Crafted: The Hidden Stringway Posted on 03 Jan 23:22

Hidden Stringway - Kendama Top View
Hidden Stringway - Front
Hidden Stringway - Reverse Side

Crafted: The Hidden Stringway

Having played a couple types of kendama and bought a couple more from various places, I knew I wasn't going to find the one that was exactly the weight and feel as what I'd envisioned unless I learned to make it myself. The first kendama I've ever turned was made of hardware store bought and super-course laminated red oak. Okay stuff to practice with as it's cheap and gets you acquainted with the thrills and chills of lathe turning kendama. I worked through the 36 inch long stock stock fairly quickly duplicating a basic ken shape, finding cups sizes, heights, proportions and then trying out new shapes. All the while learning better methods for chucking and finishing kens and sarados on the lathe. This translated quickly into turning tama as well so I could return the "borrowed" ones back on their original kens.

The first enclosed string kendama I turned was in December 2014. It was from a blank of 2 x 2 x 12 inch purple heart I swooped up from a woodworking store for $9 at the time. Testing new hardwoods for their known properties and translating them into kendama is only logical when you're looking to make your favorite "go-to" build. A cheap bit of purpleheart was as good a place to start as any. The core of the ken/spike tapers all the way down to the bottom cup as a continuous narrow cone profile. The suberi-dome (grip ridge) and the bottom cup ridge are shaped distinctly separate from the contour of the ken with the appearance of beveled rings. All of the cups are slightly larger than standard kendama by about 2 millimeters, for easier lunar and bird. The ridges are all lightly rounded instead of flat and the whole ken is sanded up to 2000 grit with a final soft-cloth dry burnishing. Leaves each ken super smooth and feeling great to hold even when I'm not playing it.

Hidden Stringway - Knot through the Ken
Hidden Stringway - Sarado Pathway
Hidden Stringway - Sliding the Sarado and the Ken together
Hidden Stringway - Close up of the Stringway

While the ken in all of the photos isn't the purpleheart I started with, it was made in the exact same way, just one weekend later and out of a sweet and single blank of solid blank of Burmese rosewood. It looks like two different kens becasue it's got a super-rad 50/50 dark/light natural split of heartwood and sapwood. This stuff smells like rosewood when being worked. And for those of you who haven't smelled the Burmese variety before, think of bacon but more earthy. Yeah. Turning hardwoods you'll mostly wear a respirator, but it's fun to engage the senses when you get a chance and it's safe to do so. End of tangent.

The hidden string feature is purely an aesthetic adaptation based on the old S-17 style of kendama. I say this now, but at the time I was unaware of the older styles of kendama. All I knew was that I wanted to hide the knotted end of the string and have it seem to disappear into the kendama. Just one hole barely the size of the string thickness was all I wanted to allow.

I drilled the ken right where the sarado would cross over and sunk a counter/pocket there to afford room for the string knot. I took the sarado and carefully filed a path inside just wide enough for the string to pass through when sliding the ken into place. This prevents an ugly string-dent in the ken when they get re-strung and achieves the clean look I was going for as well as lefty-righty friendly stringing and wickedly easy swing up stilts for days.

- Daniel