View Full Version : Bokken and jo set from Aikiwood

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Jennifer Yabut
01-27-2007, 09:07 AM
I ordered a jatoba bokken and jo set from Aikiwood (http://www.aikiwood.com/) last month, and they arrived two days ago. The bokken is Aikiwood's standard 41" model. At about 1.5 lbs, it's noticably beefier than my Kiyota Company white oak bokken. It's a tad longer and thicker than I'm used to. I did some suburi exercises with the bokken. Balance is pretty nice, but the weight may be a *little* much for an entire class. I'm thinking about asking one of the guys at the dojo if he could try shaving it down a bit to lessen the weight. In any case, I'll see how it holds up during a training session.

The jo is a custom at 47" long, about a 1" diameter. It's a little thicker than my current jo (also from Kiyota Company), with a diameter of about 7/8". Also nicely balanced, around the same weight as my current jo. To my annoyance, both the jo and bokken were lacquered. Not only that, the jo isn't perfectly cylindrical; it almost feels more like a square-shape with rounded edges. I found the lacquer to be something of a hindrance when I put the jo through the 13 and 31 katas, and plan to sand down both weapons as soon as I can. I'm sure the handling will improve once I get the lacquer sanded off.

Aikiwood does have a money-back (minus shipping) return policy if the customer isn't completely satisfied. Although I'm not 100% satisfied, the quibbles can be easily fixed with some sandpaper and elbow grease. I've been sanding and oiling all of my wooden weapons anyway, so this wouldn't be any different. In any case, the new bokken and jo are very pretty and well-made. I am pleased with my latest acquistions.

Some pics:






01-27-2007, 11:14 AM
Very very nice. I sympathize with the lacquer being a hinderance. When I got my jo, it had a bit of lacquer on it and I had the hardest time getting my hands to slide around on it. But it'll be a shame to sand those.. that's a damn sexy color if ya ask me.. :D

Keith Gotschall
01-27-2007, 05:47 PM
Hi Jennifer, I am sure you will enjoy your new weapons, I hope they give years of good service.

The wood worker in me has a comment. From the end view I see what looks like a dowel, which would be going through the end bit, the two differently colored bands, and further into the staff or handle. Just be careful about these, as end grain to end grain is a non structural joint, usually avoided if possible. This means that given a good whack they will likely seperate. With the dowel there for strength, it shouldn't be a problem, especially if you know about it. Just realize that the tip isn't 7/8 thick, it is the thickness of the dowel. Does that make sense?

best regards, Keith

Jeremy Hulley
01-28-2007, 12:24 AM
Its nice well made stuff, the bokken acen be kind of clunky and we have broken the ends off of their bokkenand hanbo in our weapons practice. Still nice stuff..

Keith Gotschall
01-28-2007, 04:31 AM
Well there you go. If the weapons didn't hold up to practice.... are they nice and well made? I would have to say that though made from attractive wood, they would not be my choice. There are a lot of factors that go into good wooden weapons. Weight, finish, durablity have all been brought up, and these weapons failed those few tests. There is also a possible danger of the weapons splitting or fracturing, causing dangers fibers to be exposed. Or even a catastrophic failure and breaking in half. This is more likely to happen in hard brittle woods.... unfortunately they include the woods used by this company. The thought of doing the 13 jo kata, sliding your hand along and picking up a 3 inch long needle like sliver of cocobolo makes me shiver.
Another reason that you need to be careful with the exotic woods is that some people have severe reactions to the oils in the woods. maybe that is why they are lacquered! I thankfully am not allergic to it... at least not yet, but it can be quite severe, producing dermititis like symptoms. If you are sanding off the lacquer you will be exposed to the sanding dust, which again can be alarmingly irritating.
I have to admit to serious misgivings about these weapons. As decorative display, sure, they are made of attractive woods. For some applications they will be fine. Just be careful and aware of what you've got there.

my two cents. Keith

Ellis Amdur
01-28-2007, 10:43 AM
Hi Keith - Jotoba (sometimes miscalled "Brazilian cherrywood") doesn't seem to have the nasty oils. I know what you are talking about, though. I've got some vera wood weapons, and the vapor of the natural oil really messes up my breathing - I had them coated with a very thin film of an epoxy resin, that didn't 'smooth' them out. The worst splinters I've ever seen is a wood called wenge - beautiful African wood, that breaks into daggers and icicles.
Anybody have actual experience with Osage Orange weapons? I've heard good things in general, but no specifics.

Keith Gotschall
01-28-2007, 05:42 PM
HI Ellis, you're right, Wenge has to be about the worst for splinters. Even very tiny slivers dig in deep, sting like hell, and then fester quickly. I love working with it for it's aesthetic, often using the course texture and deep color for a dark base note in my furniture designs. Which is kind of the point, it is beautiful but impractical for weapons. I have not come across the Jotoba. The grain looked nice and straight and uniform. No doubt your Vera wood is gorgeous, too bad about the vapors.

As for the Osage orange, it is a top wood if you can find it unsplit. A short history, it is also called Bois d'ark (pronounced bodark), Hedge, or even hedge apple. It was used for fencing in the early days of the west as it has long vicious thorns and will grow easily into impenetrable hedges. One theory has it that the inventor of barbed wire took his ideas from Osage Orange. Even then, the best posts for fencing are still Osage due to it's natural rot resistance. It was the wood used by the North American Indians for their bows. It is tough, flexible when green, very resistant to wear. It is incredibly hard, it will dull your tools, but take crisp detail wonderfully, one of my favorites to turn. As for it's use in weapons.... I don't know if you can find it readily. It is not the kind of wood you find at the lumber yard. Being a wood turner by trade I see it in it's most basic form, tree trunks. I am currently in England, but will be returning soon and will do some experiments with it. I'll let you know when I have some first hand experience with making weapons with it. One caveat, the wood is bright screaming yellow. I mean it is LOUD! it soon oxidizes down to a honey brown with good depth to it, which I find appealing. At first though... you won't believe it. LOL.

This company has tons of very good information on wood and wooden weapons. They are not inexpensive, but I like the philosophy they have, and seem to care about what they are producing. The skill to make something like this using hand planes etc. is a rare thing. They make things the way I would make my own. Look into the site a bit further and there is information on how to "break in" bokken, the different properties in various woods. It is a good resource.

sorry if this got a little long winded! best, Keith

Keith Gotschall
01-28-2007, 06:34 PM
Just noted the sponsor link , it was Kingfisher, (didn't mean to be redundant!) and have now read up on other articles here on Aikiweb. Seems to be a few good producers out there, and plenty of information if you care to delve deep. This kind of information sharing is the best thing to come out of my time spent on forums.

Another plug for decent bokken, 9 Circles in England has a good clean lined bokken out of Japanese white oak that is great. I got my new bride one for xmas and was very please.... I mean, she was very pleased. :)

best, Keith

Jeremy Hulley
01-28-2007, 11:08 PM
I'm a Kim Taylor fan myself....

Neil Yamamoto
01-29-2007, 12:41 PM
I wrote up a review to post and never posted it. Since Jeremy mentioned the Aikiwood products we had used, Iíll flush out the details with my review. This was written fall of 2006.

I tried out Aikiwood products based on a whim to try a new supplier. http://www.aikiwood.com
I bought an ironwood hanbo from their ebay store and a purpleheart bokken a few weeks later from Aikiwood directly.

Ironwood Hanbo
Cost was $30 plus shipping. Since this was from ebay, the price will be higher on their website I believe. The hanbo I thought was a bit thin, about 1Ē in diameter. Iím told that in new products they are thicker. These are obviously made by hand and the quality of wood is very good. Not quite rounded, you can tell where it was shaven down. Still, the feel in hand is very good.

The finish is tung oil and looks fantastic. I do not like tung oil finishes. The feel of tung oil is tacky to the touch to me and I prefer to use mineral oil or a lemon or orange oil. This finish was no exception to my dislike. Personal dislike of the tung oil aside, the craftsmanship in applying the finish is very good, you can tell there was care in how this was made.

Aikiwood uses differing woods to create a decorative end cap on their products. Laminating dark and light colored woods for contrast gives their products a distinct look, which you may or may not like, your personal tastes will decide. I do like the look but my concern was the possibility of any breaking in the joining of the endcap on the weapon.

Upon taking it home, it went outside to my standard telephone pole testing. I proceeded to beat a telephone pole repeatedly with the hanbo for about 10 strikes. This is my standard procedure to see if a new toy is durable. This ironwood hanbo is tough but I noticed this one was very susceptible to vibrations from impact and could transmit that shock to the hands quite a bit.

Purpleheart Bokken
Cost was $65 plus shipping. The bokken is of very good quality wood. Iím partial to purpleheart since Iíve found it to be durable and I like the feel and weight of the purpleheart bokken and jo Iíve used. This one is no exception to that. This is one tough hunk oí wood! Again, the tung oil finish was nicely done but still tacky to touch and not to my liking.

On the bokken, I do think the decorative endcap is a nice touch. The point of balance is right at 7Ē from where the tsuba would be. I like it to be about 6-8Ē depending on the bokken weight, so this was just about right for the weight.

What I donít like is the shaping. The bokken is boxy really. Itís too square for my hands in the tsuka area and the same criticism came from others in the dojo. The kissaki area could use a bit more shaping as well. Some room for improvement here. With a bit more shaping and overall balance improvement as a result, this would be a very nice bokken. As it is, Itís still superior to some of the bokken for which Iíve paid much more and is extremely tough as mentioned.

As a side note to the bokken shaping, In an email about my hanbo, Paul offered the comment that the boxy shape in the bokken was for a reason. He found this helped prevent any denting to the bokken more than an oval shape. He will do other shapes upon request, and makes custom shaped bokken for a few dojo and a sword maker who has Paul make bokken to his specifications. So, if you have a particular shaping you like, just ask and I doubt you will be disappointed.

Again, upon arriving home, this went head to head with my standard telephone pole test. This one held up very nicely, and is what Iíve come to expect with a well made bokken and quality wood.

Use over 6 months use report
Purpleheart bokken
As mentioned above, these are pretty tough. The quality of wood used is obviously good. The tung oil finish is no longer an issue. Rather than sand and refinish with mineral oil the two as I normally would do, I let them just get used. In about a month time, the tackiness disappeared. This is my objection to tung oil, it takes longer to dry properly. If you have no problem with this, tung oil does provide a very nice finish.

The bokken has taken a real beating in use and continues to do so. Very few dents, even with hard direct strikes in use. Lots of scruff marks though.

Eight months of use as of this writing. Final note - the endcap on the bokken did come loose through use. While the quality of wood and crafting is apparent, the endcap design can be a weak point in my view.

Ironwood hanbo
The hanbo was not as fortunate in avoiding damage. The use of a decorative end cap can be a problem if you make use of heavy impact strikes in training. We do. The endcap is secured by a wood screw and glue. On the hanbo the caps were both coming loose. I re-glued these and to appearances, it was fine. What happened next in class was one end cap screw actually snapped upon a heavy impact and flew across the dojo, and the other end cap screw gave way upon the counter block movement and dropped to the floor.

This I believe was due to the ironwood hanboís thinner diameter. It simply set up a vibration from impact and caused the end caps and screws to loosen and eventually break. Upon reflection, the sound created with impacts had changed too indicating something was loose or weak. I contacted Aikiwood and this is where their customer service showed as superior. I emailed asking about possible repair, and was sent a new hanbo at no charge. I did tell them of the extremely hard use made of the hanbo but they were more than happy to send me a replacement.

Cocobolo Hanbo replacement
The replacement hanbo is made from cocobolo and is a thicker diameter, about 1-1/8Ē. Paul at Aikiwood made the comment that other people had made the same comment about the diameter being to thin as well. The thicker diameter is a result of that feedback and should prevent any problems encountered with the ironwood hanbo.

The Cocobolo replacement is very well crafted in both appearance and feel. Again, the handcrafted work shows, well shaped and it fits your hand very nicely. The tung oil finish on this one is also better than the finishes on the ironwood hanbo and purpleheart bokken. It appears Aikiwood is working on improving their shaping and finish quality based on what I see in the cocobolo hanbo.

My standard telephone pole test to the cocobolo hanbo was successful. Aside from minor scruff marks to the finish, the wood is top notch and the amount of impact vibration transmitted to the hands was no more than I would expect in a well made bokuto of any sort. I have repeated the telephone pole testing with the cocobolo hanbo several times now and encountered none of the vibration-impact shocks that were probably warning signs with the ironwood hanbo as to possible breaking.

Overtime use- 10 months and no problems with the cocobolo hanbo. The thicker design holds up well. Though we have not had has much heavy impact use with this one given the caution we now have about the endcaps, it still is holding up well.

Using Neilís official Microbrew rating system:
1 bottle - So what else do you have? That wasnít so good.
2 bottles - Not so goodÖ Iíd still like to switch to something else.
3 bottles Ė Average quality, decent enough and works, but nothing great either.
4 bottles Ė Above average, worth the money and trying out.
5 bottles Ė Beyond what you expect in quality for the cost and good service.
6 bottles Ė Couldnít find a thing wrong despite trying.

Overall, I give Aikiwood a rating of 4 bottles in product quality.
5 bottles for high quality materials used and care in crafting of those materials.
2.5 bottles for the ironwood hanbo. Accidents happen and they quickly made it right, and my hard use played a role in the piece breaking so soon.
5 bottles for the cocobolo hanbo
4 bottles for the purpleheart bokken

For customer service: A full 6 pack
Paulís prompt response to my emails in original purchase of the bokken, his replacement of the hanbo, and for being open to customer feedback for product improvements and custom requests makes them a good vendor in my book.

I would put them right up there with other well regarded sources to consider as a suplier. I still prefer the bokken and products Iíve used from SDK, Bear Wood products, and Kiyota company. Note: Iíve had products from these companies break in use too, expect it to happen, itís a training tool!

I donít hesitate to recommend Aikiwood as a reasonably priced source for bokuto with the caveat about overly heavy impact and the endcaps loosening. If you donít make regular heavy impact with bokuto or jo in training, I think Aikiwood makes a product that will appeal to most people who want something that is handcrafted with care and distinctive in appearance, especially with a customized piece.

Legal notice:
This is only my opinion of the product reviewed. These tools can cause injury and It is expected you will seek proper instruction in use of any martial arts training tool, not just go around hitting and trying to cut things up with out any instruction. I bear no responsibility for your experience or lack thereof, in use or misuse of any product I may review and you buy as a result of my review.
Remember, injuries to yourself and others are your personal responsibility. Donít be stupid.

Jennifer Yabut
01-29-2007, 02:03 PM
Thanks, guys...your input has been helpful. :) I basically went with the recommendations of a couple folks from Sword Forum.

I'm not too familiar with the different kinds of wood, though I did email some questions to the folks at Aikiwood. They recommended jatoba for its weight and ability to hold up with paired kata.

I did sand down the bokken, and this is what it looked like under the finish. The still-lacquered jo is below the bokken for comparison:


I didn't think about how some exotic woods splinter (shudder), and I hope the same thing doesn't happen with my new weapons. I did take the jo through its paces the other night with some paired kata. I still think the lacquer is a pain, but it held up to impact very well. No odd vibrations or anything.

I also didn't think about the dowels getting loose. Again, I just hope that my stuff will hold up. We'll see, I guess.

01-29-2007, 04:51 PM
I also didn't think about the dowels getting loose. Again, I just hope that my stuff will hold up. We'll see, I guess.

Hi Jennifer, I train with Neil and was actually the one using the hanbo when the ends broke off. I can't stress enough that this was under VERY hard impact and after numerous classes at that level of impact. We should have known something was coming, because the sound of the wood changed over time, and you could see some space developing between the main portion of the stick and the end caps. After the first one flew off, I continued using the hanbo but always with the other endcap in my hand. The second break was really weird because it cracked off in my hand from the impact of the block I was doing. I think for almost any aiki-ken/aiki-jo that I've seen this level of impact would never come up, so you should be safe. Just play it by ear so to speak and inspect the endcaps from time to time. If you start hearing a brighter snapping sound when making impact, you should take a close look at the laminates.

Ditto what Neil wrote in his review. We've broken a number of sticks and bokken, and for the most part these are holding up well.

Jeremy Hulley
01-29-2007, 05:52 PM
My apologies that my post did not quite come out as intended. The stuff has been very durable, save those parts and pieces already mentioned and we do put our weapons through a bunch of tough contact...we more than any other aiki style I have seen.


Paul Conway
11-07-2009, 01:46 PM
I recently stripped my inexpensive jo & bokken, and gave them four or five coats of Devon Wood Oil (mostly boiled linseed & tung oils). Revealed a nice grain and made them far more maneuverable. However, I also found that the jo was rather too slippery, so I gave it a wipe with a damp cloth to bring up the grain a bit. Seemed to work.

Amazing what a bit of elbow grease can do for a reasonable bit of wood. I imagine the finishing side is a big part of the cost of hand-made weapons.