If you're here, you're wondering: "What is the best bokken, what is the best Jo, what is the best wood for martial art practice?" You've come to the right place. We have a lot of information on this subject matter, perhaps more than anyone else. For any martial art endeavor using a wooden weapon; for any self defense purpose using a wooden sword or staff; for any situation where a simple wooden stick is the weapon of choice, this is the place to start. It may take a little time to study all of it but perhaps the best place to begin is with this video, Bokken test.
Kingfisher Impact Grade Hickory
Appalachian hickory or "Impact Grade Hickory" refers to specific varieties of hickory from the central Appalachians with properties suitable for martial art equipment. Common kiln dried hickory for general woodwork is not as desirable for martial art weapons as the thick slabs of slowly air dried stock that Kingfisher acquires from small family owned mills. Several species that work well include shagbark, shellbark and bitternut hickory but identification within the true hickory group often cannot be determined by the wood alone and must be done in the field (the logger must know the right tree to harvest). The wood is either cream white, light reddish in color or a combination of the two. It has a graceful grain structure and a smooth texture. Its shock strength exceeds all native and exotic species including the commonly used Japanese white oak (shiro kashi). While oak becomes brittle as it ages, Appalachian hickory retains its phenomenal toughness indefinitely. Normal practice with similar weapons will create, over time, an extremely tough tempered surface (see maintenance for more information). Even after years of heavy use, it is less likely to snap into dangerous pieces than other harder (and more brittle) woods. Ideally, the best dojo choice would be the uniform use of this material for paired practice. It's safe, strong, attractive and comes from a well managed domestic source. Kingfisher Appalachian Hickory is graded for overall qualities of soundness and differences in density that occurs within the species. For more information and reference on this subject matter, see this link: strength of wood.
Wood Grade Considerations
Higher grade levels are more dense with tighter grain structure and a smoother tactile feel. While all of this material is strong, grade L7 wood will generally be tougher, more beautiful, and more resistant to denting than L5. Both are smooth sanded. Grade L7hc weapons are made of grade L7 wood but finished with a hand cutting procedure rather than sanded as described below. All grades are accurately shaped, symmetrical and have correct balance characteristics. There are slight stylistic differences between the sanded weapons and hand cut weapons due to the different finishing procedures.
Appalachian Hickory has both white and reddish hues but grading is not made according to color. We cannot make standard or custom orders based on a color preference and simultaneously guarantee grade quality, however, we do match weapon sets to be consistent in character and complementary to each other. So, if your order included a bokken, jo, tanto for example, we would pair the weapons in feel and aesthetics.
Appalachian Hickory Quality Grade Level 5
Grade L5 wood has color variations. Sometimes all white, sometimes all red and sometimes a combination of the two; the color has no bearing on its mechanical properties and shown here only to demonstrate natural variations, any of which may be present in the weapon. Any marks on L5 wood add to the aesthetic appeal of the weapon. Level 5 is strong and serviceable but not excessively heavy. It would be a good choice for martial artists seeking speed and maneuverability in paired practice.
Appalachian Hickory Quality Grade Level 7
Grade L7 has color variations. Sometimes all white, sometimes all red and sometimes a combination of the two; the color has no bearing on its mechanical properties and shown here only to demonstrate natural variations, any of which may be present in the weapon. The defining characteristic of L7 is its beauty, strength and higher density. Its weight gives it a feeling of substantial presence and its fine grain gives it a superb tactile smoothness. Weapons of grade Level 7 would be a good choice as a gift for a senior practitioner or for a martial artists seeking top quality.
Appalachian Hickory Quality Grade Level 7 Hand Cut
Grade L7hc is selected from the most premium L7 Appalachian hickory (see the L7 grade pictures above) but the L7hc category weapons are not sanded but instead finished with traditional methods. We often think of fine woodwork as being smooth sanded, and indeed, accurately sanded work is beautiful to the eye and hand -the finest woodwork however, including Japanese wooden weapons prior to the early 1900s ,were finished with very sharp hand tools, not sandpaper. To produce the L7hc finish we first shape and rasp the weapon to exacting proportions from the highest L7 wood. Then, exceedingly thin shavings are cut from the surface with razor sharp spokeshaves, drawknives and planes to create a surface that is both very smooth but made up of multiple tiny facets of cleanly severed facets. The unique tactile feel of L7hc cannot be superceded in it's feeling of torsional grip and direct connection to the weapon. Moreover, cleanly cut wood pores absorb finish oil and provide an exceptional finish. Weapons of Hand Cut grade Level 7 would be a good choice as a gift for a senior practitioner seeking the best quality with an authentic cut finish.
Examples of various L7hc wooden weapons
L7hc bokken hilt (kashira)
L7hc bokken transition
L7hc sword style point
L7hc chisel style point
L7hc blunt style point
L7hc shinto bokken
Appalachian Hickory Quality Grade L7 Enhanced
"Enhanced" refers to L7 grade wood engineered for greater weight, stablility, toughness and hardness due to a process where we draw acrylic resin completely through the pores of the wood. The enhanced grade uses L7 Appalachian hickory with a polished finish (sorry, we can't hand cut the enhanced wood!) Enhanced weapons have limited availablity and not all items or custom projects are possible, however, we regularly offer one of a kind specials.