January 10, 2022 3 min read
Japanese kitchen knives are pretty dang cool. Heck, that’s half the reason we’re so obsessed with them! But you know what’s cooler than a Japanese knife? A Japanese knife with awooden saya. A saya is a bit like a custom leather jacket for your knife, a specialized sheath for your blade, and your blade only. When you draw your gyuto from it to start prepping dinner, you feel like a samurai drawing his sword.
While some high-end knives come with their own sayas, most don’t. That’s why we sell specially-made wooden sayas for our Masakage and Koutetsu lines. Because these collections are made to a standard shape and size, they can manufacture sayas that fit well without being custom-made for that knife. We also sell some sweet American-made leather sayas that work perfectly for most knife shapes.
Unfortunately, with non-custom sayas, it’s a one-size-fits-most sort of scenario. Our Masakage sayas, for example, fit most of the Masakage lines, but not the Zero. When knife and saya are ordered together, we can always ensure an exact fit, but it won’t always fit perfectly if you buy a saya after the blade. If you’ve ended up in this situation, worry not; we have some easy methods for fixing wooden sayas that don’t quite fit.
These tips and tricks usually work for a saya thatalmost fits, but not quite. If your knife doesn’t fit at all, you’re better off getting a leather saya or a plastic blade guard. If it’s a close fit, we can use simple tools to widen the interior or the saya. First, try to determine why the saya won’t fit: is it pinching the sides of the knife or contacting the spine and edge? We can use different techniques for each issue.
You only need a couple of tools: A slim saw blade, and some sandpaper!
The most common issue is the saya not matching the height of the blade, from edge to spine. We remove a small amount of material from the top and bottom of the saya interior to fix this. You can use a thin, small saw blade for this, such as a hacksaw blade, but you’ll want to cut off the blunt end first. We’ve since found that a Silky Pocketboy does a much better job, as they are incredibly sharp and leave a clean cut. When removing material, go slow, check the fit often, and keep the saya clear of built-up sawdust. Be careful not to remove too much material, so you don’t compromise the structure of the saya.
The other issue, especially with handmade knives, is a saya that is too narrow for the blade and contacts the sides of the knife. Handmade knives can vary in thickness, which can affect the fit. If the knife almost fits, you can remove a small amount of wood by sanding the inside of the saya to widen the opening. Simply wrap some 100-200 grit sandpaper around something narrow, like your saw blade, and gently sand the inside of the sheath. As before, take your time, blow out any sawdust, and check your progress regularly.
You should also wear a dust mask, eye protection, and potentially some work gloves as with any woodwork. Go slow; you can always take more wood away, but you can’t put it back. Once finished, give your saya a good coat of board wax to keep it from cracking, as Japanese woods often dry out in Canada.
And you’re done! Nice work! Keep in mind that these techniques work for sayas that are a very close fit to your knife but shouldn’t be used for sayas that aren’t designed for that makes of knife. Leather sayas are an excellent option for most knives because they’re sized to fit most makes and form fit your blade over time. I hope this helped; if you ever have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch, and we’ll be happy to help!
Nathan started at Knifewear in 2013, when he left the restaurant industry to slang knives. Nowadays, he handles our communications, social media, and YouTube channel. If you're reading words on this website or watching one of our videos, Nathan was involved. He spends his spare time growing food, cooking, fermenting food and booze, and enjoying the great outdoors.
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