Samégawa - aka Samé or 'Stingray Skin'
Stingray Skin - aka: Samé, Samégawa and: "The pebbly white stuff under the wrap", Shark, etc. The skin of the common Stingray has been used on Japanese Sword handles for centuries, mostly due to its rough texture which when wrapped with 'cord', denies the cord from slipping. When 'full wrapped' around the handle, as opposed to strips or side panels, it makes the Tsuka (Handle) considerably stronger and less apt to fail during stressful situations. In its natural state, the skin is dirty, smelly and is mostly prized for its extremely rough texture. In an effort to make it presentable for commercial use, the outer side of the skin is scrubbed with heavy duty wire brushes in their effort to remove the yuk & guck.
As part of the cleaning process, (after meat has been removed from the bottom of the skin for food), hard working men using scrapers, wire brushes and large rasps (files) to scrape away all of the remaining flesh from the bottom of the skin, a process where the goal is to make it thin and smooth to the touch. The scraped & cleaned skins are soaked in containers of high strength Hydro Peroxide to remove the dirt until the skin becomes almost snow white in color and at this point, technically classified as 'rawhide'.
Those of us who have been involved as dealers purchasing skins in large quantities from Asian suppliers fully understand and appreciate the time and effort involved in the cleaning process. As a word of caution, there are a few web site 'suppliers' who will send photo's of their skins, make promises and take your money,,, the problem is that they don't deliver the skins. ( frigging thieves ! ) And their local cops do nothing. Ask me before sending money to anyone who you may be unsure of.
As importers and suppliers of SAMEGAWA (Stingray skin), we find that 4 inch wide strips of the skin vary in value mostly depending on what part of a much larger skin (some up to 17 inches wide) they are removed from. Those pieces of skin (1.) that possess a row of slightly larger 'nodes' (the bigger bumps) which are removed from the center of the skin, cost more because of those who know that 'bigger is better' and, (2.) that skin from the 'field' which has average sized nodes. The majority of available skin is from the field and as a result, it is more reasonably priced.
Because of its rough texture, the Japanese have always placed Stingray skin under the cord to prevent the cord from slipping. The skin is directional in that it is rougher when 'petted' (rubbed) in one direction and less so when rubbed the other direction. Therefore, care should be taken to insure that the skin is properly 'oriented' so that it is rougher when rubbed in the direction toward the end of the handle.
In spite of the fact that the entire skin is 100% equal 'inch by inch' in its ability to restrict movement of the cord, it is the arrangement and size of of the 'nodes' (white bumps) that determines the value of the skin. IF you prefer to restore your own handle, Stingray skin is available and custom sizes can be cut to fit your needs. The skin pieces (natural rawhide, 4 inches wide) from the field are priced at only $5 per running inch and for an 9 inch handle, the cost is only $45.
If you know how to get the skin to conform to the shape of the wood core, great ! (if not, because you will need to know, ask! ) After it has thoroughly dried, If you decide that you prefer black skin under the cord, use a (lacquer) 'Spray can'. That's how it's done, not a mystery. Simple and easy !
Chemically 'Tanned' (turned into leather) skins are available from other sources but because the rough nodes were ground off and polished, the skin is smooth and obviously not recommended to be used on Japanese sword handles.
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