How to Make a Samurai Sword Sheath

Written by michael o. smathers
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How to Make a Samurai Sword Sheath
Collection of saya. (swords image by Pavel Losevsky from

The sheath of a katana can warp with improper maintenance or split if it comes into contact with the sword's edge. Damage to the sheath can cause damage to the sword blade, and high-quality katana blades can cost thousands of dollars. Samurai sword sheaths, or saya, consist of two intricately-shaped wood pieces, which are glued together and lacquered. If your saya breaks or if you want to make another one, a length of hardwood 2- by 4-inch lumber will provide you with the raw material you need to make a basic sheath, or shirasaya.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • 4-foot 2- by 4-inch lumber
  • Pencil
  • Katana
  • Wood plane
  • Wood chisel
  • 320-grit sandpaper
  • Coping saw
  • Razor knife
  • Clove oil
  • Clamps
  • Wood glue
  • Paint
  • Lacquer

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  1. 1

    Cut the 2- by 4-inch lumber in half along its length. Use the plane to smooth the two halves of the wood to a completely straight surface--no gaps should show if you place the halves together. Periodically check them, and smooth them as you proceed.

  2. 2

    Place the katana's blade on a piece of the 2- by 4-inch lumber. Starting from the tsuba--guard--trace its outline along the grain of the wood. Turn the blade over and repeat for the other side to create a mirror image.

  3. 3

    Measure the thickness of the habaki--collar--of the katana, and halve it. This marks the deepest indentation to chisel, so draw a line to this depth with your pencil and draw a rough cross-section of the blade. The opening created by the habaki's dimensions snugly holds your sword in place in the sheath. According to the South California Naginata Federation, only the mune--spine--of the blade makes direct contact with the inner surface of the sheath.

  4. 4

    Chisel out the hollow interior, starting from the mouth of the sheath. Never use sandpaper to smooth the interior of your saya; grain residue will severely damage a katana's blade. Measure approximately 1/2 inch past the point where you marked the tip of the sword--the extra length allows blade oil to collect in the saya and lubricate it when you draw. Smooth any rough edges or splinters by running the razor knife along the surfaces.

  5. 5

    Carve a small indentation along the inner edge of one side to prevent your sword's edge from running against the saya's seam.

  6. 6

    Coat the katana's blade with clove oil and sandwich it between the saya halves as though sheathing it. Wait 10 seconds, then check the interior. Any oil spots on the wood indicate the blade making contact. Plane these surfaces down further.

  7. 7

    Draw the rough shape of the sheath exterior on each half, using the blade shape as a guide. Use the coping saw, plane, chisel and knife to create the geometry by making progressively finer passes over the wood. Place the two halves together and sand away any excess.

  8. 8

    Completely coat the seam surfaces with wood glue without allowing any onto the outside or inside. Align the two halves of the saya perfectly and glue them. Clamp them together until the glue dries.

  9. 9

    Sand the entire sheath until it has an oval shape that will fit comfortably in your hand.

  10. 10

    Sand a 1-inch-wide leftover piece of wood to the shape of the omote of the saya, or the left when traditionally worn at the left hip. Hollow it out and glue it to the sheath, leaving your hand's width of space between it and the opening. This piece, known as the kurigata, both holds your sageo cord and provides you with a gauge to judge where the saya is when worn.

  11. 11

    Apply paint. When the paint dries, apply a coat of lacquer.

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