When is a stick a weapon?

Here’s a selection of bits of wood that I like to use as weapons. I have my old bokken, what I am using as wasters these days, a short staff and a rondel dagger. We will have a quick look at each of them in succession.

This is my bokken. I started off with a piece of wood, which is an inch by two inches and then I cut the curve into it. I trimmed a long shallow v out of the middle and trimmed triangles off each end and then set to it with a heavy rasp and a file and ultimately sand paper, leaving the handle with an inch by an inch and a half cross section. I have been through a few of these. This one is made from Australian red gum. It’s a heavy, solid timber. I’ve abused this bokken fairly substantially over the years, and it’s held up really nicely.

I used to own one which was made out of Japanese Oak and broke it within a fortnight. I was pretty disappointed with that given how much I had heard about the quality of the wood. But this one has held up quite well. Its very solid and reliable.

I also used to own a bokken I made out of yellow box. It was not so well shaped, and I eventually cut it up for firewood, but the yellow box was an excellent material for making training weapons. I tried to test it to destruction one day, but outside of a few savage nicks, it came out unharmed.

This is what I am using for wasters these days. I used to put cross guards on them, which do make them handle better, but I kept on breaking them. So now, I just use a single piece of wood, which is just based off the idea of a bokken. Again, it is an inch by an inch and a half. That rectangular cross section gives you a sense of edge alignment far better than a round piece of wood. I carve a simple pommel on the end and shape the handle a little to feel where the handle stops and the blade begins. For the blade I just smooth the corners off. They are simple and light. If you want to play around with the balance, you can start with a heavier piece of wood, make the tip a lot thinner, and leave more weight in the handle. This becomes more important if you are making a heavier waster. If they are only fairly light, it is not such an issue.

This is made from a piece of decking plank which I cut down. It costs around two dollars for each waster, plus the time I spend shaping it. Although technically a hardwood, these are fairly light, and I treat them as disposable. I don’t care if they get broken. That’s basically what they’re designed to do. I used to have a couple of nice ones made out of some heavy hardwood, but they kept breaking. So now I don’t bother putting that much effort into them. I just use a simple stick like this, and that’s good enough to do the job.

Next is one of my favourite weapons and its about a simple as they can get. It’s just 120 cm of hickory with a diameter of 32 mm. Because of the density of the wood, it is surprisingly heavy and weighs around 1400 g. This started life as a shovel handle, which I bought at the hardware shop somewhere in the mid nineties and trimmed down to shape. Again, I just used very simple tools – a rasp, a file, and some sandpaper. This staff is damn near indestructible. I’ve had it for 25 years, done some seriously abusive things with it, and the most damage its ever picked up is just a few small dings. The kids have taken this and put it through all its paces, but it stands up to anything.

I was practicing spinning this one day when I accidentally clipped my elbow with it. The pain was so much that I couldn’t speak or move. At first I thought I had shattered the joint, and it was four days before I got full mobility back. Hickory is an excellent wood to use. Tight grained, dense, heavy and strong, although harder to get hold of now than it used to be.

Rondel daggers are dead simple to make. This is literally a piece of firewood that I dug off the scrap heap. Again, it is very roughly shaped with a handle carved into it. This one has a bit of a crack in the wood, although that is not as exciting as it looks. It’s more discoloration than anything else.

You want to keep a nice square point on the dagger especially because obviously the only thing you can do with these is stab someone and they’ve got absolutely zero flex in them. So you want to leave a nice square point so that you can do the least amount of damage to your friend as possible.

So that’s a quick run over some wooden training weapons. They’re really good. I like them. The advantage of using these sorts of things is that they are cheap, effective, and historically accurate. If you spend a bit of time on them, you can get them reasonably well balanced. They are excellent for practicing drill sets because they’re not sharp. You can go as fast and hard as you like with complete safety. Every now and then, give them a light sand and rub some oil or wax into them. I typically use olive oil.

You’re far more likely to hurt your training partner than anybody else, so be aware of that if you are using them for any kind of sparring or partner work. The real big thing about them in that context is stabbing someone with them because they have no flex, so tend to hurt if you are not careful.

However, they are really simple to make, they are cheap, and if they break or catch fire, it really doesn’t matter. For materials, I prefer a solid hardwood such as hickory or yellow box or a red box.