Organizing the Carving Area for Making Saya

A few views of the preparation of the woodworking space for carving saya (scabbards) and tsuka (handles). The loft area of the shiageba provides a small floor working space and storage area for tools and wood while downstairs is for polishing. The window faces north to provide stable lighting conditions throughout the day.

Woodworking operations for swords do not require large spaces or complex tooling. The floor space in the loft is about two tatami in size and the area provides room for planing and carving, storing and seasoning magnolia wood, and storage for tools and other related materials. Reclaimed oak is used for flooring and scrap wood boxes and shelves are used for storage. The carving and planing table is often made from magnolia in order to match hardness with the wood being worked.


scroll down or jump to the sections below:

Carving & Planing Bench
Forging Sayanomi
Tool & Wood Storage


Making a Carving & Planing Bench

A simple stand or stump is used by most sayashi for the operations of planing and then carving the saya. This project incorporates a Magnolia slab top with scrap Red Cedar (Cypress) blocks for legs and Ebony scrap for the planing/carving stops. The height is set for comfortable access from a sitting position on the floor or a cushion.

Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
Using a kanna the surface is leveled and smoothed.
Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
An azebiki (畦引き) saw is used to start a channel for the stop.
Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
The waste is removed with a narrow chisel and the edges chamfered.
Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
A stop is carved from a scrap of Ebony.
Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
A wooden mallet is used to seat it firmly into the channel.
Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
Two stops provide four different length options each for planing (pull) or carving (push).
Tsuka and Saya Carving Bench
Left: a split stump that has been roughly carved and also given stops may come in useful for holding the difficult shape of a tsuka or saya while planing the exterior.

Making Sayanomi

Saya-nomi (鞘鑿) are a type of Japanese chisel with several unique features designed for carving the inside of a wooden scabbard or handle. Hand forged from a reclaimed harrow tooth, the elongated neck is slightly curved for clearance, the bottom and side corners are slightly rounded, and the tip is slightly bull-nosed to facilitate cutting inside a concave surface without leaving corner marks.

Sayanomi - Tsuka and Saya Chisel
Before and after view of the reclaimed harrow tooth and the finished chisel after tempering.
Sayanomi - Tsuka and Saya Chisel
A scrap of magnolia makes a clean, simple handle. No ferrule is necessary as they are used as push chisels.
Sayanomi - Tsuka and Saya Chisel
A simple rustic handle finish left by plane and chisel, natural oils from handling will darken it in time.
Sayanomi - Tsuka and Saya Chisel
Often sayanomi are made longer for carving katana scabbards, but for tanto this length works well.

Tool & Wood Storage

The main tools used for making scabbards are kanna, a couple of sizes of sayanomi, various knives/kiridashi/scrapers, rasps, saws, tokusa grass/blocks, and strip and wedge clamps for gluing. Related tools are also kept for restoration or repair along with projects in progress as well as some antique examples of saya and tsuka for study. Magnolia wood that has been seasoning for several years is kept in the work area both in rough slabs and sawn and split blocks ready for use.

Tsuka and Saya Carving
Seasoned Magnolia slabs for processing and carving into scabbards and handles.
Tsuka and Saya Carving
Work table on left, tool storage on right. Kanna, nomi, and other related materials and tools at hand.
Tsuka and Saya Carving
Above: saws and split blocks of Hounoki (Japanese Bigleaf Magnolia) seasoned and ready for use. Below: horn, samegawa, susudake, and other materials and parts in kiribako storage boxes.
Tsuka and Saya Carving
Project in progress along with wooden tsunagi style blades for study and practice.
Tsuka and Saya Carving
Top shelf: mallets and saws. Below left are kanna, sayanomi, kiri, right projects in progress along with some antique examples of tsuka and saya for study and proportion. Box drawers hold other tools and the lowest shelf has regular chisels, rasps, rulers, and small files.
Shiage-ba for finishing handcrafted knives.
Washi paper lamp made from scrap wood, ancient antler rack displaying sword kata for tachi and katana.

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