The spear is something to fear.
Nakayama Hakudô
The spears Print E-mail
Written by Jürgen Seebeck   

Spear making

A plane in its natural surroundings.
The making of a spear begins with getting the right material. To keep things easy you don't buy raw wood but go for already round bars of appropriate length and diameter. Of course you are not bound to round bars but can use any starting format you like, but this would mean much more work to do. For this reason I will limit the description below to turning (or better planing) a cylindrical bar into a conical one.

Which kind of wood ist suitable for spear making? Wood with long fibres and a high density. In Japan as for most wooden weapons red or white oak is used, which is (nearly) impossible to obtain here. But there is other suitable wood you can get here (with some limitations):

  • Ash - a little less dense than oak. The most easy to obtain wood listed here. Easy to work with. Instead of breaking under stress, ash rather just dissolves along its fibre structure after years of heavy use but can be reglued.
  • Oak - a liitle denser than ash. But the quality of oak you can buy varies a lot. Some spears made from domestic oak last for years while others break very soon.
  • Hickory - would perhaps be the most suitable wood as it is nearly indistructable. I have seen hickory at timber dealers but never in an appropriate length so far. If you should know a source for hickory Sô would be glad to be informed about it.

Other wood might be suitable as well but the only one the author has experience with is mahagony. Every expert had warned him as the wood is hard but brittle. But a suyari he made from mahagony proved to be very usable. He would never use this wood for a kamayari on the other hand which has to endure completely different and much more stress.

After you have bought your wood, you can start working on it. But how to turn a cylindrical bar into a conical spear shaft that tapers from its butt end to its tip? Well, turning would be one way to achieve this. But there is another much more easy way: planing!

Japanese tools
This works best with japanese planes which are not pushed but drawn. This in combination with their razor sharp blades makes the reduction of wood a highly controllable act.

You can work on the spear on every plain surface using the help of a second person which holds the bar while the one operating the plane works his way up from the tip of the spear to its butt end, drawing the plane in strokes that become gradually longer. After every couple of strokes the person holding the spear turns it lengthwise for a few degrees, always in the same direction. This ensures that the wood will keep its round cross section. For convenience both persons working on the spear can change their roles during the process.

Of course you can work in the described manner alone. But this means one of your hands is buisy all the time holding and turning the spear so you have only one hand left to handle the plane which means working this way is much more exhausting and - more important - imprecise.