A Guide to Making Bartholomew's SCA Armor

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1. Bartholomew's Foreward

  Welcome to my armorer's workshop. I have consulted often with him over a period of years to develop tournament armor for me that is both handsome and functional. My armorer is not exceptionally talented - in fact, I have long suspected him of acquiring the more difficult pieces from more experienced armorers about the county - but he seems to be able to put all the pieces together in the right order.

I've asked my armorer guide you through his latest projects. I apologize for not being able to give you the tour myself, but duty calls me elsewhere. Perhaps while you are here you can pick up a few ideas from him, or give him a few of your own!

- Bart

[Note from Bartholomew's spright: Bartholomew has never figured out that his armorer is a figment of HIS imagination.]

Organization of this document:

Section 1 - Bartholomew's Foreward
Section 2 - Who Might (and Might Not) Want to Read This
Section 3 - Philosophy and Organization
Section 4 - Various and Sundry Techniques of Assemblage
Section 5 - The Helm: Your Opponent's Favorite Target
Section 6 - Bartholomew's Incredible Carpet Armor 
Section 7 - Cover Thy Arms
Section 8 - Legs: Your Opponent's Other Favorite Target 
Section 9 - Admittedly Ugly But Serviceable Hand Protection 
Section 10 - The Last Shield You Will Ever Need To Build
Section 11 - Weapons To Hold Your Opponent at Bay
Section 12 - What To Wear Under Your Armor 
Section 13 - Displaying Your Pride And Joy 
Section 14 - Images That Have Inspired Me (no text yet)

2. Who Might (and Might Not) Want to Read This


Figure 1: Bart's armor - various views.

This document is intended to serve as a self-help guide for the interested SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) fighter who is interested in making nice-looking armor. I wrote this guide because people often ask Bartholomew how his armorer (i.e., me) makes one thing or another, and because "his armorer" has a genuine desire to see fighters make armor that they are proud of. This document is very much a "world according to Bartholomew" treatise. There may be other ways of doing things, and if you have your own strong opinions about how to do them, I encourage you to make your own guide to making your own armor. In fact, I think it would be a great idea if many individual fighters created web pages about their armor.

My goal is to describe in as much detail as possible the way I put armor together. I've never had the benefit of working with other armorers, and I tend to spend a lot of time in hardware stores wondering how I might use the interesting things found therein for the most noble of purposes; making SCA armor.

This document is for you if you are tired of your football shoulder pads and carpet vambraces. It is for you if you just want to check to see how someone else did something before you try it. This document is especially for you if you are ready to put together the armor you really want.

This document is probably NOT for you if you hate 14th century European armor, because that is what I try to emulate. This document is most assuredly not for you if others refer to you as the "Resident Authenticity Nazi," because the word 'plastic' is going to be rearing its ugly little head here. And this document is probably not for you if you are just starting out fighting, because many of the pieces I discuss require more effort or money than many new fighters could reasonably be expected to put into them. Still, new fighters might do well to read through it, simply because it might give you some new ideas.

Also, this document is not for you if you want to learn to make things in metal. Although I've made knee cops and elbow cops and helms and the like, my work is not very nice. I finally decided that, with the plethora of reputable armorers and abundance of relatively inexpensive armor available, one should learn to make really nice articulated elbow cops only if one wants to sell a lot of them.

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3. Philosophy and Organization

Before going on, I feel compelled to explain my philosophy of armored fighting in the SCA. It's not about winning, although each combatant should strive to win each encounter. And it's not about looking good, although each warrior should take pride in his or her appearance on the field of battle. It's about honor. At the end of the day, each fighter should retire from the field with honor intact. There are many ways of expressing that honor; calling your blows is only the first step. We honor our fellow fighters and onlookers by fulfilling our role as best we can.

We fight well, call fairly, and look the part.

The most memorable fights Bartholomew (and thus I) have had in the SCA are against those opponents that manage to strike a balance between those three things. Any two without the third is somewhat disappointing. I'd rather lose a well-fought fight than win a poorly fought one. I hate fighting the Man Who Would Not Die. And I absolutely love to clobber the guy with the really shiny helmet. And because I know my comrades in arms like the same things, I feel it is my responsibility to them to fight well, play fairly, and dress snappy.

Although armor should speak well of its wearer, I feel it should not keep him or her from the other two martial responsibilities. Because of that, I am willing to make some sacrifices of authenticity in order to improve my ability to fight. Things like an open-faced bascinet, rather than a more authentic pig-faced version, or suspending my arm harness from the elbows rather than the shoulders to improve flexibility. As a result, you will see things that I could easily have done in a more period way, but decided against, in order to improve my ability to fight. Sorry.

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4. Various and Sundry Techniques of Assemblage

In this section, you'll find instructions for setting rivets, dying and sewing leather, setting buckles, and working with plastic - all in excruciatingly painful detail. This is a good section to skip if you already have a good idea of how to work with these materials.

4.1 Rivets

For attaching metal to metal, I use either flat-headed or round-headed tinner's rivets that are easily available in most hardware stores, or special order from your welder's supply in rare cases. Happily, none of the armor I describer in this document uses tinner's rivets.

For attaching leather to leather, or leather to metal, or plastic to plastic, or plastic to metal, or plastic to leather (in short, everything else), I use two-piece rapid rivets, also known as jiffy rivets, of the type that can be easily had in Tandy Leather stores. I exclusively use the nickel-plated versions because they are easier to come by, in the medium and large sizes. Over time, I tend to use twice as many medium rivets as large rivets.

You need a small anvil. In truth, any sufficiently large chunk of metal with a flat surface will do. I use a 5-pound anvil that I found at the local hardware store. It needs to be large enough to provide some mass to strike against, and small enough to move with one hand under whatever you are working on. The keychain-sized anvil you can buy at Tandy's is insufficient. I usually set my anvil on an 18 x 18 inch piece of rubber-backed industrial carpeting which gives me a big enough surface to work on whether I am at my workbench or in front of the tube.

You need some hole cutting devices. A small battery-powered drill with an appropriately-sized drill bit is nice for making holes in metal and, sometimes, in plastics. A hole punch is needed for leather and, often, for plastics. You need the kind that works like a chisel with a hammer, and has changeable bits (Tandy). The chisel-wheel/pliers type of hole punch will not work, because you often have to make holes farther in than one inch from the edge of the piece. You also need a stiff rubber pad (Tandy) to put atop your anvil to punch through the leather without flattening the cutting edge of your bits. I use a standard-sized Stanley claw hammer to hit the chisel with, and to pound the rivets together. You can buy a rivet setting device that leaves the nice rounded head on the top rivet, but I've never bothered with that; I just wham the darn things flat.

Figure 2: Armorers smorgasbord. Punches, anvil, pad, strap cutter, rivets, and buckles.

Here is a really long description of how I typically set a rivet: First, I cut a hole in one of the things to be joined together. If one of the holes has to be specifically placed to line up with other holes, I cut that one first. In the case of metal, I punch it with a drill punch, and then drill it, often with a piece of scrap wood behind it. In the case of leather or plastic, I put the rubber pad on the anvil and use my hole punch. Then I put the other thing to be joined in place, and mark through the first hole with a Sharpie permanent marker. I punch the second hole. Then I take the pad off the anvil, and put the back (i.e., the long) side of the rivet on the anvil. I put the pieces on the rivet, put the cap on top of the rivet, and wham it flat. You can just as easily put the cap on the anvil and wham it from the backside, if the situation calls for that.

Often it is difficult to hammer in a particular rivet, as in the case of the inside of elbow cops. For these situations, I have a handy piece of heavy two-inch pipe that I can put in my bench vise to take the place of the anvil.

Figure 3: How to set those hard-to-reach rivets.

If you ever want to get rid of a rivet, punch the middle with a drill punch and drill into it with the same drill bit you use for rivet holes in metal. When the rivet starts spinning, pry off the cap with a pair of diagonal cutters, and pry the stem of the rivet out from the back.

4.2 Setting Buckles

Because much of your riveting involves buckles, I've devoted a subsection to just that.

You will need more buckles than you think. I use buckles in two sizes: 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch. Two dozen small buckles and a half-dozen large buckles will get you started. I use the nickel-plated three-bar buckles. The three-bar variety do not need a special leather guide piece to hold the free end of the strap, and can be set with one rivet (cutting your own strap guides get very old very fast). I get them from Tandy, because I can always get more in the same style if I need to.

Figure 4: Closeup of two-piece rivets and three-bar buckles.

I have my own strap cutter, but I've found it convenient to just buy appropriately-sized straps from Tandy. It can be a pain to stop what you are working on to cut another strap. You can usually find a "misc strap scraps" box in Tandy stores that offers a good bargain.

You also need a oblong hole punch - one specifically designed to cut the long oblong hole that the tongue of the buckle goes through (Tandy). In a pinch, you can use a regular hole punch and a utility knife, but you will be much happier with the results if you invest in the right tool for the job.

Punch the oblong hole first, leaving about 3/4 inch on the end. I moisten the strap on the top side where the buckle will be to keep the grain from splitting (just a lick will do), and then put the buckle in place. You need to keep most of the oblong hole on the top of the buckle, where it will do some good. Then I punch through both the top and bottom of the loop where the rivet will be, and set the rivet. You can get the rivet closer to the middle bar by putting the buckle orthogonal to the strap and using the edge of the anvil surface, if you need to.

If you use a long rivet, you can use the same hole to attach the buckle to whatever you need to. For example, I use this method to attach the buckle to the edge of my body armor, because I want the buckle right at the seam, and I don't want any free play on its position.

4.3 Leather

I use belt-weight leather for all my strapping and buff chap-weight leather for everything else. I cut it with a variety of tools: utility knife, scissors, tin snips, diagonal cutters (perfect for 1/2 inch straps), and even a strap cutter that is essential if you are going to cut straps on even an occasional basis.

If you need to sew leather together, pick up a leather sewing awl (camping stores or Tandy), and an extra roll of paraffin cord. I've found this to be an incredibly useful tool for putting things together that can't be put together any other way. There are instructions included with the kit, so I won't explain how to use it here.

I've found Sharpie permanent markers to be helpful in marking leather for cutting or punching. Fiebings and Lincoln Leather dyes are good for making your leather any color you want (I usually want black). I've found Lincoln to produce a better color, but it is also more expensive.

Careful! Leather Dye also makes an excellent People Dye. Use rubber gloves and plastic drop cloths, or else be prepared to re-sand the floor and answer awkward questions for a week.

4.4 Plastic

I like plastic for portions of my armor, but like anything else, you need to be judicious in its use. I use plastic from thick black barrels that I get from a friend that uses the contents in his job (check the Yellow Pages under "plastics" to try to locate a source). I use plastic for my upper and lower arm pieces and leg pieces, and inside my body armor. It's obviously plastic from close up, but it would pass for black leather outside of 10 feet.

I rough out the pieces I need from the barrel using a jig saw, and trim the sharp edges with a utility knife. I find that if you scrape the blade along the edge at just the right angle, you can cut off the saw fuzz and leave a slightly chamfered edge. Also, you can use a small butane torch to heat the edges up just to the melting point to give you a smooth, slightly rounded edge.

You can bend the plastic by heating it, and then allowing it to cool in a bent position. I heat the plastic pieces in my oven, about 250 degrees for 5 or 10 minutes usually does it. If you overheat it, it will turn into a thick blob and give off toxic fumes, so watch it closely when it's in the oven. You can handle it with sufficiently insulated gloves, and I use clamps and duct tape to keep it in the curved state while it is drying.

Over time, the plastic will want to move back to a flat state, so I always try to have some support built into the curves. For example, my thigh pieces are held in the curved position by the demi-cuisse at the top of my knee cops.

You can make minor adjustments to the plastic if you have a heat gun, sold in most hardware stores for removing paint. You can use the heat gun to heat up small sections to bend it in or out - especially useful for giving you more room at the joints. Also, once you have heated up a section, it is soft enough to cut with a utility knife. This is very handy for trimming those spots that rub you the wrong way.

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5. The Helm: Your Opponent's Favorite Target

Buy a nice bascinet with a permanently affixed face grill made of steel bars.

I have made several helms in the course of my SCA lifetime, and they were all ugly. You can buy a nice shiny new one for $150. I like the bascinet because of its wonderful glancing properties (if you'd like to try a helmet that doesn't have good glancing properties, I'll loan you my old smokestack - trust me, it makes a big difference). The open face is important, because it allows you to see and breath, both admirable qualities in a helm.

Figure 5: Two views of Bart's helm.

Some people evidently believe that a face grill made of bars that raises and lowers like a visor is just the thing to make the other fighters queue up for autographs. What a load of hooey: "Gack, I can barely breath or see. Let me open my barred visor... Whew, that's much better!" Oh PahLEEEZE. I once won a fight in a tournament because my opponent's poorly secured bar visor popped up, disqualifying him. Color HIS face red.

Happily, after you buy your helm, there is still much work to do. You must pad your helm, put a chinstrap in it, and add a chain-mail aventail (okay, the chain mail is not required, but this IS the world according to Bartholomew).

I pad my helm with a combination of open-cell and closed-cell foam padding. In general, I use closed-cell for the top and front of the helm, and open-cell for the back. This combination gives me the padding I need for stopping Sir Hefty's roundhouse, and provides some absorbency for the sweat pouring off the back of my head. All my closed-cell foam comes from inexpensive foam camping pads. I use dark colors such as drab green or black to reduce the visual impact. My 1.5-inch open-cell foam comes from department stores, often in the sewing section (for pillows). I attach all the padding to the helmet with a liberal application of contact cement.

I start by putting a few closed-cell ovals in the top of the helmet until I feel the helm is sitting at the right height on my head. The lowest of these ovals is slightly oversized, so that when I cram it into place, it forms a depression in the top of my helmet that is more amenable to my curved cranium. Over time the fit gets better, though I am not sure if it is because the padding is relaxing, or because the helm is re-shaping my head.

I put a single, inverted-U shaped piece of closed-cell foam about 1.25 inches wide around the entire front opening of the helm. I use a single piece for safety (less probability of failure versus several small independently attached pieces) because this is where you are most likely to be hurt by your helm. Also, it is the only part of foam visible from the outside when the helm is in place and the single piece makes it less distracting. I attach it back about 1/4 inch from the front opening, again to reduce the visual impact, but not so far back as to compromise safety. As an added plus, the single piece seems more comfortable to me than other methods I have tried.

I cut a single piece of open-cell to wrap around the back of my head and cover all the remaining areas of the interior of the helm. The line between the open and closed-cell foam is a good place to route the chinstrap.

The chinstrap is made from a single piece of belt leather, cut so that each of the ends is approximately 3/4 inch wide, and the center is a cut-out oval where your chin will sit. I chamfer the leather on the inside of the opening with a utility knife, dye the chinstrap black, and work it with a lot of paste wax to make it soft and comfortable. I drill a couple of holes in my helmet just behind my earlobes, and then rivet the chinstrap in place with a couple of leather rivets. It usually takes me a couple of tries to get the length of the chinstrap right, and I typically have to drill out the rivet, punch more holes in the strap, and set it back in place. It's a pain to do it several times, but when you finally get it right, you never have to touch it again.

There is no buckle for the chinstrap. When the chinstrap is rotated to be horizontal, you can push your head into the back of the helm (where the open cell foam is) and slip the helm onto your head. Then you rotate the chinstrap down onto your chin. If you do it right, there is just enough pressure from the open-cell at the back and closed cell at the top to give you a feeling of security. A hand pressed against the faceplate will push your whole head back with the helm, without rotating it. To take it off, put a hand on the back of your helm and push the helm forward. With your free hand reach up and rotate the chinstrap up, then slip it off your head. Very simple, very easy.

In most of the kingdoms where I have fought, face thrusts are legal. Even if they were not, I would still do it this way because it is the most comfortable and convenient method I've found.

The bottom of my helm is the one place on my armor where I use chain mail, because it helps protect your throat and because it looks damn good. There are many people out there that will make a chain mail aventail for you for a modest fee. I made mine myself, and it is a source of some (misplaced?) pride for me. I made mine out of heavy gauge aluminum - the kind used for clotheslines - wrapped about a sufficiently large rod and snipped with a bolt cutter. Aluminum is light and won't rust, but it requires repairing after a day's fighting. Over time will leave a silvery residue on your armor, and a black residue on you. If I were to do it again, I'd buy stainless steel butt-rings.

Figure 6: European standard 4-in-1 pattern.

I use a standard European 4-in-1 pattern with extra rings thrown in at "random" in each row because the bottom of the aventail has a significantly larger diameter than the part attached to your helm. I start by putting a few rows of 4-in-1 together, and grow it lengthwise until I have enough to go comfortably around the bottom of my helmet. Then I make some more rows and grow them until they are long enough to wear around my shoulders. I guesstimate how many rows would be needed for the entire aventail, and from that, I determine how many extra rings will be required for each row. It may sound complicated, but it really isn't. I use triangular sections of chain mail at the bottom of the aventail, because it allows for extra movement, and because I think it looks cool.

If you have more questions about chain mail construction, check out one of the gazillion chain mail construction pages on the web ( I have a nice source page listed in the Archivist's Destinations).

I attach the aventail to the helmet by drilling a sequence of holes along the bottom of the helmet and "sewing" the chain mail onto the inside of the helmet. It would be much nicer to attach vervelles to the lower part of the helmet, sew the chain mail onto a leather band and attach the leather band to the vervelles. I haven't done this because I fear that it will not be able to withstand all the blows I block with the left side of my helm (you know, to save wear and tear on my shield). I sew the chain mail with a doubled piece of the paraffin cord I use for sewing leather.

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6. Bartholomew's Incredible Carpet Armor

Sorry, this section has not yet been written.

Figure 7: Carpet body armor - various views and plan.

Figure 8: Detail of spaulders and spaulder harness.

Yes, carpet armor.  I like it.  But I'm not talking about the duct tape and  utility knife job that used to populate the knowne world in ages past. This stuff you'll really like.

Don't go dumpster-hunting for carpet. I start with a section of stiff outdoor carpet, and not that fuzzy plastic grass stuff.  Hie thyself to a carpet dealer for an appropriate remnant.  Go for something with a short nap and a stiff backing.

The trick to making carpet armor stay together is to use additional material to take up the stress of the straps.  I use a combination of covering material and interior plates.  I cut the carpet as shown in the figure the front part stops right above my pecs.  I give a generous amount of room for my arms to move around.  Just like for the arms; if it gets in the way, then out it goes. 

I use a couple of straps over the shoulders.  I used to run the carpet over the top of my shoulders, but the straps are a lot more comfortable.  I run the carpet pretty far up my back; it provides protection for my spine. 

I cut a slot out of the middle of the back piece, so that when I close up the gap, the armor fits more closely to the small of my back.  It's not necessary, but it's more comfortable and it looks a little better.

After I get the carpet cut, I cover it with chap-weight leather.  I cut it about 1" too large on all edges, then fold the leather over the carpet and put rivets about every inch going all the way through the leather/carpet sandwich.  The curved parts around the arms take a little extra attention, but with a little stretching and pulling and snipping, you'll get good results.  I rivet a 2-inch wide strip on the inside and outside of the cut-out part in the middle of the back.  That way, the rivets and leather take the stress instead of the carpet.

I put some plastic plates inside the armor for my solar plexus and for the sides.  Besides helping with the rib shots, they also take a lot of the stress off the buckles that join the front and back together.  I set the rib plates close to the edge, then rivet the buckles through the outside leather, the carpet, and the plastic plates.  I dye the leather on the outside to make it an appropriate shade of black, and it's ready to wear.  If you wish, you can add extra rivets in a square pattern to approximate the look of brigantine or Wisby plate.

Once finished, the carpet armor makes a good platform for those thigh-plate things, or even for hanging your spaulders.  I've shown one version above that uses carpet instead of shoulder straps that works well for just that purpose.    

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7. Cover Thy Arms

Figure 9: Arm harness - views and templates.

Buy a nice set of spaulders and articulated elbow cops.

My favorite choice for these items is Mandrake Armory. Friendly, fast, and spiffy. I've never met the proprietor in person, and I'm not getting a commission for this plug. I'm just a happy customer.

I like the added protection that the articulated elbows give, but I admit that they are a bit heavier than many like. The adventurous armor crafter may want to try making the articulation. You can do it without any compound curves, and you can use plastic or leather for a lighter arm harness. Mandrake offers a non-articulated elbow cop for just this purpose.

I build the right and left arms the same way because I sometimes have to fight off-handed, and because I often fight with a pole weapon. It is just easier for me to always wear both arms for all my weapon styles. I design my shields to fit over my arm armor.

I use plastic for the lower and upper armpieces.

For the lower armpiece (vambrace), I attach the plastic to the inside of the last articulated piece with three leather rivets. The vambrace itself is cone-shaped with the diameter of the upper part defined by the elbow articulation, and the diameter of the lower part defined by what you can get your hand through. I put the split for the vambrace right down the middle of the inside of my lower arm, because it is easier to make the pattern for that (that is to say, its symmetrical).

I don't put a hinge in the vambrace, and use a spare piece of belt leather to rivet one edge of the vambrace to the other to form the cone. I put the riveted leather close to the wrist, and I don't bother with a buckle. I just slip my hand through it.

I have found that for the upper arm, you need to cover the outside of the arm, but you are better off by NOT completely encircling the upper arm with hard protection. The problem is when you bend your arm. My upper arms have a much greater diameter when my elbow is completely bent When I try to put protection all around my upper arm, either I can't bend my arm because the encircling armor is too tight, or (if I make the armor bigger) I can't bend my arm because the upper arm piece grinds against the vambrace.

Instead, I just put enough to cover the outer half of my arm, and make it just long enough to fit under the lowest segment of my spaulders. I attach it to the elbow cops in the same way as the vambraces.

I used to suspend my arms from the bottom of the spaulders, but I found that as I bent my arm, the suspension strap would tighten, effectively stopping me from bending my arm completely.

As a result, I both pad and suspend my arms with a pair of turf sleeves (one for each arm). Turf sleeves can be found at most soccer supply stores. They are essentially long elbow pads with 1/4 inch of foam padding (as opposed to the 1/2 inch in most elbow pads). I like them because they are about twice as long as most elbow pads. I attach them at the top of the upper arm pieces, and at either end of the elbow cops, using the same holes and rivets I use to attach the plastic pieces to the elbow cops.

The rivets have a tendency to pull through the stretch material of the turf sleeve, so I put a small leather "washer" on the inside of the turf sleeve where the rivets attach.

And that's it. The turf sleeve has enough length to firmly hold up the arm harness. To put on the harness, I just slide my hand through the turf sleeve, and then through the vambrace. I don't like to add buckles to the arm, because they add little support unless they are so tight as to restrict blood flow - not a good thing.

After you get your arm harness put together, you'll need to trim it to fit you better. My rule is that if it gets in the way, it goes. You'll probably need to trim the inside of the vambrace close to the elbow, and the end of the vambrace closest to your wrist. Show no mercy. You won't see many hits on the inside of the arm, and your gauntlets should pick up the slack for your wrists.

The spaulders are attached to the shoulders of the body armor with a system that is described in detail in the body armor section. I attach it with a 3/4 inch strap that runs the length of the spaulder to add lateral stiffness. At the bottom of each set of spaulders, I put a 1/2 strap and buckle arrangement to keep the spaulder on top of my arms. The buckle goes on the inside of the arm, where you can reach it to buckle or unbuckle it. Be sure to make the strap long enough to go around your upper arm when it is completely bent.

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8. Legs: Your Opponent's Other Favorite Target

Buy a nice set of articulated knee cops.

I bought my knees at Mandrake Armory, but I hear he isn't making them anymore <sigh>.  I used his articulated archer's knees, and added my own thigh pieces and greaves. You might check some of the sites listed on Therion's Armor Resources page for a suitable vendor.

Your primary goal in creating leg armor is to protect all the squishy bits of your knee joint that you will need later on in life when they give you the walker.  Beyond that, it would be nice if they spared you from those glorious bruises that spawn so many interesting discussions at the neighborhood pool parties.  Oh, and you'll need to move around in them, too.

I use plastic for the cuisses and demi-greaves (the top and bottom parts, respectively).  The cuisses are the biggest pieces of plastic that I need, so I usually plan those into my plastic barrel first before I mark out any other parts.  Be careful to make mirror images of the cuisses instead of the same piece twice.  

Figure 10: Leg harness - views and templates.

I like my leg armor not to go all the way around the back of my leg.  It wasn't very common for that to be done, anyway, because it makes it difficult to sit on a horse, or anything else for that matter.  Same thing holds true for us.  Mine go about 2/3 the way around my thigh, and perhaps half way around my shin.  I find them much more comfortable than my old full-circle stuff, and I rarely get hit on the back of my leg.  On those occasions when I do get hit back there, it is usually such an awkward shot that I suffer no ill effects, otherwise, I live with the bruise.

I find the plastic that I use (from old barrels) to be just about the right amount of protection.  I can definitely feel the blows delivered to my tender legs, but I rarely find a bruise under the plastic.  If you wish to feel absolutely no pain, you can line the cuisse with a four-inch wide piece of 20-gauge stainless right on the outside of the thighs.  It will deform as it is hit, soaking up anything that gets through the plastic.  Just bang it back out when the day is done.

I use 3/4-inch leather to suspend the legs from my fitted belt, with the buckle attached to the belt about an inch below the point of my hips (where the leg meets the torso).  I run single 3/4 inch straps around the back of my legs to keep the cuisse from flapping around.  It's better to keep these a little loose, or you'll feel like the straps are trying to pull your thighs into your butt.  

It's important not to put the thigh buckles on the outside-leg edge of the cuisse unless you want to wear buckle-shaped bruises there.  It is MORE important not to put the buckles too close to the inside-leg edge of the cuisse, because the two buckles from your two legs will snag when you run and you'll pitch forward onto the turf in a magnificent Mongolian Death Dive that will leave your victorious opponent completely mystified.  Keep those buckles in the back of the leg, where they belong.

I attach the round-the-back straps to the inside of the cuisse so that the edges of the cuisse are allowed to stick out slightly, and the strap doesn't spoil the clean line (yes, that is what actually goes through my mind).  I attach the suspension strap from the outside of the cuisse so it helps pull the top edge in.  Make sure to double-rivet the suspension strap for extra holding power.  Two in-line rivets are stronger than two side-by-side rivets, as it reduces the deformation caused by the weight the strap is holding.

After I'd built the legs pictured above, I noticed that the top of the cuisse had a tendency to pull out from the suspension buckle.  I subsequently decided to cut the cuisse right at the point of my thighs (where the thighs are widest when standing) and hinge the top part of the cuisse with 3/4 inch straps and rapid rivets, as shown in the template.

I attach the plastic pieces to the topmost and bottommost articulations of the knees.  Rapid rivets are not sufficient here.  You need to use tinner's rivets, with a washer on the inside of the plastic to avoid pull-out.  Make sure the washer is just big enough to allow the rivet through; using a loose washer will cause naught but frustration.  Some people use pennies for washers so they can drill a hole that is just the right size. 

You'll need a 1/2 strap to go around the back of the knee to keep the knee cop in place.  I put the buckles on the inside parts of the leg, just behind the kneecop, because putting them in the back of the leg causes discomfort when I am fighting from my knees.  They've never snagged.

I like using demi-greaves made of plastic that reach to about mid-shin.  I have a pair of leather full-circle greaves I can wear over my boots, and my demi-greaves can ride on the outside of them; however,  I rarely wear them, and just use the demi-greaves.  I use a 3/4 inch strap at the bottom of the demi-greaves, buckled toward the inside of the leg, and double-riveted as this strap carries a lot of the weight of my leg armor as it rests on the back of my calf.

I don't pad the inside of my leg armor, because I kind of like to feel the blows as they come in and don't like to guess about the quality of the shot. I use two sets of comfortable kneepads on my leg.  One set directly over my knees, though I sometimes wonder if I really need them, and one set just below them, where the demi-greaves ride on my shin.  I put the pads under my sweats to reduce the visual impact of white athletic material on the back of my legs.

I use a fitted belt to hold the legs up from the top.  My procedure for finding the rather complex shape of the belt is to start with a 9-inch wide piece of leather and cut away all the parts that don't feel right.  I am embarrassed to say that I need a rather large curve for the top of my glutes (translation: butt) coming up from the bottom and another large curve to accommodate my abdomen (translation: gut) coming down from the top.  I use two 3/4 inch straps and buckles in the front because having one huge weightlifter belt buckle in the front doesn't work well with my body armor.  I double-rivet the suspension straps with buckles right at the points of my hip.

Figure 11: I use a fitted belt (okay, a girdle) to hold the harness up.

An alternative approach is to use a two-inch leather toolbelt, and build a couple of buckled "hangers" for your legs.  I've done this for my older armor so it can be used by others.

Figure 12: An alternative approach, to use with a leather toolbelt.

All of this belt and suspension talk really creates an opportunity for drawing parallels to hose & garter belts, and I suppose we are really trying to solve the same problems here.  I'm considering adding another set of suspension straps to the front of my belt, and after screwing up my courage, I'm amused to see similar straps on garter belts in the women's hosiery sections of the local department store, a happily rare activity that seems destined to earn me odd looks from passersby. 

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9. Admittedly Ugly But Serviceable Hand Protection

Figure 13: Okay, they are ugly (but they work).

I absolutely will not fight with less than sufficient hand protection, but finding a pair of good gauntlets has been difficult in the extreme for me.  I've recently contracted out for a set of gauntlets and demi-gauntlets by a reputable armorer, but for many years before that, I used the above-pictured hockey gauntlets.  Essentially, it's just a couple of pieces of aluminum riveted together and bent around over my fingers and thumb. 

I use a leather strap toward the back that goes around the hockey (actually, lacrosse) gloves at the wrist.  There's a flat nylon strap that goes around my fingers at the segments closest to the hand; it's never bothered my grip at all. 

That's all there is to it.  They are a little big, but not too heavy.  I take full hard shots to the hand all the time with nary an eyebrow raised.  My shield handle is designed to accomodate them, which is nice in that I don't have to search for my left hand when my right arm gets disabled.  They fit my greatsword and polearm just fine after I cut the slots between my thumb and fingers to be big enough.

It's slightly difficult to get used to not opening your hands to grab something, but that's a price I'll gladly pay for the continued use of my fingers.

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10. The Last Shield You Will Ever Need To Build


Figure 14: Various views and handles for shields.

10.1 The Blank

Let's talk about shields.  Please note that this section is not called "The First Shield You Will Need to Build," because your shield is probably the most personalized part of your rig.  It takes time to discover what shape and hand positions work for you, and starting with an $80 shield blank is probably not the best way to experiment.  My advice: make your shields out of inexpensive plywood and old garden hose until you are fairly certain you have a size and shape that works for you.

Okay, so you've used the same template for the last three shields and you are getting tired of replacing the plywood.  Time to make a permanent shield.

You want to make your shield out of 6061 T-6 aircraft aluminum.  Slightly less than 1/8 inch, your best bet is to buy a shield blank from an armor supplier, or band together with other fighters in your group and order a sheet.  

Do not use the regular run-of-the-mill aluminum you get from your welder's supply store, as that is usually too soft.  

Do not steal a road sign, as we have had enough bad press about that in the SCA.  Besides, road signs are usually too soft or too thin for use as a shield.  I have heard of people buying used signs from city road departments, with mixed results. The test they use is to jump on a potential shield to see if it bends.  If it does, it's no good.

If you need to add a curve to a shield blank, it's easiest to do that when the shield is a rectangle. take it down to your local metal fabrication shop and ask them to run it through their roller.  Take it easy; you don't need much of a curve to get the desired effect.

Cut out your shield out with a jigsaw.  I round the corners with with the diameter of a nickel.  Carefully round the edges with a file.  The aluminum shield should last pretty much indefinitely, but the edging will require some effort to provide lightweight and long-lasting performance.  

I like to break up the process of working on a shield (after it is cut out of the blank) into three parts:  strapping, painting, and edging, in that order.  If I paint after putting the handles on, then the bolts for the handle get painted with the rest of the shield.  If I paint before I put the rimming on, then I don't have to mask the rim when I paint.  Some techniques for placing the handle ask you to finish the rest of the shield first so you can "balance" the shield properly, and there is sense in that, but I am pretty set on where I want my handle before I start, so this is not much of a concern for me.

10.2 Handle and Strap

I've tried several different types of handles and I have no clear preference.  Currently, I am using a handle that I constructed out of a couple of trapezoidal pieces of aluminum with a large hole drilled in it that is fitted with a piece of scrap rattan, if there is such a thing.  I designed it to be used with my ugly-but-serviceable hockey gauntlets.

For my next shield, I am trying pretty much the same thing, but I have added an additional piece of aluminum that starts in front of the handle and curves over the top, braced at the top of the handle by two pieces of flat bar stock that are attached to the top of the trapezoidal pieces of aluminum for the handle.

I've seen another method that I like as well.  You take a piece of slightly curved plastic about the size of you hand, then attach it to the shield at the front of your handle with a piece of leather, leaving about 1 inch of leather between the plastic and the shield.  Then you attach a looped strap to the back of the plastic that your thumb goes through to hold the plastic to the shield.  You use a standard hardware store handle and enjoy not carrying all the weight.

For the arm strap, I use a piece of 2-inch nylon strap I got at the local army/navy store.  I don't use any buckles; I just fit it about the way I like it and then when the rivets in place.  It's a little tricky to get the rivets through the strap.  I use an awl to make the hole, spreading the fibers without cutting them.  Then, while the awl is in the hole, I subject it to a butane torch to get the nylon to "remember" it's current shape, then slip out the awl and put it over the rivet.  Snug washer, pound, pound, and it's done.

When you place the handle, be sure to put it in a position that is comfortable for your hand.  I put my hand through the arm strap and put in the position where I want my arm.  Then I put the handle in my hand. Where the handle sits, I mark the holes and set the rivets.

10.3 Pretty Colors

For painting the shield, I like to use spray paint as much as possible.  The gloss enamels work best for me.  Nice bright colors, and cheap availability.  I try to do a minimum of masking, as that has a tendency to spoil the paint I'm putting the tape on. 

For the checkerboard, I first lay down the base coat (in my case, blue).  When that dries, I lay a straight edge on the shield and mark the lines for the checkerboard by "cutting" into the paint with a utility knife.  I paint the other color (gold) by spraying the paint into a cut-off bottom of a 20-ounce soda bottle a bit at a time and painting with a brush.  The lines cut into the base coat are easy to paint up to, leaving a nice clean line with no masking tape.  The extra trouble of painting by hand is offset by the fact that I don't have to do any touching up, and you avoid that spray-painted "fuzzy" edge.  I do the detail work (the roses) by hand.

10.4 Edging

I've used a number of different materials for edging over the years, and I've finally settled on a double layer that works well for me.  First, I buy several lengths of faucet hookup tubes.  These are the pipes that run from your shutoff valve to your faucet under the kitchen or bathroom sink. I've made a drawing of one of them in the figure above. They are small, thick, and incredibly tough. 

I can usually find them in three-foot lengths that are just the right size for each side of my shield. I chop off the head and run a slit carefully down the length of the tube, taking care not to spiral the cut down the tube, using a retractable utility knife.

Please use extreme care when doing this.  A utility knife will cut you deeply in a splicket. I fasten one end of the tube in a vise, shorten the blade to the absolute minimum I need, and then slide the knife down the tube so that even if it slips, my hand won't be cut.  I keep my free hand well clear of the action.

No glue is needed to keep the faucet tube in place, just jam it on and trim to size.

For the outer covering, I need something that will boost the rim up to a respectable diameter.  I've used black fuel line with good results, but it's kind of heavy. Green garden hose looks too much like ... well .. garden hose. 

I am trying something new for my latest shield - poly tubing, which can be had in 3/4 inch diameters in most any length you want from sprinkler supply stores, or in the sprinkler supply section of Home Depot or your local equivalent.  It is cheap, very light, and has the added bonus of being black.  I split it and put it over the edge in exactly the same way as for the faucet tubing.

I permanently affix the edging to the shield by using pieces of belt leather wrapped around the rim, and attached with these 1/2 long, 1/4 inch diameter aluminum rivets I found at a local farm supply store.  I have absolutely no idea how they are used by farmers.  I use a hole punch to punch the end of the belt strap, then decide where I want the hole on my shield.  Only after I drill the hole in the shield do I decide where I want the second hole in the strap, punch that, and cut the strap.  The overall effect is to make more uniform holes and straps, and to reduce wastage. I set the rivet through the leather and the aluminum, put a snug washer on the back, and wham the thing flat.  For the corners, I use a single piece of leather (usually a lighter thickness) that I wrap over the corner and cut to taste.

 

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11. Weapons To Hold Your Opponent at Bay

Figure 15: Various and sundry hilt views.

I like my swords to be as light as possible.  I figure that F=mv2, so that speed is much better than mass as far as getting 'oomph' on the target goes.  I use rattan that is 1-1/4 inches in diameter.  I sand it down if it's too big.

I figure out the length of my swords by making them just a little too long, then standing at a comfortable distance from a pell or anything that happens to be close by and taking a whak at it.  I add about three inches to the point on the rattan where my sword hits the target and cut the rest off.  

I just put one layer of duct tape on the rattan, layed down lengthwise.  I don't worry about postal strapping tape or any other exotic covering material.  It never seems to add to the life of the sword; it just adds to the weight. 

For the hilt, I use a big washer with 1-1/4 hole in it.  I lay a roll of duct tape above and below the washer (about half the width of the roll, to perhaps 3/8 inch thickness around the rattan). Very quick and easy, and it stops the shots sliding down the stick just fine.

For a counterweight, I use a galvanized end cap for 1-1/4 pipe.  I attach it by screwing it on to the end of the rattan (which doesn't hold), and then laying strips of postal tape over the end, and securing the strips by wrapping more postal tape around the handle (see figure).  I polish the handle off by covering the counterweight with duct tape and wrapping double-sided sticky tape (sporting goods stores) around the handle.  I use the black cloth tape designed for baseball bats and hockey sticks.  I tie a thong around the sword just above the hilt.

I use some electrician's tape along the sword to mark the edge.  I like a little -- very little -- back curve to the sword.  Yes, I would like to get that extra little bit of arc over Duke Hammerhead's shield, but it just feels wrong.

Update:  I finally found a basket hilt I like, or rather, I made one.  One of my new comrades here in Cote du Ciel taught me how to make it.  It's made out of 16-gauge stainless (see pattern above)  It takes a fair bit of work to hammer it out and join the two halves.  I have my local fabrication shop weld a couple of sections of pipe to the top and bottom of the basket, and edge the rim with some chap-weight leather.  I changes the balance of the sword, but responsive enough to make up for the added weight.  I use a lot more wrist snaps with it.  It's a nice first metalworking project.  You can learn more about how to dish metal at the shire's online newsletter:  http://www.cs.usu.edu/~watson/coteduciel/bearstale/.  

 

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12. What To Wear Under Your Armor

References to Excalibur aside, you'd like to be as comfortable as possible in your armor without sacrificing the aire of authenticity you strive for.  

And what could be more authentic then a pair of sweat pants?  Oh sure, they called them 'hose' back then, but that's just because the name 'sweat pants' hadn't been invented yet.  Sweat pants themselves go way far back.  I can imagine some nameless Pharaoh, upon being given a sample of the first Nile cotton cloth, remarking, "Hey, can I get some pants made out of this?  And can you put in a drawstring?"

There are many good reasons to use sweatpants.  First, they are made for sweating in, hence the name.  Second, you can move around in them easily.  Third, they are very comfortable.  Forth, they provide just the right amount of fluff to keep the armor from biting you.  Fifth, they are cheap enough to discard when they get too worn out to continue, and Sixth, they never go out of style, and are easy to find.

I use black sweatpants, because hey, they go with every other black thing I have.  Think of me as a Middle Ages Maverick.  I wear my kneepads under the sweatpants, so I don't look like the guy with two white stripes on the back of his knees.

I wear a cup not because it's required (even though it is), but because it really hurts to get hit there.  I use a supporter designed for the cup because a slightly out of place cup can be worse than none at all.

I have absolutely no idea what kind of protective underthings women are supposed to wear, and any curiosity on my part is likely to be met with a quick slap in the face, so I just don't deal with it.

I wear my lucky cotton tshirt which might not have started out as a drab color but is one now.  I wear my leg harness belt over the tshirt and under my gambeson.

Gambeson?  Oh yes, let me describe that now.  I used a pattern modified from a jersey type pullover jacket that I got from a local fabric store (I'll find that pattern number one of these days).  I modified the bottom to produce a dagged edge, and made the sleeves stop right at the elbows.  I used a heavy corduroy (guess what color) and added a line of gold along the dagged edge, and at the end of the sleeves, and around the neck.  I made the gambeson long enough reach a few inches below where my legs attach to my torso.

The gambeson, when clean and belted at the waist, serves as a nice knockabout T-tunic, and mixes well with a variety of other clothing items and accessories. <spoken with all the perkiness I can muster>

A pair of stiff boots completes the ensemble.  I use a pair of surplus army boots, though I am currently considering a change to something that is less glaringly modern.  

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13. Displaying Your Pride And Joy

For demos and renn fairs, I like to have a display stand for my armor, but I didn't feeel like building a mannequin.  I have one I use that is built with scrap wood from around the shop.  It collapses easily and took only an hour or so to build.  The "feet" are screwed directly to the plywood base, with 2x4 (more later)

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14. Images That Have Inspired Me

Sorry, this section has not yet been written.

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