Process of Finishing Shirasaya

A shirasaya is a simple storage scabbard carved from a single piece of wood. Most often is it made from Honoki (Japanese Bigleaf Magnolia). The first stages are similar for any type of saya (scabbard), but the shirasaya involves slightly different processes as the natural wood will be the final surface.

The wood is split into halves and divided between handle and scabbard, the inside is carefully carved out to make room for the tang and the blade. When the fit is right, the halves are glued back together again, traditionally using rice paste glue, and wrapped tightly until dry. For more details on these earlier steps, see: Mikazuki Tanto Process | Icho Hime Tanto Process.


Shaping

The hole is drilled with a kiri and shaped with a round tapered file or reamer, the outside is shaped using chisels and planes, and finally smoothed using tokusa grass as sandpaper.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Squaring up the block with a chisel.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Beautiful fine shavings as the profile is shaped with a plane.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Profiled from both top and front views, there will be lots of new shavings for lighting the forge with!
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Roughing in the shape with a chisel, beginning next to the seppa and working towards the ends.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Planing away the chisel marks to bring the surface right to the finished shape.

Finishing

A smooth antler tip is used as a burnisher to press strongly over the entire surface of the wood, a small area at a time. The finished shirasaya is given a thin layer of ibota wax and hand buffed with a cotton cloth.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Burnishing the surface with an antler tip to bring out the shine.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Using some shavings to rub on a layer of pulverized ibota wax before buffing with a piece of cotton cloth.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
The ibota wax on the outside preserves the natural colour of the wood and does not darken it at all.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
The wood is chosen and cut so that the natural grain flows with the finished shape of the shirasaya.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
Beauty in the natural aging process: wabisabi.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials
More photos of the finished piece may be found here: Spalted Alder Kotanto