Thursday, May 28, 2009


Curiosity is a human trait. The number of people who are actually ON the cutting edge of any skill set, be it sales, production, engineering, or social studies are very few.

I asked in an open forum a few months ago "Why should I train my competition?" That being a question which can be applied to almost any business or profession. Though I felt it was a rhetorical question, I was a little curious about what was going on in people's minds when they wanted to come to me and "be my apprentice". (It happens every every single person on that blacksmithing forum.)

The answers were quite illuminating, and I am glad I asked it. Generally speaking, the blacksmiths were united in their answers which were a variation on "I'll do it if I get paid/praised/laid."
The students however seemed to be of three camps....

1) So that the skills don't get lost to perpetuity forever,

2) so that they could massage an arts and crafts bump to do a hobby, and

3) to learn enough that that they could do this as a living instead of working at the fast food franchise.

Answer 2 and 3 were expected and are totally praiseworthy of course, but I was a little surprised at the large number who answered with number one.

Its kind of funny that none of the professional blacksmiths actually said "I want to teach this because otherwise the information will be lost forever." I don't think any blacksmith, metal worker, or pretty much any professional is actually on the "cutting edge" of even re-discovered information. Perhaps people on the outside of the trade feel that that continually developing a new skill set is analagous to being on the "cutting edge", that if there are no new discoveries in the world, there are at least new discoveries in their own life.

It is really not too hard to imagine a black smith or a metalworker who does such stunning work that it stands out like Paul Anka writing and singing "My Way" . We all want that flash of genius and would love if it happened to us! I fear most will simply have to become comfortable with the metalworking equivalent of singing in the shower. The important thing, of course, is to get out and DO IT. Even a shower song is better than no song at all.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Visor'd helm

A fairly standard 10-G-a helm. Called by that designation because it used to be on page ten of the old catalogue and it was the visored version of the seventh one on the list. This is one of the nicer looking helms I make in the "not very expensive" style of helms that I make. The top is made from an 11 gauge steel spinning, and it is all nicely blued in the oven. The rest of the helm is fourteen gauge that is pretty much the way it looks when it comes from the factory...they call this "hot rolled" steel. Personally I like h.r. steel. Some people don't. To ME, it looks like iron "should" look. And it is hard to mistake it for those stainless steel lids they are calling helmets nowadays.
I was asked once if I found the black iron to be really hot in the sun. Interestingly enough, I think it radiates the heat as quickly as it picks it up...there is really not all that much difference in internal temperature between a matt finished "shiny" helm, and a black finished "brain bucket".

I made this helm to fit a little lower on the face than usual. I think that face plate could be raised up some three quarters of an inch and still function. And I will do that if the customer feels that there is just too many layers of padding on the top of his head for comfort. Two layers of half inch foam should be enough. If we go to four layers, well, I'll move the face plate up a bit.

The hinge points are 3/8 in rivets, and the face plate is kept from being driven back into his chin by a pair of solid shoulder rivets, clearly shown in the above picture, although perhaps better shown in the middle picture. The strap is considered to be sacrificial, and extra holes are drilled to enable the customer to tie the visor down with a spare shoe lace if the strap breaks.
And I notice that the buckle is on the wrong is "supposed" to be on the right hand side, out of harms way. oops. Well, I just noticed that now, and I'll just go and reverse that. (tsk tsk, what WAS I thinking!)

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Drew's helmet

All Black. All the Time. A fairly standard 10-G-A helmet like on my web site. Tough. Simple. straightforward. All ready to assemble.
This afternoon is too hot to finish this up. It will be done tomorrow morning. The big stuff is all done and there is, what...2 hours left on this helm. Unless Drew wants a bunch of brass bits on it...

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Viking Sword

click on these images to enlarge. The upper picture is a mockup of how the sword parts which survived the ages would have sat upon a real sword. Below is what the detectorists actually found. The whole story of the find is here...

What we are looking at here are some very nice castings in bronze, the deep incisions would have been lovely and were present in the mould. The space in between the "lobes" were filled in with silver wire (now corroded away), making them a little less prominent. The symmetry of the designs is quite stunning, and I have found that they don't appear on the back.
This find was made by licenced metal detectorists Dan Crowe and Rob Farrer, in the Isle of Man last year.
Manx National Heritage Curator for Archaeology, Allison Fox explained:
“This is only the 13th recorded Viking sword from the Island – but Dan and Rob knew what they were looking at and what to do next, in notifying MNH. Even though they had done exactly the right thing by not cleaning the surface dirt from the finds, when they brought them into the Manx Museum it was clear straight away that we had something very special indeed. Once the artefacts had been initially cleaned by our Conservator, the wonderful designs have really had an impact on all the people who have seen them.
The most decorative part of a Viking sword was usually the handle, or hilt and it is part of this that has survived over one thousand years in the soil. And the decorations are really superb. The pommel (the top part of the sword) looks like a set of knuckles - it is divided into 5 parts, or lobes, each with intricately carved designs. In between the lobes are sets of finely twisted silver wires – this is a technique that we’ve seen a few times on artefacts from the Island. But the shape and style of the pommel hasn’t been found over here previously. Unfortunately the blade of the sword has not survived.”

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Placquart part deux

The backplate all leathered up and ready to go. Below is a side view of the plaquart. A sixteen gauge maltese cross toasted in the oven, and mounted on the face of the plaquart. Not too shabby.

And above you can see the fresh laquer, reflecting the light. I wanted the lac to dry over night before I drill out those temporary pop rivets and install proper rivets. So its not "quite" finished in this picture. Doesn't look too too bad.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Next to last step of making a fancy placquart. The top edges are all rolled, and the mid sections are all properly ballooned out. Don't look so difficult do they? The bottom edges have a proper medieval flare which will sit neatly on the hips. Well, thats the plan anyway.
All that is left is to install the fancy cross on the front, and of course, to hang the buckles on the sides. I like to let the lacquer really really dry before installing the buckles....that way there is a physical separation between the leather and the steel, which inhibits rust.
The flare at the bottom will allow the client to strap on a nice big wide "weight belt" to supplement the smaller one inch strap and buckles. A big weight belt will simply add to the cool look.
This placquart is made from sixteen gauge cold rolled steel, worked over the anvil, and finished on an English Wheel.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Simple knee cops part 4

After wheeling, another check on profiles, curves and edges is in order. Also filing of exposed edges, and any other last minute details have to be taken care of. The wheel leaves the workpiece in a very shiny condition. I do my final finishing with quite a severe pressure, which cleans up any last hammer marks, and does some final shaping. Note that the wheel was not used to create the dish, it was only used to clean up the hammer marks. This is sixteen gauge, and although you "could" do the whole thing on the wheel, it would take several hours to get such a deep dish into sixteen gauge steel. And of course, the metal would be thinned dramatically, likely to well below "legal" requirements.

The last thing is to raise a little lip on the edge, just so that it won't dig into the nice leather greaves and cuisses Ted has. A rolled edge would not be appropriate, however, the nice little flare is easily documented.

The curve is not too deep, and I think it is quite elegant. Now to do the second one exactly the same....

And above is the finished product, with the eyelets installed. All ready to go.
The whole process took me about 5 hours, and I sell them for a measely 85 bucks a pair. Hmmm...may have to see about that price.
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Simple knee cops part 3

And repeat as necessary. Take out the wrinkles... Smooth the inside surface on the wood

check for profile top to bottom, adjust with the big hammer in the background as necessary.

check for profile from side to side.
Most basement re-enactor armour makers quit at this stage since of course, technically it is ready to use for its intented purpose, which is to protect the knee joint. If I was going to cover this knee cop with leather, then I would quit right here as well. However, Ted told me "I want it shiny", so we move on to the next stage.

And if you own an english wheel, take the last of the little wrinkes out of it with a two inch ball.
This will take about 10 minutes out of a two hour job. On the other hand, if you had to planish it all out on a finishing plate, that might take you an hour or two right there, so the wheel really speeds up this job.

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Simple knee cops part 2

The tuck points should be bent around until they are nearly vertical. These are particularly huge tucks, but they are spaced far enough apart to be able to get onto the horn of the anvil. In this case, I am using the horn of my armourer's anvil. (Rounded horns or balls just cause the tucks to open up.) The heel of an ordinary english anvil works almost as well. The idea is now to hit the rounded tuck down into the anvil, driving the metal upon itself, thereby shrinking it.

There are shrinking tools which can purchase or manufacture. I don't own one, but they incorporate vices which prevent the metal from squeezing out sideways when you whack the wrinkle in the middle. I just use the anvil like this. I only bring down the first centimeter or so, leaving the rest of the tuck nice and proud. I'll deal with it later, right now, I am just shrinking the edge. The goal here is to not smash the metal too hard into the just want to bring the wrinkle down against the surface, not cause it to spread out from the impact. Notice how those big tucks have turned into lumps and bumps?
The next step is to work the inside, popping the lumps and bumps out as required. They have a lot of stress in them, and they will easily "oilcan" outwards with a sharp rap with the hammer. I like to do this on the flat part of the wooden anvil...the wood doesn't scar the face of the metal like a steel anvil does.
You can't really see it in the picture, but the "peen" side of the ball peen hammer I am using is rounded to a 3 inch radius, and polished.

Some judicious working with the hammer will smooth out some of the lumps and bumps, and a couple of whacks in the middle will bring the centre up a little. Not really a lot of dishing...just enough to shape the metal. Dishing (smashing the metal down into a dent in the wood) thins the metal, so I don't do it too much. But on the other hand, there is no faster way to get the required profile.

Naturally, dishing causes some more wrinkles in the edge. I have a steel ball (2 inch diameter) which I bring these little wrinkles down by working from the outside. Alternatively, you can work over a surface plate or anvil face with a carefully rounded hammer....same difference. Because many of my readers don't have fancy balls and wheels, I recommend finishing this from the inside, with the workpiece resting on the flat wood of the anvil.
Why not the steel anvil? Well, the heartbreak of seeing all the scars and gouges in the surface of the anvil transfer to the workpiece usually puts paid to that idea. The extra time spent on the wooden anvil is recovered by the fact you won't need to sand the odd marks out of the workpiece when you are done.

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Simple knee cops part 1

Ted P. asked me to make him a set of simple knee cops so that he could fight with his Viking personae. He got some lovely leather work done...but of course, he just needed the knees. Since knee cops are the most basic form of armour, applicable to most any other part of armour, documenting the process would be useful.

You start with the pattern. I use old file folders for that purpose...they are cheap, simple, and always available. I simply measured how long and how wide the knees should be, and since I use a combination of raising and dishing, the finished size is identical to the pattern dimentions. Below, you can see the pattern, the cut out knee cop blank, the tuck pointing tool and the results of the first go 'round with the tuck pointing tool. Below you can see the tuck pointing tool mounted in the vice. The idea is to make flutes in the metal.

As you can see in the below picture the flutes are starting to show up. This is after a little bit of judicious bashing with the hammer into the dent in the wooden anvil.
And so it begins.
There are a few scars on the outside face of the knee cop, most of which should sand out later. I hope...grin!

Then back on the tuck pointer to close up the flutes a bit more.
Tuck pointing is a bit tricky to is technically a shrinking method. The idea being to shrink the metal rather than ballooning it out. The gauge of steel would increase when you tuck point, and decrease when you are just bashing the metal down into a dent in the wood. Tuck pointing is the normal first cannon used when you want to "raise" metal. I tend to do a bit of both, which results in better dimentional stability, and unchanging gauge sizes. Raising is preferred in period armour making since heavier metal allows you to have extra metal available when sanding off hammer marks. I don't care much about that since I use an english wheel to get rid of hammer marks.

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Finished multi piece knee cops

These were kind of fun, now that they are all done. The trouble with doing a job like this is not only do both knees have to exactly the same (but mirror images) but every single lame also has to be exactly the same. And sometimes that can be hard to do!

Oh well, its done now. These are for Sean in Winchester, who had done so much good work for me in the past. About time I got around to getting him some nice knee armour.

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