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

Monday, October 15, 2007

A sampling of Malta Armour

I make medieval armour for a living. No, really!

Before one tries to make armour, one should examine real armour, find out how it moves, how heavy it is, how it relates to other parts of the armour, and even the style of civilian clothing of the time! The Palace Museum in Valetta is a superb source of information on one particular, very attractive Milanese style of armour. This armour was made at very nearly the end of the great armour making period, so it is consideded to be "late period", but unlike so much "late period" armour, it is very functional. Much of the armour in this collection was funtional enough to have withstood the "Great Siege"for instance. Later, armour in Malta, as in the rest of Europe, became more decorative, less functional, and more indicative of the status of the owner than before that pivotal moment in history.

click on these images to enlarge...
above is a grouping of regular armour. Hard to say who would wear such plain armour...its awfully good workmanship. I suspect that it would be worn by devout knights who didn't want to flaunt highly decorative armour. I don't think it would have been an economic decision...the knights generally had no trouble affording top notch equipment.

You can see in the above suit that it reflects the civilian style of the time..the peascod breastplate. I found upon making this breastplate that is is actually quite easy to create....but it is a real pain to wear comfortably.

Above are splinted armour breastplates. These look much more comfortable, and you can at least sit down in them....the plackart slides up and over the front of the armour. The centre keel is becoming more and more the time these were made, jousting was pretty much the only place you would be wearing armour, and these keels are really good at deflecting lances. The knights found out that they are not so bad at deflecting large caliber, slow moving bullets as well! The more I look at this particular style of armour, the more I like it.

And I just had to include a picture of the nicest General Issue backplate which survives in the collection....this "pots and pans" decorated armour is beautifully sculpted, and shows the Milanese influence of tight roping of the edges, and the double medallions in the centre. 18 guage, and gorgeous.

Much of the armour in the museum was designed before the great seige, and was made to be functional, and much of it dates back to that great battle. Which is why I like it, I guess!

This is a small sampling of some of the nicer harnesses which I snapped during a visit back in '03. Its all still there...though I notice it seems to be even better displayed now than it was back then.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Arriving in Malta...

click on the images to see these flags full size!
In the above pic, you see Fort St. Angelo from the English Post, the part of the wall that Mr. Starkey was responsible for. We are looking towards the main "castle" part of it. I presume the Grand Masters were really happy with the nice new construction going on right in the middle of all the old stone work. Should be a prestigious address though.

I love the flags. Normally I am in Malta during the winter, and seeing the summer flags come out is like seeing spring flowers.

The above picture, which you have to click on to see it full size, tells a great story. It is a plaque with the ancient "red and white" flag of Malta which is still in use, commemorating a great military action. And beside it, somebody from nowadays scratched in his commemoration of quite another sort of action entirely.
I think all in all I prefer the modern scratched in memorial...its more immediate and real somehow.

The closed doors to the Palace Armoury. Actually it is the back door to the palace stables, where the collection was banished when Malta became a republic back in '64, and the museum needed to be used for legislators. (or maybe not....I suspect that one set of big closed doors looks much like another....grin! Lets pretend these are the Palace doors then.)

Malta busses.
What follows is a cut and paste of my visit to Malta back in May, only now I am able to illustrate it with the above pictures.

May 07
Here I lugged this armour halfway around the world only to find the armoury is closed. Seems the roads were all being torn up, and nobody could get in the door, so they downed tools and hung a shingle on the door saying "closed until further notice!". (actually, it turned out to be an old sign they forgot to take down, and the real entrance was on the next street over!) Crikey! Well, instead of hanging around Valetta and its noisy road work, we wandered back out to the bus scrum and took the number four out to Fort Rinella. (google Fort Rinella,Malta, you'll be glad you did!) While Brenda drove off to meet our friends at the airport, I hooked up with Mario F., the head of the Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna. This is an organization which is working at recovering a lot of the Malta history. I had an excellent afternoon with M. F. chatting about everything under the sun. About time I had such a break...the first one in years. I treated myself to a Cisk (thats a beer) and a kinney (thats a soft drink). I got the impression that M.F. needed a bit of a break as well...the frustrations of managing several museums and multiple projects has clearly taken a toll on his patience. Since I had already built a functional armoury, we discussed the possibility of creating a hands-on working armoury, and how to make it sustainable. Clearly, it won't be THIS year, nor likely even THIS decade, so I suspect it was more of an exploration of an idea than anything else. Its not like they really need my skill as an armour but he was rather keen on how I was able to make my armoury pay for itself. Besides, as far as making armour, I see that there is already an excellent armourer here in Mosta, creating armours for a display troupe. All I can say is "good on ya!" There is never enough metal clothing to go around! And this guy is really good. I really must try to make time to visit him this week!

(author's note...I never DID get around to visiting the fellow...but again, his armour is really good! Not that I ever got around to taking pictures of his stuff...too much "real" stuff to take pictures of!)

Roman Malta

The Roman House, open at last!
A lot more is being excavated though. Like in the picture above and below, the excavations are on going.

This was originally posted in May of 2007, but it didn't have the pictures. Now, I can illustrate my travels!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Roman Malta
Of course, Romans were in control of Malta for centuries. St. Paul himself was shipwrecked here, and cured the Roman governor's dad. The house they probably lived in was excavated over the course of the last century or so, and only just this year has opened to the general public. Its up on the mountain, just outside the gates of M'dina, right at the edge of Rabat. Absolutely stunning! Fantastic mosaic floors, and wonderful artifacts. Interestingly enough, there were many Islamic graves in this area, because for a large segment of its history, Malta was Islamic. To be honest, for some reason, this particular period escaped my notice until now, though considering that both M'dina and Rabat are words rooted in Arabic, perhaps I should have paid more attention to the time lines. I had thought that Islam never rooted in Malta, but clearly I was wrong. And of course, a trip to the Silent City would not be complete without a visit to St. Paul's Grotto. A few moments prayer and a wonderful echo make this the ideal pulpit, albeit an underground one! I decided to skip the Wigancourt Museum and St. Paul's Catacombs in favor of a pleasant half hour in the square of Rabat eating nougat (orange and chocolate, in this case! yum!) and drinking double expresso. Very pleasant up here in M'Dina, but of course, everything closes between noon and three in the afternoon. Disconcerting at first, but actually a very civilized custom. You wander the streets seeking a shop to hide from the sun and discover them all to be closed, only to find that perfect place to be open a few hours later!
So today, I joined up with Mr. S. to get my picture taken. I wore the gorgeous shirt that Brenda had made for me. And I examined the armours yet again, and decided that my armour is rubbish...the next one will be PERFECT! I do hope that they like it. Mr. S. tells me he wants to use it for the Maltese children to try on instead of putting them into the real antiques. Perfect. Exactly what I made it for! To be touched and handled. (see the second or third post below for these pictures.)
Then a visit through the great Archaeology Museum. The permanent exhibit is on the prehistoric temples found throughout these islands, and got to see the famous "Venus of Malta". All fat women may now rejoice in the title of goddess, but I notice nothing for the fat MEN except some most interesting and strangely depressing massif phalluses being used as pillars around the temples.
But of course, the permanent exhibit is NOT what we came to see. We trekked up two flights of stairs to see the exhibit from China...a nice collection of the great terra cotta warriers who guarded the tomb of Emperor Qin. (pronounced "chin", he was the fellow who gave "China" her name, and of course was a major player in the recent movie "Hero") There was more than just terra cotta warriors of course, there were bronze figures, and terra cotta horses with bronze bridles. I was in awe of the talent of the sculptors! A bronze war chariot would have been difficult to make even today! The horses were all lively, and look like they could come alive at any moment! No pictures of the exhibit, sorry! Well, the sun is going down on another fine day, and I am just beat! I expect that a couple of lagers will go down nice and smooth!
Regards from Malta.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Busy week!

This is an armour I am making this week for Sam, a lady who wants armour which fits her. This is what I came up with. You won't find a similar armour in ANY museum ANYWHERE because, well, women simply didn't fight in armour so they didn't make armour to suit them! (Joan of Arc excepted, but then, she was special) The above armour is designed to be in three major parts, the breastplate which is totally separate from the rest of the armour, the plackart which acts as a sort of corset, and the faulds which lace onto the plackart.

As this is a "work in progress", I didn't bother lacing it all together. Note the "picadills" which will keep the breasplate from scratching the plackart.
I used commercial belts for this job since the metal was nice and light (only nice light 18 gauge, parade grade) and besides, only the top portion was carried by these "over the shoulder" belts rather than the more usual full front. These belts are a little lighter than usual, a little more delicate, without being feminine. I mean this IS armour after all!

The backplate was hammered and rolled. You can see it up above, ready to have its leather straps installed on the inside. You can see the strong Maltese influence on my backplate design. Again, this design is for the client, rather than being for a museum. As long as it fits her, and she can ride in the parade with it, and it looks good, and as long as it satisfies my aesthetic of it being honest to gosh "armour", I'll be happy with it. And I presume she will be happy with it as well.

Above is the plackart in closeup. I have installed leather straps in behind so that it hangs right. In this pic, you can see how much it closes up, compared to the pic above....I think there is a good hand span overlap here. The armour has been rolled at the top to protect the client, and a little bit of sculpting has been done to anthromorphize the effect. Its hard to see, but supposedly, the bottom of her rib cage is sculpted into the top part of this plackart. The straps on the back are placed to keep the top part loose so she can breathe, and the bottom part should act as a corset to give shape to waist as she is riding.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Malta pictures from May

click on the images to enlarge. Valetta. Grand Harbour, looking North from the Upper Barraka gardens

Bill A. , his wife Sheila .

another great picture from way up there.

The saluting battery, with Mario F's lads preparing to fire the noon salute.

And bang!

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Way back in May!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Beautiful Malta
I have yet again fallen in love with this country! The bone shaking busses, the crumbling sandstone are only minor things compared to the modern museums, the joy of sidewalk cafes, and the tasty octopus stew I had for dinner. Since I have been here, I have been diving in Anchor Bay. (if you have seen the movie "Popeye" you have seen anchor bay. The movie set was made into a theme park. The water is clear, clean, and VERY salty. To my distress, I had a panic attack at depth....very unusual, and certainly unexpected. My guide was NOT impressed with salvaging 18 kilograms of lead off the bottom! I'll have to get a hold of this problem if I expect to continue in this sport.

The view from my hotel. The lilacs and the palm trees! Yeah! Below is Fort St. Angelo, looking west across the Grand Harbour towards Valetta. Tough nut to crack! Get a load of that wide ditch just to the left of me in the pic below.... On top of it are the Barraca Gardens...that pretty colonade you can see in Valetta if you click on the picture!

Watched the noon gun go off in the saluting battery just below the Upper Barraka Gardens. They have brought up another 6 cannons, and I can see mounts for as many as 11! Very Very cool. Day before yesterday, I watched the salute from right there at the guns, and today I watched them from Conspicua, a town about 3 and a half seconds away as the sound waves travel.
Above is the Barraca Gardens, the saluting battery. The cannon balls are sitting in a monkey. If it got really cold, the monkey would shrink, scattering the cannon balls. (or so I was told!) Fortunately, here in Malta, it NEVER gets cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

I dragged Brenda through the intense sun to Fort St. Angelo only to find it closed, and then to Fort Rinella, which of course was most definitely open! Bill A. and his gf, and Brenda and I watched the whole re-enactment. Very impressive. Initially it seems a bit pricey at 5 Maltese lira per person....but all in all, worth it. My friend Bill lighting off a beautiful piece of artillery. I understand this is the only functional howitzer of its caliber in the world.

And above are the re-enactors. Stunning display, and I am glad I did it.
(most of this report was lifted in toto from my "travel" journal ( from the May archives. I added some pictures which I had processed only now! I hope you like it, and if you do, then leave a comment!

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Malta Armour

Back in May, when I was visiting Malta, I presented the curator, Mr. Michael S. of the Palace Armoury one of my armours. You can see the creation of that armour in the archives of this blog. (That would be December 2006)
After seeing the originals again, I was almost tempted to trash the thing...compared to the originals, this one was really rubbish. So many details I got wrong! Oh well, the next one will be better.
On the positive side of the coin, it is well made, solid, functional, and looks pretty good from a distance. It was made from measured drawings and will serve to dress visiting kids just fine! (rather than using real antiques). It is always nice to go to a museum and actually TOUCH the items, and I hope that the experience of touching a real armour will actually thrill a young Maltese and inspire him (or her!) to pick up a hammer and create copies of their living past.
The bottom picture was overexposed, sorry, but it shows the nice backdrop of armours. The top picture came out pretty nice and crisp, shows the quite genuine grins of the participants.
Please click on them to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tom's Breastplate

Unprocessed images from my workshop this week.
Above, I am stretching the bottom edge of the armour. This will make a half inch wide strip onto which I can rivet a lame (narrow piece of metal) which will become the top lame of the faulds.
See how I am using the cross peen hammer to stretch the metal. If I didn't use the cross peen, the anvil would simply dent into the body of the armour, and the flange would not flare out properly.

This is the piece, half flanged out. To this point, we are looking at about 30 hours of bashing, shaping, rolling and finishing. And its not done yet.
click on all these images to enlarge.