As part of the Ingham case renovation in the Oriental Gallery, a large number of Japanese swords required cleaning and conservation at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.
The swords had a variety of accessories and the highly ornate ones required more in-depth work. One of the most elaborate Japanese swords had approximately fourteen pieces to it – all of which required individual attention.
The object is a Japanese Wakizashi sword and dates back to the 17th century. The blade is signed ‘Hizen kuni ju Tadahiro’ and is accompanied by a wooden replica blade and two sets of scabbards and hilts; one simple and wooden, the other coated in lacquer and highly decorative with accessories.
The decorative hilt was the main area of concern as the ray skin coating was fragile in a number of places and the gold dragon decorations showed evidence of copper corrosion. The metal blade collar, washers, utility knife and hair implement all showed signs of discolouration and copper corrosion. The decorative scabbard, while in good condition, had a small fragment of lacquer detached from the surface.
Before Conservators could start work on the sword, it had to be taken apart so that each item could be treated on individually. We took care to note the order and position of the accessories, so that it was not put back together incorrectly. Taking photographs helped with this process.
The metal accessories were cleaned using cotton wool swabs with a solvent specific for metals. This removed the corrosion and discolouration, without causing further damage to the objects.
The hilt’s decorative dragons were cleaned by brushing on an appropriate solvent, in order to fully penetrate the uneven surface and remove corrosion. The fragile ray skin coating was stabilised using a suitable adhesive that was applied using capillary action, to strengthen the bond to the base material.
The decorative scabbard was cleaned using an alternative solvent, which would not damage the original lacquer, to remove the surface dirt. The detached fragment was re-attached using a suitable adhesive to secure it back to the wooden base, without damaging the lacquer exterior. The wooden scabbard and hilt, along with the remaining metal accessories, were dry cleaned to remove the surface dust and dirt
To clean the blade, traditional Japanese methods were used, including the application of a dry powder to remove any previous oil. This was then wiped with Japanese tissue to remove it. Finally, the blade was coated with a specially tested traditional Japanese oil to protect it and prevent deterioration.
Blogger: Conservator, Vicky Garlick