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The Humble Tsuka


In terms of Japanese swords, my specialty is the tsuka or handle. For me, the tsuka is the unsung hero of the sword world. If you disagree, try using a sword without it! I think of it almost like a car’s steering wheel: you can have a Ferrari, but if the steering wheel isn’t functional then that piece of fine Italian metal muscle becomes an expensive lawn ornament in an instant.

The humble handle is one of the things that inspired Koryu Crafts to form our company: we found that precious few production swords have respectable handles and fittings. Often, even when the blades are fine, the tsuka and koshirae show the sacrifices that have been made to cut costs. Tsuka on these swords are often too fat or do not have the proper curvature. The ito (cord) might be cheap synthetic fabric instead of real silk. Sometimes hishigami are not used: these are the paper triangles that go under the wrap to hold the diamond patterns in place, and they’re critical. As a result of these cost saving measures, those swords won’t rest in the hand correctly. It’s the kind of thing that you won’t notice until you hold a proper tsuka, and then you won’t ever be able to “unfeel” it.

The great thing about a tsuka is that you can always change it, as long as you know someone who can wrap a handle like me! Once you take off the ito, you can change the shape of the tsuka, swap out the koshirae, change the color or material of the ito, or fit it with a nicer piece of samegawa. You could even keep multiple tsuka built for the same sword, just so you can pick the set that catches your fancy on any given day.

I think it’s fair to say that practitioners spend more time in contact with their tsuka than any other part of their sword. How many of us, however, really study it? The tsuka is the medium through which we transmit deadly intent, the place where human and tool physically meet to create what neither could do alone. In short, it’s where the magic happens!

If you would like some recommendations regarding your sword handle, please get in touch with ben@koryucrafts.com. A proper tsuka is an affordable way to change the whole look and feel of your sword, and I’d love to help you with a project.

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