View Full Version : Training weapons - wood varieties & maintenance

10th October 2007, 12:25
Whats the definition of ironwood? Does anyone know if bubinga would be considered an ironwood?

Kind regards,

Kim Taylor
10th October 2007, 19:41
Ironwood is probably best defined as "the toughest damned wood in the area".

So around here you get Ironwood that is Ostrya virginiana American Hophornbeam or Carpinus caroliniana, American Hornbeam, which one of my students used to call "muscle Beech". It's a very dense, white wood that is hard to put nails into, and has a grain that can go just about anywhere. Needless to say it's not a commercial lumber.

In the Sonoran desert you'll get Olneya tesota which apparently grows there and nowhere else. It is truly a wood I'd call "iron". Along with snakewood it doesn't even sound like wood when you knock on it, more like pig iron, it almost rings. X-Pen-Sieve.

The list goes on and on, there's one on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironwood

One ironwood I use a lot is Ipe, Tabebuia sp. which is a Central and South American wood of various species. Very tough stuff, used a lot for underwater pilings since it doesn't rot very easily.

Lignum vitae is called ironwood, not much available any more I'm afraid, since it is now CITES listed (as in "do not cut/trade/use this stuff") although it was never my favourite wood to use for weapons. Too heavy and tends to do what it wants to do, I've still got a little bit of it that's been drying in my shop for a decade as well as a couple of bokuto that would make great suburito but have checks in them... one of the more irritating properties of the wood.

Some of the European Olives are called ironwood, and I've seen some olive that is indeed pretty hard.

I don't speak Spanish but I always suspected the Bolivian wood Pau Ferro Caesalpinia echinata translates as "ironwood". It's a great looking wood that's also become scarce lately.

While some of these woods are really difficult to dent, and incredibly dense, they can also be very brittle and prone to snapping in half.

Now, as for Bubinga, or "African Rosewood" there's several species that are sold as such, with the most common being Guibortia africana I've never heard it called Ironwood but I have no doubt it is somewhere. It's a fairly hard wood, very pretty too, and must have that musical tone since I've hard that Japanese taiko are made of it now since the original wood stock is long gone.

Hope that helps some

Kim "old sawdust magnet" Taylor

13th October 2007, 06:48
Thank you for your answer Mr. Taylor. Would you know if the commonly used "janka scale" is an appropriate way to find out what type of wood is suited best for weapons?

Kind Regards,

Kim Taylor
13th October 2007, 13:53
Hardness is one measure that may help pick a wood for weapons, but one has to realize that there are other factors involved. Hardness may also imply brittleness, just as in steel, so a wood that is very hard may also tend to break or, more usually, splinter more easily than a softer wood which will deform when dented rather than break.

Wood is not homogeneous so some parts may be hard while others may actually be absent. For instance on the Janka scale locust is quite a bit higher than oak or maple, but locust has a very large pore structure so the hard parts may crush into the pores and splinter. Red oak vs white oak (filled pores) is another example of this effect.

Flexibility can play a part, ash is very light and not very hard, but because of the way the fibers run, it's very tough, not likely to break on a large side impact, even though it may dent.

Cross-linking of fibers is also important, I tried Ramin several years ago, very straight grain, very nice long fibers, decent weight and hardness, but it split from tip to butt. This may just have been this one piece, but I never bothered to try it again.

Grain is important, a very hard wood with wonky grain may break on being dropped onto the floor. Bokuto from the same plank can act quite differently depending on grain, how the wood was dried, and sapwood/hardwood transitions. Osage orange has great hardness and deformation numbers and is known as a great weapon wood, but it's not a commercial lumber so getting clear planks (without knots and wonky grain) is tough. It's also not usually dried very consistently so can spring in unpredictable ways when cutting, the last piece I cut locked up the sawblade and stalled the motor, thankfully it didn't kick back. All in all not a pleasant wood to work with. It's very stiff and can tear out easily when machining. But it will knock the bejeepers out of lesser woods.

Even fungal growth can surprise you. Purpleheart is a wood that is very consistent and great for weapons but there's a fungus that actually eats across the grain, you don't see it until the wood is finished somewhat, the signs are quite subtle but if you tap that piece on the floor it will snap in two. Very strange and luckily not too common but I have to keep an eye out for it.

Pinworm/powder-post beetles can riddle hickory with holes, again making a very tough wood into something useless for weapons. These things are the "rust" of wood.

Hardness can also mean heaviness, you'll notice that most of the harder woods are also very heavy which isn't always the benefit you might think when using weapons in partner practice.

Price is also a definite consideration, all wood weapons eventually break down when used for contact so it doesn't make a lot of sense to be spending hundreds of dollars on rare, endangered and exotic species if you're just going to pound them to pieces.

Beauty comes into play, as well as the feel of the wood. Hickory is a bit shaggy and not pretty but tough. Cocobolo can be finished so smooth it is in danger of slipping out of your hands.

A named wood can be several species, for instance Ipe or Hickory are usually sold as a set of species. Hickory can even include Pecan which I personally like a lot for a bokuto, it is less stiff than the "impact/select grade" that folks talk about which is really just sorting through and picking out the Shagbark which is the hardest of the hickorys. Shagbark is indeed more dent resistant and heavier than the other hickorys, but it gives you quite a bit more shock in the hands than does pecan, and I've found that it can even bruise your palms, whereas a softer hickory will dull the impact a bit.

How you/your art uses the weapons makes a difference too. Some schools seem to swing for the other guy's sword, while others swing for the person. Baseball bats won't last long if you swing them against each other or against a telephone pole but even a pine bokuto would likely last a fairly long time doing something like jodo if you were practicing properly. I should try that some time actually.

So lots of things to consider and as with everything, a balance is needed, there isn't a single wood that's best for everyone.

Dent resistance, crush resistance, shear resistance, load resistance, all good things, but moderated by weight, grain, looks, price, etc. etc.

Here's a good starting point for considering woods for any use http://www.freeinfosociety.com/pdfs/science/mechanicalpropertiesofwood/intro.pdf?phpMyAdmin=af0f6b4465fe3f904426eaeb3dc0e3fa

Kim Taylor

14th October 2007, 00:51
Thank you once again for taking your time to answer my questions. It has been muchly appreciated. One last question, I have opted to go with escrima sticks made of Bubinga. We do some paired contact practise in my class with double escrima sticks. How do you think the Bubinga will hold up? Also, theoretically speaking, if one were to use a escrima stick made of Bubinga to hit someone across the head, would the stick break?

Kind Regards,

Kim Taylor
14th October 2007, 02:44
I'm not the one to ask about breaking sticks I'm afraid Jeremy, I've broken just about everything at one point or another, including a bubinga bokuto a few years ago. I don't think there's anything wood that can't be broken.

That said, a clear piece of bubinga should be fairly tough, but I think it's got shorter fibers than something like hickory so should be a bit more likely to snap in half rather than split.

I have the same problem with a lot of the ebonies actually, prone to snap.

Another thing to consider is what you're matching it with, a super hard and heavy stick will pound a lighter one pretty badly.

I won't even hazard a guess as to whether a skull or a bubinga stick would break first but I'm fairly certain that if you broke the bubinga on someone's head you'd have other things to worry about than the expense of the stick.

Don't know if that helps or not...

Kim Taylor

14th October 2007, 09:54
Thanks. You have answered all my questions perfectly.

Kind regards,

Mark Murray
14th October 2007, 13:05
As a lurker who is just reading the very informative posts, I want to say thank you, also.

Guess that takes me out of the lurker status. :)

Thank you, Mr. Taylor.

Ellis Amdur
16th October 2007, 06:25
In my experience, bubinga is brittle. Very hard, very attractive, but breaks like glass. I had a 1 1/2 inch diameter bubinga bo which I broke by flexing across my hips, and then later broke the remaining pieces on impact. I've got some weapons made of Ipe, and they are quite hard and impact resistant. They have a very different feel from kashi or hickory, however, which I don't like. More "leaden" somehow. Furthermore, Ipe tends to "feather" in splinters on the surface at impact. You have to oil it very frequently. I have a lignum bokuto, which I absolutely love. Some lignum bokuto I've used are TOO heavy and seem inflexible - but this one is great. I've also used vera wood for weapons, and I like this very much - impact resistant, flexible - but I had to coat it with a "plastic" resisn, because I found the natural oils from the wood to be really unpleasant - a little "toxic," so to speak. Wenge is a pretty good wood, but when it breaks, it makes "shards" which are pretty dangerous - breaks into flying daggers, so to speak. Recently had some weapons made of Serbian maple - kind of brittle. Also, an ash from southern Europe - quite light, but really impact resistent - much more so than American ash.


16th October 2007, 14:46
Thank you Ellis. I have actually changed my mind about the bubinga escrima sticks, and now im going with escrima sticks made out of jatoba instead. Any knowledge or experience with jatoba perhaps? Care to share any information about jatoba weapons, Kim or Ellis?

Kind Regards,

Kim Taylor
16th October 2007, 14:47
Jatoba is a lot tougher than bubinga, longer fibers I think, just as hard and heavy if not more so.

Kim taylor

Benkei the Monk
20th October 2007, 09:38
Thanks a lot Mr Taylor for the precious information. I agree with Mr .Amdur about teh bubinga. Even if I don't make wooden weapons with this wood, I saw several bokuto made of it and all of them had had problems of cracking after a bit of use.

About olvie here in Italy is very common. I confirm it's one of the hardest wood you can finda, but the fibers are often not linear and it's quite impossible to find out a board so long to carry out any kind of work. But if you are lucky enough you can have one of the best bokuto in your life.

About the ash, according to Mr. Amdur, I can say it's a very good wood. I've had a jo that lasted for years before replacing. Hard, strong and very good.

John Lindsey
20th October 2007, 10:44
I recently have been restoring a few old gun stocks and found out about a trick in which you use a steam iron to force water into dents, swelling them back out. I am currently interested in WW2 infantry weapons and picked up a nice German 98K rifle and thus, learned about this trick. I am leaving the natural patina, just removing a few dents. As long as the wood is not broken in the dent, they come out nicey.

So, I thought that maybe the Japanese may have used such a technique on staff weapons, bokuto, saya, etc. But, I thought that it might make the area weak. Anyone have any info?

Also been using something called Howards feed and wax which contains bees wax and orange oil.

Lance Gatling
21st October 2007, 03:31
Have read about a couple of guys that used steam to straighten warped bo, jo, etc., but never have heard about steaming out specific dents.

Did your steaming discolor the patina or the (presumably) oiled stock?

Most dents don't hurt the functionality of wooden weapons. Biggest problem is if broken fibers at the edge of the dent create a danger of snagging flesh where sliding (as in bo, jo, wooden kusarigama, etc.) or by accident. Usually if shallow those are beveled off to blend back in; if too deep, retire the thing, they're expendable. (I have one colleague at jodo who's been nursing a cracked 20 yr old tachi for months, one of the days I'm going to 'accidentally' break it to get rid of it for him, he can't bring himself to do it.)

There're reasons that most Japanese wooden weapons use white Japanese oak; it's strong, dents rather than crushes, and splinters yet stays intact, while red oak and other woods tend to break cleanly, with danger of sharp splinters flying about. Most dojo I know won't even let a red oak weapon on the floor, which is probably over the top but there you are.

I always assumed my last wooden-stocked US military rifle, the M-14, was oak but don't know, was impossible to tell under the oil and grime. It certainly wasn't beautiful walnut, but it was tough as iron. I beat the hell out of it without serious damage. Got any idea what wood Mauser used?

John Lindsey
21st October 2007, 03:57
Steaming does lighten the wood, but after oiling it looks very good. The steaming cleans out the oil and gunk I think.

Mauser and the other contractors used a lot of walnut before the war and into the war. Mid war to late war they started to use a laminate. I think elm was used a bit too.

Lance Gatling
1st November 2007, 14:55
Anything beyond this, I'd recommend you start with Kim Taylor, who seems to know a lot about the subject and shares.

email kataylor@sdksupplies.com

Cheers, ............

John Lindsey
1st November 2007, 17:12

Kim is also a member here.

Hank Irwin
3rd November 2007, 21:28
That's an old old tech. Been using it for long time in my endeavors. You can even use a wet wash rag, then dry one with an iron on top. I have done this numerous times on scratched furniture. Wooden buki of all kinds will splinter, but, if treated properly with oils and heat(I do this with the Bo's I make) become hard as steal. And yes, you would say, tempering wood? Oh yes. Heat has an amazing effect on wood. I have a "jig" I made to hold a warped Bo. Heat the Bo, smack it with a rubber mallet and the molecules inside go boingggga, thus being able to straighten Bo back out. But, you have to know how to do it, hee hee:D

paul browne
29th June 2008, 11:47
I'm hoping someone can answer this.
Is Hazel a suitable wood for a short stick? This will be around 2 feet (60cm) long and will be in contact with a standard oak Bo.

Lance Gatling
30th June 2008, 00:45
I'm hoping someone can answer this.
Is Hazel a suitable wood for a short stick? This will be around 2 feet (60cm) long and will be in contact with a standard oak Bo.
It'll cost you about $0.35 to find out....

Unusual choice - why hazel? AFAIK not a big choice for impact use. Oak, hickory, etc. are more typical.

But against a bo you're probably not taking a full blow, but rather a glancing deflection. Training striking focus?

If you don't want a dented bo, try something softer than the bo, which is presumably oak? Then pine, etc., also cheap.

Joseph Svinth
30th June 2008, 04:41
In UK, try oak or blackthorn. Hazel is the preferred wood for magic wands, but it's too light for quarterstaves. See http://qstaffman.blogspot.com .

paul browne
30th June 2008, 18:33
Thanks for taking the time to reply,
Actually it's because I saw an advert on Ebay for a 'cudgel' made from hazel.
It bears a great resemblance to a standard Nyoi, one of the instruments of defence used in the art I practice Shorinji Kempo.(We don't use weapons ;))