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
[Note from Bartholomew's
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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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
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?"
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
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14. Images That Have Inspired Me
Sorry, this section has not yet been written.
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