Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My First Katana

Five days before Christmas I decided to make a Japanese samurai sword as a gift for a 10-year old.

For anyone attempting to do this I am eternally indebted and can't recommend highly enough the video series from DAPiratecaptain, Wooden Katana Tutorial. I unfortunately didn't have the time to make all the various components of the sword the way he demonstrates,  And while it was my first attempt and many mistakes were made, I nonetheless have four alternative methods to DA's that I would like to share


For the Katana I wanted to mimic the folded steel with the wooden analog, lam ination.  I also wanted the blade to be stong but light. .  I chose to make it out of  two thin pieces of maple bonded to a walnut core.

Finished, but unpainted blade.

The process for making this was to first bond a strip  of walnut 1/4" to 1/2" thick, to a chunk of maple. I first cut off a 1/2" piece of the maple to use as the other side of the blade.Once the glue has set (Tightbond 3 is 24 hours), I ran the strip through a table saw to get it down to 1/8" or less (as shown below)..

Walnut bonded to maple.  I thought the width of the walnut was closer to the 2" of the maple.  If I'd had more time I would have laminated two pieces of walnut together to make up the gap.  As it was, this left me with not enough width to get the full curvature I was after.

I then ran the whole thing through a planer, walnut edge up, to take it down to its final dimension.  I was aiming for 1/16th, but it might be a hair less.  I then glued the reserved piece of maple to the walnut (reversing the maple so that the warping forces would be counteracted).

After it was bonded, I ran the whole thing through the table saw to get the maple down to rough final dimensions.  Then the whole thing through the planer to get the blade down to the final thickness.

This produced a light, stiff, tough blade that was not initially as straight as I'd expected, but after much sanding the blade seems to be stabilizing.


The compound blade can withstand a lot of torque.  To get the edge I placed or clamped a full sheet of sandpaper to the bench, placed my left hand on the blade applying force as if I were trying to keep the blade parallel to the paper.  In the photo my right hand is twisting the blade counter-clockwise toward the sandpaper creating a very low angle and hopefully a uniform edge.

Since the blade is hardwood it takes a large grit and a lot of work to get an edge.  I think I started with 6o, then 100, 150, 220, 600.

For the habaki, I used a scrap bit of 1-1/4" plumbing pipe.  It's chrome, but that comes off to reveal the brass and is easily polished.   I simply squeezed it in a vice till it formed an oval of roughly the right dimension.  Then I cut off the excess from one end and squeezed it into place.


The saya is made in the 3-part method with a top, a bottom with the middle being a cutout using the  blade as a pattern.  However,  I prefer to glue the middle to one side, shape it and then cover it up instead of gluing all three pieces at once..  This has several advantages:
  1. You can visually see the edge margin when getting down to the final form. 
  2. There is the opportunity to sand the interior before final fitting.
  3. The top can be cut to near the exact final dimension.

The sward is visible in the background.  The cutout is glued to the bottom piece of wood.  Wax paper is then laid over top and the cutout placed back in the center.  The glue won't stick to the wax paper.



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