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Library: general construction process


Author: Ran
Date:Nov 1 1997

There's a lot of groups / people selling these, but nothing to really explain
the process behind making them yourself.

This is only about wood.  For metal, ovens and molds and other tools are
required, so it's unrealistic unless you want to spend much too long. 
Prefabricated metal items, such as chains, barbed wire, or stakes are often

A historical note:  Most such devices weren't originally intended for martial
use.  Some have important double functions.  Nunchuka are used for cooking,
Sai, Tonfa, and sickles for gardening.  Chains and ropes are used in boating
and construction.  This is important because actually carrying a weapon at all
times, on your person may become inconvient.  As you're reading this, take a
minute or so to look around and locate some everyday items that could be
properly used as items.  For instance, if you're using a commen human computer
with a mouse, notice it could be used as a simple weapon.  You can hold it by
the end of the cord, and swing the handheld "mouse" part around like a
ball-and-chain.  Or you can wrap the cord around people and strangle them. 
That's the same way those who first used these devices thought.  Maybe it's a
tad unrelaistic (those mouse cords are rather weak) but you get the general

Staff (Jo / Bo) - They are quite elementary to make.  You can probably find
large dowels -- 3/4ths inch diameter or 1 inch diameter at any hardware store.
 At first, these are just fine to use.  It maybe cause problems later, but
they're good for getting started.  You can make an okay staff by just picking
the appropiate diameter dowel.  Make sure it's thick enough so it doesn't
bend.  You shouldn't have to use over one inch thick.  Start sanding with 100
grit, then 150.  Using a damp cloth, wet the surface of the wood and let it
dry.  Sand again with 150.  Wet, let it dry, and sand with 150 again.  Apply
two coats of sanding sealer, sanding between each with 150 or 220 grit
sandpaper.  Then, use water-based polyurethane finish, three coats.  It's easy
to apply, inexpensive, and is a decent finish.  When the polyurethane is
drying, take the staff inside, don't leave it outside in the sun.  The bad
thing about polyurethane (water or oil based) is that it turns yellow and can
degrade in heavy sunlight.  But unless this is something constantly left
outside, it's not such a big deal.

Now if you whack a few things (or people) with it, you'll notice a few
problems.  It's mostly from the fact that the dowels you can get off the shelf
aren't designed to be used for such things, they're made for support and
"standard dowel things".  If you want a quality staff, you have to get your
own non-rounded wood and shape it yourself.
For a simple staff, durability is somewhat imporant, but most important is the
strength (sheer and bend) of the wood.  So be sure to pick the right type of
wood.  For short, light "speed" staves, Poplar is usable.  For larger or
heavier ones, see if you can find Rosewood or Cocobolo.  These are very strong
and durable.  If not, Maple or White Oak are commen and acceptable, but not

You probably won't be able to find pre-rounded wood, I just get boards.  Saw
off a strip, square cross-section.  You will need a machine saw of some type
for doing this.  Next, round the edges.  If you have a power hand-saw, just
saw off the corners making the cross-section octagonal.  Next, it's best to
use a power-sander to make a round cross-section.  Once you have it rounded
off, you're ready.  Everything else, same as before.  You might want to look
into better finishes.  Supposedly, Tung Oil or Linsead Oil don't make the wood
sticky like Varnish or other oil-based finish.  I can't stand the smell of
oil, I only use the water-based finishes.

Selecting Wood - The quality of the wood is important.  Find a good piece.  It
should have a closed, tight grain.  Check the ends to make sure there's no
splitting.  It should be straight (not warped) and be evenly cut.  It
shouldn't have any cracks.  If there's a lot of difference in the color of the
wood, get the darkest piece you can find.  Avoid sapwood -- softer,
lighter-colored wood that comes from the innermost(?) part of the tree.

Nunchuka - Not too hard.  Make a staff, between 20 to 24 inches long.  Use the
densest rosewood (or slightly lighter cocobolo) you can find.  Should be
3/4ths of an inch diameter.  Saw in half, drill 3/8ths inch shallow holes in
each end.  Mix up some epoxy cement and use it to join the two by a chain. 
The chain should be between 8 and 14 inches.  Find a circle whole-link chain,
don't get one of those decorative furniture chains.  Coat the shallow hole
with the epoxy and insert the chain, hold in place for a few minutes.  Let it
dry overnight.  Finish same as before.

Be sure to practice a lot with nunchuka, at least till your comfortable. 
There's a lot more tecnique to using them -- practice and try not to hurt
yourself too badly. If they're well-made, it should be an effective flailing
weapon (off your own body) in addition to being used to strangle people (wrap
chain around neck, cross, pull).

Large Hammer - A large hammer is a pounding type weapon like a blunt pick.  It
resembles a lopsided cross / crucifix.  Use poplar.  You can use something
heavier for the impact points, but it's not necessary.  Get a 1 1/2 inch by
3/4th inch by 4 feet piece of poplar.  Using a file, make a point by running
the file across the grain in a stair-step fashion.  Do this so it forms a
diamond which gets incrementally smaller and smaller until it's less than 1/2
an inch wide, and 1/3 an inch tall at the end.  Go down about 2 to 2 1/2 feet,
and saw off the piece.  Next, saw off a piece about 6 inches long.  Use the
file to make a simple daimond in it again (just one, no stairstep thing like
before).  The diamond should be inscribed in the square formed by the
cross-section of the wood, and only about 1/3rd or 1/4th of an inch deep. 
Next, make the back end of the hammer, it should only be about 4 inches.  Glue
the pieces together to form a lopsided cross.  The far end is the handle,
round it off by sanding it.  Finish, same as before, with the staff.

The end is pointy so you can use it like a hammer or a spear.

Small Bladed - Finally, small bladed weapons.  Cherry (wood) is great for
these, even though it's not very strong structurally, it can be made very
sharp.  Walnut is stronger, great for things like spearheads, but doesn't have
as fine a grain as cherry.  These aren't too hard to make, but require careful
work and thought beforehand.  Get thin wood, 1/4th of an inch thick.  Cut to
form the shape you want -- a blade no longer than 1 foot, a handle less than
5-6 inches.  Use 50 to 80 grit sandpaper to sharpen the edge to a point, and
round off the handle.  Then use 150 grit, wet the wood (as before), and repeat
2 or 3 times.  Apply sanding sealer.  Sharpen again, with 220 grit, apply
sealer again and sharpen again.  

For finish, you can use water-based polyurethane, as before.  If you want
something really sharp, mix up a lot of epoxy, and spread a thin layer over
the whole blade.  Don't stick anything else onto the blade, just let the epoxy
dry overnight.  Then sand it to a point, and repeat until no longer necessary.
You can make really sharp edges and points this way.  But it's only
recommended for smaller weapons.

Bokken - Finally, something like a sword.  I like these, they can be very

Maple (hard) is the most economical.  Other woods you can use are Hickory
(problems with stability, otherwise good), White Ash (light but limited
durability), Purpleheart (nice colour and heavy, but mediocre durability),
Cocobolo (superior if you can find a straight-grained piece), Rosewood (same
as Cocobolo), and Lignum Vitae (hardest wood known, but expensive and

For a simple sword, the easiest thing to do is to try to find some maple
corners.  I think they're called "moulding".  Make sure you pick out good
moulding.  Most of the time these pre-cut things are decorative and woods like
red oak (not recommended) pine (not recommended).