Barely Adequate Woods

These are all wonderful woods. They are just not ideal for impact weapons training, for various reasons.

Ash – Ash is flexible and reasonably strong.  It is prone to horizontal splitting along the grain, particulary if felled outside the winter months.  It has a striped grain – and although the texture feels a lot like oak in the hands, it’s a little lighter. It “rings” in the hands upon impact in an unpleasant way.  It makes the ideal baseball bat, but it is just not strong enough for repeated hard impact.  The striped grain has alternating areas of harder and softer wood – a density gradient – so it dents easily.  Superior to beech, but marginal.

  • Bending strength – 14,533 psi
  • Maximum Crushing strength – 6763 psi
  • Shearing strength – 2079 psi
  • Static bending – 7501 psi
  • Toughness – 250 in-lbs
  • Work to Maximum Load – 21 in-lbs./in3
  • Janka Hardness Scale – 1264 – 1640

Beech – The Greek Araki-ryu and Buko-ryu groups have had a number of naginata and bokken made from European beech (Fagus sylvatica).  It is marginal.  The wood is not strong enough to direct impact.  It is as hard as many other woods, but the grain is short – little “binds” the wood together. In addition, there is just something wrong with the feel in the hands.  If there is no other hardwood available, beech will do – but just barely.

  • Bending strength – 15,850 psi
  • Maximum Crushing strength – 7593 psi
  • Shearing strength – 2090 psi
  • Work to Maximum Load – 17  in-lbs./in3
  • Janka Hardness Scale – 1300- 1453

Biwa (Loquat) – This wood is legendary in Japan, partly because of a myth that a bruise from a biwa weapon will fester in some way.  In fact, it is a very attractive, light fruitwood, pinkish in color.  It dents easily. It has qualities similar to pear wood – light, hard, attractive.  Toda Seigen, the founder of the Toda-ryu, is said to have used a biwa kodachi in matches against two men armed with take-yari.  This, in particular, makes sense, because the bamboo spears, cut on a bias, would have been light and fast, and Toda would have needed every advantage of speed he could have.  Additionally, because he would be deflecting or striking down the thrusts of the hollow bamboo, he would not have had to worry about damage to his weapon.  Other than harkening to tradition, I would not recommend this wood for everyday practice weapons. Janka Hardness Scale  ????

Camelia (tsubaki Japonica) Camelia wood has become popular as a replacement for biwa, which has become inordinately expensive in Japan. It has similar properties. It is rather flexible, but not that impact resistant.

Chinese Waxwood (Glossy Privet, Chinese Privet or Broad-leaf Privet – Ligustrum lucidum) – Waxwood are used a lot in Chinese weapons – particularly staff (kun) and spear.  It is a very tough wood – I am guessing that it has very long fibers.  Although quite light, it takes a lot of impact, in part due to it’s incredible flexibility.  Waxwood weapons are wonderful for internal training regimen (“pole shaking”), but in my experience, not suitable for Japanese long-weapon practice.  It is conceivable that some ryu might find waxwood bokuto an inexpensive alternative for dual sword practice.  The weapons would have to be matched together, rather than one against a heavier wood. Janka Hardness Scale  ????  [Jonathan Bluestein discussed this wood at length in his discussion on wood for weapons].