Building a Makiwara

I am officially the worst carpenter on the planet. I’ve done several small projects around the house, but if it involves cutting wood, I’m pretty well screwed. As such, I’m surprised my new makiwara came out as well as it did.

I’ve been thinking about building a makiwara — a board for punching practice — for some time. Most theories say the benefits are either strengthening the knuckles, wrist and arm or improving your punching technique. Proponents of one theory tend to look down on the other, but either way, the old masters used makiwara training quite a bit, and several modern karateka still use them. Why not give it a shot?

I found several plans on the ol’ Internet, and they’re all very close. I went out for a sledgehammer on Father’s Day (to resolve the post problem), got a bug up my butt to finally build the makiwara, and assembled my materials:

Makiwara Materials

  • 1 8′ 4×4 (cut down to 7′ by Home Depot drone)
  • 2 scraps of 2×4
  • Tapered-head screws
  • Sewer line connector
  • Dumbass cat (optional, actually)

Lesson #1 is to bring your plans to Home Depot. I didn’t only because it became an impulse purchase, but I might have gotten things done faster had I showed them what I needed as we debated many options before I settled on the sewer line connector. (One plumbing department employee was a grizzled old dude with a never-healing knuckle and several missing teeth. His never-healing knuckle was due to punching something wrapped in rope, and I suggest other things wrapped in flesh. I should have made him stick around as he obviously knew from punching, but someone else needed his help and dragged him away.)

They assumed I wanted to wrap the sewer line gasket thing around the post, but no, I wanted to cut it and make a flat surface, like so:

Makiwara Pad

It’s a little thinner than I wanted, but it’s easier on the knuckles than wood. I want to build them up, not shred the shit out of them. A simple carpet knife went right through the rubber, and I just tossed the two metal constrictor rings into my miscellaneous junk box.

Next came the lumber cutting. Negotiating the 4×4 through a bandsaw or jigsaw, both of which I believe I have available at work, didn’t sound like a good idea. In fact, had I tried it, I’m certain I would have come home minus a few fingers if not a limb. The Home Depot lumber guy recommended a simple circular saw, which I had already borrowed from my father-in-law to cut up and burn our old porch scrap. See, cutting things to pieces, I can do. Making precise cuts? Not so much.

I laid down a chalk line on opposite sides of the 4×4 and they seemed to match. I made the first cut down the length of the 4×4, flipped it over, and made the second cut. The good news: direction-wise, they matched and I didn’t end up with an X. The bad news: I missed by about a quarter inch on one side because I deviated from the chalk line a bit. I wrestled the two halves apart, broke off and sanded the broken edge, and ended up with posts that are a bit thicker on one half (vertically). I tried to take this pic from a more flattering angle:

Makiwara Board

At least all of my fingers survived.

Notice the pic was taken at night under my garage light. Yes, I insisted on getting it done anyway. I used my father-in-law’s post hole digger to dig a hole just over 2.5 feet deep in the corner of the yard, then attempted to screw the 2x4s to the makiwara post. My cordless drill ran out of juice, so I used a corded electric drill, only to strip the shit out of the screw heads before they could bury themselves completely. I decided it didn’t need to look pretty because they’d be buried anyway, but as it turned out the 2×4 — even as short as I had them — didn’t fit into the post hole. Good thing I tested it after the first 2×4 and didn’t waste my time on the second.

No worries, I thought, I’ll just take the one 2×4 off the post and wedge them both in around the post in the hole. I wondered how I’d get the 2×4 off the makiwara post with the screw heads stripped, and as it turned out I was able to just yank it off. One screw had gone maybe an eighth of an inch into the 4×4 and the other two screws never made it through the 2×4.

Yes, I made pilot holes with a drill. Like I said: I am the world’s worst carpenter.

The 2×4 wedged neatly down into the hole, though I could barely reach it as I laid on the ground and reached into the hole. It held the post nice and still (and level!), however, and even with no room for the second 2×4, the makiwara post was good and stable. I think it helped that I used a post hole digger rather than digging a big hole with a shovel. I filled in the dirt, tamped it all down, and boom, I had my makiwara post.

I wanted to use string to tie down the rubber pad, but the Home Depot guys talked me into screws. The screw went right through the rubber and through the back of the makiwara post. So much for that idea. I turned to black electrical tape as a temporary measure. When it starts to fall off, I’ll go back to string.

Here’s what I ended up with the next morning:

Makiwara Completed

Not too shabby despite being built by the world’s worst carpenter.

Now to screw up my knuckles beating on it. I gave it at total of about 40 good whacks on a side yesterday and have small cuts on each of my middle knuckles.

Masochism: it’s what’s for dinner.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

20 comments

  1. Noah L says:

    Hey Mike. Not a bad looking makiwara, given your self-professed lack of carpentry skills. To hold that pad on, I would punch holes in the rubber (and possibly add gromets to keep them from tearing) and lace it up the back of the makiwara. If you end up using screws, they are going to need to be very short, and you’ll probably need quite a few of them. Another option would be carpenters’ glue :P. Happy hitting!

  2. Mike says:

    I had six screws initially, 3 for the top and 3 for the bottom, but with the length as mentioned and the possibility of splitting the wood, I scrapped that idea. That lacing idea doesn’t sound bad, though. Thanks!

    I figure worst case is if it tears, it’s easy to replace, especially if I’m not screwing anything into the wood. The rubber gasket was all of five bucks, so if it comes off or tears, it’s a much cheaper replacement than if I were to buy an impact pad or punching pad like we use in the dojo.

  3. Noah L says:

    Yeah, the splitting could be an issue, that’s why I’m a fan of lacing. Actually, an idea that I had toyed with for building a makiwara was using a thin layer of high-density foam (i.e. those little swimming boards kids use in the pool, just make it thinner) and wrap it with the fabric of an old gi and lace that up to it. The fabric is pretty durable, and the foam will last pretty much forever, so long as it doesn’t get punctured. Just an idea, though.

  4. Mike says:

    That padding should work, and is actually what the guy in the Karate Tips link recommended. I think my only concern would be weather and/or critters for the cotton cover. I had the same concern over going really old school and using straw from a local farm. I’d rather not have bugs come flying out with every punch, or birds pulling it apart for nesting material.

    Of course, assuming you have enough scrap off a gi, you could always just sew on a new cover.

  5. Noah L says:

    There would be the concern of mildew and mold destroying the cotton, but you can always throw a tarp or a grill-cover over it when you’re done for the day, and there will not be enough sweat, nor will it stay in the cloth long enough for that to cause damage to it. Alternately, of course, you could get a scrap of leather–I know that there are some glove and shoe factories that throw out a good amount of it. I probably have some big enough scraps for several makiwara, if I can find them :P.

  6. Troy says:

    Long time no typee.

    Loved the comment about the dumbass cat being optional!

    Got a optional dumbass cat myself – got him shaved this summer. Ever see a shaved Maine Coon cat – yikes!

    Take care,
    Troy

    P.S. Heading to Hypericon 4 this summer? June 27 thru 29 in Nashville.

  7. Mike says:

    Noah — Leather would probably be ideal, but I suspect my tanner skills aren’t much better than my carpentry. :)

    Troy — Never seen a shaved cat, but now you’re making me wonder… No Hypericon this year. I would have liked to with Lansdale being there, but Wizard World Chicago is the same weekend and I’ll be sitting down with a publisher. (Not one of the Big Two, but business is business.)

  8. Eric says:

    Didn’t you pick up any woodworking skills from all those tv stands we used to build? for shame.

  9. Mike says:

    We never had to cut anything, just glue & screw. :)

  10. Troy says:

    Not gonna be the same without you, Mike.

    I guess Hisownself will have to fill some pretty big shoes – I’ll tell him you said hi though. ;-)

    Troy

  11. Mike says:

    He’ll probably look at you funny and say “Who?” Heh.

    If Wizard World’s schedule bites them in the ass this year, they may return to August (this year they’re only 2 weeks away from San Diego Comic Con, which is much bigger). If that happens, I’ll probably be back at Hypericon next year.

    Mike

  12. Troy says:

    Now you’re talking!

    Hypericon 5: Return of Mikey O.

    Troy

  13. 24FightgingChickens says:

    Dude,

    Nice makiwara. If you read the text surrounding my directions, you would notice that I recommended that you NOT build one or use it. Ultimately it will not help you do anything that is usable. It’s a product of outdated thinking and ineffective, untested, unproven junk science.

    -Rob

  14. Mike says:

    Hi Rob,

    I did read the rest of your article, and with great interest, actually. With recommendations running both ways, I felt there was only one way to find out for sure. There’s also a certain novelty appeal to it.

    I don’t use the makiwara solely, though; I have a Wavemaster that I use frequently as well.

    Mike

  15. Mark says:

    Mike thanks for the instructions and materials you used to build your makiwara, i’ve been trying to build one but there’s no home depot nearby, then i just realized i have some old 4×4 posts out in the shed in my yard. lol :D

  16. Anthony says:

    For a “Traditional Look” you could replace the rubber with some hemp rope, wrapped completely around the post… Just a thought…

  17. Jeff says:

    If you place it in the ground, eventually it will rot and the harder you strike it, it will loosen up. I put Birkenstock shoe sole pad unter it and wrapped the pad with leather. Rubbed Mink oil on the leather and it good to go outdoors. If you place a plactic bag over it do not make it too tight as condensation will form in the bag and mold will follow. With open skin from time to time that is nto a good combination. You should be hitting with the first two knuckles, index and middle finger knuckles. Wrist turned out slightly and pointed down slightly. Chambered with palam up and turn as you strike the Makiwara. Bow before you start and bow when finished.

  18. [...] Guide (plans for purchase) (Eclectic Fighter) * Build your own makiwara (24 Fighting Chickens) * Building a makiwara (Mike Oliveri) * DIY Wall Mounted Makiwara (Bieneman’s Blog) * Kicking contraption (Ron [...]

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