David Thatcher Japanese Samurai Armour Restorer

自己紹介 Introduction To Japanese Armour Restoration

My name is David Thatcher and I am a professional restorer of Japanese armour. I begun to restore armours in the early 1980’s committing to a full-time venture in 2011. My customers include many leading international dealers and collectors of samurai armour.

I work from a commercial studio located in the historic roman town of Towcester in Northamptonshire, England. The studio is a annexation of the Limes Oriental Art Gallery which enables my visitors the opportunity to view a selection of finished items in a comfortable setting.

You may be surprised to know that there is no formal qualification for restoring armour. These days there are only a handful of restorers in japan and even less outside of the country. The opportunity arose that I could begin to study the art of Japanese lacquer. My sensei, Miss Miho Kitagawa, a professional urushi teacher of the Kyoto Prefectural University was able to help me adapt traditional lacquering techniques that were used on armour. Understanding lacquer and the important role it plays in armour is a necessity as nearly all restorations require some form of lacquer repair.

Over the years I have been fortunate to have been able to work with, and receive instruction from a number of fine craftspeople both in the UK and Japan including names such as Ian Bottomley, Jock Hopson and Ford Hallam.
Leading on from this I have been able to study the construction of armour and handle and deconstruct hundreds of examples. The knowledge gained from this over the years has allowed me to obtain the skills that are required to work to the standard that is acceptable in Japan.

To date I have been able carry out restorations on some of the worlds finest samurai items crafted by the MyochinNagasoneSaigaBaemenIwaiSaotome, Neo and Haruta Schools. I am a proud member of the Nihon Katchu Bugu Kenkyu Hozon Kai (Tokyo branch), The Northern Token Society and a regular contributor for The Samurai Armour Forum.

Armour incorporates iron, leather, hemp, silk, paper and lacquer

Exposure to UV can dull and damage the gloss lacquer surface 

Poor storage or display can result in cracking, warping and de-lamination 

Silk lacing is organic, over time it fades and rots

Why Restore?

Within a decade or so of the opening of Japan western tourists flocked there to see for themselves this strange and fascinating country that had been closed to the world for so long. For a few decades there was a craze for all things Japanese and naturally these tourists brought back souvenirs; amongst which were armour and swords which they used to decorate their homes. This passion for things Japanese finally faded in the early years of the 20th century when the curios and souvenirs were relegated to attics and cellars, not to re-emerge until a new generation of collectors began to appreciate them after WWII.

Decades of inappropriate storage and mishandling has not treated these treasures kindly. Many are now suffering from chipped and flaking lacquer, corroded fittings and rotting lacing. The lacing on those armours that have not suffered misuse are often in poor condition, or even disintegrating, because of the use of dyes that damage the silk.

This was not a problem in feudal Japan because armours were refurbished on a regular basis, particularly during the protracted campaigns of the Sengoku Jidai, when armour had to be worn for long periods of time in all weathers – as well as being suffering damage in action. Even during the peaceful Edo period, all armour needed to be kept in good condition in case it was needed and would require cleaning and relacing on a fairly regular basis.

Obviously, if the lacing of an armour is intact and structurally sound it is important that it be retained. However, broken or badly weakened lacing puts a greater strain on the lacing that survives intact and in the interests of conservation the damaged lacing should be replaced to prevent further damage occurring. In the case of urushi modern materials are not suitable as it’s impossible to replicate the same finish that original lacquer can achieve. Real lacquer is resistant to impacts, scratching, acids and alkalis.

A Logical Approach To Restoration Over Conservation

Prior to any work being undertaken a full assessment should be conducted, its important to retain as much of the original preserve as possible and focus on only that which requires attention.  Assessments apply the following principles:

Preservation work includes cleaning, repairing and consolidation of urushi lacquer.

Where damage has exceeded any preservation process, the item can be restored. This includes for example, rebuilding damaged lacquer.

When an item has parts that are either missing or too badly damaged to repair, they can be replaced. This is the case with silk lacing and the silks used on armoured sleeves and thigh guards. Often with helmets, the original liners and cords are missing.  Vintage materials or authentically produced substitutes can be sourced for missing components.

This website is a showcase of the work and services that I can offer. If you have an item of samurai armour that requires attention, please feel free to contact me for some assistance.

David Thatcher