Auteur: Kubikiri Asa
Home made katana
One of my interests is Japanese swords (and related weapons) and as I’m used doing some DIY with iron and wood, I’ve made some katana’s, naginata’s and yari’s, over the last years, and when people saw the results of my DIY actions, I frequently got the question “how do you make that?”, that’s why I’ve written down this little manual on how to make your own katana.
As working with tools isn’t without any risk, the following isn’t meant for those who are just beginning with DIY.
The following picture shows most of the tools I use.
The Blade .
I take a metal plate (a piece of 1 meter length, approximately 7 cm wide and minimal 5 mm thick) and spray it with trace lacquer. When the trace lacquer has dried I draw/scratch the outline of the katana, the first time I took my iaito apart and used the iaito blade as a template.
If it looks fine, I use an angle grinder with a cutting disk to roughly cut out the shape of the metal plate. After that I use an abrasive grinding disk to grind it down to the markings. For the last part I’m using a hand file. If the outline isn’t done correctly, and not fluent you can get a “wavy” cutting edge after filing down the sides.
When the outline shape has been finished (and I’m pleased about it), I spray trace lacquer on both sides of the blade. As soon as the lacquer has dried I draw the desired shinogi line, and the “cutting edge” using a pair of compasses. For the cutting edge I draw a line through the middle (lengthwise).
After that I use the grinder (with the abrasive grinding disk) to grind down the cutting edge. For the last part I use sanding disks, grid 60 to 180. (With a rubber backing pad)
As soon as one side is equally diagonal I use my angle grinder to do the same with the other side. I will be doing this until an edge of approximately 1mm thick remains. When the edge is 1mm thick I proceed with a hand file, to prevent grinding it down to much. If you grind beyond the drawn line and you look down the cutting edge you will see that the cutting edge is undulating instead of a nice straight line.
Making a habaki is an art in itself, I’ve tried several times to make one but the result always was a pile of molted copper, therefore I grind the Habaki into the blade. (pic’s.6 and 7) , just like the knife makers do (called a ricasso).
When this is finished and the result is satisfying, I will make the tsuba, tsuka and the saya. For the form of the tsuba you can chose whatever you like. there are more then enough examples available on the internet
I use the following procedure for making a tsuba:
I take a piece of a metal plate (5 mm.) and draw the desired model on it. After this I drill holes were I want to remove metal. (for example the nakago-ana). When the holes have been drilled I use locksmith files to make the openings in the desired shape. The last step is filling the outer limits of the tsuba. As far as final finish is concerned, there are several options, for instance: One could polish the tsuba, or polish the tsuba and heat the tsuba with a blowtorch; the metal will turn blue, or pound it with a hammer for an irregular pattern (combat tsuba)
Tsuka and Saya
After I finished the tsuba I draw the outline of the nakago for the tsuka. (take the thickness of the tsuba into account). When drawing the inside of the saya and tsuka, don’t forget to mirror it.
when this is done I use a milling machine or a chisel to cut out the desired form. I drill a small hole (or two) on one side to indicate the place where the mekugi will be placed before gluing the two parts of the tsuka together
As soon as the tsuka is glued and grinded in the desired shape I fit it on to the blade and check if everything is nice and straight, I put the tsuba and the tsuka on de nakago as tight as possible and drill through the wood and the iron (this time the hole should have the right size for the mekugi. If I make the mekugi ana in the nakago 5 mm., than the hole at the ura side is 4,5 mm. and the hole on the omote side I make 5,5 or 6 mm. (the mekugi will taper from 4,5 to 6 mm.)
As a mekugi is thicker on the ura side and smaller on the omote side, I have to drill the hole on the omote side a bit wider. If you carry the sword with the edge up, than the thickest part of the mekugi has to be on the side (ura) of your body
The same procedure can be used for the production of the saya, the only difference will be the depth of the groove in which the blade has to fit, this is necessary because the blade may not touch the inner side of the saya. (if the blade is 5 mm. thick, mill a depth of 3 mm. in both sides) Because I use a ricasso instead of a habaki, I mill the opening (koi guchi) of the saya not deeper then 2 mm. (over a length of 3 cm) Later I will grind this area by hand to the proper depth to get a perfect fit for the blade.
When both sides are milled out, I draw the outline of the saya on one half and cut it out with a jigsaw.
I leave the other half of the saya as it is.
Before gluing both saya parts together, I try to slide the blade in the saya, if the blade doesn’t slide into the saya smoothly; it is still possible to correct the groove.
The next step will be to glue the parts together, remove the excessive glue in the saya with a piece of wire. If the glue stays in the saya and hardens, it can make scratches on the blade. After this I grind the saya in the shape I desire
If you like, you could make a koiguchi/kojiri, fuchi/kashira from an other kind of wood or horn.
If everything is ok, it’s time to polish the blade. It’s advisable to wear leather gloves and use a piece of metal or wood to support the sanding paper. I start with grid 120 until al the marks from the angle grinder are gone. After that I increase the grid from 240, 320, 400, 600, etc. To check if the blade is without any dents I use a chunk of wood (10/15 cm long) on which I nailed a piece of sanding paper. (the sanding paper attached with small nails on
both sides of the wood) and sand lengthwise, through the difference in color it is possible to see if there are any dents in the blade. The best way to see if the polishing goes well is to sand in a different direction with every new grid, for example: grid 240 will be used diagonal; grid 320 will be used lengthwise. use grid 240 until the marks of the previous grid (120) are gone.
The blade in picture 14 has been polished with grid 240, the marks of the angle grinder are gone.
The blade in picture 15 has (after using several grids) been polished with grid 1200. After that the blade has been polished with a polishing machine and polishing wax.
Now it’s time to make an artificial hamon on the blade. There are probably much more ways of making a hamon, but I tried the following:
1ste: Take a piece of Crepe tape, approximately 10cm. Cut a wave pattern in it and stick it onto your blade. Keep doing this in the length of the blade, until both sides of the blade are done.
After this use a piece of sanding paper (grid 240) and start sanding the part of the blade without
When you are finished with this, use a Scotchbrite (ultra fine) sanding pad. the sanding marks of the grid 240 will get smoother and along the border of the tape you get a fine line, a kind of artificial nioi.
Clean the blade thoroughly and oil it to prevent the blade from rust.
2nd: Using ferric-chloride to etch a hamon on the blade. You carefully apply the ferric-chloride to the edge of the blade with some cotton wool. Wait a while, than neutralize is with soda and clean the blade with water. It’s difficult to get a nice and straight hamon with this method (I wasn’t too happy with the results).
3 rd : option is a combination of both methods, to get a less aggressive result it is possible to water down the ferric –chloride. I achieve the best result with the first option. A real hamon would be the ultimate option but I don’t have a forge to experiment, so this is the best option for me.
As most swords I produce are for display purposes, and not for cutting exercises the mekugi are made from chop sticks. The swords, naginata and yari that will be used for demonstrations etc are glued together with 2 component epoxy glue. Also the tsuka will be assembled with (2) 5 mm RVS bolts and nuts.
You can finish the wood any way you want. (Spray it in a color, use teak oil) and then assemble it. The sword in picture 18 has been done with linseed oil. This gives a soft glare and the structure of the wood stays.
Or like in picture 19) the finish has been done in soft matt lacquer.
high gloss lacquer (picture20).
The nicest thing of making your own katana is that you can do it without any limitations, except those of your own imagination.
I hope that whoever tries to make a katana, enjoys it as much as I do. I also hope that this manual can be useful for anyone who wants to try it. As mentioned before it is also possible to make a naginata, tanto or any other kind of knife in the same way. I am well aware that you can’t make a ” real ” katana, wakizashi, tanto or naginata etc. in this way, but to me it is a hobby that I try to do with the tools I have and the materials I can lay my hands on. Most of the materials I use are left-over’s, a kind of recycling or “Japanese junkyard weaponry” could be a better expression.
To make the swords etc as seen on the pictures has taken me 5 years to learn. Literally with blood, sweat and tears. Therefore I recommend everyone who has plans for such a project to be careful. An angle grinder can be a weapon in his own rights, with which one could easily wound himself. As everyone is responsible for his own actions, the writer or publicist of this article can not be held responsible in case of any damage or wounds………….