A Tsuba (the 't' is silent) is the hand guard found on traditional Japanese swords, like the Katana. They vary in shape and detail, from very simple and plain to extremely elaborate and ornate. Most have a theme of nature or depicted monsters and deities as well as parts of history.
Step 1: Getting All Your Supplies and Materials
You can make a faux tsuba for various means; decoration, art work, prop and costume, or you can even encase a few in resin to make jewelry or for a set of awesome coasters!
This was a trial piece for a full faux katana for a prop that could be taken anywhere like photo shoots and conventions. I had planned to make each individual piece unique as most katanas have a theme throughout their ornamentation.
All you really need is some inspiration, some clay, a sculpting tool or two, and a bit of paint.
For my inspiration, I did an image search for 'tsuba' and then copy and pasted the images I liked into a word document so as to make it easier to view my reference images.
Tools and materials I used
- Sculpey clay
- Silicone sculpting tool
- Sculpey clay softener
- X-acto knife
- Small paint brushes
- Acrylic paint
- Liquid leaf paint
Step 2: Sculpting Your Tsuba
I ended up using Sculpey as I happen to have a lot in my supply. However, you can use any clay that can be baked or if you rather, a two part epoxy clay that air drys. You can also use real gold leafing instead of a liquid leaf paint. A large array of various tools, stamps, and random objects can be used to create textures. I found that a broken up wine cork works well as a stamp to make the leaves of the tree I put on my tsuba.
Feel free to use more than one material for the tsuba. Maybe add a charm if you don't want to attempt to sculpt what you want to be adorned on your tsuba. But do pay attention to what your various materials are made of if you use a clay that needs to be baked versus an air dry medium.
How I sculpted my tsube
- I started with a golf ball size clump of Sculpey, flattened it out to about 1/4" thick, then cut a circle with the X-acto knife. You can make whatever size or shape you want for your project. Mine ended up being just over 3" in diameter.
- Still using the X-acto knife, I cut out the center hole for where the tang of the blade would go through. I just kinda eyeballed it but it's not a bad idea to print off a template or just use the outline of one of your reference images.
- Then I used a silicone sculpting brush to draw out the tree trunk and branches in the clay.
- Finally I took a broken chunk of a wine cork and randomly but carefully pressed it into the clay where I thought the clusters of leaves should be.
Then let it dry or bake the tsuba once you feel happy with your design. I kept mine very simple so as to have less to mess up. I also love bonsai trees and couldn't decide what else to put on this tsuba.
Step 3: Finishing the Tsuba
For painting and/or finishing your tsuba, acrylic paints will work just fine. You can use model paints, spray paint, and airbrushing. Paint with what you are comfortable with or already have available to you.
Side note: Oil, watercolor, and finger paints are not recommended. You can try, but you may not have a fun time.
How I painted my tsuba
- I first painted on the gold liquid leaf by dipping the very tip of a small brush and dabbing it into the indentations that made up my imagery. This type of paint can usually be found by the gold leafing supplies in Hobby Lobby or online. You can also just use regular metallic paint. Be aware, I did use an old brush for this as the liquid leaf is hard to clean off and it has some obnoxious fumes.
- Then I carefully painted all of the non sculpted areas with black acrylic paint using a small brush and went up to the edges of where the indentations of the tree were.
- With the same brush, I did a 'dry brushing' technique with the black acrylic over the tree. I went very lightly making sure that none of the paint went into the recesses of the sculpted portions so that the gold remained where the tree had been made.
- Switching to the smaller, detail brush, I cleaned up my lines along the silhouette of the tree and in between the branches to help redefine the tree as best I could.
- I repeated the last two steps for the black paint till I had a nice uniform coat.
Yet another side note: If you end up using multiple types of materials for your tsuba, it is best to apply a layer of primer, from a can or airbrush preferably, thought they can be brushed on. This will help your finishing paint stick to the tsuba and give you a uniform base to so that you can have more solid coats.
I decided not to do a clear coat for mine as this was only a test peace but applying a protective clear coat with a lacquer or spray can of clear coat is highly recommended even if you plan on encasing your tsuba in resin. Though I would make sure that the type of clear coat you use won't counter act with the your resin.
And that's it! Again you can use whatever clays, paints, and other materials to make your tsuba. And you can design it any way you wish. Your only limitation is how much time and effort you want to put in.
Have fun and good luck!!!