Wednesday 6 June 2018 at 14:33 Posted by Shadley Hax 0 Comments

As you can see from the picture on the left, this is another wakizashi but this time we're going to be doing something slightly different.

up til now, we've been using rayskin panels for the tsuka. This one is going to have a full wrap of samegawa. That is to say, the entire wooden core will be sleeved in the best part of the rayskin. Not only that, we will be able to display the emperor nodes of the skin in between the wrap itself.

In times gone by, this was a symbol of wealth as in order to get the emperor nodes, you would have to have at the very least, the lions share of the rayskin, if not all of it with the excess being discarded. This would be expensive to do and in fact there were many methods used to make it look as if a whole rayskin had been used on a sword where in actual fact, it was cunningly arranged pieces of offcuts and sometimes even wooden carved pieces designed to look like the nodes on the skin. The whole lot was lacquered and the illusion was complete. However, our sword here is getting the luxury treatment. it is in fact quite difficult to do and there are many areas where it can go wrong.

This is the sword in question. A very nicely done, differentially hardened T10 blade in the Shinogi Zukuri geometry. Its quite nicely done, nothing too garish. The yokote is cosmetic as is usual but often looked down upon.

In actuality, a lot of Japanese blades also used cosmetic polishes to heighten or straight up create the illusion of the yokote. You can still see the hamon so as far as I'm concerned, thats not bad.

I tried to get a few shots of the hamon. All hamon can be tricky to catch but I had some sunlight on this day and it seemed a pity to waste it.

As you can see, even though it's a wakizashi in shinogi zukuri, the blade is set at quite an acute angle with little niku. The hamon isn't offensive to look at and pops without any overly enthusiastic hybrid polishing.

On the left is the typical stamp of a chinese forge. This looks like a sword number being as sometimes they tie up a tsuka to a sword by numbering.
More expensive forges do this because the tsuka has been made for the blade. less expensive forges on the other hand, I have no idea.
We deliberated between these two tsuba. Neither me, nor the client are particularly fond of large tsuba on wakizashi or tanto, (In fact, truth be told I'm a sucker for hamidashi style tsuba on katana even) so we were looking at these two examples.

One however stuck out over the other. The larger of the two is of higher quality and fit the sword very well.

Imogata or 'potato' shaped tsuka only really fit one type of kashira particulary well and this is an example. the larger domed types typically have a larger hole for the ito to flow through as well. This is great for muggins here who would otherwise have to carefully tease the ito through a hole the size of a straw.  Imogata shaped tsuka are said to have flat sides that go from the wider fuchi to the narrower kashira, however I have noticed and tend to replicate the curved sides of many examples I have seen. The fuchi is still wider, however the lines of the tsuka curve towards the kashira and it makes for a more interesting look.

The choice of menuki here really works very well. We've got a lot of very golden colours also and the subdued patterning on the koshirae means that the mantis here really pop. I also like mantis in real life anyway with their big boggly eyes and theyre huge dagger like arms... so I'm instantly sold on this one.

I  shaped the tsuka or rather, I refined the existing shape. Sometimes more of the work is done for you, sometimes less. Theres always a lot more than you think theres gonna be and if its someone elses sword, you know that rather than shape it in a few hours, its gonna take a day. better that than mess it up completely. Once I'd gotten the shape I desired, I fit it to the nakago of the sword and checked to see that it looked like it was going to be a success... because.. the next step is far more difficult..

Like I said, this tsuka was going to be constructed differently. Because it was a full wrap, I not only had to take into consideration the final shape of the tsuka, but also, how the rayskin over the top would affect that shape (adding more layers to a build 'averages' out the overall shape and masks detail) and I would also need to cut this channel into the tsuka all the way around it.

The picture to the right shows the lip that the fuchi sits on. you can still see it a little on the picture to the left as well.

After I had finished up the channel for the wrap, I drilled the mekugi ana, making sure that the fittings I had all lined up properly and it was going to be a tight fit.

I had soaked the rayskin a number of times at this point and was absolutely certain that the emperor node was going to sit where the pencil is pointing to. 

If I f**k that up, getting the whole skin in the first place is rendered pointless. So I measured many times. 

Oh, and a tip passed to me by a far better tsukamakishi is to soak and fit the skin several times. Each time gets better and the skin conforms more to how you want it to.

This is actually how people do this. Theres no real magick involved here, just an unlimited source of patience sometimes. The amount of time you get the skin positioned exactly how you want it, then you start wrapping the cord or whatever you've got around it to keep it in place as it dries... only to find that you doing that has shifted the position completely and you have to start again... it's... a little trying on the nerves. 

So yeah, more sagelike advice.

First off, dont be worried about wrapping this thing super tightly. It's gonna need to shrink anyway. if you wrap it uber-tight then youll get rayskin stretch marks. its weird looking. dont do it :) Not only that, you tugging at the ito to pin it into position will shift it all over the place.

Wrap it, check for errors in positioning, then remove it, resoak it, retie it and do it all over again until its as close to perfect as you can get.

use a piece of string and wrap it around the tsuka at the top, bottom and middle to get circumference measurements. use a cm more than you think youll need. remember that soaked samegawa is bigger than dried.

Measure once, then add a cm to the amount of rayskin you think youll need. better to have to remove some than add some back.. cos you cant add any back. so if you need to, youre fucked.

On the topic of removing skin. This stuff is tough. scissors often dont cut it (no pun) so use snips. micro shears, flush cutters or whatever you wanna call them. check out here. you'll know what Im talking about. Theyre a godsend. Or use a dremel, but be careful whatever option you choose.

Pictures on the left show the ugly side of the rayskin and just underneath, the pretty side. There are a few ways of dealing with the seam and reasons for using any one of them. This rayskin was too small to be able to hide the seam so we went with this option of simply  displaying it on the ura side of the tsuka.

Besides, displaying the seam shows a full wrap, and that shows wealth.. right? ;)

When you do this also, drill the hole for the mekugi ana by shining a strong light from one side of the tsuka and drilling a small hole in the centre of the bright spot. then using a needle file, remove the rest of the material around the hole taking care not to enlargen the hole itself.

Oh look, it's my favourite thing.
Seriously, I'm surprised I'm not dreaming of these things. As always, my advice is learn how to make them carefully and methodically, make more than you need so you can throw away the misbehavers and watch something 'bubblegumy' on tv. something thats entertaining in a brainless way. zone out and make them the best you can. They. are. essential.

It's worth pointing out that rayskin can be very abrasive. This can cause your ito, especially with nubuck and leather to scratch, or even tear. For this reason, the ha and the mune sides of the tsuka are sanded down and/or shimmed. Shims are not essential depending on the cross section of the tsuka and so on but I find they help. for this particular build however they were not needed. not only did I have the grippy nature of the rayskin, but I didn't want to build up the cross section any further. I try to keep this persons builds as slim as possible. In fact I intend to see what would be optimal for him and see about improving on my methods for his swords.

Clamps are essential if you want to take a break. Your fingers can get pretty ouchy depending on how tight your wraps are. And if your fingers arent hurting, your wraps arent tight enough. either that or youre some kind of mutant with super fingers or summat. I find these clamps useful for lots of things, but they keep the tsuka as safe as it can be for a while. the other poundland ones tend to slip off.

The very last bit of the wrap is when I take a break. The end knots deserve more attention.

Annoyingly, if you correctly use hishigami for the last turns of your wrap, then it is an absolute bitch to get your tome (end knots) tight. you will absolutely need a pokey thing, a levering thing, some copper wireto pull strands of ito through, some needle nose pliers and some sellotape or electrical tape. That and the patience of a saint.

Unfortunately I didnt take any photos of the knot being created as my hands were kinda busy. maybe I will do that for a future entry.

Left <------ Completed tsuka. very chuffed. Full wrap, tight itomaki and cute mantis menuki.

Now for some shots of how it turned out.

On the left we have the omote knot and on the right, the ura knot. If I haven't mentioned enough, recently or at all, omote simply means outside and ura inside.

Here we can see the thickness of the grip. Hopefully this will suit the owner. on the right you can see how easily I can grip and hold this with almost no effort. :)

The curvature and size of the sword here work well. Remember this is a single handed weapon and as such it doesnt require a long tsuka.

Well, that's it. I'm all done here. I'm satisfied with the finish. I wasnt that much of an imogata fan until I did this. I think the kashira, the opportunity to do a full wrap and those damnedly frickin cute mantis's did it for me :) I'm a convert now. haha. mind you, I still have to get myself a waki. I've wrapped so many I have to have one now.

sunlight makes it easier to catch the activity on the swords hamon. lighting and positioning is what makes the shot.

The saya on this sword is awesome. If it was a matte finish it would be better but I'm just being picky.

A nicely rounded shape really makes this work. 

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