How to make a shinai

Traditional model


Fukuro Shinai


  • Moccasin suede (a half-hide of leather has enough material to make four shinai).  If you can’t find leather, 40oz+ heavyweight vinyl coated polyester tarp or marine upholstery can do a pretty nice job – just don’t settle for the lighter weights as they stretch.
  • 3/16 inch leather hole punch (“hammer” punches work better than most pliers-style punches).
  • approximately 4′ of bamboo pole, preferably “Calcutta bamboo” or “Punting Pole” bamboo (b. Tuldoides). These bamboo are slow growing, have very thick walls, and grow straight.  If you can’t find any adequate bamboo, a good kendo shinai can be disassembled and made to work.
  • A needle-nose pliers for lacing (optional).

The Process

For each shinai, prepare the following:

  1. Prepare the freshly cut bamboo. If you are using a kendo shinai, simply remove the tsuba / crosspiece and any internal blocks. For raw bamboo, follow these steps:
  • Shave off sprouts / leaves. Sand or file smooth.
  • Cut off the “butt” end with a saw, just below a nodule/section (so the end is closed off).
  • Saw off the other end at desired shinai length. Using duct tape, securely tape around the bamboo above where the tsuba would be (to limit splits from spreading too deeply).
  • Using a machete (wrap a towel around other end for a grip), carefully split the blade-end of the bamboo to within about 6″ of where the tsuba would be (the crack will lengthen as it dries). Use caution, wear gloves, and tape the edges of the machete that are not being used for safety!  Repeat so that the bamboo is split lengthwise into eight or six pieces (use eight if the walls are thick, six if they are thin). Simply start the cut at the top by tapping the back of the machete with a hammer; then carefully tap the machete down to desired length, making sure the blade does not wander or twist.

  • With a knife or blade, shave off any slivers. Again, be careful!  The bamboo can cut skin as surely as a knife can.  Be sure to remove any flat nodules inside the bamboo that were split. Also, smooth both ends (this will become harder when the bamboo dries).
  • Insert a rod or pole into the bamboo, if possible. Using duct tape, securely and tightly tape the splits back into shape. If you neglect this step, the splits may twist as they dry.
  • Store the bamboo upright in a cool, shaded or dark and dry place for a few weeks until the bamboo begins to cure (turn yellow or white). Remove tape.
  1. Cut the suede into sections as follows. The dimensions below are for one shinai; if making more than one, be sure to lay out the patterns carefully to make best use of the material. The laces do not have to be cut straight; it does not matter if they are cut along a curve or corner, so long as the dimensions remain the same.

  1. Starting at the end, mark and punch a line of holes that are exactly 1″ apart, and 3/8″ from the edge of the material of one side only.  If you are using a hand punch, you’ll want to wear gloves or take turns with a friend!

  1. Wrap the leather snugly around the bamboo / shinai, and mark through where the holes should be punched on the other side. Fold the leather under at desired length (where the implied tsuba would go) Be sure to be accurate and maintain 1″ spacing. Punch holes where marked.

  1. Your leather will probably look something like this (below).

  1. Cut off grip end one or two holes below where you folded it under. Punch four holes evenly spaced between the top holes (only two are shown below because this is not to scale; there usually should be six holes on the end when finished).

    1. Cut the end of the lace to a 45 degree angle (to make threading easier). Tie the other end in a very small granny knot. On the side of the leather that is marked (to go on the inside), insert the thread through a center hole (hole #3) through to hole #4.

      1. Bring the lace back through holes 5 and 2. Tighten.

      1. Put the lace through hole 1. Fold over the end.

  1. Turn inside out. This will give a wrinkled look to the end. Cross remaining end hole to overlap, and pull lace through. This is a little tricky, you may have to experiment a little.

  1. Continue lacing until two holes from end. Hopefully, this will leave the lace on the outside. If not, you must shorten the leather by one punched hole. Be sure to pull lace tight with every hole. It also helps to make sure the natural grain of the lace causes the lace to curl down – you will understand this as you lace.
  1. Cut a long notch into the grip leather, to make a strip about the width of the lace. Fold over the end of the laced material, and insert this grip thread through the holes. Tie the grip to the lace in a square knot. Trim excess.
  1. Wrap grip around handle of shinai in standard running slipknot fashion.


Ardenwood Shinai Hilts

These come in with different options for pommel, cross and sizes. I chose to get a pair of longswords with disc pommels. They are designed for #39 shinai, but if you get the cheap budk ones you can make those work as well with some sanding and file work on the shinai. Which is what I used. This also lets you control the PoB you want somewhat. And yes the hilts and shinai are sold seperately.

Anyways stats of the hilts (top / bottom)

Total length 42″ / 43.5″
Hilt length 9.5″ / 9.75″
Cross 7.5″ / 8″
Pommel 1.5″ / 1.5″
Weight 2lb 2 oz / 2 lb 4 oz
PoB (approx) 4.25 in / 3 in

Fit and finish

Well…the hilts are painted black and silver. As you can see, the silver paint comes off very easily with use but the black paint is pretty durable. If you get a bent or curved cross, it is shaped by a hammer and anvil so there is some neat little hammer marks. Otherwise it’s very spartan and practical.

Structural Integrity

Well The center tube area is 1/16 inch thick steel. The pommel and cross is welded on. I don’t wanna know if somebody can break the hilt in sparring. The shinai part does have to get replaced as they break.


This is the best part. I basically fiddle with the extra big BudK shinai to try to match the bent cross sword as close to my gen 2 Black Prince as possible and did the same with the other one using the new tinker hanwei bastard sword as a model. Other then being one the VERY light side of what longswords should be, these handle remarkably like actual swords. Here’s a picture comparing the two swords.

You can get them at ardenwood forge.

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