There are 3 ceremonial items for the current head of KAT. We have a ring, a blue and silver belt, and the KAT Head Master’s sword. After 6 years under construction, the sword is finally finished.
The sword embodies our school motto, “A Mind in the Future and a Heart in the Past.” The sword was made with both very traditional techniques and materials as well as very new ones. The blade is a combination steel/lexan (bulletproof glass) and the blade also contains meteorite shards, a GPS tracker, school records, and security tools.
Part of the reason construction took so long was that it is believed to be the first sword of its kind ever made. Master Katie and I needed to reach out to experts in several domains including Steven Campbell (Blacksmith, Metalworker), Master Sam Douglas (Mechanical Engineer), and John Hoffman (Master Woodworker).
The sword took so long because it was usually on the back burner, it was our first time combining these various skills together, and it is believed that this is the first of this type of sword ever constructed. Here are the general instructions and some pictures we took along the way.
The tsuba is made in the shape of the KAT logo with a hole in the middle for the blade. It was made by casting mint proof coins that had never been touched by human hands from 1980, the year the school was founded.
Before casting, we hand carved a wax model and embedded meteorite fragments to form the mountains of the KAT logo. We made a plaster negative, burned out the wax, and then melted the coins and poured it into the mold.
We wanted a silver finish, so we first treated the tusba with a coke bath and then used a dremmel tool to get it to shine.
We tried several options to get a nice silver – first we thought about plating silver, rhodium, or another medal. However, commercial solutions were expensive or toxic. We tried zinc plating by setting up an apparatus at home. It worked somewhat, but the final result wasn’t great. Finally we bought some silver polish from amazon that worked decently.
Ever since I was a kid and no one in our boy scout troop could break our lexan water bottles, I wanted a sword made from the lightweight and powerful material. Although lexan would be perfect for a bokken, it can’t hold an edge. Since traditional katana used high and low carbon steel to give their swords both strength and the ability to be sharpened, we wanted to do the same thing. The blade itself is made from lexan, with a groove cut in the middle where we can fasten the thin steel cutting edge.
For step 1 we used a jig saw to cut the pattern into a 1/2 in lexan sheet. Step two was to use a router bit to angle the blade down to the point where it was a trapezoid. The router made
the blade no longer clear.
The next step was to use an 1/8 in bit to cut the groove for the sword. However we ran into problems – the plastic melted from the heat and then the ‘sawdust’ cooled back in the groove. In order to get around this, we needed to use 3 different passes at different depths, and also to blow air from a high powered compressor into the crack to eject the shavings before they could re-cool.
For the blade itself we used a mid carbon weld steel. First Master Sam cut it out from the sheet. Next he sharpened it on a grinder to build the edge geometry, then refined it on a sharpening stone going 200-300-400-600 grit. He tempered it with an oxy-propolyene torch and then heat treated in an oven at 350 Fahrenheit for 4 hours to strengthen it. Finally he buffed the edge on a bench grinder buffing wheel with a course buff and fine polish compound.
Once the two parts of the blade were both complete we set the steel inside the lexan and fixed it there with four hex bolts.
For the menuki we used Prescious Medal Clay (PMC) to get 100% silver items. Master Katie shaped them with clay tools and then we fired them with a torch. On one side there is a tiger where we embedded blue jewels for eyes and on the other side there is a dragon with a red jewel for an eye.
For the handle of the sword we used maple, routing the edges so that it was smooth and then routing a groove so that the lexan tang would fit snugly inside. We also used a screw to further fix it in place.
Once we had that, we also added the GPS tracker as well as computer security tools and special school records.
Before we wrapped the handle we welded a collar by folding steel around the edge of the blade and then welded it shut.
For the samegawa (handle wrapping) we used genuine stingray skin that we ordered from Japan. Due to the length of the handle we needed an extra large piece. The skin is pliable when wet yet holds its shape well when dry. It also helps to hold the wood of the handle together.
After we had this then we used blue silk cord to wrap the handle in the traditional manner. Unfortunately, due to the thickness of the wood we needed to use, the silk cord was too short.
We got around this by sewing two pieces together, and then continuing the wrapping. We were having trouble coming up with the piece to fit over the end as a pommel, but we were able to use a pluming end cap from home depot that we were able to paint silver.
This one was pretty much straightforward woodworking – we made it by routing out two sides of maple and then gluing them together. We smoothed the edges with a router and sandpaper, and then painted it white.
We added the kanji for Kaizen in black paint and also added on the names of the KAT Head Masters as well as the dates of their tenure.
We added laquer to get a nice shine.
The last thing to do, of course, was some test cutting. We are happy to report that the sword does cut well.
In the end making the weapon was a very valuable experience because we all learned a lot. We can also see why Lexan swords aren’t in widespread use, but this one will be a valuable symbol to pass down through the ages.