My last entry in my “Armor for the Enterprising Samurai” series was posted on February 23rd, 2016 – approximately 2 1/2 months ago. Since then I have made progress on my Do enough to warrant updating this blog. In my first entry we looked at the planning process, taking a pattern from Sengoku Daimyo and generating a paper mock-up. There is a saying: measure twice, cut once. It applies to armor just as much as carpentry, tailoring, and other crafts. With my paper armor made I proceeded to work with a sheet of scrap Kydex plastic I was given by a local supplier called Piedmont Plastics.
Step 7: After you have created your paper mock-up and ensured it fits your frame, take apart the patterns and trace them onto a sheet of plastic. I used 3/16 in Kydex but ABS or other types are feasible for the task. It should be noted 3/16 is quite thick and you may consider using thinner but I liked it for absorbing the impact of SCA weapons. I particularly liked having the shiny/glossy side of the plastic exposed to replicate the appearance of lacquered Japanese steel. A 1′ x 8′ sheet of Kydex was enough for me to pattern out my Do, though significantly smaller or larger samurai will need more or less based on how much their patterns deviate from the base pattern. I recommend using a metallic paint marker to trace your patterns. I personally traced my patterns onto the marbled side of the Kydex so when the glossy side was facing out, the residual pattern marks would not be seen.
Step 8: Once you have your pattern applied to the plastic it’s time to cut it out. I used a jigsaw for the task but other far more experienced craftsmen may have far more efficient tools for the task. My Do consisted of ten belly lames, seven tatage lames, a munaita, a oshitsuke-no-ita, and two watagami. This part of crafting the armor encourages patience. My own lames were far from perfectly cut so try not to cut the small stuff. You’ll clean up your work in the next step.
Step 9: After all of your lames have been cut it’s time to clean up all those rough edges. I used a belt sander for the task but you could do it by hand with sandpaper if you lack the tool, though a friend of mine recently purchased one for $80 from Harbor Freight. There will be a lot of burrs from using the jigsaw, perhaps even melted bits, so the sanding process will smooth it all down for a clean look and mitigate any bites. Of course you should not wear your armor without clothing underneath (such as a gusoku-shita). After all of your pieces are cleaned up you are ready to proceed to the next step.
Step 10: So, what is the most distinctive aspect of Japanese armor? If you said the colors, I’d agree with you. A Japanese yoroi was laced with silk cord but unless you have the budget for that sort of authenticity, you may wish to be thrifty like myself and order your lacing from Laces for Less (http://www.lacesforless.com) to save some money. Fortunately, they have a wide variety of colors so based on the style you are going for, you can generally find anything you want. You want the wide laces they sell and to go ahead and place your order now because shipping takes one-two weeks from the time of order. So, while we’re waiting on the laces to arrive it’s time to drill holes.
The laces need to be woven through the steel lames to provide the armor it’s distinctive appearance and provide structural integrity. For this part you will need to get out your paint markers again (Sharpie sells a pack with copper, gold, and silver) and with a pattern, create marks for your holes. This process takes a while and is entirely dependant on how many holes you want in your armor. For example, my Do has 2,148+ holes in the Do… And it could use more, between 3,000 and 4,000 to look more authentic. After you painstakingly pattern out several thousand holes, you need to drill them out. I initially used s hand drill but quickly found out the process required I clean up burrs with a sander AND drill it again for a clean hole. I later used a drill press which mitigated doing any cleaning up, resulting in a very efficient process. This step takes a while and is entirely monotonous so push through it, the end is coming soon. After you have drilled all of your holes, you can move onto the next step.
Step 11: After your lacing holes have been drilled into your lames it’s time for the fun part. Everyone likes playing with fire, right? In this process I urge caution because how I worked the plastic was likely not the most intelligent way to go about shaping it. I held up the lames individually while my Knight used a blow torch to heat up the plastic until it was able to to be molded using pressure with my hands. A sort of jig would likely be a better idea but overall our method got the job done. The belly lames were molded to fit the rounded countour of the abdomen while the tatage only required a gentle curve. The back lames on the other hand were contoured to account for the natural curves of the back, resembling more of an M or W (depending on your interpretation). A blow torch, (safety)glasses, an apron, and gloves are needed for this step. This process will require a little bit of uncomfortable heat. You can even use a lighter though it takes longer for the plastic to heat up enough to be shaped.
Step 12: By the time you finished Steps 10 and 11, your laces from Laces for Less will have arrived so go ahead and and get all of your materials together. I used green and gold with white and red accent colors for my armor personally but your options are infinite. The colors that you use will set you apart from your fellow Nihon and make you stand out on the battlefield. Starting with the munaita, I laced the plate through the top tatage. The laces were clipped off and melted with a lighter to clean up the lacing, keeping all of them on the interior. The lacing was then woven down through the plates, one by one, in a time consuming process that amounted to about an hour per lame. I personally distracted myself during the process to make time go by but you will spend a lot of time lacing your armor during this step.
When all is said and done you’ll have a front plate and a back plate complete. However, your armor will be far from complete. Stay tuned for Part III as I go through finishing up the Do of the yoroi and moving onto different aspects of the suit of armor that will require your attention.