The Axe – Ono Style Cloth Mask

The Axe is a Japanese inspired cloth face mask which can come in handy if you are chopping charcoal, playing ninja-and-seek, traveling, or appear to be navigating a worldwide crisis at the end-of-days. As well as gaining you entrance to the grocery store, a well made cotton mask can be surprisingly effective at filtering out many unwanted materials in the air from pollen to charcoal dust.

The name comes from the similarity of the pattern shape to an axe (ono in Japanese). Aside from a cool style, three important interconnected aspects of an effective mask are a proper fit, filtering ability, and breath-ability.

  • A proper shape, size, and fit ensures that air goes through the mask rather than leaking around the edges.
  • A material or combination of materials that have the ability to block more particles decreases exposure for the wearer.
  • A less restricted airflow allows the wearer to breath easier and wear the mask comfortably for longer.

Other materials used for the mask are hair elastics or rubber bands for the ear straps and a short piece of malleable aluminum wire to form over the nose area. Note that two straps that go around the head work much better to create a seal, especially at the chin. The design has an internal pocket which can optionally hold an additional layer of material such as a poly-fiber hvac allergen/dust/pollen filter.


scroll down or jump to the sections below:

Pattern
Preparation
Inside Work
Outside Work
Contour Wire
Straps
Filter


Pattern

Accurate fit is very important in order to get the maximum dust filtration value of the cloth in a mask. A pattern template is a starting point but making a prototype from scrap cloth or even paper is a good way to dial in the proper fit and size before making a mask. In terms of fit testing and seal, this pattern compares more to a surgical mask than a respirator design. This pattern uses a half template for the outside and a half template for the inside, two halves are cut from each to make one mask.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The Axe Mask template: small [.pdf 199k] | large [.pdf 685k]
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The outside material (“self”) is a sturdy cotton t-shirt or other tightly woven cotton material.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The inside material (“lining”) is a tenugui or handkerchief or other breathable soft cotton material.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Two identical halves are cut from each template using a rotary cutter (separated only for illustration).
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Cut with the good sides facing in and do not separate the halves. Do not use pins to hold the halves together.

Preparation

Pins should not be used to hold the fabric together in order to keep the fabric weave as tight as possible. Halves are joined together first, seams are ironed and topstitched down, then the edges of the inside (lining) fabric are folded and seamed.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The front seam is sewn on both halves, good sides together. Making the seam allowance sightly larger on the lining fabric will help the fit later.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The seams are ironed flat (or they could theoretically be both ironed to one side for better seal).
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Topstitching the seams down will help prevent them shifting in the wash.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Lining fabric is topstitched down both sides of the spine.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Self fabric is topstitched down both sides of the spine.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Inside and outside view after topstitching down the seams.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The edges of the lining fabric are clean finished (folded over twice before stitching down).
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
After clean finishing, note this is only done to the lining fabric layer not to the self fabric.

Inside Work

Good side of the fabric should face inwards for the inside work stages. The front (self) and back (lining) are carefully aligned and joined together before turning right-side-out.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The main thing is that the center lines meet at the same point.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The edges of self and lining fabric should also align.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Stitching begins at the clean finished seam of the lining layer and is locked down by reversing for a few stitches.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
View of the other side before turning right-side-out.

Outside Work

The mask is turned right-side-out by pulling it through one of the openings in the side of the pocket. A chopstick is used to ensure the fabric is fully opened around the edges. Ironing the edges flat prepares them for the next step of stitching around the outside edge. The width of the seam across the top must be large enough to fit the nose contour wire inside later.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Turned right-side-out and ironed around the edges. The self fabric layer is folded and ironed to align with the seam of the lining.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Working from the outside/front of the mask, the edges are topstitched all the way across the top and bottom. The top seam must be large enough to allow the nose contour wire to slide inside.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The seam continues all the way across and stitches down the seam of edges of the self layer.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The top seam must be large enough to slide the nose contour wire in from the edges to the center.

Contour Wire

Without a nose contour wire the mask will not seal very effectively. There are many options that could work, tin ties (from coffee bags), copper wire, pipe cleaner, heavy twist ties (but no paper for the wash), floral wire, folded strips of aluminum cans. Soft aluminum will not rust or poke through the cloth and is light and easy to bend. The wire shown below is 1.5-2.5mm (16-14awg) dead soft aluminum, edges filed or sanded round to remove sharp edges. Each time it is bent it will get harder by the process of work-hardening so it should be left as-is until the wearer is ready to fit it to their face.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
About 8cm/3″ of soft aluminum wire with ends chamfered to remove burrs and sharp corners.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The wire should slide into the top seam between inside and outside layers of fabric for padding.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
To keep it from sliding left and right a couple of small stitches lock it in from each side.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Finished nose contour wire, to keep it soft it should not be bent until the wearer is ready to customize it.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Properly adjusted it can hold the fabric tightly against the contours of the face around the nose.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Mask is ready for straps at this point.

Straps

At this stage the careful testing of a prototype will pay off. The finished mask should end just before the ears so that a small elastic loop can provide enough tension for proper fit. Note that though ear elastics are easy to wear, two tight straps that go around the head work much better to create a seal, especially at the chin.

Several materials may be useful for the straps as long as they are not too wide and not too tight on the ears. Hair elastics or rubber bands should be about the right length to go through the folded clean finished seams at the ends of the mask. Head straps work better when they have some stretch, particularly the lower of the two.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Possible materials: stretchy socks cut into loops, tie-able hair bands, elastic drawstring found in pant cuffs.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
After testing for size/fit/angle, ends are folded twice and ironed in place for clean finishing.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Hair elastics are slipped into the fold and a seam run down the inner edge (for aesthetics this can be sewn from the front of the mask rather than the lining side).
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
The elastics are trapped but can rotate or be cut for replacement in the future.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
PS: Don’t forget to turn the stitch length back up after locking in the nose contour wire.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Finished cotton t-shirt and tenugui fabric diy face mask.

Filter

It won’t help coping with the tyranny of everyday life in the last-days, but for extra performance when charcoal chopping an appropriate filter material can be cut and placed inside the pocket of the mask. Some vacuum and hepa filters may contain glass fiber so careful research should be done before using a filter material for something other than the original intended purpose. There is a type of hvac ultra allergen furnace filter made from poly-fiber, of which some types are rated to capture very small particles (perhaps mpr 1500 or higher would be in the range of n80-n90).

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Cutting the filter to the shape of the inside of the mask.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Tucking the top to match the nose contour.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Taping to hold the crease in place. Smoother side faces outward, looser/fibrous side faces inward.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Filter material shaped to the mask without opening the surface by cutting or sewing.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Loosely folded up and inserted into the side of the pocket.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Expanded flat and aligned with the inside of the mask pocket.
The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Electrostatic filters must be removed or discarded when washing the cloth or effectiveness is greatly reduced.

The Axe - Japanese style DIY cotton cloth mask with filter pocket.
Several masks can be rotated allowing for drying, resting, or even washing time between uses.


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