Cardboard Samurai Armor That Looks Authentic




I have to give credit to a lot of people for this instructable, particularly Atrophius for his award winning instructable, which was my inspiration. I actually wanted to create a whole set out of sintra like he did, but because I'm out of work at the moment, I decided that cardboard was a more economical decision. Also, I didn't have enough time to make many ancillary pieces such as the leg and arm armor, and helmet. So this current piece will only include the body armor (do), and includes the shoulders (sode) and dangly crotch/ butt covers (kusazuri). Next year though, I'm going all out, and hope to post an even more awesome instructable with a top notch suit.

With that note, I did diverged from Atrophius' armor in many ways. The first is that I really wanted this to have an authentic look, and decided to go with a layered scaled Do instead of a stacked flat version.

I apologize for the lack of pictures for the Do and Sode, but I accidentally deleted them off my camera. I don't know how, or why, but oh well, they are no more.

This suit of armor got me many compliments, and I think it was totally worth the time and effort to make everything look good. Many people couldn't believe it was actually made of cardboard. It turned out sturdier, better looking, and funner than I expected!

Step 1: Materials

This was a not a particularly demanding project when it came to materials. All I needed was:
- Lots of cardboard (single corrugated is easier to work with than double, but weaker)
- Lots of yarn
- 2 cans of spray paint (I would use a name brand like Kreylon. I used a no-name brand for one can, and it didn't have quite the shine.)

Tools that I used were:
- Yard stick
- Tailor's measuring tape
- Razor knife/ box cutter
- Clamp vices
- Electric drill with 1/4" bit
- Sharpie

- The time spanned a couple months, but I'd say that if you're handy, it should take two weeks of 2 hours a day during the weekdays, and one day on the weekend (for painting)
- About 30 hours

Resources I used were:
For inspiration
- Atrophius' insutructable
For details
- Sengoku Daimyo
For accurate pictures
- Samurai Store

Step 2: The Do (Chest/ Back Armor)

This is the main piece that really makes the costume. It was the most difficult because of sizing, and screwing up all the time.

Measure twice (or thrice, or more...)

The main measurements you need to take is your chest, stomach, side length, and chest length. I'm 6' tall, 170lbs, 34" waist, 40" chest. You can take your sizings from mine if you're similar.

My suit used 3" tall lames (scales). With a 1 inch overlap for lacing on each side, it was 17" tall total. For your measurements, you want the top to go up to the bottom of your collarbone, and the bottom to sit right about where your belt usually is. Be sure to include the curvature of your girth in your calculations. You equations for number of lames is Lames = (measurement - 1)/2, therefore 8 lames = 17".

The belly portion of the armor should be slightly wider than your girth to account for clothes and comfort. Too much though and it'll shift around a lot while wearing it. My belly is 34", so I made the lames 18". This gave me a 38" circumference (including 2" in lacing on the side). It was perfectly comfortable.


I used 6 sets across the bottom, 4 across the top, each equidistant from the other. They were 1/2" from the edge, and 1/2" square for top holes.This gave a 1" overlap. I used these measurements on all the pieces of armor.

At first I was using a screwdriver to make the holes, but then I started using a drill. Use a drill! It was way easier. I used a 1/4" bit.


I used 6 laces across in a pattern I made up after studying many others' lacings. Traditional armor like the one I made uses a hanging pattern, but cardboard isn't sturdy so I made sure that everything was laced tight everywhere. Less movement = less chance for breaking. For distance, I found that triple the distance needed to be laced is a good measurement.

You can use the pattern in the picture if you like. When lacing, start from the bottom and work your way up. After attaching each new lame tie all laces on the backside. This will tighten it. Make sure your laces are even on both sides of each run. When you've laced it all, start from the bottom again and tighten everything real quick. Your knots will tend to move towards the middle of the back side of each lame. That's good. Then just tie a bow-tie at the top of each run.


For the front I added a little curve by cutting a rounded top to the top 1/2" of each of the lower 4 lames. This gave it a little more rounded shape. If you're bigger, you may want to round both top and bottom. Remember to cut only the top two holes in each column for the bottom most lame.


The back bottom lames were the same size as the front, but I did not add the curve. The back was an extra 2" wide though since mobility in that direction is not as big a deal. That's a fairly traditional thing to do.


The top lame for front and back can be made in several ways. The more traditional way is to have it be kind of curvy. I used the semi-circle-drawn-with-a-cup method. It worked. Punch two holes at the top for the top assembly, and you're done.


I just drilled one hole in each of the four bottom lames for the left side of the armor, and then permanently laced it up. See how much spacing you need first, and then tie it.

For the right side I used frog connectors made of yarn and cardboard. Just tie loops to the front side on each lame, and then tie in 1" strings with little cardboard frogs on them. Put 4 frogs through, and it's on!

Shoulder straps (Katchu)...

In retrospect, I think I should've gone with a permanently attached on the back side shoulder strap. I took this pattern and cut the back off. You can see it in my picture below. Lace the backside up equidistant and uniform, and then lace the front. Put it on, and then tighten the front. If you feel like you want a little more or less spacing the front, then readjust the backs, and then tighten the front. The two holes on the side are for the Sode. I'll talk about them later.

Step 3: Sode

These are the cool shoulder pads.


2" x 9" for the bottom 5 lames. The top connector lame is 3" tall. Take the top 1" though, and bend it at a 90 degree angle up. I found that if you cut the the crease on the top side, and then fold over the top 1" when you give the curve to the Sode, the top 1" will stay at 90 degrees.

I used the traditional 5 columns of lacing. Punch two holes to correlate with the should strap holes.

Step 4: Kusazuri (Dangling Covers)

These were pretty easy, and I actually have pictures of them being cut and so forth. You can use these methods most of the other pieces as well, especially the Sode. When making multiples of the exact same lame or scale, just mark one, and then stack and drill. Warning though, if you get it right, it's awesome. If you screw up during the process, you'll have to re-cut a whole bunch more.

Traditionally, the front has 3 covers, and the back has 4 not so wide covers. They're all 5 lames that are 2" tall. For the front I used 7" wide lames, and for the back 5" lames.

I did 4 columns of lacing for the front ones, and 3 for the back.

Step 5: Misc...

The finishing touches matter, because you don't want to make this ultra cool armor set, and then wear it wearing a t-shirt underneath. On your head, maybe, but not as an under garment.


It took 2 cans of spray paint to do all this. PAINT BEFORE YOU LACE!!! Otherwise you have to undo everything, or just paint over your lacing. And then you don't get it in the overlapped areas, and if your armor shifts at all (which it will), then you'll have cardboard showing. Paint in layers, slowly, let it dry, paint again, etc... I just used black paint with no primer or anything. If I were making a plastic set I would paint a silver layer first, and then black, just for gloss, and in case it scratches, you can get a little shimmer of silver to make it look metal.


I used an old kung-fu outfit for the first layer (black with white sleeve cuffs), and then a Zinbei for the top layer (brown). A Zimbei is a traditional Japanese pajama for men. I got mine years ago as a present from an old Japanese family friend, but you can pick one up at any Japanese supermarket usually. For the belt (Obi), I used the black kung fu sash. I just jammed my sword in through and held it most the night. For my hands I just used old motorcycle gloves.

I didn't have anything for shoes and it really bothered me. I wore black dress socks, and then wore my Nike cross over sandals. It didn't look that great... You can pick up Japanese sandals (Geta) at most Japanese supermarkets.

I didn't have time for the helmet, so I used a black t-shirt for a ninja mask. Just pull the shirt over your head like you're going to wear it, but only pull it down until it sits on your nose. Then pull the back over your forehead. Pull the sleeves back and tie them behind your head. Watch the front though, cause mine drooped, and I didn't notice till it was too late.

If you have any other questions, ask in the comments and I'll be sure to get back to you. And please give me a good score if you think liked it!

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43 Discussions


2 years ago

I am impressed. I think the entire armor is well done. Thanks for the inspiration!


8 years ago on Introduction

Wow that's not bad for cardboard, although so far the closest I have seen is the Samurai armour by Atrophius.... But if I may add some constructive criticism? You are wearing the Katana wrong, the blade edge always faces up so when you draw the sword you immediately are in a position to strike from the moment it leaves the Saya (scabbard).... Samurai always wore 2 swords, The Katana and the Wakizashi and is called daisho, literally meaning big-little (dai = big sho = little).
Sorry I ramble a bit somethimes, thanks for your instructable

5 replies

Reply 2 years ago

in actual fact the katana was worn sharp side down when in armour the wakizashi was worn other way up. during battle the katana would be drawn before you got to the enemy and the saya would be discarded. it was only in formal dress that the katana was worn sharp side up.

2012-04-28 13.16.58.jpg

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

The photo in your link does show the Samurai with the blade edge (Hamon) facing down, traditionally that shows a passive stance as the Samurai is posing for a photographer, so he faces the Hamon down to show his intention, also if the Samurai had his Katana on the right of his body with the Hamon down and the Tsuka toward his rear would also show intention of peace, otherwise the Hamon up is a "battle ready" stance.... When you display a Katana you would have the Tsuka (handle) facing to the left and Hamon up to show the true intention of the owner, and it is considered bad manners to draw a sword in the prescence of company...
I apologise if I seem argumentative, I do not wish you grief, I only want to share information from what I have learned from over 25 years of study in both Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu (Samurai training) an Iaido (swordsmanship).
Peace to you friend.


Reply 2 years ago

The edge is known as the ha, not the hamon. The hamon is the line caused by differentially heat treating, and is near the ha of the blade.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

There is no correct direction to point the edge when wearing a katana. It all comes down to personal preference. Katana wear traditionally worn with the scabbard either loose in the Obi or hanging by a chain or cord. When drawing the blade for a draw cut, the scabbard could be rotated to the wearer's preference for which form of draw cut he would like to make. Which makes perfect sense. If you positioned you scabbard so that the only way you could draw it was in an overhead fashion, you would be faced with a lot of horizontal or rising strikes that you could not defend against with your draw.

Im definitely not trying to be mean. I love the armor. Top design for sure. I think thats a pretty good idea that I might try sometime. I just noticed that you are sheathing the sword upside down. It is only sheathed blade up because it makes drawing slashes possible (Iaido) and when the sword is sharp, the blade (Ha) should be facing upwards to stop it from cutting into the scabbard (saya) and/or damaging itself. Just constructive criticism is all.


I am going to use these instruction but use pickle barrel with fake leather layered over it to make it look more like real leather armor. This is going to be something flashy and durable I can actually wear in combat. Thanks a ton for sharing!


6 years ago on Introduction

I used to make this stuff in high school and early college, even got written about in a book for it (though they got details wrong to fit me into a stereotype). I perfected my method and even included waterproofing (wrap each piece in clear packaging tape, makes the cardboard even sturdier as well). I've still got most of my second best suit laying around. I made the chainmail sleeve out of knitted yarn. My advice for the Do, is to make it in the Mogami style (several small plates laced together) it's MUCH easier to sit down in. Although, that seems to be what you went with, mostly, but not quite properly done...hard to describe really, did a quick sketch. Basically, I went with the same method Atrophius used on the sode only had each row made of several plates (the chestplate in the picture is the one I used this method on, would get a better picture, but this suit was ruined in a basement flooding years ago). Anyway, this is really good, I'm guessing this is your first? My first was complete crap compared to this. Didn't get this good until around suit 4.


Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I'm sure you could. If you do, please post pictures! I'm actually thinking about making a set out of carbon fiber.


7 years ago on Introduction

very nice work. I will have to look at this and make a foam armor version since I deal with LARP weapons. If you wondering how to make a good ninja or samurai sword out of foam, look me up on here (Foam-Smith) I am putting up lots of videos on making foam weapons since I have done it for 12 years. I have a zangetsu and a star wars light saber instructable. O do u also have any other nice instructables like this. I like this 1 and it is very nice


8 years ago on Introduction

Nice instructable, but why is this in the ninja guide? Lol Ninjas and Samurai were enemies.. But I ain't blamin this on you, it's Instructables' fault.

1 reply

Depends on the time period you are speaking of. Before ninjitsu was formalized a Ninja was little more than a Samurai in disguise. (And they never wore the hooded pajamas. That was an invention of Japanese dramas.

The "Ninja" costume that you see in movies is actually the uniform of a stageehand from traditional Japanese theater. The black costumes were a cue for the audience to ignore their presence. Often tthe costumes helped them blend into a ddark backgrouns so that props like stormclouds looked to move on their own. The association of this costume with Ninja comes from a play where the main character was to be assasinated. The director had one of his actors dress up like a stagehand so the audience would ignore him until the last minute. For its time this was an incredible mindfrak. It caused a lot of hype and even some controversy among the theater crowd.

But it proved so popular that it was emulated by other theater directors and suddenly dramas had assasins written into them left and rright just so this technique could be used. In Japanese popular culture this became the iconic ninja.

Actual ninja looked like they were little more than peasants and laborers. People the nobles would not give a second glance to, much less expect to pull out a large dagger or shortsword.

If they were to perform a mission under the cover of darkness, then sometimes a hood would be worn and they would have clothes dyed in dark blues, greens and rusts. Simply because truly black clothing would stand out more at night

Hope you find this information valuable.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

It's a cheap sword I bought at a tourist place in Shikoku. It does the job of a prop, and looking good on my dresser, but not anything else.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I think that's either a tachi (predecessor to the katana) or he is holding it in his hand.