Saturday 16 March 2019 at 16:18 Posted by Shadley Hax 1 Comment

This has been one of the simplest and yet demanding jobs in a while. It only took an afternoon and a morning to get to the point where I could look at it as a project that could be called finished as soon as I had tidied up a few bits and pieces on it and yet it was unlike many of the jobs I'd done purely because of the condition the component parts were handed to me in.

These are my components, straight from the package
The tsuka core itself was Edo period and had seen better days. the bottom of the core actually had a hole in it, suggesting that it had been cut down from a larger sword, maybe it was a katana tsuka to begin with.

The rayskin was/is falling apart. I mean it's still mainly all there but it is slowly losing the battle and is missing individual scales or small segments. despite this is is still tough enough to use.

The ito is real cotton but has been used before on I am guessing a katana as there was more than plenty to use, but it was katana width, i.e. around 8mm when stretched. I managed to get it pulled out to just under but I would say it was 8mm ito. It also had glued on some sections, wear and tear in the way of 'polished' areas, probably previous crossovers and bobbles of the fabric like on a distressed shirt.

 This core is awesome. ok, its mangled and it's falling apart but it's a little piece of history. It's a pity it will probably be thrown away but it'll only rot otherwise.

Menuki are fairly standard, I didnt even bother to magnet test them. If you notice that the menuki aren't different or even mirrored, then they are likely modern repro's. Nothing wrong with that, but theres nothing to see there. besides, They're flat, they'll fit easily. what more could I want?

Fuchi/Kashira actually look modern too and a magnet test shows they are most likely a zinc/alu alloy of some kind. I've seen them before on other production katana. This tsuka core has no doubt been modified ever so slightly to fit them.

On the core's Ura side here, you can see the seam plainly. This is mainly because of shrinkage of the skin over time and loss of material from wear and tear.

In fact, if you look at the picture above, the hole at the bottom looks to be another larger node on the skin.

It's very close to the bottom and reinforces my belief that this tsuka has been modified for the wakizashi.

The rubber bands hold the skin in place on the tsuka. Whatever I decide to do, I shant be applying masses of glue to this core in order to keep that in place. If anything I shall use a small amount of rice glue and a damned tight wrap.

You can see here, closer pictures of the rayskin. this mottled, highlighted effect is something that a lot of tsukamakishi attempt to replicate with coffee, tea or inks but this is simply age.

When I mentioned about the tsuka perhaps being modified, this would of placed the emperor node (that glaring hole in the wrap) far too far down to be of any real use. The omote knot would simply cover it up. This was more than likely modified simply to keep costs down, shifting from a larger sword to a wakizashi and keeping the skin.

A whole skin used to wrap the handle was a sign of wealth as one rayskin having only one set of emperor nodes would only produce one quality cut, and then several lesser quality offcuts.

These premium cuts of rayskin were shown on the sword in order to demonstrate how successful a samurai was.

The mekugi has no doubt already been replaced many times.

I will make sure to pop another unshaped one into the package when I send this back to the client. It will be up to him to do the final shaping, purely because I don't have the sword to hand.

 after wrapping, the mekugi doesnt protrude from the other side because the ito is in the way. it doesnt mean that it cant be made to, but either it will fit, alterations to the peg will be made, or a new one will be fashioned to keep everything in check. I like to make sure all bases are covered.

 Ok, so this is the nakago ana, or the top hole where the tang of the sword is inserted. It looks well carved although I can see a crack. cracks at this age of the poor thing aren't something to complain about, but definitely something to be aware of.

If that crack goes further down the tsuka then it will mean that when I wrap it, I will have to be careful that the forces the ito exert on the outside of the core don't simply crush the thing. (As it turns out, it did a lot of creaking and complaining but it's still in one piece) Just be aware and be careful.

This is the kashira end of the tsuka and as I suspected, it has been cut down. no one cuts the tang channel all the way through. This has been lopped off at the end and reused.

I dont mind reuse at all with historical pieces though and this actually shows that the blade had more history than we will ever know about.

especially with a wakizashi, a shorter blade, none of this is of any real consequence as far as safety or usability is concerned.

And onto the main part of the project. I will for your benefit and my own, not bother to detail the folding of the hishigami. If you want to learn of my love of hishigami, please read some other articles. They are tedious but omdg, you dont only need them in order to accomplish a decent wrap, you need them to be well folded ones too. so basically, kiss goodbye at least 2-3 hours of your life. or take the time to cry instead, either is exactly as much fun.

So yeah. assume hishigami are done for the purposes of this write up.

On this tsuka core there are no shims at the moment. It's a full wrap and that means that those little paper folds will show underneath the ito on the Ha and the Mune side unless we build up those sides so the hishi can butt up against them. I had specifically ordered some new washi paper for the hishi as well as the shims.

On the right here you can see where I have made not only a template for one of the sides of the tsuka, but also used it to cut identical (ish) individual pieces of washi paper.

On the left you can see an individual strip and the template I used.

These are then glued carefully onto the sides of the tsuka, the Ha and Mune sides. Those, if youre not sure btw are where you hand curls over the bottom of the handle and the top when wielded. they are glued individually and basically used to build up the thickness you need. rice glue can be used, or pva in this case. I think pva is even better here as it can be easily peeled from rayskin without issue most of the time.

shim shim shim!

laying one layer over another, one by one, until everything is perfect. 

This seems boring but once youve cut the shims out, you can pretty much zone out after each layer and watch t.v. 
It's important that this is done correctly and evenly. Decent preparation makes a decent wrap.

Looking back at the tsuka ito, I ran some hot water, drop of soap, and I flipping washed it out properly. any grease and anything soluble went. The only thing is, the stuff used to glue these things isnt usually water soluble but I had to try.

Weird angle, but trust me, this is katana ito.
As a rule of thumb, once ito has been used in a wrap, it is of very little use. you remove it and throw it away if the sword needs rewrapping. I would only do this out of necessity or at the behest of the client. I understand his motivations clearly here though so on I go.

After washing, the ito was wrapped as tightly as I could manage, around the handle of my own personal suburito. it's a nice thick wooden handle and wont give. this means that I can stretch the ito out properly. I left it overnight as I made other preparations.

Those clamps are... adequate.
with the night ploughing on, I did the sensible thing and put t.v. on and turned in for the night. This is all lies, once I have a project I'm like a dog with a bone. I worked through until just gone midnight. my hishi were fine, the wrap was going well. I really really only meant to do the first few turns.. then just past the first menuki, then I decided to stop at the end knots.. then I actually did the first knot and truthfully, I went to bed.

This is often a problem for me.

At least with the first knot done, I can rest knowing that it's not gonna fall over and all my work unravel
So, Here are the finished shots. I meant to get better ones but I was tired. This wrap was done on a time restraint and it was specific, I was told exactly what I was doing, all materials were supplied, postage was from the UK. This is easy to work to. With better materials, it would of been better but given what I had, I'm happy. I hope the client is too.

1 Response so far.

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