I think when most people start cutting, the thing they never anticipate is that theyre going to need a place to put their targets. I know when I took my first water bottle outside to see how my sword cut I simply put it on a bin. This was obviously a stupid idea because I was nowhere near as comfortable with a sword back then as I am now and hitting a hard plastic bin can definitely damage your blade.
I've also found that just the fact that your choice of stand could damage your blade, actually makes any technique you're working on, worse. That fear of slamming your sword into something that could potentially chip or even shatter it is not going to improve your aim and you're actually more likely, not less likely to hit that stand.
So, what the heck do you use as a target/cutting stand? Fortunately this is a really simple question to answer. A pillar of soft wood such as the type used for fence posts. A typical size might be 5" x 5" x 4'. It's cheap and it's enough to get you started as all you will need to do is dig a hole for the post to fit in, pop it in and make sure it's sturdy. Of course this isn't ideal but its a start.
Other more eloquent looking stands have legs, usually 4, one leg attached to each surface of the stand which make it somewhat portable. Useful if you want to use that space in your garden for more than cutting. Obviously these types take a little more construction.
Of course these things can also be bought but I worry about spending too much money on something that I'm going to be swinging sharpened metal in the general direction of so making a stand is in my opinion the sensible choice.
Heres a list of things to consider when you're making your cutting stand.
- No screws. Absolutely no screws are to be used in the construction of your stand. If you want to secure something using a pin-like method, use dowelling. Screws and nails will wreck your sword in a split second and that's a horrible feeling to have to experience. Obviously, affixing legs to your stand at the bottom can be done with metal fixings as your blade won't even hit those. I hope.
- The stand once built will not be easily adjustable. Make sure the height of it is correct. I find that for trick cutting, the level should be around your belly button height but it's whatever you feel comfortable with.
- Use a soft wood for your stand. No hard plastic, no hard wood, asolutely no metal. That way you can hit it, time after time and only worry about replacing the stand itself, not your sword. Good woods for this are often found in garden centres as fence posts. Woods such as Pine, Cedar, Fir or poplar are all strong but soft. If you're getting it untreated then it might be worth treating the wood with a garden 'stain'. I never bother but it's up to you.
- Depending on how wide the stand is at the top, you may want to glue or dowel in a surface so you can put your targets on there without them falling off. Try to avoid using plywood as when it gets wet, the whole thing expands, splits the ply and starts to fall apart. one cutting session is all it might take to render it pretty much useless.
Not all cutting stands are the same and there are many designs out there but they all revolve around the same thing. The difference between a bottle cutting stand and a mat stand is the spike. For a normal bottle cutting stand, that spike isn't needed so it's simpler to make. The downside is that when people cut mats, they intentionally stop about 5-6" above the top of the stand because they don't want to hit the spike. If they do, then just the spike is replaced. With bottles, we're cutting, hopefully above the top of the stand, but when we make a mistake and lop off a section then we're stuck with that. For this reason, it's useful to have small sections of the same wood that can be used to fix the post and give you back that flat section that you've damaged. If you can glue a small square 1" thick piece of wood to your stand rather than replacing it, then it's best to do that. Something to consider however it this does raise the height of the stand a little.
Finally, As tempting as it may be to make your stand a work of art, I wouldn't bother. You will end up destroying it slowly over a period of time with your cutting. As you get better you will hit it less and when you become amazing you won't hit it much at all, but you will hit it. Making it simple and replaceable allows you to relax and work on your technique rather than worrying about destroying something you took ages to construct.