Tsuka – The Sword Handle

The tsuka is the handle of the Japanese sword. This is divided into the Menuki or Samegawa. Menuki are ornaments on the tsuka while Samegawa is the ray skin that covers the handle. Traditional wrappings are referred to as Tsuka-ito. Tradition dictates the use of silk however, today cotton is used and at times leather. When learning how to wrap the sword handle shortcuts must not be made. The goal is a combination of appearance and function. In creating a Katana tsuka these fall into two distinct stages. First, the wood is split and carved to receive the tang. It is joined while shaping the outside. Carving is done by using special chisels known as saya-nomi.

Enforcing the Katana Tsuka Core

To increase strength, the tang is placed slightly off centre in the black using rice paste wood glue known as Sokui. This will fully support the wood.
Sokui is chosen because of its non-acidic property. This will not degrade the steel or wood given time. On top of this, there will be no moisture retaining issues in the future. Simply put, using this glue will preserve the sword for a longer period of time than using ordinary materials. To turn a block of wood into a graceful handle needs the help of chisel, knife, coarse files and rasps. This is the final stage of creating a sword.

How to Disassemble the Katana

There may be times when a Katana needs to be inspected, repair or cleanse. Mekugi, Tsuka, Tsuba, Seppa and Habaki must be removed. Once the Mekugi is removed the handle is ready to be taken off. This is a rather simple process if the handle is not that tightly screwed. Most production Katana has a tightly stuck handle to the blade. If this happens it would be best to use an old towel for protection when removing the handle. When putting the sword back together slip the habaki, seppa and tsuba into the nakago. Mekugi must have the same rayskin as that of the Katana Tsuka. Keep in mind that rewrapping the handle starts when measuring the handle in inches and add 4 to this number. This will wrap the handle snuggly.

A 12 inch handle needs 16 feet of ito to wrap. The existing fittings must be used. When replacing Tanto full same and no wrap is required though. Katana Tsuka can be shortened. These handles can be shortened in increments of half inch. Keeping an even number of wrap width will keep the knot in place. Tsukamaki is the process of wrapping the Tsuka of the Katana. Avoid allowing this to be loose otherwise it would be in poor shape later on. The end knot will exhibit the wrong re-wrapping once this happens. The use of lacquered or black ray skin will give the sword a different theme. This is only applicable for handle re-wrapping. The old Ito can no longer be used. Keep the wrapping tight and functional as possible. A resourceful and creative craftsman can transform the sword to a collector’s piece with the right choice of tsuka.