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The Art of Tsuka Maki: Katana Handle Wrapping Beginner’s Guide

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: April 10, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Katana, a renowned Japanese sword, has been admired as a representation of samurai tradition for hundreds of years. The curving blade and long grip of the katana have piqued the interest of swordsmen all around the globe. But the katana’s handle is more than just a practical addition – it’s artistic creation in its own right. 

The wrapping around the Katana handle is an integral part of the weapon. The handle wrapping not only improves the sword’s usability by making it easier to hold but also gives it a pleasing appearance. 

In this article, we’ll show you the basics of wrapping the handle of a Katana, which is an easy and enjoyable activity. We’ll walk you through the process of wrapping your own Katana, including the length and type of material we recommend.

Japanese Handle Wrapping Technique

Different types of Katana handle Wraps
The seven ways a Japanese Samurai Sword can be wrapped – Credits: 明日への扉 by アットホーム

Japanese sword handle wrapping is called Tsuka-Maki, which translates to handle wrapping in Japanese. It derives from the word for the sword handle, Tsuka, combined with the word Maki, which translates to roll. The Katana handle is usually made out of wood. Then it has a wrap traditionally called Tsuka Ito, which is usually made out of cotton, silk, paracord, or faux leather.

The purposes behind the tsuka-maki are plenty and here we will mention just a few.

  • Better Grip – the rough patches and material aid tremendously when wielding
  • Protection – it protects the core of the wooden handle underneath
  • Better Balance – adds weight to the handle, which aids with balance
  • Absorbing Moisture – it can prevent slippage
  • Increasing Overall Safety – very good to use when training with a Katana
  • Personal Touch – enhancing the aesthetics by using various materials and custom sword handle styles
  • Meditative Practice – when done by martial artists and swordsmiths as it takes great patience and expertise to execute it perfectly

There are many different styles of Japanese handle wrapping, like Shino-maki, Kata-hineri-maki, Katate-maki, and Gangi-maki. Each is different but can be made on all Japanese swords like the Wakizashi, Tachi, a practice Iaito, a ninja cosplay Ninjato, a small Tanto sword, or a high-quality clay-tempered Katana used for Japanese martial arts.

A wrapped Katana handle will make the full tang high carbon steel blade of a Katana combat-ready, unlike the other type of handle called Shirasaya, which is made out of wood and can also be hand forged. 

Katana Handle Beginner’s Wrapping Tutorial

Getting the proper length and width of your Tsuka wrap is key before you begin the handle-wrapping process. A good width for your Katana wrap should be 0.39 inches (1 cm) wide in relaxed form and 0.31 inches (8 mm wide) when fully tightened.

Measure the Katana length and handle, and convert the inches to feet. Once you’ve done so, add four more feet to the inch number you’ve gotten. For example, an 8 to 10-inch (20 to 25 cm) handle will need 12 to 14 feet (3.6 to 4.2 meters) of cord.

1. Place Katana in a Horizontal Position

Step 1 Horizontal Katana Handle
A horizontal Katana handle position supported on its pommel and blade – Credits: Bujikan Nagare Almeria

Start by putting the Katana sword’s handle horizontally on a flat surface. We recommend that you find a platform that can hold the end of the katana handle near the pommel, or called Kashira, and the blade or scabbard while keeping the handle in the air. 

This makes it much easier to work with because you must turn the handle in the next steps. A flat horizontal position works fine because you can push the handle down on the wraps when creating the diamond shapes.

2. Find the Center of the Ito Wrap

Step 2 Find the Center of the Ito Wrap
Pulling the wrap with one hand while holding the finger on the other side to find the center – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

Take out the Ito you’ll use to wrap your Katana’s handle. Hold it in one hand with a finger in the middle, and pull the other two ends of the wrap a few times until you can see that they are all the same length.

It’s important to get this right and line up the center point of the Ito wrap because if they aren’t the same length, the wrapping process won’t be even on both sides of the handle and will drastically impact the handle’s functionality.

3. Place the Center of the Wrap on Top of the Handle

Step 3 Place the Wrap on top of the Handle
The previously measured center of the wrap needs to be placed as shown above – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

Once you have measured and found the exact center of the ito wrap, you will put this same center on top of the handle or under the guard, called Tsuba. You can also put a very small amount of glue under the wrap where it will touch the handle.

This is the only time you will use glue in this process. It won’t ruin the Katana handle and will keep the wrap in place while you continue. This is optional but helpful.

You must put the handle sword wrap in the position shown in the picture above and place it very firmly. You can pull on the ends of the wrap to keep it in the same spot and to give it strength while turning the handle around.

4. Turn Around the Firmly Placed Wrap

Step 4 Turning the Handle Around
Holding the wrap firmly and then turning the handle around – Credits: Bujikan Nagare Almeria

Once the wrap is in place, and you’re holding it firmly, you’ll pick up the handle or move it to the other side while still holding the wrap. Make sure to hold the wrap in place while turning it around. You can also measure both ends to ensure it’s in the center. This is why using glue can help.

Step 4 Both ends of the Wrap
Once the handle of the Japanese Katana has been turned around, it should look like this – Credits: Bujikan Nagare Almeria

The wrap should now be under the handle, as shown in the picture above. Now you will start working with both ends of the cord and start the Katana handle wrapping process.

5. First Wrap

Step 5 Making Wraps
Making the first wrap should look like the one shown above – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

While holding the Ito firmly in place, you will make a wrap under it and in the middle of the handle at about 45 degrees. Once you’ve made the wrap, pull the wrapping cord on the other side and under the handle. 

Step 5 Under the Handle
Pulling the wrapped cord under and over the handle – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

You will now take the other half of the cord you’ve wrapped in the middle of the handle and bring it over to the other side, as shown in the picture above. It can stay as it is for now because you will form a wrap with the other end of the Ito.

6. First Wrap With the Other Ito Cord

Step 6 First Wrap with other Cord
Now do the same twist and wrap with the other cord – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

Take the other end of the cord and make the same wrap in the middle of the handle as you’ve done in the previous step. Make sure that you hold it as firmly as possible because if these first wraps aren’t tight, all remaining wraps will continue to loosen as you move along with the process. 

6.1 If using a Paracord

Step 6.1 Paracord Wrap
How the wrap should look if using paracord, cotton, or silk ito – Credits: Paracord Planet

If you are using a paracord, silk, or cotton ito, this is how the wrap should look. 

Step 6.1 If using a Paracord Wrap
When done with both sides of the wraps – Credits: Paracord Planet

This is how the final result should look when creating both twists on each side with a paracord wrap. It will look like an X shape which you need to continue across the entire handle.

7. Turn the Handle and Repeat the Twists

Step 7 Regular Wrapping
You will be doing these same twists all across the Katana handle – Credits: Ryan Sword

Turn the Katana handle around and create the same twists as in steps 5 and 6, but on the other side. Once you have done this, you will again turn the Katana handle on the side you initially worked on.  Now comes the first diamond shape.

Step 7 Regular Wrapping 1
Turning the handle around and around after each “x” wrap – Credits: Ryan Sword

With your fingers, keep the pressure on the cords as you turn the handle. This is very important, and you must turn the handle around 15 times to reach the pommel.

8. First Diamond Shape

Step 8 Flaps of Cords
The first X wrap shape should be under the handle – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

Make the cord wrapping from each side of the handle, once from the right and the other from the left. Keep it at an angle, and you shall see an opening in its center.

Step 8 First Diamond
The very first diamond shape you will see on your handle wrap – Credits: Mr. Bahjer

Once you complete the same style of wrapping from both sides, you will see your first diamond opening created in the center of the Katana sword handle. Turning the handle around is key after each wrap.

If using a regular cord and not leather, you can create the X and diamond crosses on each turn, as explained in Step 7. Keep following the same pattern and diamond shape until you reach the pommel.

9. Pommel Cord

Step 9 Pommel Cord
Put one end of the cord through the last diamond shape – Credits: Ryan Sword

For these last steps, you will need a couple of tools, like scissors, a screwdriver, or Katana handle wrapping tools, like a hook. 

Step 9 Pull Loop
How the loop should look like – Credits: Ryan Sword

Once you’ve reached the pommel cap, place one end of the cord through the last diamond shape you made with the previous wrapping. Pull the cord until you’ve made a loop, and then place the ending of that cord through the same loop. Once you’ve done so, pull both sides of the loop and make a tight knot.

Step 9 Second Wrap Loop
Use the other end of the cord now – Credits: Ryan Sword

After the first knot, pull the other end of the cord wrap through the first diamond opening as previously just over the already-made knot. 

Step 9 The Cord under the Loop
Using a small hook will be very helpful in this step – Credits: Ryan Sword

You will now pull back on the other side of that same cord you’ve pulled and put it on top of the cord using a small hook.

Step 9 Turn the Cord inward
Don’t forget this part – Credits: Ryan Sword

Make sure you turn the little loop that will appear inward and to the side of the pommel. Once it looks as in the picture above, lightly pull on the cord while maintaining the same shape using your small metal hook.

Step 9 Second Wrap Loop
How it should look at the end – Credits: Ryan Sword

The final result of this pommel cord should look as shown in the picture above. 

10. Finishing the Katana Handle Wrap

Step 10 Through the Pommel Opening
Pulling both cord wraps through the pommel cap opening – Credits: Ryan Sword

You will pull both cord endings through the opening in the pommel cap with your metal hook. On the other side, you will pull both endings through the first diamond opening.

Step 10 Pulling both the Cord Wrap Endings
Using a small screwdriver helps out a lot when going through the diamond openings – Credits: Ryan Sword

Pull both of them as much as possible through the first diamond opening as in the other side of the handle.

Step 10 Same Loop Pool
Don’t forget about this small loop opening – Credits: Ryan Sword

Take one end of the cord and pull it back from the other side of the diamond opening and turn the loop inward, as you did before. Tie it up as tight as possible while holding the knot shape with your small hook.

Step 10 Cut the Remaining Cords
You won’t need the cords anymore – Credits: Ryan Sword

With your scissors, cut the remaining cords from the Katana handle wrapping material. Leave as much as is shown in the picture above. Now put one end of the cord inside the pommel opening.

Step 10 Last Step
You have successfully done your own Katana handle wrap! – Credits: Ryan Sword

Take the other cord ending and push it inside the last tied-up X shape knot. You may use your metal piece to tuck it in nicely so that it won’t be seen from the outside. And just like that, you’ve finished the Katana handle wrapping process!

Advanced Katana Handle Wrap

If you want to go the extra mile and make the Tsuka Maki better in terms of looks and feel, you can try these advanced techniques. You can use the already present steps from above and implement these two features shown below.

Hishigami Wrapping

Hishigami Wrapping
The Hishigami papers placed under the “x” wrapping marks – Credits: HanBon Forge

Hishigami are tiny triangles or wedges that go under the tsuka-ito of your Japanese-style swords when you wrap the tsuka. They do many things, like help shape the diamonds, keep the ito from shifting along the core, and keep the ito from corroding against the rough Samegawa ray skin.

Hashigami Wrapping Hammer
Hitting the hashigami under the wraps with a hammer each time – Credits: HanBon Forge

Two hishigami are placed on each side of the X diamond shapes and secured with the tap of a hammer after they’ve been put there. For a regular-size Katana, you will need about 65 hishigami papers.

Menuki

Fuchi
Adding the Menuki, or metal piece throughout the Katana handle under the wrapping and on top of the ray skin underneath – Credits: Q2 Japan

Menuki are metal pieces added throughout the Katana handle. They can come in different shapes and sizes and are usually placed on top of the small holes called Mekugi. 

Menuki make an uneven surface that assists with a better grip of the handle, despite the fact that they are very interesting and visually beautiful. Sometimes the same Menuki emblem is placed on the scabbard (Saya) and holding the wrap together (Sageo).

Sources Cited

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