I recently finished a katana and wakizashi tsuka from a set of Huawei swords. I’m working on a lot of Huawei these days as they’re becoming more popular among the affordable katana fans, and for good reason. Huawei has been selling decent katana and wakizashi for many years and in my opinion, has been improving their wares consistently throughout. While many Longquan area sellers offer similar items via ebay, I find Huawei swords to be just ahead of the rest as far as blade quality and fit and finish. They are also a step ahead when it comes to the rest of the koshirae but like all of these manufacturers and sellers, their tsuka construction and tsukamaki have a long way to go to equal their blade quality.
One issue I find often with Huawei’s tsuka, as with this Huawei daisho, is the general thickness being too great. I believe they might be overcompensating for the lack of a custom fit to the nakago with a lot of extra material in their tsuka core in an attempt to cut down on cracks and splits. It could also be that they are just not aware of what a proper tsuka shape should be. Many know the tsuka of a katana to be an oval or even round in shape and while this is true in a way, it’s not as much the core being rounded as the tsukamaki adding to the final shape. The folds or cross-overs of the tsukaito on the faces of the tsuka create a rise that gives the regularly fairly flat sides it’s oval appearance. When you have a round or oval tsuka core to begin with and then add the folds of the tsukaito, you can wind up with a very fat and round finished tsuka.
It’s harder to control the edge of your blade when the grip is too round, much like on a western style sword. When the grip of a western style sword or a katana is more flat than round, it’s easier to know where the blade edge is and to then be able to control it’s alignment. Raised folds of the tsukaito added to the relatively flat faces of the tsuka core make for just the right amount of curvature. Larger, poorly shaped grips can also be a strain on your hands when using the sword for some time.
For this recent customization, I first had to trim down the bulk of the cores considerably. I always make sure the integrity of the wood and construction is intact before I consider removing any material by carefully checking for cracks, splits, or other potentially dangerous flaws. Once the bulk was removed, I then proceeded to refine the shaping and made sure the lengths would work well with the chosen tsukaito.
Measuring and making adjustments to the length ensures the end knots will wind up on the correct sides and that the tsukaito does not fall short of or overlap the rims of the fittings. My customer asked that the new samegawa panels I was adding looked aged and that they had a split running down the ura sides. This was to give the impression that they were old tsuka with a full wrap of samegawa. I looked at many antique tsuka with original samegawa to get an idea of the coloring as well as other details that would replicate this look as accurately as possible.
I mixed a few dyes which were then treated with different finishes and applied them to sample pieces of samegawa and choosing the two best results, I then gave my client the final decision. Once he chose what he liked best, I then applied this to the panels paying extra attention to areas like the seem edges. On many old tsuka I’ve seen, the seem edges were not as smoothly joined as they once were due to wear from the elements and overall shrinkage and decomposition. I obviously didn’t want to go too far and have the wood core exposed or show any major damage so I just added enough to make the age noticeable and hopefully believable. The tsuka were then finished off with brown silk in a basic hineri-maki style.
It was hard to capture the exact coloring and texture of the “aged” samegawa in most of my pictures but the two close up shots near the bottom are the closest to how they appear in person.