The bokken, as a wooden katana replica, provides a safer alternative to training with a live, razor-sharp samurai sword. Carving your own bokken provides you with a practice weapon with strengths and weaknesses you know well. You can personalize the bokken to your needs and desires, rather than having to rely on a store-bought one. You can make a bokken out of a single 4-foot-long 2-by-4 piece of lumber by using simple carpentry tools.
Carving the Blank
Mark two C-shaped curved lines an inch apart down the entire length of the board. The right curve will be your mune, or spine, and the left one will be the ha, or edge. The mune line should touch both corners, once for the tip and once for the end of the hilt. The outermost curve of the ha should touch the edge of the board approximately halfway down the length. To adjust the curvature of your bokken, the arms of the curves can be different lengths. If the curvature starts closer to the hilt, your bokken will curve more. You can find the curvature of the blade by placing a ruler at the edge of the board and measuring to the innermost curve of the mune. Most swords have approximately an inch of curvature.
Check the wood grain on each end of your 2-by-4, and measure 1 foot, or approximately three fist-widths, from one end to mark your hilt as a straight line on both sides. According to Sword Forum Magazine, a katana hilt should measure the length of your forearm from elbow to wrist. Katana fighting styles use different grips, but the general layout of a katana requires a fist's distance between your hands to use the sword. Measure the hilt from the end with looser grain--tight grain indicates strong wood useful for the blade.
Draw a line at the end of your hilt to mark the boundary between your hilt and blade. On a katana, a tsuba, or handguard, would be placed here, but tsuba very rarely exist on bokken. Starting from the tip of the mune, draw a curve to meet the ha. This will be the kissaki, or tip. Longer kissaki lend themselves well to thrusting techniques, but make the tip of the sword weaker and lower its cutting effectiveness. Make your first kissaki the length of your first thumb joint.
Shaping the Blade
Mark lines along the mune and ha surfaces that taper toward the tip, starting from the upper third of the blade. At their thickest, the lines should measure half an inch apart. Use the plane to form them with a series of progressively longer passes. Draw lines running down the center of the ha to meet the recently-made tip, stopping where you previously marked the hilt. Use the plane to form the shape of the edge by thinning out the edge toward the middle of the sword. Continue until your bokken has a half-inch-wide edge running straight down the blade. The cross-section of the bokken should resemble a thin wedge.
Clamp the bokken vertically in place, with the mune facing you. Use the spokeshave to start thinning and shaping the shinogi-ji, or the plane nearest the mune. Stop when the mune is half an inch thick. The cross-section of your bokken should now resemble a rounded wedge, with the ha as the point.
Hold the bokken at eye level, edge up. Look down the edge, checking for any uneven widths that would make the bokken asymmetrical. If necessary, use the spokeshave to trim any excess.
Hilt and Finishing Touches
Clamp the bokken firmly. Shape your hilt into an oval with the belt sander or sandpaper. Align the long axis of the hilt with the blade. The hilt should fit in your clenched fist without your fingers being able to touch your palm.
Sand the entire bokken lightly. This will close the pores of the wood and get rid of the markings you made.
Apply boiled linseed oil as a finish. Never use commercial finishes, because they make the wood sticky--you want your bokken to move effectively in your hands.
About this Author
Michael Smathers studies history at the University of West Georgia. He has written freelance online for three years, and has been a Demand Studios writer since April 2009. Michael has written content on health, fitness, the physical sciences and martial arts. He has also written product reviews and help articles for video games on BrightHub, and martial arts-related articles on Associated Content.