My training blades start out as a slab of uniform solid material. †At this point it could just as well be destined to be made into gears or bearings, but here it will become functional art, a rare blend of strength and balance to enhance your martial art training.
The first step is to measure dimensions for a particular blade, to cut a board off of the slab.† If there is a template, I can just tape off a rough dimension, making sure I leave enough edge to work with later.† I use a table saw for these initial cuts.† Itís more stable than my old circular saw but also less intuitive.† A large wood bandsaw might make more precise cuts.† At this point what I have looks nothing like what it will become.† Itís just a rectangular block of material.
Next I go to the router table.† This is the muscle machine in the shop.† If Iím copying a template, I use double-sided tape to attach it to the workpiece.† I have an overhead pin arm to trace the template while the router blade cuts the piece underneath.† That lets me see where Iím going and helps keep my hands safe.
Templates are made freehand from designs traced or taped onto fiberboard, which is much cheaper.† This gives me greater freedom to experiment with designs, saving the prime materials for the final products.† Itís almost as much work to make a template as a real piece.† Thereís no beveling, but it has to be really smooth.† Any errors will get copied onto production pieces.
The 2-1/2 hp. router blades spin at up to 25,000 rpm as the workpiece is pushed into the bit.† This can be dangerous, especially if the bit grabs the piece and shoots it across the room.† For heavier cuts Iíll use clamping sleds that exert hundreds of pounds of pressure to hold my workpiece.† This keeps my hands at a safer distance from both blades and workpiece while giving me greater control.† I plan to keep my fingers!
Once the shape is cut, I can make light passes without the sleds to smooth the form, as there is little material being cut and therefore less resistance and danger.† After this Iíll separate the template from the workpiece
Now I change bits to round off the edges, so itís safer to handle the workpiece.† Iíll trace the entire circumference of the piece, on both sides.† If Iím doing a 24Ē sword, thatís four passes (top and bottom, left and right sides) for 96Ē, plus a few more for the width of the guard and pommel.† For simplicity, letís say itís 100 inches of circumference on a piece this size, half that on a knife.† (Do you know that Japanese sword refinishers charge by the inch to sharpen blades?† And thatís some serious coin there Ö)
The first part I finish is the handle, as this is where blades are meant to be held.† The feel of a blade is through the handle, and so working forward from there allows fine-tuning the balance of the whole piece as it progresses.† If Iím comfortable with the shape of the handle, it may already be 90% finished, but work on the blade has barely begun, requiring multiple passes on several machines.†
A 24Ē kris has an 18Ē double-edged blade which will require 2-3 bevel cuts on each of the four surfaces to get them clean and even.† Iím still using the overhead pin to follow the contours of the blade, but as edges angle back from cuts on one side I have to be careful to adjust my depth when doing the second side, and without letting the guide pin touch the cutter.† Bevelling bits arenít cheap, running $50-100.† The depth of the cuts at this point will determine the edge width, weight and balance of the sword.†
The hardest part to do is the tip, which can easily chip on the router.† Stock is best cut by feeding into the router bit, minimizing grabbing.† One side of the sword is easy to do this way, pulling from handle towards tip.† The opposite side, however, leads in tip first, which is a difficult feed and subject to chattering on the cutter.† I need to hold the piece and have to be especially careful not to ruin the project at this point.† CNC machines move their cutters over fixed stock, which is stabilized by leaving points connected until the final cut.† Thatís extremely accurate.† Iím doing the opposite, manually moving the stock over fixed cutters, which has different benefits and problems.
Examining the blade at this point determines what is required next.† Tool selection goes progressively from larger, more powerful machines down to smaller, more precise options.† If there are rough spots or flaws that the router cannot fix, I may go to a slack belt sander or coarse hand files.† Sanders work quickly and leave a smooth finish but donít always blend cleanly with adjacent areas and are to large and powerful for small spots.† Next is a Dremel tool, which can do many jobs, from detailed shaping and decorative cuts to texturing and engraving.† At this phase it would use a drum sander.
Files are where the detailing really begins.† I use a variety of sizes and shapes.† For modifying the overall shape of a piece or erasing tooling marks I may need a large mill file or circular rasp, used carefully so as not to leave deep gouges.† Cleanup and finishing use either regular or diamond needle files.† Though both types are the same size, the cuts are different between them.†
Once I begin handwork, itís important to move smoothly because file blades establish a pattern of grain in the surface.† Consistent direction of movement has a natural and organic flow, whereas crosscuts with a file will not.† How much work is done at this level depends on my goals for the piece and how accurate I was earlier with the machines.
The end is in sight as I bring out the finish.† The blade is polished with sandpaper, progressing from180 grit up to 600 or even finer, continuing to bring out the grain.† Finally the blade is buffed with a sequence of wheels and buffing compounds to bring out the shine and create a rich and lustrous finish.
I generally leave the handles a little rougher, using grip shape and some texturing along the thin width for a good hold.† I like the handle to feel and look different from the blade so I donít polish this part out; a satiny feel is warmer and more wood-like to my taste.† On Chrisí sword I went further, finishing the project with a ďbasketweaveĒ pattern on the sides using the Dremel.† This is time consuming, an option and not a necessity.
Right now an estimate on time for a piece, start to finish, ranges from at least two hours for a knife up to six hours for a sword.† This depends on size, single or double edged, and level of detail.† Iím hoping with experience to cut this time frame down; itís not economical to spend a whole day on a sword, but that is what it takes right now.†
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Hereís a synopsis of the work.† Many steps needs tooling changes which are part of the time estimates.† I also have to stop to vacuum up chips and dust for health and safety, even with a collector running, or else debris can get so thick I cannot see the workpiece.†
1) ††Measuring and cutting the blank on the table saw; 2-4 cuts (5-15 minutes)
2) ††Set up template, rough cut shape with router; 2-4 passes (20-30 minutes)†††† Vacuum router table between passes (2-4 minutes each time)
3) ††Edge rounding on router; 2 passes, top/bottom, (10 minutes)† Vacuum after all
4) ††Dremel detail shaping and texturing thin width of handle (5-10 minutes) Vacuum
5) ††Re-edge handle with router if necessary (2 passes) (1 minute Ė router still setup)
6) ††Bevel cut the blade; 2-4 passes each side, 2x for double edges (20-30 minutes)† †††††Vacuum router table on each pass (2-4 minutes each time)
7) ††Belt sanding blade (0-15 minutes) Vacuum
8) ††Decorative cuts on guard (bandsaw or Dremel) (5-10 minutes)
9) ††Filing blade (30-120 minutes, depends on shape)† Vacuum +/-† 10 minutes
10) Sanding blade (15-40 minutes)
11) Buffing (10-15 minutes)
12) Optional handle engraving (60-120 minutes)