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What makes one shirasaya better than another?

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#1 piryohae3

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 06:03 AM

I see that there's a shirasaya section in the annual sword making competition. As far as I know they're plain, not lacquered, simple, made of 10 year old magnolia wood. Not much room in the way of creativity. I guess it's about quality of fit?


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#2 Blazeaglory

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 07:46 AM

Some Shira saya have beautiful grain/tiger stripes on the wood but as far as craftsmanship goes, I would say proper fit of the blade and proportion relevant to the shaping and finish of the wood.
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#3 Bazza

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 08:08 AM

... Not much room in the way of creativity. I guess it's about quality of fit?

Well, as the owner of a number of very fine tora honoki shirasaya and just having seen a very old so-so shirasaya on a Bunmei Katsumitsu wakizashi I would opine that there is indeed a lot of room for creativity.  Creativity in the sense that "if it doesn't look right then it it isn't", rather than in the sense of bells and whistles and fiddle-di-dos.  It takes a great amount of experience to craft a fine shirasaya as much as for any of the sword arts.  The internal fit is very important as it is in kissing distance of an expensive polish.  Any mistake there can be costly.  I have always been in awe of the Japanese craftsmanship in wood.  The internal fit of a tsuka to the nakago is stunning and I've wondered how the artisan can create such a smooth finish without any blemish or surface irregularity and how it "snicks" into position with just a tap of the hand.

 

BaZZa.


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#4 Rivkin

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 09:06 AM

Pretty much similar with wood used for makie.

Until 1840s it was dried for a century and even today can take almost any climate and any abuse.

Modern works instead prevent warping by being glued from a few separate parts.

Modern shirasaya will respond to climate and in some cases can get stuck and even need some careful climate adjustment. The more they err in choice of wood, the more pronounced will be the effect.

 

Kirill R.



#5 kissakai

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 11:25 AM

I may have read that the internal form was depended on which part of the world the sword would reside in

 

When my sword was to go to Japan Paul Martin said looking at my shirasaya, "obviously you will need a new shirasaya"


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#6 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 11:47 AM

Good question and informative thread. I suspect we are still scratching the surface. Many years ago I heard that newcomers cannot get the 'right' 朴の木Honoki any more (probably what Kirill refers to above, thickness, quality and curing age) and only those sitting on secret stashes will still be able to make top shirasaya.

 

Magnolia obovata, the Japanese cucumber tree, Japanese bigleaf magnolia, or Japanese whitebark magnolia, is a species of Magnolia, native to Japan and the adjacent Kurile Islands. It grows at altitudes near sea level up to 1,800 m in mixed broadleaf forests. Wikipedia


Piers D

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#7 BIG

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 12:01 PM

Hi James, samples from a German resaurator, see the differences..

https://www.nihonto....onturen/katana/

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Peter Reusch

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#8 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 12:10 PM

Peter 'see the differences' .............. in price, right?

 

(I cannot see any wood samples there.)


Piers D

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#9 BIG

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 12:24 PM

Hi Piers..

https://www.nihonto....tungsbeispiele/

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Peter Reusch

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#10 PNSSHOGUN

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 01:23 PM

The better Shirasaya I have are far less affected my seasonal changes than the "normal" ones. The others are very nice in their own right but at some times in the year I don't really bother looking at them because it's such a pain to get the Tsuka off.


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#11 nagamaki - Franco

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 08:54 PM

Hello,

 

Just like a well made and finished habaki all aspects of a shirasaya should be precise inside and out. Why, because any imprecision particularly in the fit could result in a catastrophic failure. A Japanese sword is a weapon first and foremost even in shirasaya!

 

All shirasaya are not contoured and finished to the hand and eye in the same way. Some time ago at a study group session where six swords in polish were on display, surprisingly the first comments made (especially by the Iaido black belts in the room) were not about the swords but rather a shirasaya that was notably different from the others on the display tables. Something caught their attention.


Edited by nagamaki - Franco, 06 March 2020 - 11:08 PM.

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#12 Rivkin

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 12:26 AM

I heard today most shirasaya are even made from imported Chinese or Taiwanese wood. Its certainly true in lacquer world (and you can notice the difference), but not 100% sure with shirasaya.

 

Kirill R.


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#13 piryohae3

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 02:52 AM

  The internal fit is very important as it is in kissing distance of an expensive polish. 

 

What do you mean by this? Is this referring to the sides of the blade rubbing against the inside of the saya?


James J


#14 Greg F

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 03:24 AM

The inside of the saya is very close to the surface of the blade and if its has contact it damages the surface which is expensive to polish and even worse is the metal thats removed that cant be replaced.

Greg
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#15 piryohae3

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 03:43 AM

As far as I know, only the mune is supposed to touch the saya when you sheath and unsheath it, yes?


James J


#16 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 04:22 AM

When you sheath and unsheath it, yes.

 

The habaki holds the blade away from the edges, and I believe that the kissaki of the blade is pinched in some way so as to keep the rest of the whole blade suspended in a neutral space. Correct me if this is wrong, anyone?

 

There is a detailed discussion of shirasaya considerations in Japanese here, but I have not had time to read the whole thing yet.

 

https://www.facebook...09453535803114/


Piers D

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#17 RichardP

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 05:01 AM

“...and I believe that the kissaki of the blade is pinched in some way so as to keep the rest of the whole blade suspended in a neutral space”
That’s something I’ve often wondered—what is it that keeps the tip from pendulum-ing laterally?
Richard P

#18 Tom Darling

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 07:33 AM

I recall a Fukuoka Ichimonji tachi with Mt. Fuji habaki in a very long black lacquered shirasaya,  It was priceless.  Peace

 

 

Tom D.



#19 SAS

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 08:17 AM

As far as I know, the mune and the top and bottom of the habaki suspend the sword inside the shirasaya. The ones i have restored were that way, and I make mine the same.


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#20 Bazza

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 01:42 PM

What do you mean by this? Is this referring to the sides of the blade rubbing against the inside of the saya?

James, I mean what subsequent posts indicated.  To clarify, the blade is indeed only meant to contact the shirasaya on the mune, hence why we draw it and sheath it on the back.  Its painful to see people drawing a blade on its side.  I also meant that because there isn't a lot of space between the side of the blade and the shirasaya, a clumsily made shirasaya could indeed rub on the side of the blade.  Furthermore, careless handling in the draw and re-sheath can also cause the shirasaya to rub on the side of the blade.

 

BaZZa.


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#21 Gakusee

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 02:25 PM

Kissaki is not supposed to touch the interior of the shirasaya
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#22 Brian

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 02:49 PM

And a good sayashi will take into account temperature fluctuations and leave room for expansion and contraction etc. I think shirasaya making is an art in itself.


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#23 raynor

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 05:17 PM

I showed my sword to someone more versed in blades then myself, he liked the sword but was awestruck by the to my fresh eyes quite plain shirasaya. Said it was made by someone with clearly decades of experience. There is clearly an art to it.

Omar Iversen


#24 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 08:29 PM

 

That’s something I’ve often wondered—what is it that keeps the tip from pendulum-ing laterally?

There isn't anything, at least not on any of my blades. The habaki's fit in the koiguchi, & the stiffness of the well-made shirasaya, orients the blade so that nothing touches.

 

You can make it 'clack" by shaking the shirasaya, but not otherwise.

 

Yes, definitely an art.


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