What Goes Into Making a Handmade Karate Bo Staff?

I answered some of this question in a previous post here. That previous article mentions how we select the wood for our bo staffs. But I wanted to do a more thorough explanation of what goes into the making of our bo staffs. In the first article, we talked about how the wood is selected, and the process that goes into that. But there is much more. 

Pretty much, there is no point in which the process is automated, in a way that you shut your brain off and just go. Every step requires careful attention, and decisions. 

For instance. Once the wood is selected and brought home. It has to be sorted based on density. In other words... it has to be sorted based on WHAT THE WOOD WANTS TO BECOME. I emphasize that... because... well... its really important. I make an analogy with cars. Some cars want to be a sports car. Based on their size. Some want to go off roading based on their toughness size and weight. They are two different things depending on their material. Well... wood for staffs are the same. Some are super dense, and want to be a tapered kobudo staff. Some are lightweight and want to become a beautiful tournament bo. The point is... one needs to listen to what the wood wants to be, and then it needs to be made into the appropriate item. And they all have their place.

Once the wood is sorted, it needs to be cut to size, into blanks. And then someone needs to look at the grain, and see how appropriate it is for making long things, or short things, or discounted things. (If neither of the previous two are appropriate) Every inch is inspected because for a contact staff, it has to be more or less straight grained. (If you don't know what this means, maybe I'll make a post on it. Let me know. But it basically means that the layers of the wood run straight down the staff. If they don't run straight down the staff, it can possibly break under stress) 

So now we have wood thats selected for certain uses. Aka contact staff or non contact staffs. Or speed staffs, or slower bulkier heavier staffs. And then looking again, the wood decides what is the length of these things. From tanbo, to hanbo, to jo staffs, to bo staffs. So in other words, they all must become things that are appropriate uses for the wood. 

But then we cant even start to shape it into staff shape yet. Because of... their bend. Wood in trees has all sorts of tension, and when you cut it, it needs to sit a few days (or longer) and work out all of the tension. And now you have a bent piece of wood. And now you need to straighten it, by taking off wood where the bend is going, and making it straight. Yes, if you are reading this and want to make your own staffs, I'm telling you all the steps that need to be done. ;) 

So now you have a 'straighter' piece of wood, which is then shaped into a staff.

Then... (Can you believe we aren't finished? hehe) Once its sanded, you need to find EVERY place where there is the slightest chip or imperfection in the process of making it, and then straigten it AGAIN. (And sometimes again and again lol) And it has to be all done by hand, taken out, and sanded smooth, checked for straightness again... I'm not exagerating when I say this process is done several times by more then one person. When one person has worked on every inch of a staff over a few days, the next person inspects it again, and finds something else to fix. Its needed to have a fresh perspective and several people being picky. I'd rather have two people that would be happy with it then just one. It keeps you honest.

But I say this in all sincerity. My entire goal and the goal of anyone involved in this process, is that if they were the one opening the box, it would be something that they would personally be happy with. At minimum. If I'm wavering a bit and feeling like its close, but I'd be a little iffy...  My policy is I ditch it for that order, and make a new one that I'm 100% confident with. Better said, that I would be 100% happy using if I received it myself after paying money. And I've had many customers whom I've sent an e-mail to and said I wasn't happy with their staff and wanted to make a new batch for them. It doesn't happen often, as my process is very efficient, but it has happened and I've never had my customers unhappy with hearing this, because they know that someone is looking out for their best interests. 

So I guess what I'm saying here... is that there is a lot of love and caring that goes into these things. I love these objects. I've always loved staffs. Being a Donatello fan from when I was very little because of his staff, its funny I would up making them. 

And the other part, and maybe this is the most important part of making a handmade staff is talking to the customers. I ALWAYS try to match the staff to the customer. And even sometimes their personality. I've been a blackbelt for my entire adult life. And I train every day and hone myself in making and using these staffs. So they are important to me and I know how they are used. Its a part of me. And most of the time, when I am getting ready to put them in a box and after the oil goes on (which is always a special moment, which is celebrated by yet another inspection lol) But seriously, I pick it up and say right outloud, 'this is a good staff' And I mean it. I'm not trying to say it. I can't help it. I just find appreciation for the staff itself. Its like a nod of appreciation for the final product which needs to now live its own life. So my hope is that I create an object that fits with the user, and enhances their experience and training. So basically each staff is unique. And each person is unique in what they want. And for both of them... there is always a match. 

And even if a mistake happens, and although rare, it can happen. We are only human. Its rare, but I consider that a learning experience, and no matter what, once you make an order, I'm here to take care of you, and you always get what you want. And I'm looking out for you in the end. Which to me is the final most important segment of making handmade staffs.

At the end of the day, the thing I appreciate most about this job is my connection with my customers and friends. I'm blessed because I get to talk to people that have similar interests as I do, and I love dealing with karate people, because who else is trained more in courtesy, confidence, directness, and clarity. So... thank you everyone who is reading this. 

And I hope to learn and grow from dealing with you too, as I do from the wood all the time. 



Leave a comment