The Taekwondo class that I attended with my brothers in middle school encouraged us to participate in tournaments. I attended a few during my time in the program, and while the fighting was fun, the thing that ended up being my favorite part of the tournaments was the area of booths selling flashy items. My attention was always drawn to a frame holding three katana-esque blades sold at one of the stands. The largest blade was a katana, but the other smaller blades have different names and I believe are not considered katanas.
I ended up buying the set after a few years to display in my room but was quickly disappointed by the lack of quality craftmanship. They were clearly only for show, but the steel used to manufacture them began to rust slightly in mere weeks after I purchased them despite not being directly exposed to water. I was fully aware that they were not produced using real katana forging methods, but I did expect better.
To make matters worse, the handle wrapping on the actual katana which had been hot-glued onto the wooden handle began to peel off after a few months. At that point, I became tired of the cheaply assembled, mass-produced knockoff katana and planned out constructing my own handle for the blade. I still haven’t wrapped the handle or ground the surfaces of the fasteners flush with the handle surface, but I am much more satisfied with the hickory handle that I built than the original with its cheap plastic guard, flimsy tang and weak pine frame.
As with nearly all of my projects, I began this one by searching for scrap materials around the house that fit my needs before buying anything. Being a simple project, all that I needed to acquire for the handle was some wood, metal for a new tang, and strong fasteners. A few years prior, I had constructed a machete from the end of an old, broken hickory axe handle and a decorative knife using a cutoff from the top of the same handle. The middle section still remained, and it matched almost perfectly with the shape that I desired for my katana handle to have. I split the handle down its center with a wood saw which would allow me to envelop the tang of the blade from both sides with the wood pieces and bolt them together, creating an extremely rigid handle.
The next challenge was not one that I could accomplish myself as at the time, I hadn’t yet built my arc welder, but my stepdad offered to do the welding for me to combine the new tang with the blade. I cut off the small, weak tang that had been used originally to combine the handle and blade and then cut a scrap piece of weldable steel to a shape that would fit inside the handle and provide a lot of support. Using his auto shop’s metal-inert-gas (MIG) welder, my stepdad welded the two together for me. I then ground down the weld beads until they were nearly flush with the blade surface to allow the tang to fit inside the handle.
Using a Sharpie, I traced out the shape of the tang on both halves of the handle, then I carved away the wood in those spaces on each section to a depth of half of the thickness of the tang, or about 1/16 of an inch. The cavity that this created was meant to hold the tang between the halves while allowing them to form back together at the seam where they had been sawn apart which I thought would be more aesthetically pleasing than leaving the tang visible through a gap between the wooden sections.
To fasten the two halves together, although admittedly a bit overkill, I used 4 evenly-spaced 3/8-inch nuts and bolts as clamping fasteners. I carved out countersink holes in the wood surrounding the holes that I had drilled through the handle so that I could later grind off the protruding nut and bolt ends without removing their clamping ability, leaving some of the caps and nuts behind. I have not yet ground off those ends to bring them flush with the handle mainly because I first wanted to add some kind of matrix, most likely epoxy, between the sections of the handle and the tang. The goal in doing so would be to further increase the rigidity of the handle-tang interface and compensate for errors made in chiseling out the cavity from the wood sections which, if left unchecked, could cause the wood to break when I tighten the fasteners.
I am still deciding what kind of wrap I desire to apply to the handle, but I have seen many YouTube videos containing similar projects which I will likely reference before I make my final decision. Money is definitely a factor, and this is hardly one of my highest-quality projects, but I do want to use a material that can take a beating. I’ll likely go with some kind of leather or cotton cord, though leather sounds far more appealing. In one video that I watched recently, the forger constructing his own katana used stingray leather to wrap his handle. If possible, and not violating any laws, I would like to do something similar. I’m hoping that it will at least outperform the cheap nylon strings that came with the sword regardless of which solution I settle on.