In reviewing the stuff on the site, I realized that I’m a bit short on a number of the “foundational” techniques. I’m unlikely to add content on welding, since there are a million people who are better at it than I am, but there aren’t a lot of articles out there on riveting – perhaps in large part because everyone welds stuff these days…
I though that it would be useful to provide a quick guide to riveting so that I could just reference this in construction articles and say “use a countersunk leather rivet – here’s a link if you don’t know how to do this” instead of spending a lot of time duplicating material with minor variations across multiple articles. This also gives me a single place to update if I realize that there is another type of rivet that I should add.
Types of Rivets
In general there are 5 basic classes of rivets: these are used to solidly fix plates, allow plates to pivot, or allow plates to move on multiple dimensions. I’ve broken these out from least to most movement:
Note that the last class (Leather Rivets) is really a hard rivet connecting a metal plate to leather: I have made it a separate class here since the type of rivet used is generally different than that used on metal to metal connections since leather is much easier to tear, and there some considerations that need to be kept in mind which are not relevant to metal to metal connections.
As part of the harness I am working on, I needed to construct a gorget. Most 15th century Milanese armour has a fairly large neck opening which is meant to accommodate a mail standard (mail neck defences) I would like to have the ability to use this as a combat harness, which means that I would like to have plate defences for my neck both from a “rules” point of view (because most armoured combat groups require rigid neck armour) and because I really like being able to use all of my limbs, and have taken a number of hits to my neck area which would have been concerning if I wasn’t generally armoured like a tank.
Wade Allen owns the nicest gorget I have handled (linked) so if I am going to use a non-period solution, I wanted to make the nicest one possible. Ironically, this type of armour could be seen as the ultimate development of milanese armour, since 17th century armour is very functional, with minimal fluting and integrates all of the components. To quote Wade and Mac (Robert Macpherson) “if you want to build a 17th century suit of armour, first build the gorget…”
Here’s a few pictures of the completed piece – thanks to Dean for modelling:
I just had a bunch of folks drop by my shop, and I realized that there are a lot of small fabrications that I take for granted – particularly my “consumables”. I thought that I should spend a bit of time to post how to make some of these, since it’s quite easy, and without the right components, your armour will end up looking more than a little funny. A lot of folks have realized that standard rivets are bad at making leather to metal connections for strapping and “soft” articulations (such as used in gorgets and pauldrons) and many people have used roofing nails as a much better solution than rivets and washers.
Unfortunately, for most leather attachments and particularly gorgets, the head of a roofing nail is too wide. It is also worth noting that roofing nails are often quite asymmetric, so making “precise” connections (again, critical for gorgets with integral hinges) is problematic. To solve this, I have a process for making “arming nails” that gives consistent results (and nice connectors) and takes about ~30 seconds per rivet. It should be noted that I tend to do a hundred or so at a time, and have a little container of these which I periodically refill when it gets empty. This prompted the question that triggered this article when I was working on a gorget “Where did you get those?”
I start with a lot of nails – the nails in the container are a few more than those in the small container on the right. The head size for these is about 5/16″ – roughly halfway between a standard 1/8″ rivet head (a flathead or truss 1/8″ rivet head will be 1/4″ diameter, round heads are slightly smaller) and the diameter of a standard roofing nail (generally about 3/8″). The container is from Lee valley – they sell a lot of useful containers:here is a direct link to all sizes of these containersContinue reading Making Arming Nails→
Back in the dawn of time when I used to build armour to sell in the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) I never understood why people were unwilling to pay for nice armour. I had a running joke with a fellow armourer – “If you have a $75 head, then you should buy a $75 helmet”. Yup that was a long time ago.
I’ve spent a lot of years working away at getting better at the craft, and like to think that I’m starting to get reasonably good. Mac, Wade, Patrick, Peter and Ugo all serve to remind me that I have a long way to go, and I have (fortunately) outgrown the “arrogant asshole” stage that mst armourers seem to go through when they think that they can make anything because they know enough to mostly make the shapes they want, but they aren’t yet good enough to see the shapes that they need to make.
I just finished up a prototype pair of arm harnesses (in stainless steel) which I will now build in an appropriate thickness of carbon steel. After taking the “beauty shot” of the completed project, I looked around at all of the things that I had moved off my project area (the deep freeze in my garage) and thought that I should include a picture of all the pieces that weren’t in that shot, but were needed to complete it (I realized later that I also left out the pair of hinges that I didn’t use). Here is the comparison: Continue reading The Hidden Cost of Armour→
Yesterday I finished the first arm harness. It works reasonably well as a prototype, although using stainless steel as a prototype material is probably more than a bit questionable. I would use mild steel, but it’s so “squishy” that my thicknesses aren’t right, stainless is at least a decent proxy for the rigidity of carbon steel. Total build time is now on the order of 60 hours, although building a replacement set (now that I have the pattern and techniques) is probably more on the order of a day to a day and a half per arm harness. I also always forget just how much work is involved in grinding and polishing these dang things, since this is easily 2-3 hours per harness.
The spring pin was an unholy PITA to deal with: I’ll provide a gallery of all the failed pieces for instruction later, but this was the single largest issue with the build, since the vambrace wrapper plate is the single “fiddliest” bit, with 2 rolled edges, a hinge attachment and the pin itself. I had a wrapper fail for BOTH the right AND left arm, so rebuilding these took a lot of time that I wasn’t planning to spend, let alone the proto-prototypes (mild steel) to work out some of the geometry for the vambraces and elbow assembly.
Things that worked well:
Blending the edges for the vambrace within a millimeter so that the armour looks “right” (one of my pet peeves with “SCA” armour)
Folding the edges on the vambrace and wrapper BEFORE shaping them (possible because they are a fold, rather than a roll)
The concept of rolling my excess metal under a rolled edge on the rarebrace
The general fit of the vambraces, and alignment of the hinges and retaining pins with the rolled edges
Things that did NOT work well
Welding the retaining stud in the vambrace wrapper
Construction of the fan (I clearly need practice)
using the edge of my anvil to flare the fan (which left nicks near the crease in the fan which I couldn’t be bothered to completely clean up for the prototype)
Elbow articulation geometry (this worked much better when I stopped, threw away the lames and started again with cardstock)
The shape of the elbow, which is insufficiently pointy. I modelled this (and the central crease) on a Maximillian arm harness from the Churburg collection. Without the gratuitous fluting (which I omitted because it messes up the esthetic) this is a fairly atypical piece – next time I’ll model after one of the Mantova harnesses (or ANY of the earlier Churburg harnesses)
Creasing the elbow, in a similar fashion to a knee
Stainless steel hinges (bent without heat – evil metal!)
insufficient clearance on my rarebrace overlap to fold it into the roll
Some pictures of things that worked well (and not so well):
Today I tossed out a pile of elbow lames, because they weren’t quite right. I had spent several hours making these, and they didn’t work properly. The reason that they didn’t work properly is that I had too much “rake” and had put too much curve in them, so that they wouldn’t clear properly.
Half an hour with card stock (really heavy weight paper, about 2/10ths of a mm thick) and I had a new pattern, and a couple of hours later I had the elbows articulating nicely – based on dead flat articulations. I found it useful to articulate these “flat” and then put a (very slight) curve into them once I had them articulating. Here are pictures of the re-patterning, as well as the depth of curvature on the elbow lames.
This led me to question whether I was properly shaping my couters – pics below
I also found that the reshaping eliminated the creases I had put into the lames, and when I re-peaked them I found that I was a couple of millimeters off true for a couple of them. In future I plan to articulate, and THEN put in the medial crease, and I wonder how many armourers articluate after creasing, and how many put in the crease after articulating.
I’ve been cleaning up my heat treated and tempered knees, and thought that it would be useful to make a few notes to remember if you are doing this (or if I’m doing this after a long hiatus, which has been known to happen)
A bunch of this is obvious in retrospect, but my attempt to planish out some surface irregularities on tempered carbon steel was a hilarious (but not at the time) failure. Since I didn’t know how much “depth” I would be losing to firescale I figured that I should do all of my surface updates AFTER heat treating. Oops. This clean-up has taken a whole lot of time, hopefully the rough (150 grit) pass on the other knee will be considerably faster.
So things to remember
Do all of the rough grinding / clean up of surface irregularities before heat treating because:
Planishing doesn’t work on hardened steel
abrasives are much less effective on tempered steel
If I have to clean up any surface irregularities, start with 120 grit instead of 150 grit
Do all edge bevels before heat treating (when it’s still easy)
I’ve been too busy building things to be doing regular updates, but it’s worth mentioning that I just heat treated a pair of early 15th century articulating knees (Poleyns). The basic treatment is simple enough – heat to between 1500 and 1600 degrees F and quench (I used an oil quench) followed by annealing at 400 degrees for 40 minutes (this was empirically tested). Note that I had a couple of lames (the pieces that articulate) that I had screwed up earlier and / or used to practice technique to test so that I could mess up and / or destroy representative pieces without destroying things I actually cared about!
Part of the concern of heat treating is how much distortion you will get, particularly with hand formed pieces which will have a lot of uneven stresses. To alleviate this we initially heated below the critical range (to around 1200 degrees – still a cheerful orange) and held here for 15 minutes to stress relieve the metal. This did not have a significant impact on the shape (we traced before and after – again, pics below) and eliminating this step did not result in distortion more than a few millimeters (less than 1/16″) on lames. The Poleyns distorted more than this, since we did not have a sufficiently large furnace to play with and had to juggle the quench. This was offset by having very even heat in the furnaces we did use, and a change in our quench technique on the second poleyn led to a much easier quench with less distortion. Continue reading Heat Treating 15th Century Knee Armour→
Did a bit of work on my current sallet, since a brow reinforce is one of the things you see on 15th century sallets a lot. Since I now have a large diameter torch, I built a reinforce, rough dished it and then stuck it on the helm to blend in on. Since “hot” steel moves like clay, I used the helm as an oversized planishing stake, with a ball stake on the inside. Here are a few pics showing the series.
Note that I did need to rivet to keep from just pushing the metal around the skull, but the final result got a close blend on the crest of the helm, which is similar to the medieval originals. It will be nicer once I grind and clean up!