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BASIC JAPANESE HANDLES
Since we offer the Yakiba blades, it seems a good idea to give a few hints on how to do the mountings or grips. What we have sketched is typical of a combat tanto or sword. The handle wrapping is not included because I couldn't think of any way to get in the drawing without it looking like an orbital path sketch.

1. Tsuba - This is a guard, rather large on some, downright tiny on certain tanto. It is loose enough to slide off the tang when the handle is removed. Forms vary from round to square, with every possible shape between. Most were not more than 5/16" thick, although some had edges hammered back to make them heavier. Fighting tsuba were made of iron and sparsely decorated.

2. Seppa - Simply a washer, sometimes used to tighten the fit of a shrinking handle. Most fittings sets had one in front of the guard and a second behind it. These were generally the same shape and size as the open end of the sheath. Thickness varied from 1/32" to about 1/16". Edges were often decorated. As blades were remounted or modified, an extra Seppa or two were often used to make the whole assembly tighter on the tang.

3. Fuchi - A collar which re-enforces the front end of the handle halves, should they be stressed severely under fighting conditions. The general shape is a lot like a bottle cap, but these were made in two pieces, rim and flat soldered together. The end shape is oval, matching the cross section of the handle. It slides directly over the front of the handle, and the tang goes right through the center of it.

4. Handle - Tough wooden slabs, but not made in halves as one might expect. You see in the sketch, that most of the inletting was done into one half, and only a fraction into the other. This eliminated having the action of any stress from the tang from working against a joint. A slot at the butt end was for the wrapping cord knot.

5. Kashira - An end cap, fitting snug over the last 1/4" or so of the grip to re-enforce it. Oval shaped, but unlike the Fuchi, made in one piece which was hammered into a mold to give it the general form. Holes were for the wrapping cord, passing through to help hold the whole mess together.

6. Same' - Ray skin, a rough surfaced rawhide from a special ray. Hard as a brick, but softens when wet and is easy to shape, since it holds whatever shape it is held in as it dries. Not too easy to find, but produces an excellent gripping surface. Many smaller knife handles were simply covered with this skin and no wrapping. Same' was inlet into the handle wood for 1/3 to � its thickness, to keep it from shifting in use.

7. Mekugi - A peg, with hard bamboo as the best and favorite material. Some are seen in metals, horn or ivory, but none of those materials ever held as well as bamboo. Most had a slight taper, and were about 3/16" in diameter. It is important to understand that the peg was not there to hold the blade into the handle. Each tang was fit so perfectly to the handle that all the peg was there for, was to prevent forward movement of the tang from starting. In plain wood handles, peg holes were often lined with bone. The peg goes in from the palm side of the grip, and should be centered in the second diamond of the handle wrap.

8. Menuki - Small, forged decorative figures of various themes which served to provide a better grip shape for the hand when wrapped under the handle cord. These were hollow backed, hammered out of thin copper and decorated. Most had a short pin on the back that fit into a hole in the handle. Antiques were never cast.

We have deliberately skipped the Habaki, since it is well covered in an earlier part of the Yakiba section. All fittings and parts must be fitted with the Habaki in place. It serves several purposes. The first is to keep the cutting edge notch from chipping, adding support to that entire area by transferring impact from the blade to the tsuba and handle.

Second, the Habaki is the part that wedges into the mouth of the sheath to hold the blade inside. If the blade were a wedge fit into the sheath, it would become hopelessly scratched in a short time.

Third, it provides a really great spot for rust to form and mess up the blade. Clean underneath often!

That is a lot of parts to make a knife handle, but properly done, will give you one heck of a fighting grip. The fit of the tang in the wood is really critical. It has to be perfect in every respect. There's one fellow who actually uses gun stock bedding compound to make his fit like they should, and that's not too bad an idea. When shaping the wood exterior of the grip, remember how much thickness the cord will be adding.


JAPANESE HANDLE WRAPPING
The following drawings were furnished to us by Scott Slobodian, and illustrate the traditional method most commonly used to wrap the handle of a Japanese fighting blade. (Scott makes some of the finest replicas of Japanese blades ever seen in the Knife makers' Guild) A much more detailed description may be found in Scots' article published in the Spring 1990 issue of Knives Illustrated. Scott is also considering re-doing the article for distribution to other knife makers who missed the Illustrated article.


JAPANESE SUPPLIES
We recommend, Fred Lohman Company, 3405 N.E. Broadway, Portland OR 97232, Phone 503-282-4567, Ganzo Ltd, P.O. Box 11, Hyampom, CA 96046, no phone, and Bugei Trading Company, phone 619-736-4785.

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