Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tale of Two Swords, sword #2

Muromachi-period (1392-1573) katana, with Edo-period (1603-1868) tsuba (guard) and 20th-c. tsuka (handle).

I bought these pieces from an eBay seller who offers authentic antique Japanese swords and other stuff, to assemble them into a sword I could use to practice aikido sword techniques and exercises.  A recent post dealt with the very fancy sword that came to me from left field and is far too precious to be used for training, but the sword in this post is the sort of weapon a low-ranking samurai would have carried into battle during the civil wars of the Muromachi period in Japan.  Still, it's a 500-year-old sword!


The blade arrived in shirasaya, a storage scabbard.  Because I don't practice drawing the sword, I don't need a regular working scabbard, though I'll probably put one together eventually.  I just carefully unsheath it and train with it.  My first step was to assemble the metal pieces, which required filing (I wouldn't alter the actual blade--instead I alter everything else to fit it).

Fitting the tsuka (handle) was tricky.  I had to file out the profile inside, repair a small crack, and because the hole for the nakago (tang) was much longer than I needed, I had to prepare a piece of wood to fill that part of the tsuka and glue it in.  You can see below how the same (ray skin) that is traditionally used in a tsuka is here inlaid into channels in the side.  Better tsukas would have the ray skin wrap completely around the tsuka or even 1.5 times around.  This is more my speed...

Finally there was the long process of aligning the holes in the side of the tsuka for the mekugi, or bamboo pin that goes through the mekugi-ana (holes).  I ended up bushing both holes in the tsuka, which were pretty close to lining up with the hole in the tang, but close won't do it.  I was advised to buy a package of high-quality bamboo chopsticks to use to make the mekugi, and it took four of them before I got the right combination of hole alignment, taper on the mekugi and everything fitting together just so.  I had a chance to take a few shomenuchi cuts... very nice whoosh!

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