View Full Version : Is this a good idea? .....or bad idea?

Burl Source
07-30-2011, 09:24 PM
A few of the knife makers have asked about matching pieces for saya and handles.

Since stabilized wood for the saya is not a good idea I was trying to think of what sort of wood would be a good choice.

Here are my thoughts, but I was hoping also to get some input from your perspective. Hopefully both knife makers and knife users will give their input.

My thoughts were to;

Select wood that is fancy, but not so dramatic that the overall cost of the wood would make the project cost prohibitive. Unless there are some who would be willing to pay what it takes for matching high end Koa and other expensive woods.

Select wood that would be tough enough to withstand normal handling without marring, but not so hard that they scratch the blade.

This is my first selection. There will be others to follow as I select pieces based on what you guys tell me and what I come across.

The wood in this photo is a piece of what was slow growing, old growth redwood. When I counted the growth rings at the end of the piece there were more than 20 rings per inch. This redwood is about twice the weight of normal redwood because of the density.


It is not nearly as dramatic as some of the redwood burl and curly redwood but still kind of cool (I think). It finishes darker when sanded finer. This piece is only sanded to 120 grit.

For size I was thinking about 2&1/2" wide x 1&1/8" thick x 18" long so a 12" long saya and 6" matching handle could be cut.
Cost for a piece like this would probably range from $50 and up depending on the individual piece.

What do you guys think?
Should I start cutting pieces like this for my webstore?

Is there a market for high end wood cut like this? ...even if the cost was 2X or 3X as much.


Is this something you would use?

Mike Davis
07-30-2011, 11:57 PM
In all honesty Mark, i would buy this, for exactly that reason. I personally..And take this with a grain of salt lol, think this is a great idea. I really like the idea of a matching handle/saya combination. Even if this isn't a big hit with other makers, expect me to contact you about a few pieces like this :D

Thank you for making stuff like this available to us.


Line cooked
07-31-2011, 01:55 AM
I cannot speak to what dimensions should be but I very much like the idea. I am a novice and still trying to figure out a whole lot, so resources like this make my life easier for newbies like myself.

07-31-2011, 02:32 AM
Mark, curly maple is always a good option, as for the stabilized wood for a saya, can't you just give it a "slip coat" of marine epoxy on the inside before you glue it up like some guys do on unstabilized wood? How about some lining? Is that sacrilege on Japanese style knives? if you want to see a killer wooden sheath, check out the mahogany and carved blackwood sheath that John White made for his shell guard damascus dagger on Blade Forums Custom knife subforum.

07-31-2011, 03:26 AM
This is definately interesting. If you are able to do custom cuts, that would be preferable, as the width, length and thickness of saya board as well as handle block will vary with what kind of knife I use it for. (i.e. Deba vs Takobiki). I believe most makers will be willing to pay extra and allow delivery time for premium custom cuts of matching pieces. That said, the more curly and knotty the saya wood is, the more work it will require, driving the final cost of the product even higher.
A very nice match for a curly koa handle would also be hightly curly or quilted maple (tinted), while the denser burls will be a lot harder to match with other woods.


07-31-2011, 11:46 AM
I'd look at this from a cost differentiation point of view. If a budget friendly piece for a saya would cost, say $30, would someone pay $80 for a piece what would match the handle, I would. How much more would I pay, well I'm not sure. I think it would depend on how spectacular looking the grain is. In the end you're getting something unique and one of a kind and that in itself is worth something.

Another thing to look at is instead of saya and handle matching, is pairing saya and handle pieces from different woods that coordinate well together.

Marko Tsourkan
07-31-2011, 06:08 PM
Wood for most knives sayas doesn't need to be thicker than 3/4, in fact, it can be much thinner. For gyuto, wood has to be between 2.75-3" tall. There used to be a limit on size of the block that can be stabilized. It was a while back so things might have changed.

Carving stabilized wood is very difficult with chisels (I have tried it), so one would need to use some kind of power tools, which is likely to result in not a precise fit.

I would make a saya from a stabilized wood only as a special project, and I would have to price it accordingly.

In my opinion, a saya from an easy to carve wood as poplar or straight grain walnut, will serve the same purpose (protecting your knife) and will cost much less. If you want a fancy set, go with naturally stable woods, like ebony, lignum vitae, cocobolo, ironwood etc. In the end it will be cheaper.

Another alternative is to have the saya made from the same material (unstabilized) as the handle, but dye it to match the stabilized handle, and finish it with oils and some top coat finish. This would make most sense to me.

As for waterproofing a saya in the inside, it's not necessary. A marine epoxy will likely result in knife "sticking" if you carve for a tight fit. There are ways to address the movement of the wood and a knife fitting. For all sayas I made (poplar, maple, walnut, ebony), the movement was minute and has not affected usage of the saya. I would go for a construction that includes a pin.

Burl Source
07-31-2011, 06:38 PM
I have talked to a few sword makers who make traditional Japanese swords.
When they have bought wood from me for the saya they have insisted on wood no harder than maple.
Other considerations were that the wood non reactive to iron. Example Oak reacts to iron by turning black.
The woods they bought from me were maple and redwood. I was told to watch for figured Cypress. Supposed to protect against rust, keep the blade sharp and have magical kung fu, samari, ninja properties.
They would finish the saya with multiple layers of lacquer or CA glue.

For knife makers making daggers and such with wooden scabbards like Bruce Bump and John White, anything goes.
They usually line the scabbard with suede or other soft liner.
I don't think that would be a good idea with a kitchen knife.

08-01-2011, 01:29 AM
Depending on the figure, and dimensions, it would likely be worth the effort. Maybe do a couple custom orders, and a couple of nice not necessarly higher quality stuff added to your store. Call it a test run.

Burl Source
08-01-2011, 11:45 AM
Depending on the figure, and dimensions, it would likely be worth the effort. Maybe do a couple custom orders, and a couple of nice not necessarly higher quality stuff added to your store. Call it a test run.

I think I will give it a try.
Maybe some wider pieces as well.
The sword guys tend to want about 4" wide.
Probably will start with a range of 2&1/2 to 4 or so wide.
First I need to get caught up on some other stuff.