Thursday, December 21, 2006

Polishing the Bell, part 2

After the bell has been sanded, filed, dents hammered out, and so forth, it is time to get it on the buffer. I use a high speed buffer, with blue tripoli. (The company calls it "polish compound" It is tripoli. I know because it only took three hours to get it looking like the top picture instead of the nine hours if I used rouge alone!) Rouge is usually made of iron oxide, and is therefore red in colour. Other compounds are now getting common, titanium dioxide for instance is much in my favor because I can polish scratches out of the nickel plating. Tripoli leaves a sort of matt finish on the workpiece, that you can see in the top picture. Look at how the handle is not reflected very well.
The second from the top picture is a pic of my crowded workbench. The little black specks are from the compound that was stuck in the grooves...I dug all that caked on polish out with scribers and that old standby, the thumbnail. It takes about a half hour to clean the tripoli off the workpiece in order to prepare it for the rouge.
The bottom two pictures show what a difference an hour with fine rouge makes to the looks of the workpiece. You can see the reflection of the the file and the handle quite well. Its still not as shiny as I would like, but it is good enough to plate. The nickel plating will of course make it look like a mirror. It is a bad habit to rely on the final plate to take rough spots out...because of course, it won't! In fact, due to the nature of the plating process, rough spots might provide "seeds" for tiny crystals of nickel. That would leave frosty parts on the workpiece which might not be able to be polished away! So I try to get it as shiny as I can before I have it plated.
The pieces all need to be "electro cleaned" in Tri Sodium Phosphate before being sent to the platers. A lot more dirt comes out in solution at that time. Not much to see in a photo though....a photo of the electrocleaning process would pretty much look like two wires going into a bucket of soap suds. The plateing has to be done within a day of the electrocleaning or else the surface will start to get a microscopically thin layer of oxide on it. This oxide does not conduct electricity, so if you wait too long between cleaning and plating, you get a mottled surface.
Now I just hope nobody asks me about the handcuffs on the workbench....grin!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cleaning up Swords...The Bell, part1

One of the more difficult jobs which come through the armoury is sword repair. Difficult and rewarding. Lots of different skills involved. It moves away from the job of "cutler" into the realm of "jeweler". In this case, I shall show the process involved in repairing the "bell" of a Firman made Military Sword. This sword is actually "in service" as part of the ceremonial functions of soldiers based in Ottawa.
(note... Firman is one of several companies which competed for the limited military sword market, but like the more famous "Wilkinson Sword Company", they are now no longer in business. Can't get 'em any more, you have to fix 'em!)

These swords are fine...they just get a little battered around. I have fished out cigarette butts out of the scabbards, and straightened scabbards which got caught in car doors and staircase spindles. Straightforward if somewhat finicky repairs. The Bell is the nicest part of the sword. The hand guard of the sword is called the "bell", and the first step to repairing it is to take the sword apart. A simple nut holds the whole mechanism together....back it off and everything falls into your hands. Rust, dents and other damage can make this simple stage into a nightmare, so be careful.

The top picture is my tool of choice for this job. A square warding file. Used originally for locks, warding files are a little larger than jeweler's files, and smaller than your average metal working file. I use such a file to deepen the lines in surface of the workpiece. The second pic down shows the damage...the dents, gouges and scratches which I must repair. The third pic down shows the deepened lines. Deepening the lines takes about two hours. Click on these images to see them full size.

Once the lines have been deepened, I can start sanding off the dents and scratches. This removes most if not all of the plating. I used to do this by hand with sanding blocks, I now use an unusual motor mounted wheel made from sand impregnated cardboard. Very expensive, and very quick. This will take a lot of metal away in a hurry, and if I had not deepened some of those lines, they would now vanish!

The bottom pic shows the inside. It needs to be done too.

Nearly finished Breastplate

The pieces which go under the arms were fairly easy....just slip some cardboard under the cut outs to make the templates, and don't forget to provide the proper roll allowance. The rolling was a little different in that I did the final bump out a good 2 centimeters from the edge...just like in the original. I don't know that I am really all that happy with the roping, perhaps the diagonal bits should have been made a little closer together. Next time...grin! The roping on the neck part is fine though, and just like in the original, the rope comes up really high, forming a ridge which will catch swords, lances, and whatever comes toward the neck. I don't know how the side pieces stay properly in position, but some people have told me that there should be leather on the back to help it spring back out like in the picture. I am also thinking that I could have made the sliding slots a little farther in so that you couldn't see them when they are deployed.
All that is left is to make the fauld pieces. Maybe next month...when I get them done, I'll edit this post to show off the totally finished product.

Thursday, December 7, 2006


After the initial big hammer, the rolling and so forth, it is time to take all the dents out. I use a wooden anvil for a lot of that. In the old days, I used to simply planish all those big dents out. Now, I get most of them out with a big hammer on the wooden anvil, and then put it on the wheel. The wheel is the big one you can see on the top. 6 inches by 2 inches, hardened tool steel and mirror polished. Under the workpiece is the anvil...essentially another wheel, but a rounded a section of a bowling ball. The anvils come in various radii, and you use the one appropriate to the job at hand. The idea is not to make the deep compound curve, but rather, to smooth out the dents that DID make the compound curve. If it isn't quite deep enough, or if it is assymetrical, just put it back on the wooden anvil, and bash is some more. All the dents will come out with the wheel.
The operation from flat metal to what you see in the bottom pic only took me 20 minutes. (not counting the top rolled and roped edge)

pressing up the rope

Once the edge is properly rolled, you discover that it is actually curled over onto the inside. Often a piece of wire is inserted into the rolled edge. That wire gives no extra strength, but it does keep the armour from kinking under severe stress. If this is done right, the wire will move fairly freely within the rolled edge. Find an edge of the anvil which is "relieved" (rounded) and press the rolled edge of the workpiece down over the rounded edge of your anvil so that it is proud all around the outside. It should be quite flat on the shown in the picture.

The shape of the rope is adjusted at this time. Real medieval armour often had the "rope" thicker in the centre and tapering out at the ends. The picture of the original armour shows this quite well. It is a surprisingly easy to do, and surprisingly easy to mess up!

When I am happy with the edge, I can then take some blunt chisels and make dents in the rope in a diagonal fashion. These diagonal dents push the metal down and make it look soft. Like a rope. The top picture shows this effect quite clearly, the middle picture shows how many variations there can be on even the most straightforward design, and the bottom picture shows how flat the armour is where it touches the person...the square is on the inside of the armour. Please click on the pictures to see them full size.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Rolling the top edge

The first step is to raise a half inch 90 degree all along the edge. This is just a matter of hitting it over the heel of the anvil until it is all done. Actually, it is a little trickier than that. You have to use a fairly sharp edge on the anvil to do this...or a stake. Inside curves are easier...they don't require special stakes...any old edge will do. I talked with one fellow who said he used pliers to do this stage. I have never been able to get pliers to work. It is true that if you don't have the x-ray vision to see where the anvil is under your workpiece, a bent down section every hand span or so would help. I just place the steel on the anvil, and check it is in the right place by slipping my finger under can estimate pretty good that way. That being said, I always "cheat" by scratching a fine line on the top of the steel about half an inch from the edge just to be sure.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Building a breast plate, part 2

Here I have taken the measured drawings, and transfered them to some 18 gauge steel. Gauge sizes are based on the number of plates which when stacked up make an inch. So 20 gauge is quite light, and 14 gauge is very heavy. Most armour is 16 to 18 gauge.

Judging solely on the size and robust nature of the hammer marks on the inside, I would expect the same on the outside, and since there are NO hammer marks on the outside, it must have been sanded away with a sanding brick. The renaissance artist who made "Laking 84" had started with something quite heavy, maybe even heavier than 16 gauge. Though it is hard to tell...the metal used in the rolling of the edge (the "roping) was clearly only about 18 gauge...perhaps it was thinned with the hammer before rolling? Or perhaps their planishing methods were so good very little sanding is needed. As an armour maker, I lean towards the sanding brick theory. Super fine planishing can only be done on a highly polished very hard anvil, and requires many thousands of overlapping light blows. The hammer marks on the Laking 84 armour were NOT made by a light hammer. The heavy hammer blows would damage the anvil pretty quickly, and not give the results required. And yet, there seemed to be no evidence that anybody had made the metal thin about half an inch from the edge to enable them to roll the edges. Because of so much hammering, the thickness of the metal changes dramatically throughout, so the question of what size the armour used to start with is pretty much moot. I do know that I can make an armour of much the same thickness and weight by using 18 gauge. As to materials...I used mild steel. The original is iron. I don't know how much carbon is in it, but it doesnt bends.

The curator who first catalogued this armour was Mr. Laking, and this was clearly the 84th item in his catalogue. Mr. Laking had made an name for himself in the London Museum, before it was amalgamated, his name keeps coming up in museums all over Europe! I believe he was heavily involved in the excavation of the Temple of Mithras in London. Regardless, his catalogue is still the catalogue used document all these look-alike armours.

The first step of course is to roll the edges to make the neck safe. I don't have to roll the arm pits...there will be special pieces fitted in there for that purpose! Those will get rolled.
The second step is to bash the steel into a hollow in the wooden block. This is actually quite satisfying. All done by hand with a big hammer...takes about 10 minutes.

Building a Breast Plate Part 1

The first step is to actually visit the museum. This is Mr. Stroud, curator of the Palace Museum in Malta. You see what I am doing is making measured drawings of the armours. Not only do I pick up the actual real honest to goodness measurements, but I can also see things like old attachment points for leather, hinge rivets, and details of the roping and such. This requires looking at the back of the armour of course, something you never get to see, and when you DO, it is behind glass.


Good morning!