Tsuka Maki Bracelet

I had some leftover leather tsuka ito (Japanese handle wrap cord), and various odds-and-ends remaining from various sword furnishing projects, and I decided to use them to make a leather bracelet using tsuka maki (handle wrapping) methods.  The result was interesting, so I’ve documented some of the steps for those of you who want to show your passion for Japanese swords around your wrists!  Here’s what the final bracelet looks like:

final

What you’ll need:

  • About 10″ of belt leather (Amazon or Tandy Leather can help you out)
  • Hobby or leather glue, or similar (thin “superglue” types soak in and don’t bond as well as you might think)
  • About 65″ of tsuka ito (I used leather, which lays fairly flat; if you are using silk or cotton, you might need a little more length)
  • A leftover menuki or other decoration
  • Leather snaps (here’s a kit you can get off of Amazon, but there’s lots of different fastener options out there)
  • A clamp or weight

Yeah, I’m the kind of person that has this sort of stuff laying around.

Steps:

  1. Clear your workspace – a simple table top is all you need, and the bracelet will be easier to handle and work with than a proper sword handle.
  2. Cut and trim your belt leather.  You probably want to leave the ends square, with room to spare, so you can trim the length to fit after you have finished the other steps.
  3. On the back side of the leather (ura), mark the center, and start- and end-points.  I marked mine about 3-1/2″ from the center, for a total of 6-1/2″ of wrapping (about 9 twists), and that worked out about right.  However, you might want to measure your ito (mine was about 8mm wide), and if your ito is wider you might need to cut it down to 8 twists and adjust your math accordingly.
  4. Glue down your menuki to the front side of your bracelet, and give it some time to dry.  If your menuki can be bent, it won’t hurt to give it a very slight curve to fit the natural curve of the wearer’s wrist.  If you just have a cheap cast menuki from a production sword, it will probably snap rather than bend.
  5. Find the center of your ito, and glue it down on the “start” line on the back of the bracelet.  Start wrapping using your favorite method, although I recommend using a flat crossover on the backside instead of twists on both side, to cut down on thickness and make the bracelet more comfortable.  I also glued down every crossover on the backside, since I figured the bracelet would have to endure a lot more flexing and abuse than a typical shinken handle would have to, and the bracelet leather can “curl” potentially causing the twists to loosen.
  6. After the last twist, trim the ito and glue the ends down.  Clamp until dry.
    bracelet-ura
  7. Measure to fit, leaving it a little “roomy”.  Mark the ends, and add the leather snap fasteners.
  8. Trim the ends.

Total make-time is about 1/2 hour, but I free-handed all of the knotwork/twisting just so I could get a sense of how it would look. If you use hishigami – the little traditional paper triangles –  you might have a sharper end result, but it will of course take a little longer.

Here’s the finished bracelet on my wrist, black leather with a bronze dragon menuki:

wrist

And a second, this time on a spring steel band rather than belt leather:

img_1480

And finally, the first one redone with rayskin:

final-with-ray

Ideas

  1. Find thinner materials to reduce thickness.  Belt leather is thick by itself, and when I was done the bracelet was about 4-5mm thick – 7mm near the menuki.  It might be more attractive if the bracelet lay thinner around the wrist. In a second experiment (above), thin spring steel worked nicely, and brass or copper might work too.
  2. Add rayskin for a more traditional effect.  This might add more thickness and stiffness, but it might be worth experimenting with – especially if one used a thin metal band to compensate for the additional thickness.  Heck, rayskin is tough, maybe you could ditch the belt leather completely if you came up with another fastener solution.
  3. Explore color and material variations.  I just used what I had left over from previous projects, which provided a rather dark appearance, and the menuki wasn’t very visible.  I think colorful silk ito or white rayskin might add some interesting contrast and texture that the leather does not.
  4. Add metal bands to resemble the fuchi and kashira.  Of course, you don’t need actually fuchi or kashira like you would on a sword handle, but I bet thin metal bands where the twists end would really enhance the effect.  In fact, you might be able to do a traditional finishing knot, if your “fuchi” band had a hole you could feed the ends of the ito through.
  5. Experiment with tighter/narrower wrapping, or thinner ito.  Because the twists wrap around a bracelet that itself wraps around a wrist, the twists are “opened up” away from each other.  This causes a little bit of the nice geometric effect of tsuka maki to be lost.  Also, using full-size ito results in a fairly large bracelet, which might be a little too heavy for some people’s tastes.
  6. Use hishigami.  I hate those fussy little things, but they have a purpose.  Or maybe use a modern cheater hybrid solution like this guy’s idea (I’ve tried it, it works great)!

If you experiment with your own tsuka maki bracelet, I’d love to see your results!

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