How to Make a Japanese Bokken

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Introduction: How to Make a Japanese Bokken

Here I describe the method for making a bokken, which is a Japanese wooden sword.

The skill level required using this method is relatively low. A more challenging option would be to do this only using hand-tools.

Take nothing for granted and keep safety as the most important aspect of the project. Make sure you are comfortable with the use of all the tools you use.

My Website: TF Workshop

Step 1: Overview

Contents:
Basic dimensions
Making the Boken
Terminology
Notes & Cautions
Dedication

I suggest that you borrow or buy a boken before you start, so you can get the feel and see the details of what you are making. It will also help you set up the curvature of the one you create. Hopefully you are already training with one at some level, so you have an understanding of the balance it should have.

Ganbate kudasai (Japanese for good luck)

Step 2: Basic Dimensions

Note that the blade is the side with the radius

Make the bowed shape by gluing two pieces of wood together, clamped in position.

Step 3: Ripping the Wood

Rip two pieces of hardwood to ¾ inch x 1-1/2 inch, at least 42 inches long.

Joint one of the 1-1/2 inch sides of each for to make a smooth gluing surface.

The two pieces used here are white oak and Brazilian cherry. Both are very hard woods, which will take strikes well in practice.

Step 4: Gluing It Up

Use an existing boken to establish the shape that you will bend the two pieces of wood over. You want to get a reasonably close match on the inside curves.

Clamp the center first, then work your way outwards. Clamp directly over all the support sticks, and then at the ends. Fill in clamps afterwards. Let the set-up dry for about 4 hours. Wipe off what glue you can. Once dry, scrape off the glue that has pushed out.

Step 5: Planing

Use a planer or jointer to straighten one side of the boken. This one had a 1/8 inch bow in the center.

After one side is fairly straight, rip it down to about 1-1/4 inch, cutting off the rough side. Turn it around and rip the other side, down to 1-1/8 inch.

Plane or sand the boken down to 1 inch to get the sides smooth. I use a planer instead of sanding whenever possible (saves work and doesn’t make a lot of dust)

Step 6: Routing

Route the boken on all four corners with a 1/2 inch round-over bit.

Cross-cut the handle end to clean it up. Mark where the tsuba will sit (10 inches).

Route the 45 degree chamfers, which become the backside of the blade. Route close to where the tsuba is marked, but not into it, you need to complete it with a chisel (sharpen it beforehand).

Cross-cut the blade end to length (40 inches)

Step 7: Form the Blade Tip

Rough-cut the blade tip shape. I used a miter saw, but a band-saw would be best. Sand or grind the shape to the basic curve.

Sand or grind the sides of the tip to shape, blending them back. I used a simple drum sander mounted to a drill press, with a small support block to hold the tip. Take your time with this, since the boken is almost done, and this is the easiest part to make a mistake with. Finish up by hand sanding the tip to remove any marks.

Step 8: Apply Finsh

Sand the entire boken with 180 grit. If you used sharp planer and router blades, this should go fast.

Seal the boken with three coats of Acrylic sealer. Sand with 180 after the first coat, 220 after the second. The third coat should not require sanding. If it is still rough at that point, re-sand with 220 and do a fourth.

Step 9: Boken Terminology (Nihon-go)

Kissaki: the tip.
Mune: the back of the blade.
Monouchi: the cutting portion of the edge, the 1/3 closest to the kissaki.
Chu-o: the middle third of the blade.
Tsuba moto: the third of the blade closest the handle.
Tsuba: the guard, not present on most Aikido bokuto.
Tsuka: the handle.
Shinogi: the ridge between the mune and the edge.
Shinogi-ji: the flat plane between the mune and the shinogi
Jigane: the flat plane between the shinogi and the temper line (edge).
Ha: the edge
Tsuka gashira: butt end of the bokuto.

Step 10: Notes & Cautions

The boken made here is for actual practice, so I chose the hardest wood I had. It is very satisfying to use weapons in practice that I have made myself.
Two colors of wood make the boken look unique. I have not found anywhere you can buy one like this.
Use only sharp bits, blades and chisels. Burn marks and gouges will show.
I suggest you make two and keep the best one. There is very little wood used in a boken, and it saves you a lot of pain if you make a mistake. Making two is almost the same effort as making one. If they both turn out, give one away.
Use safety equipment: eye protection, ear protection, guards, push-sticks, brain. Do not do anything you think may be hazardous – its not worth it.
Disclaimer: I assume no liability if you purse this project. No information here is intended to override the safety instructions for your equipment or your common sense.

Step 11: Dedication

I dedicate this to Master Eric Johnson, who has taught me the beginning steps of the bokken. He is the founder of the Tien Tae Jitsu martial arts system (www.tientaejitsu.com)

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    213 Discussions

    i was thinking thee same thing why would you glue 2 pieces tougether this would mess with durability

    You can but i wouldent recomended to use in any kind of practice because it will break easily.

    do you use regular wood glue or some type of 2 component glue?

    Excellent article! I'm building two bokken right now out of ebony, blood wood, and american holly. I don't practice any sort of kendo, so I plan on these being ornamental. Thanks for the instructions!

    7 replies

    Here are my finished bokken based on your instructable. Like I said earlier, they're made of ebony, bloodwood, and american holly. I wasn't entirely sure if I wanted to make the tsubas, but I had a lot of bloodwood left, so I thought "what the hell." Handles are wrapped in white and black suede. I'm more than happy with the way they turned out, and it's all thanks to you!

    Finished.JPGHandle White.JPGHandle Black.JPG

    Just gotta say you should sell those Bokken are quite gorgeous, how are they in practice? Can they sustain repeated trauma? Sorry lol I'm not all too familiar with properties of wood but if my gut is correct, Ebony is quite dense right? I've used White Oak Bokken for quite a while now and it's held up beautifully, ebony seems... GORGEOUS and far more durable! How would an entire bokken made of Ebony hold up? BUT FOR REAL you have awesome skill! Looks gorgeous and looks incredibly well built!

    OMG I WANT GIVE ME please :) oh wait i mean PLZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ cause extra z's r better :) lol but seriously i want

    Wow.... O_O that is beautiful! I'm so going to have to make one for my boyfriend, well another bokken that is. Seeing as I've already made him 3 ^-^'

    hiya, im just starting with kendo, so as i dont see any information about shinais, could you tell me if its possible to make one bokken lighter than normal?? (problably with another kind of wood of something?) i just want it for training at home (i borrow one for class) so i dont mind if it doesnt look real enough (just b safe). Thanks for your advices, you did a great job. x x

    5 replies

    For light weight wood, I suggest using pine. It will get dented up, but still be useful. You could also cut away the center wood on this design. It would be a bit tricky, but possible. A good medium weight wood is alder - strong, but lighter. Best of luck!

    Purchase four large bottles of vinegar and soak it in you bath tub while at work. When you get home wipe it down and allow pine wood to absorb dry and wait to be amazed! This can only be done after all wood shaping,cutting, sanding are complete so that when it dries all it needs is the finish of your choice

    you can rout out some of the hardwood from the middle of the blade before you put it together and fill it with pine or even balsa. Ive seen it done on pool sticks and they take a pretty hefty beating.

    Yes, you can make a lighter one from a wood such as pine. It will get dented a bit, but should work well for practice. Also, pine is very easy to work with if you are new to woodworking. Best of luck / ganbate kudasai

    Do you think drilling holes into or through the blade and handle would reduce the weight enough and not make it too weak?