The ancient variant of ball-and-cup toys, the player uses Ken to capture the wooden dama string attached to one of its four methods. There are two cups, one large and one small, attached at right angles to Ken. There is a third cup at the end of Ken is smaller. Finally, the ball may be captured at the end of the business. The ball has a hole, mouth outbreak, promote the most difficult to capture.

A kendama game is mostly straightforward spindle turning, but turning the ball and scraping the cups to the correct radius to catch the ball is a small challenge for most. You will need some firm, durable wood to make your kendama set. I chose hard maple for price and durability, but oak, ash, hickory and walnut are other good choices. You do not need much wood for this project, but large-diameter stock is necessary for the ball if it is to be done without gluing up. I was able to make mine from cutoff scraps I had squirreled away.

I will not elaborate on the turning of the handle and the set of cups that mount on the spike at the end of it in a “T” fashion, for they are straight spindle turning. The only tip I will give is that it is best to drill the cross-hole for mounting the cups on the handle before turning. Drill a 7/16″-diameter cross-hole in the exact center of the 1-3⁄4″ by 2-3⁄4″ billet. The turning of a perfect ball might seem to be impossible, but it is actually well within the capabilities of any competent spindle turner. The method I am going to describe was used to turn billiard balls from ivory up until the 1920s. I gleaned this information from an original volume in my library: The Lathe & Its Uses by Claud Lukin, published by John Wiley & Son in 1868.

Kendama-Toy-Project

A spiked handle, three cups of varying sizes and a tethered wooden ball are the total of the parts to a kendama game — but the variations of kendama “tricks” go on and on.

The trick of turning a ball is in the chucking. You must use a jam chuck, which is no more than a piece of wood screwed to a faceplate. For strength, the piece of wood you construct your jam chuck out of needs to be at least one-and-a-half times the diameter of the work (it can also be larger). Like the kendama itself, the jam chuck needs to be made from durable wood of one of the species I’ve previously mentioned. The grain of the chuck needs to run between the centers of the lathe (spindle turning), so the screws to hold it on a faceplate need to go into the end grain of the billet. It is possible to generate a perfect ball by how you manipulate the work in your jam chuck.

Kendama-Toy-Project

Making the ken is a straightforward exercise in spindle turning. Chuck your ken blank between centers, and use a sharp spindle gouge to turn it to a comfortable handle profile and smallest end cup. Scrape the spike end of the ken down until it fits the 7/16″-dia. hole in the opposing cup piece.

You will need a scraper for this project that will allow you to shape the depression of the cups to a slightly smaller curve than the 2-1⁄4″ diameter ball. (You want the ball to seat perfectly.) I used a shop-made scraper to help me achieve this. You will need to jam chuck the cup twice to hollow each end. Scrape from the outside to the center in an ever increasing circle until you have removed wood along the entire edge, and there you have it. Do the other end of the cup, then jam chuck the handle to make the base into a cup.

Kendama-Toy-Project

It’s best to drill the 7/16”-dia. cross-hole that facilitates mounting the cups on the handle before turning the cups to final shape.

If you followed the Drawings, your game now has three progressively smaller cups to catch the ball in, plus a spike to spear it on. Go ahead and glue the cups on the spike, cross drill for the string through the center of the cup/spike, and connect a sufficiently long string to have 15-3⁄4″ of string between the handle and the ball.

Kendama-Toy-Project

Scrape the cups to shape with a scraper while the work is held in a smaller version of a jam chuck.