Posts Tagged ‘made’

Traditional Ninja Weapon Design – Part 1: The Kunai

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

I’ve always been a fan of the traditional weapons of the Japanese Ninja. Back in the old days, ninja were the Japanese equivalent to the modern day special forces. Special training, special tactics, and, of course, special weapons! Which, if you haven’t figured it out by now,  is definitely one of my favorite things about them. 🙂

Folklore, history, and Hollywood has certainly added to their glamor and mystique, and in many cases elevated them to the status of magicians and super soldiers, who could, some legends have it, make fondue, sans fondue pot, from mouldy gouda. And tame dragons using nothing more but a finger nail clipped from their left pinky toe, and other such fantasies.

But in reality they were only human. What made them special, was that they were very resourceful, had extensive training, were extremely motivated,  and possessed a unique set of tools. Of the physical, and mental, in addition to the bladed and non-bladed variety. They understood and employed social engineering tactics long before it became such a popular term, and could in fact turn the most innocuous everyday items into weapons. Not magic really, but given the era they lived in, it might as well have been.

But the purpose of this post is not to add fuel to the already epic mythos of the great Shinobi Warrior. No, today, I thought I’d talk a little bit of the practical side of Ninjutsu, specifically, their weapons. Not too long ago, one of my readers, Matthew Wright, aka Mangetsu, posted a link to one of his own hand made Kunai, and I have to admit that I really liked what I saw. It is clear that he went through a great deal of trouble to remain as true as possible to tradition, and it shows.

There are no spring loaded, rocket powered or demon spirit controlled movie or anime style ninja weapons on his site. Not that that wouldn’t be cool. I would love to have some medieval Japanese Da-Vinci style Ninja weapons in my arsenal. But that is a topic for another site. Matthews site,, has only great, realistic, functional designs that are as close as possible to traditional Japanese Ninja weapons design as you can get with modern materials and tools. Interestingly enough, in keeping so close to the traditional designs, he has also illustrated quite graphically, many of the limitations that the old school Ninja had to face with respect to both materials and technology.

This week, I thought I’d run a three part series on my favorite weapons from Matthews catalog of excellent work, and also share some of my thoughts on the designs he replicated. So grab a cuppa Joe, Mountain Dew Game Fuel, Jolt, Red Bull, whatever your poison is, and grab a seat!  🙂

All comfy? Good. Today we will start with one of the most poorly represented weapons of the Ninja’s arsenal: The Kunai.

Now in a several previous posts, I’ve talked a little about how the kunai has either been non-existent (often usurped by the ubiquitous shuriken) or misrepresented in modern media, especially in anime, and how it was originally not really a weapon, as much as a lowly gardening implement. The upshot here is that there are now a gazillion so called “kunai” being sold by collectible knife makers, and sadly, they have little in common with the original.

Traditional Kunai - Mild Steel

Traditional Kunai - Mild Steel

Matthews Kunai, on the other hand, are imho, quite simply just about as realistic as you can get. It has the long, wide leaf shape that would have been required for use as a garden trowel, the point that would have been used for digging in hard earth, and a simple grip. If you look at any modern garden trowel, you will immediately see the resemblance. It’s a bit crude in comparison, but it’s there. This traditional design however, looks like it would actually be much better suited for smacking people upside the head. Hey,  I’m just saying. 🙂

You’ll also note the lack of a ring on the pommel of Matthews kunai. While I believe a ring was present in some traditional kunai, it was by no means a mandatory feature. And its size, unlike the consistently huge ring we see in many ninja anime series today, ranged, from a small whole just large enough to pass a lanyard through, up to a finger ring size, large enough for ones thumb to be placed through in order to make it easier to dig with. However these have a simple flat pommel, which would also serve as a great thumb rest for digging duty, as well as a strong striking surface, which is something that would have been a little more difficult to do with a ring pommel.

Traditional Kunai - Profile & Pommel

Traditional Kunai - Profile & Pommel

Matthew was also commissioned to make a special set of Kunai, with serrations on one edge. A very interesting custom design, that might not have been practical using the original construction materials of the day, but still quite visually impressive. He now makes them full time:

Toothed Kunai

Toothed Kunai

Besides the custom designs, Matthews kunai are in most respects, quite authentic, except for the one major difference. Much better materials. These kunai are made of steel. Traditional kunai were made of iron. This is an important point, as the materials in use at the time played a significant role in the physical design of many traditional Ninja tools.

Toothed Kunai - Profile

Toothed Kunai - Profile

If you look at these kunai, you will see that they are very, very thick. Their thickness, is in fact overkill for what they will be used for, however I believe this is how they were traditionally designed. I think the primary reason for this is that iron  was much softer than steel, and the traditional blacksmiths might have made much thicker tools in iron than they would in steel, in order to compensate for the softness of the iron.

Traditional Kunai - Tree Stump

Traditional Kunai - Tree Stump

Today it is easy to make a kunai that are many times thinner than the traditional designs, and still maintain superior strength and durability than the old iron kunai. It is also interesting to realize that incredibly useful features, like serrations, would not have been as effective on the older kunai, due to the softness of the material, and I think that it is great that we can experiment with them today.

I think these kunai are perhaps the most authentic designs I have seen, at least in form, and should be incredibly strong as well. Quite worth it, if you are looking for an authentic kunai that will take abuse that would make most others on the market today go crying to their mommies… 😀

Traditional Steel Kunai – [Nine Directions]
Toothed Kunai – [Nine Directions]

The next best thing to Adamantium implants…

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

A couple of days ago I got a post from a reader (Thanks SniperFodder!) with a link to a page on Geekologie that showed videos of a very, very interesting set of home made wolverine claws. Here is the first of the two, very intriguing videos in question, mostly of the maker wreaking wanton destruction on some nefarious box of doom for some seriously heinous crimes we are clearly all blissfully unaware of:

Yes, all kinds of cool and everything, if you are into that kind of thing… Oh, who am I kidding, I love this stuff… I probably would try a more blade worthy opponent than an old box, but that’s just me… 🙂

What really caught my attention, however, was the construction vid that accompanied the shameless *cough* display of aggression above…:

Now as a person who has spent countless man-hours thinking about this kind of thing, let me just say that what this guy did was actually very impressive. Not that there haven’t been countless wolverine claw replicas and home made diy Wolverine claw jobs, but this particular construction dealt very directly and extremely competently with two aspects of arm mounted blade design that I have always found to be weak links in your traditional back yard / junk yard wolverine claw project.

The first and most common point of failure I see is in the blade attachment and rail mechanism. I see a lot of people use sliding drawer rails for the rails of their wolverine claws, and while it works, (works very well in fact), and is good for show, frankly, so far as strength is concerned, the vast majority of them wouldn’t hold up to the repeated stresses of cutting a slice of gouda cheese. Nope. Not even some “finely aged”, moldy gouda, half ready to decompose into a pile of technicolor goo.

Now this dude addressed this weakness by fabricating a simple sliding plate/tongue-in-groove rail. It is a design I’ve always thought would fit the ticket perfectly, but never had the time to try. And here, you can see it in action. Now I am, by no means, saying it’s a perfect solution. It has it’s weaknesses as well. In fact, you may or may not be able to tell from watching the vids, but that plate generates a lot of friction, so while it is really strong, it is also tougher to deploy smoothly. It also looked like he used a single rail tongue for all three blades. Not really how I would have done it, but it seems to work.

But the part that I found really impressive is his bracing. Yes, it is made of bent and brazed copper tubing, which I saw lots of commenters deriding him about, however what they fail to realize is that, assuming his brazings are strong,  his design eliminates one of the biggest weak points of any wolverine claw system. The arm attachment mechanism.

I see all kinds of wolverine claws or just home made arn claws/blades/ziphoids in general, with two little straps, maybe a soft leather arm band or something. The smarter ones go for a solid plate and attach that to their arms, though, again, with more little straps. The thing is, those little itty bitty strips of fancy arm floss just won’t hold up to strong impacts. They suffer from one simple flaw: They are too flexible.

No matter how strong the system itself is, straps and soft leather allow seem to allow the whole rig,to move backwards and forwards on your arm. I’ve seen this happen even with full forearm vambraces if the leather used to make them isn’t hard enough. In contrast, this guy used a solid framework of copper tubing that will not give, and is so closely fit to the dimensions of his forearm, that he should have enough stability and control with it that he could make bacon with those blades, should he deem it necessary.

What more can I say. The whole get up may look ugly, but mechanically, it’s really a thing of beauty. Incidentally, while the page I found these videos on say they are “fully functional” I think that depends on your point of view. Our friendly niegborhood Wolvie sports a set of double action, fully automatic blades. This guy, on the other hand (or, in this case, the other claw arm) made single action blades, (manual retract, automatic deploy) as far as I can tell. So it’s certainly close to the kinds of functionality Wolverine gets from his claws, but no cigar.

And just in case there is any question about what I mean by my earlier comment regarding the bacon, let me just be clear. Bacon is *always* necessary. But you don’t always have the opportunity to make bacon using a set of wolverine claws strapped to your forearms… That is just too cool for Ginsu school.. I’m just sayin. 😀

Guy Makes Fully Functional Wolverine ClawsGeekologie

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