Boken Quality?

Flying Crane

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What should I look for in a good quality Boken? I understand some types of wood can splinter more easily than others. What should I stay away from and what would be a good choice? thx.!
 

Grenadier

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Ah, one of my favorite subjects! I love using premium wooden weapons, since they feel alive in my hands. No joking!

Wood type is one of the most critical factors. In general, cheap bokken are made out of loose-grained North American red oak wood, which is so porous, that if you strip away the varnish, you can actually see where they used wood fillers to smooth out the surface.

The cheap bokken are OK for kata practice, or for very, very light contact, but are unsuitable for anything else.

You need a hard, yet resilient wood, for a bokken. Something that resist crushing, yet absorb shock decently.

Even ordinary white oak is pretty much unsuitable, although Japanese white oak (Kashi) can be very good. Also, there are some species of tighter grained red oak that may be much better, such as the stuff that Shureido uses.

Hickory wood, if selected properly, can have a great combination of all of the factors above, and at a decent price. It's a bit shaggy, though, and sometimes, you may find yourself having to sand your bokken a bit, to get the surface you want.

Two of my favorite woods for bokken, though, are purpleheart and jatoba (aka Brazilian Cherry). Beautiful woods, and both are very strong, yet can take a beating. I've had the same jatoba bokken for almost three years now, and so far, 12 people have broken their cheap red oak bokken on mine. Yes, it's developing surface cracks now, but the core is still intact, and the wood still holds up to good bokken to bokken contact drills on a regular basis. The way I see it, I was much happier that I had spent more money on this bokken, since I would probably have broken several red oak ones in the same time span.

I also use purpleheart and jatoba in my two favorite bo's.

There are two more woods that I love using, but they are rather difficult to obtain. First is Ipe wood, which is very dense, and very heavy. If you have a standard sized bokken, and use Ipe, then you'll definitely get a workout, and that the feel of the bokken will have a similar weight as a metal blade, no joking. It's a very tough wood, and the only drawback is that it's not a "pretty" wood.

The second is indigenous to Hawaii, and called "Ohia" wood. Very hard and dense wood, yet still feels lively in the hands. I really can't describe it any other way, but needless to say, my third favorite bo is made from this stuff, and I absolutely love it.

There are other woods, such as Bubinga, that may also make very fine bokken.
 

exile

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Whoa, terrific information, Grenadier! Like Flying Crane, I'm interested in this question, as I'm going to be starting to train in Gum Do with my TKD instructor shortly, and will be needing to obtain a boken for starters. Your post is very helpful. Now all we need to do is find suppliers for all these most excellent toys! :D
 

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Ironwoods and Ebonies are going to be the strongest and the heaviest but sadly many of these trees are endangered.

Many Filipino weapons are made from Kamagong, an Ebony fruit tree from the region that produces very heavy wood. Sometimes this wood is referred to by the name of its fruit, Mabolo.

Stay away from anything made from a palm tree, such as coconut wood. The outer ring of the palm is fairly substantial but the center core of the palm is not. This is what gives palm trees their flexibility in the wind. Great for the survival of the trees, bad for a bokken.

Just a note about hickory...pecan is in the Hickory family so some hickory wood is callled Pecan wood.
 

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Thanks to all, very good and enlighten information. It will change the way I look at and buy boken. I'm thinking metal bars, now I only need to find a place to buy the muscles to lift said metal bars. K-Mart?
 

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Even ordinary white oak is pretty much unsuitable, although Japanese white oak (Kashi) can be very good.

Japanese oak was pretty much prefered where I used to train. In my very limited experience it gives good balance and resists impact pretty well. Japanese white oak bokkens are pretty expensive, at least around here, but I never regretted spending the extra cash (about $125 I think.) Traning became so much enjoyable with a good bokken.
 

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Remember to look at the rings in the tree. They should be vertical, or i might split off wronly whne "hitting" with it.

/yari
 

Grenadier

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Ironwoods and Ebonies are going to be the strongest and the heaviest but sadly many of these trees are endangered.

Pretty much hit the nail on the head. The strongest "ironwood," Lignum Vitae, is about twice as dense as any red oak, and can take a beating like no other wood in the world can. If anything, they still make some ball bearings out of this stuff, since it's so strong, and self-lubricating.

There was once a time when Lignum Vitae wasn't too rare, but after a while, it was overharvested, and right now, it's very difficult to find. I'm not saying it's impossible, but you do have to look carefully.

Besides, ask anyone who crafts wooden weapons, who is familiar with Lignum Vitae, and they'll tell you that they'll have to charge you a lot of $$$ to make one. It's not because of the scarcity of the wood, but rather, it takes a long time to get one ready. This stuff is so hard, that you have to use hardened steel tools to cut / shape the wood. Ordinary chisels will dull very quickly.


Many Filipino weapons are made from Kamagong, an Ebony fruit tree from the region that produces very heavy wood. Sometimes this wood is referred to by the name of its fruit, Mabolo.

Another fine wood, indeed. Some may know of this stuff as "Macassar Ebony," and it takes very nicely to a polishing. You get a solid black and caramel brown striping pattern in most pieces of Kamagong, and this produces a beautiful pattern, indeed.

Sadly, it's also getting difficult to find good Kamagong, although for smaller weapons, such as hanbo or escrima / kali sticks (I know, I know, that's a poor term for it), it's not quite as difficult.


Stay away from anything made from a palm tree, such as coconut wood. The outer ring of the palm is fairly substantial but the center core of the palm is not. This is what gives palm trees their flexibility in the wind. Great for the survival of the trees, bad for a bokken.

Exactly. I remember asking about using coconut wood on this forum a long time ago, and got good advice in avoiding it. The wood isn't really that good for most kobudo weaponry.

Here's an example of a coconut wood bokken:

http://www.imperialweapons.com/oriental/weapons/Ip-302.html

I have nothing against the above vendor; in fact, they're a good merchant, and I've ordered stuff from them before, just not that particular bokken.


On another note, I've noticed that several vendors now sell a bokken made out of synthetics. I'm simply going to recommend staying away from that particular bokken as well. They're too light, and the flexibility is too great, and I'd rather someone develop their techniques with something that at least has some heft to it.

I honestly don't know anything about the new high-density synthetic ones, though. For the price of such a bokken, I know that I can simply buy exotic wood ones made of the materials I listed in my first post in this thread, and that's what I'll stick with.
 
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Flying Crane

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Great replies, thanks everyone.

Grenadier, do you know someone who supplies boken in the exotic woods like the purple heart, jatoba, bubinga and such?

What do you think of a good maple? does it have suitable qualities?

I have done some work with wood in rebuilding my sword hilts and scabbards, and have used some of the exotics like Bubinga, Jatoba, Chechen, Zericote, Cocobolo and Koa. Unfortunately, I have developed a sensitivity to many of these exotics. They have natural resins and oils that act to protect the plant in the wild, and sometimes people can be or become sensitive to them. My hands break out in a nasty rash when I work with them, and even finishing them with a polyurethane didn't seem to seal them off well enough. I finally covered them with this stuff that they use to cover bar counters. I forget what it's called, but it's a two part epoxy that you mix up an pour over the bar top in a thick goo, and let it dry. That finally has seemed to help, once I refinished my grips with that. Otherwise, every time I would train, my hands would break out again, and once the stuff sets in, it can take weeks to heal up, even with a good steroid cream from my dermatologist. Dry, peeling, scaling, cracking, blisters. nasty stuff.

I talked with a wood worker about this, he told me about a friend who has a set of "woodworking laws" posted in his shop. Law number one: Every one is allergic to Cocobolo. Law number Two: If you aren't allergic to Cocobolo, you will be. So this is pretty well known among the woodworking crowd.

Some of these exotics are kind of notorious for it, but often the local woods are less of a problem. I havent yet experienced the same problems from my limited work with maple.

The boken is not actually for myself, but for my cousin's son who is looking to start training in a school soon. So my own problems with exotic woods might not be a problem for him. But if I can't find a good one, I might see if I can make one for him. I have a couple of very nice pieces of a beautiful curly maple. Might that be a good choice?

Thanks everyone!
 

Grenadier

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Great replies, thanks everyone.

Grenadier, do you know someone who supplies boken in the exotic woods like the purple heart, jatoba, bubinga and such?

Several folks, but I'll limit my listings to the ones with whom I've actually dealt with in the past, and had good results. I know that there are many, many excellent companies that produce fine products, but I can only give a direct opinion on those who I have dealt with.

Crane Mountain Dojo makes all sorts of wooden weapons, and has a very wide array of woods from which you can choose. Pam and her husband really know their stuff, and it was certainly a pleasure to deal with them over the phone, as well as in person, at one of the martial arts symposium events.

Bokkendo Woodworks also makes nice weapons in a decent variety of woods. Ray Stephens owns that business, and has done a fine job on my bokken in the past. I just ordered a couple of bo (one purpleheart, one ipe) from him, and will be happy to share my experiences with these when I get them.

There's also a fellow on eBay who goes by the user name of "ment4forcontact" who I can also strongly recommend. He makes excellent purpleheart and jatoba bokken.

Regardless of who you choose, though, always have a detailed conversation with them. They can custom make your bokken just for you, and there are few things worse in this world than an ill-fitting weapon.

The conversations I've had with the first two vendors have all been very informative, and I came away from those business transactions a richer man in knowledge (if not in the wallet, but it was certainly worth it).


What do you think of a good maple? does it have suitable qualities?

Maple can vary very highly from one tree to another, and definitely from one species to another. A good piece of hard maple can make a nice bokken, especially those who want a bit of weight reduction compared to some of the exotics I listed.

Kim Taylor has a pretty good listing of many of the woods, and their properties:

http://www.uoguelph.ca/~kataylor/bokuto.htm


Unfortunately, I have developed a sensitivity to many of these exotics. They have natural resins and oils that act to protect the plant in the wild, and sometimes people can be or become sensitive to them.

Yeah, there are many folks who do woodworking that wear masks to avoid the dust as well, since carpenter's cancer is also a possibility.

I'd actually collect sawdust from the carpenter's shop, so that I could use it to dry down the grip of my tennis racquet (ala Ivan Lendl), but after having dealt with a batch containing a good bit of exotic wood sawdust, I developed some nasty reactions to it over time.

problem for him. But if I can't find a good one, I might see if I can make one for him. I have a couple of very nice pieces of a beautiful curly maple. Might that be a good choice?

As long as you have a tight-grained piece of hard maple, it can certainly make a fine bokken.

Anyways, I hope this can be of some use. If anything, I got some more good info from reading your methods on finishing the wood.
 
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Flying Crane

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Anyways, I hope this can be of some use. If anything, I got some more good info from reading your methods on finishing the wood.
Thanks for all the info here, I'd be happy to share what I have discovered, if you might have any questions.
 

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What do you think of a good maple? does it have suitable qualities?

Watch for bokkens made from Birdseye Maple or Sugar Maple. These hardwoods are not only very strong but they have less inconsistency than other groups of species. :)
 
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Flying Crane

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For general info, I thought I'd comment a bit more about the wood finishing that I have experienced, with regard to my allergy issues.

I also wear a respirator when working with the wood, because you don't really want to be breathing any wood dust if you can help it, but esp. the exotics. I also wear work gloves, and often surgical gloves under them, but it seems at some point the dust would get thru the gloves and I would have problems regardless. I suppose even just putting my tools away, there is some dust about, and you can't really help coming into contact with it to some degree. For me, it was enough to cause a problem.

I used to finish the wood with linseed oil, after sanding to a high polish, 1200 grit sandpaper or finer, even as high as 2500. I loved the linseed oil, it darkens the wood a little bit, and can continue to darken over time. I finished a maple handle with it a few years ago, and it is a rich orange-brown now, just beautiful. I also like the fact that it doesn't "cover" the wood over, leaving its beauty exposed.

I had hoped that a sanded and finished piece of wood would not trigger my allergies, hoping that it was really the dust that was a problem. For me, that was not the case. Whenever I would train, I would have the problem again. So I finally finished some pieces with three coats of a polyurethane. I didn't like the finish very well, it made the grip feel like it was covered in a hard plastic, but I needed to protect myself. Ultimately, I decided that it did not fully seal off the wood from contact with my skin, as I continued to have problems when I would train with them.

I finally found this stuff in my local hardware store, I wish I could remember the name, but it is a thick, two part epoxy that you mix up and pour over a flat surface like a table. It is used a lot to cover bar counters in a very thick, slightly rubbery coat. If you put a full mug of beer on the counter, let it sit, then pick it up and it leaves a slightly indented circle in the surface that gradually pops up and goes away, that is the stuff.

So it flows on thick and goey, but it's really meant to be applied to a flat surface. That created a challenge for me in coating my sword handles and scabbard, as they are roundish and three dimensional. I figured out that I could prop them up by the ends so they are suspended flat like a bridge, and brush the stuff on thick (i actually apply a thin first coat, per the instructions, then follow with the thick coat). You want it thick and heavy, and you want to see it flowing and forming a drip line underneath.

Every few minutes I would turn the piece over, and let it run to the other side. You want to catch it before it does much dripping, because of course this will eventually thin out your coat. You also don't want it to dry with a drip line, of course. But the drip line begins to form, and the stuff is thick enough that it doesnt begin to drip immediately. For the first hour or two I would flip the piece every 5-10 minutes or so, and the stuff would even out. Gradually, I could let it sit for half an hour or more, between flips, but I had to babysit it for at least 4 hours, even 5 is better to know for sure it won't run anymore.

It dries clear, has a slightly rubbery feel to it, and actually looks nicer than I expected. The light undercoat didn't look so good, but the heavy coat cleans up nicely and the stuff just settles smooth on its own.

With my scabbard, I was able to prop it at both ends for this, as the ends have metal fittings that weren't going to be covered.

For the sword handles, some of them could be taken off the swords, and that made it easier to deal with. I took a cardboard box and lined the bottom with newpaper. I then punched three holes evenly spaced along one side, and three more opposite to those holes. I then ran a wooden dowel from hole to hole, and was able to skewer the handles on the dowels, thru the hole where the tang of the blade runs.. This set up three handles in a row, like a rotissarie. I could just flip them over by spinning the dowels, and I could close the lid of the box to keep dust off.

Hope someone finds this useful.
 

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I am really liking the Shiro Kashi (Japanese white oak) bokken, jo, and bo I ordered recently. Very dense, but they also have a nice "springiness" to it.

As an added bonus for someone who has had shoulder problems off and on, the weapons are also considerably lighter than my cheaper weapons (without sacrificing durability as far as I can tell so far), especially the cherry bokken I was using before.

I ordered mine from a Canadian company called Sei Do Kai http://sdksupplies.netfirms.com/index.html They ship to the US (shipping included in prices) and can accept paypal for payment, which was very convenient for me. So far, I'm VERY happy with their weapons and with the quick service. Several of the seniors in our dojo have admired my new weapons and enquired where they could get some, and I just ordered some Tonfa from them yesterday.

From their catalog, they also have some of the exotic woods that Grenadier mentioned, though I haven't tried them.
 

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Kim Taylor has a pretty good listing of many of the woods, and their properties:

http://www.uoguelph.ca/~kataylor/bokuto.htm

I ordered mine from a Canadian company called Sei Do Kai http://sdksupplies.netfirms.com/index.html They ship to the US (shipping included in prices) and can accept paypal for payment, which was very convenient for me. So far, I'm VERY happy with their weapons and with the quick service. Several of the seniors in our dojo have admired my new weapons and enquired where they could get some, and I just ordered some Tonfa from them yesterday.
This is actually the same guy. I don't have a bokken from Kim, but I purchased a couple of tanto from him a few years back, made from Bog Oak. It's basically wood recovered from the bottom of a peat bog. Lightweight, but tough as hell.
 

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This is actually the same guy. I don't have a bokken from Kim, but I purchased a couple of tanto from him a few years back, made from Bog Oak. It's basically wood recovered from the bottom of a peat bog. Lightweight, but tough as hell.


Whoops! Didn't notice until you pointed it out. :)
 

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I have ordered some wood weapons from Crane Mountain Weapons. They can make you about any wood weapon you could ever want. The catch is that depending on which wood you want they can be expensive. They have a very nice bloodwood and purple heart that make some very resiliant weapons. IMO, I would call the and get a quote.
 
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