Monday, December 24, 2007

Chain Mail Making

One of the advertised activies that we do as part of the Rec Centre programme is to actually MAKE armour. After all, we ARE the South Tower ARMOURING Guild, after all. However, the understandable difficulty in bringing in an anvil, a set of hammers and a few drill presses mean that our armouring consists of chain mail making. (I would like to add leatherwork to the next class actually, as well as knitting the chain mail.) Its not so robust a session as swinging swords, but its still a lot of fun. Look at the pile of pliers in the middle of the table! These all belong to Shayne (the big guy on the right) and he pretty much ram rods the chain mail portion of the class.

A good illustration of the balance between males and females in my class. "Girls just wanna kick butt......." Grin!

Darn, now that my hair is thinning, you can see all the scars on my noggin!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Tim Willocks

It seemed appropriate to be reading Tim Willocks book "The Religion" in armour. This rattling good story is set in a very interesting period of Maltese history. It covers the Great Seige pretty thouroughly, and the back story is really well researched and solid.
I think the name "The Religion" might put people off...they may think it is about St. Thomas or some such person, rather than the lead character, who is about as different from the Gentle Thomas Aquinas as it is possible to get. This guy has a personal grudge against the Inquisition, and somehow stays alive to continue fighting it! He provides a very nice, three dimentional character with his own story, the result is excellent continuity through a very difficult and confusing battle.
I am glad to see a slightly different take on this famous battle than the usual military thinking....this was actually a grudge match against the moderate Islamic Ottoman Empire against some fanatical elements of the RC church. The Grand Harbour was held in an iron grip by the Knights of St. John, the last of the great "church militant" orders created by and for the crusades working more or less closely with the Spanish Inquisition, and though there were many better targets for Ottoman expansion, this one was a particularly tasty nut to crack.
As hard as Willocks tries to make his characters fully three dimentional, they keep getting upstaged by the fight that is going on all around them. The old emotional baggage between La Valette and the Inquisition which once excommunicated and jailed him might have provided fodder, but come to think of it, would have required a whole 'nother book! As well, the dealings with Dragut the old Barbary pirate, who had captured Vallette when he was young, only to have Vallette return the favor several years later after the a prisoner exchange could have been developed further, as a spice to Dragut's eventual death by sheer accident (if you can call being killed in an artillery barrage an accident!) during Dragut's assault on Fort St. Elmo.
And the fight! Oh my! What a battle! Willocks spares us no details of a horrid bloody desperate fight, his descriptions make us feel like we are actually THERE. He intentionally keeps the fog of war floating across the battle field, and that only adds to the realism. It is very rare in military battles to find units which literally did "fight to the death", but this is one case where it did happen, by men who were well trained, well fed, and sustained in their efforts by "The Religion".

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Saturday, December 15, 2007


This remarkable buckler is unique to the island nation of Malta, and generally speaking, it is considered to be a relic of the Great Seige. The centre boss is separate from the rest of the shield, and I believe if I were to look in behind, I would find a mounting for a "gonne", a little muzzle loading firearm. The brass strips are not just for decoration, but they would catch a rapier blade or dagger just fine, and hold it. The chances are this piece (or rather pieces) was originally spun to shape and then embossed, though thats not guaranteed. Spinning was not unknown in the renaissance, heck, even the Romans spun helmets on lathes, but as you can imagine, there were not really a lot of places where you would use large spinnings like this. A buckler would be one of them. Though I do admit that as an exercise in shrinking, this project would be hard to beat!

The armourer would have panel bashed those large triangular pieces into a mould cut into the end grain of a piece of firewood , though when I tried in on a piece of scrap here in the shop, I found it was pretty easy to get the effect over a standard English pattern anvil, so obviously, a German armourer's stake would work just fine.

The chain mail shirt in back is worth of a whole 'nother post!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Breastplate in the Palace Museum in Malta

click on the image to enlarge.

This particular breastplate has many important points of interest. From a distance, you can see that stylistically, it is meant for a foot soldier....though of course the narrow sides mean it can ride up high when you sit a horse. There is a total lack of lance rest, or even a place to mount a lance rest. It must have been grand with the leather picadills all around the arm holes and the bottom...and comfortable to wear as well! Note the fact that the beautiful rolled edges are not roped in any way.
On the front, there are two high shoulder rivets a hands width from the top...they are designed to hold a heavy placqart, a haute piece if you will, which will be much heavier and able to deflect a bullet. So this armour is not just a parade piece of armour, but rather, a serious battle armour. That it was used in parade is evident from the delightful repousee'd crucafix on the front. Repousee would not remove any metal,whereas engraving chisels metal away, weakening it. One sees both on this armour.
The armour was originally hammer welded in the belly, and due to heavy use (as indicated by the dents around the shoulder rivets as well) it cracked at the weld. It might have been that the armour was made from that new fangled steel instead of good old iron, and steel is notoriously difficult to weld on the hammer. So the armourer sunk 4 rivets on the belly to hold the two overlapping placquart pieces together, and a couple more to hold a backing plate to the flare below. This would have made the armour satisfactory for battle, and as long as the knight wore a nice wide sash around his waist over his armour, the repair would be nearly invisible.
There is no doubt much more about the provenance of this armour that we can deduce from the repairs, and the styles, and maybe there are even paintings showing a knight wearing exactly that armour. It would not be cheap armour, so a painting might exist!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Graduation class, Dec 2007, Plant Recreation Centre, Ottawa

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sam's armour.

This was the armour I made for Sam R. a month or so back. I put pictures of it up on this blog awhile ago. Now she got it, and she looks great in it! She is a jouster, and is looking forward to cracking lances in the coming season down in California and Texas.
above, Sam, modeling her new placqart and faulds.

From the front, she doesn't look too bad. The armour doesn't look too bad either.

And as you can see, the back needs a little bit of "tweaking". The back placqart needs to be pushed up against her body. We did that over the phone by having her tie the placart pieces over top the armour instead of underneath.

She is pretty good with leather, so we left it like this....I am hoping to be able to post better pictures once she gets dressed up and on her horse.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Malta Prague connection

A beautiful May afternoon. The sun was shining brightly (for a pleasant change) on the gelatto coloured buildings of Prague. Deirdre, Brenda and I were walking beside yet another pile of medieval building, and I noted to Brenda that the stone on this building was actually not like the stone you usually find in Prague, but sandstone, like we saw in Malta. In fact, I joked, it looks exactly like Maltese stone! Deirdra nodded non-comitaly, she is used to my off the wall comments. Brenda caught us walking around the corner of the edifice. In the distance, you can see one of the thousand Georgian period gelatto coloured buildings...I think that was cappuccino-strawberry. (click on the image to enlarge) As we went around the front, I realized two things almost simultaneously...that this church was crennellated like a castle, (so maybe it wasn't a church???) and then, sillouetted against the sky, was that old standby Maltese Cross.
Well, that explained why it looked like a castle, and hey, it probably explains why there really IS sandstone from Malta used for the outside repairs of this church!

Inside, open to the public, is a pleasant little garden. I think it may be a graveyard, actually, but still, it is very peaceful. You can't really go anywhere else though, the inner sanctum is restricted.

Back outside, we had walked right past the side entrance. Doubling back, we realized that there is plenty of evidence of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem right there, where I had walked right past!

And I think that I may have uploaded the same picture twice. Oh well, its still a pretty handsome door! How does it compare to the door to the Palace in Valetta, a picture of which I posted some time ago!

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chain Mail Groom

Some of my armour, being worn by an enthusiastic groomsman. Being a spear carrier has its drawbacks...itchy chain mail, heavy weapon. But all in all, it was worth it!

The above armour was made by me for a wedding, and Lorne, the fellow in the picture, was a groomsman. What is not shown is the sword, the sword belt, and the arch of swords they made as they left the church. The bracers, he made here in my shop. I think he looks great.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Class Graduation

Couple of the boys having some armoured combat at this stage, but still, quite exciting! Lets see, that would be John P. in the red helmet going up against Jean V. in the red helmet. In the back, beside me is Simon, and I dont have permission to name the other two guys.

We managed to graduate yet another fine bunch of sword fighters.
(not terrifically happy with this new digital seems to be really fuzzy even in good light)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fort St. Elmo, the south east Vedette which overlooks Grand Harbour, Malta.
A little crumbly, a little battered, but like an old boxer, still something to be reconed with. The sandstone does not take kindly to years of weathering, and these blocks will need to be replaced sometime this century. Still, the walls are very strong and solid, even if their faces look like mine after a night's carousing! If you click on the above picture, in the background you can see Fort Ricasoli. This is an entire renaissance castle/gatehouse/palace which is being allowed to crumble into sand. Ask 10 Maltese, you get 10 answers as to why.
I wish it were possible to preserve all the ancient sites, but I understand the problems of a businessman myself, I recognize that it would take a lot of money to preserve something which really is nothing which has not been represented somewhere else. Maybe its present use as a movie set for the powerful film industry in Malta may be its best use. When you look at it from a distance like I am doing in the above pic, don't use binoculars....or you will weep.

On a lighter note....this is an example of a very well preserved morion in the Palace Museum. The varnish has yellowed, but all in all, it is in excellent shape....a few hours with the acetone to dissolve the varnish and some standard preservation, and it will be good as new!
This helmet was not only used by the Spanish (though we in the western hemisphere associate it with the Conquisadors) but by most armies in the early renaissance. As far as I can see, it has been raised entirely from a single piece of low slag iron. There are many hammer marks on the inside, and a few patches which are hammer welded in so well that you simply cannot see them from the outside! I wish I could see the oddly shaped hammer the smith must have used to move the metal up near the top. The finished metal is roughly 17 awg judging by its surpisingly light weight. That puts it in the realm of "parade armour", but even battle morions tend to be lightweight, depending on glancing surfaces to deflect the stone and lead bullets being fired at the wearer by primitive black powder "gonnes" of the time.
If you look near the top, you can see a stress fracture. That must have occured long after it was put into service. The little point at the top is a nice touch...I know of no reason why it is there, but they are on every morion of the time! The rolled edges are very pretty, and stiffen the brim quite nicely, and the inevitable brass rivets around the edge once upon a time held the leather suspension net inside. This net is long gone, and the metal around the rivets shows signs of haveing more than one net installed over its lifetime.
The decoration? Well, its some acanthus leaf pseudo-classical instantly forgettable repeating motif which seems to texture the surface quite nicely.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Belgian War Museum

You may remember seeing this archway before...on the other side of it is the headquarters of the European Union. To the right is the war of the largest in the world. To the left is the automobile museum. Never got to that, but again, I understand it is one of the largest in the world.
One of the British tanks salvaged from the battlefields of the Somme, or maybe Passcendaele. Not very big...I am not posing in the picture to show off my pretty face, but rather to show how small the machine actually was.

Everywhere you look you see swords, guns, spears and whatnot in decorative arrangements.

This is one of the finest collections of Kozak sabres. Gives me a chill to imagine my ancestors useing these things for real.

The first world war saw Canadians in kilts. Of course, so did the second world war, though trousers replaced the kilts except on parade.

The "Irish" kilt is a little unusual. Nice collection of helmets though. And the Fraser tartan was kind of nice to see.

More swords. And an armour.

More swords.
A random series of swords and armour dating from Waterloo.

I expected this museum to be glorifying war, but was a bit surprised to find it to be rather static, and if the subject matter were not so amazingly interesting, perhaps a little boring in its presentation. You are sort of expected to know the history BEFORE you go there, because you won't learn it from this. However, if you are prepared, you will get a LOT from this collection.

Arm harness, Palace Museum

click on this image to enlarge....

This is an arm harness at the Palace Museum in Malta. Look beyond the decoration, and observe the deep dishing of the elbow cop at the lower left, and the clever articulation of the rerebrace at the upper right. See the roped edges throughout, the attachment point of the vambrace, the roped ridges at the weld lines of the elbow cops. Lots to see in a little picture!

And I see by the IP map below that at least one person is vistiting here from Malta. You should say hi, and leave a comment! Thanks for dropping in.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Anima armour.

"anima" armour from the Palace Museum in Valetta, Malta. This armour is called "Anima" armour, and it is not really very common. I don't think it is really all that easy to move in it, and to MY eye, it shows the armour smith showing off! What is nice about this armour is that the breast and back plate actually overlap, joining over the shoulders with pins and eyeslots.
Originally, I wondered if the armour was joined together with sliding rivets. But no, it is actually riveted together just as you see it, so the whole armour is really quite solid.
I believe if I were to make this armour, it would have a lot of sliding rivets in it. I could not imagine going to all the trouble of making this armour, and NOT make it articulate!
This one armour is worth visiting the Palace Museum in Malta to study. Every time I see it, I am filled with questions.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Horse armour

click on these images to see details.
The Milanese style the Knights of St. John used is continued with this chaffron. I believe this armour is mostly designed for parade, though like everything the Knights wore, it was ready to be used for real! I dont' think this armour is quite right for jousting...there is no attachment points for the cage to protect the horse's eyes for instance. Particular points of interest with this armour include the short nose, the vanished leather part which must have continued down over the nose, (those brass rivets with the washers under them indicate a now vanished leather part, possibly a built in bridle?) and the strap mounts up on the top which probably attached a crinnet to protect the back of the horse's neck. Other things worthy of hinged cheek pieces..and decoration which matches the rider's armour. the roped edges are VERY difficult to do well, and the centre roping ridges not only provides a needed stability on what would otherwise be a very large flat piece, but provide a border for a very deep chiseling decoration. Again, this decoration is repousse, not engravature...the metal is all still there, albeit pushed back.
Again, I must note...this armour is not unique....rather it is representative. A piece of military kit, not a sculpture.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A little more about armour

This post will be a bit more technical than usual....sorry. But then, this IS a blog devoted to armouring....

Back in '03, I got some remarkable "hands on" study of real armour, courtesy of the the curator, Mr. Michael S. of Heritage Malta. If you click on the pictures you will see details of armours which I have now incorporated into my own work. Only by picking up and handling armour will you ever get a handle on the complexity involved. For instance, arm harness such as the one in the picture below are surprisingly light gauge metal. Metallurgical analysis of the armour had just come in....the metal was actually slag free iron, rather than steel....or at least steel as we know it today. Some ivory tower armourers had theorized that the metal was actually high carbon tempered steel...which would keep its shape and still be light and strong like a watch spring. These late period pieces made for men who could afford the best were not high carbon hardened and tempered steel. I think the closest thing we have to this kind of metal would be low carbon "mild" steel. (So much for the ivory tower.)
The brown colour is mostly dried old grease, not rust. Makes you re-evaluate the idea of the "knight in shining armour". I suspect that medieval armours looked much like this when they were worn into battle. In the above picture, you can see a couple of very important details. Firstly, the integral articulation of the rerebrace....the top rotates freely around the bottom, and cannot come off. The top part is joined to the bottom lame of the spaulder with a key and slot. You can see the key just at the top, almost hidden against my unfortunate tee shirt. The second thing would be the marvelous fit between the elbow cop and the upper and lower cannons (rerebrace and vambrace respectively) Third, the riveted join between the "wing" and the "coulter" (elbow cop) which makes you think that possibly this was a later repair. I believe this is the inside of the perhaps a simple rivet would do. The ornate spaulder (above), a little rusty, in need of some tender loving care. Interesting details...aside from the decoration....the three lames overlapping at the upper part, the holes for the picadills, and the rather crude rivets going down the upper arm lames. I think the leather was replaced by steel strapping in order to make this armour into a statue....hence the rough non-characteristic riveting work. The raised decoration was so common, I wonder if it was formed by sinking the metal into a die? Just speculation....there are plenty of hammer marks on the inside to assume that all the raised decoration was made with hammers. Though of course, the chasing and chiseling are always hand done by an artist with a steady eye!
Above is a good illustration of the inside...showing all the hammer marks really well. You never see pictures of the inside of armour! I know, this is only interesting to professional metalworkers like me...hang in there!

Getting the info right from the curator himself.

And I could not resist including this picture of two armour makers with big grins! Yeah! (oh, and before anybody takes issue...I am holding that armour with paper between my nasty old fingers and the antique, and holding it under the fume hood. It will be cleaned with acetone in a few minutes, right now it is looking pretty grundgy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Palace Museum, Malta

When studying armour, it is always best to study from the fine European collections. There is a surprisingly large amount of armour still existing in the world...much of it in collections which are more or less complete, and in more or less in repair. The Palace Museum in Malta is the jewel in the crown of "Heritage Malta" ( and of course attracts the attention of this professional armour maker like flies to honey! This remarkable collection is well dated, and is remarkable in that the armour is almost all of a type. Where you can go to the Stibbert Museum (for instance) you get to see a thousand different types and styles of armour, so many that the head spins and the mind boggles, here you see the product of only two or three armouries over a comparatively short period. Many of the armours in museums tend to be more show and less function. So coming to Malta becomes less like studying art and sculpture, and more like studying design trends. A modern example might be like attending a modern car show....where you would spot the latest from Ferrari and Daimler-Crysler rather than an exhibition of sculpture at the Louvre. A concept car which is merely show, and could not even be licenced for the road will not be very interesting, a "mere sculpture", where the 250 kph ability of the Lambourgini would definely spark interest. Oh, there is plenty of room for atwork in even the most prosaic and functional armour, as the closeup of the Wigancourt Suit gauntlet shows! (click on the images to enlarge)

The above armour is clearly well made, and very plain, especially compared to the Grand Master's suit above! It is a horseman's armour, not a foot soldier's armour, though of course, unlike a lot of the jousting armour one sees in museums, this armour is made for the field. Many of the fooman's armours share identical "factory made" pieces with the horesman's armour, so one can imagine the Sergeant Major telling his troupe to dismount those lance rests, take off the tassets, and get ready for an afternoon of pike drill.

Salient features of the above armour are the "three lame" spaulders with a shallow centre flute decorated with little notches. This spaulder is beautifully rolled, but not roped except at the very bottom, the rerebrace, and on the wing of the elbow cop. Brass rivets mark the underlying leather straps, and you can see where the brass rivets on the front would have held "picadills", pieces of leather designed to protect the underlying breast plate from the rubbing of the shoulder armour. The "rerebrace" is very consists of two parts, the upper which is attached to the spaulder, and the lower which is attached to the arm harness. Often the upper part opens up, in back. When it is closed, the lower part rotates inside the upper part. The complex joint is stronger than it looks because it is tightly curved and domed...good thing since I would assume that such a complex joint would stop working after the first smack with a sword. Apparently they are tougher than they look!

Above are two things you don't see a lot is the scale fauld, the other is the pair of sabotons. The knight would put the fauld on to cover his bottom when he was not fighting on horseback. Considering leather rarely lasts more than half a century before self destructing because of internal acids and catalysts, these scale faulds are doubly rare. The sabotons are special because they have those sharp points on the tops of their ankles must act like knives! What weapons these pieces of armour would make all on their own! If you look closely, you can also see the mounts for the spurs.

When you click on the picture above, you can see the difficulty faced by the armoury. The armour is coated with grease, which makes it brown. But look at the vambraces! The salty dust falls on the armour nine months out of the year, and because everything is so dry, the high salt content makes no never mind. But one month out of the year, the humidity rises to where the salt does its insidious work, and that is why the rust easts through the soapy grease which generally protects the armours to damage the top surfaces. The damage that you see here probably took 20 years to happen, however, it DID happen, and it needs to be addressed. There are techniques to reverse the process, but the damage is done, and despite the best efforts of the curators, is continuing. This armour was used as statuary, decorating some hallway or stairway or another, and out of reach of the conservators until it was noticed, and brought home.
Conserving the armours is VERY expensive. And its not like this particular armour has any special significance, it is just ordinance grade armour like a thousand others. So it is hard to find the money to conserve it when so many other projects must take precedence. There is a simple answer of course, but I would be interested in other's comments before I make my own on these pages.
Bill Fedun