequently ask that the blade not be drilled. Howard Clark doesn't sell his swords fully polished and he won't drill them unless asked. That is more of a western thing however. Most smiths in Japan will have their blades fully polished and mounted in shirasaya prior to koshirae. So the pin will be drilled. Which means which side it will go in on subsequent mounts depends on all those factors above.

FWIW I have a blade here for a friend of mine who is slowly working on getting it polished and maybe eventually mounted. I put it in shirasaya although it is only in foundation polish (a Howard Clark Bainite katana). I did a friction fit on the tsuka on the shirasaya to avoid drilling the hole. My friend is going to get *strict* and *sincere* warnings about how to handle that for the time being. Right now it is tight but on a hot, humid day it could come loose from the tsuka. But the reason for me not drilling the hole is that when the time comes when he wants to have it mounted I want to be able to place the ana *exactly* where it should go. And drilling through bainite ain't always the easiest thing to do. So I'd rather place it precisely when finishing the mount.

The bottom line is that you can't just move mekugi around and place them wherever you want. If the smith predrills his mekugi then your choices on koshirae parts, ito, mounting style, etc. will all determine which side the mekugi will go in. And remember that most swords historically are mounted many times. The tsuka, saya, etc. are all changed, replaced, refit, redone. I often hear people say that the existence of a new ana right near an old one means the blade was slightly shortened. Bah. Sometimes sure if the blade was slightly modified a new ana would be drilled. But I'd have to say much of the time (when the new ana is really close to the old one) it was probably just remounted with a new tsuka and back when it was a "newer" blade and the old ana didn't line up right. So they popped in a new ana in the "right" place and solved the problem. At one point they were more tools and less art.

If both sides of the mekugi-ana are visible and uncovered with ito you can take a tapered reamer to the ana of the tsuka (without the blade inside) and gently change the taper. You will likely need to make a new mekugi slightly larger to remain tight. And it might be a very tight fit due to the alignment of the mekugi-ana in the nakago and in the tsuka afterwards. I don't recommend it. Because mekugi don't just "fall out". If it does I don't care which side goes in first you need a new mekugi. It should be tight and require something more than a light tap to get out. Then it doesn't matter which side it goes in because it will either be under your palm or under your fingers.