My most recent project.
Medieval Armor
I love armor. Don't care much for the Japanese or other Asiatic stuff, but I love medieval European armor, especially suits dating from the late Transition period to just before the time armor ceased to be functional and was relegated to mere ceremonial use. I have definite tastes: I don't like Maximilian with its spindly limbs and gaudy fluting; I'm not impressed by high Gothic's spidery ostentation. My passion is for the Milanese school, with its smooth lines and concern for proportion.

A desire to surround myself with armor as objects of art led to my informal, self-apprenticeship in the craft. Learning by trial-and-error, my early projects were sometimes a little clumsy, but with some diligence I had a few successes. I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism where I met such talents as Tearlock the Profane--a master at Dark Ages armor; Guichart du Chadenac--a exceptional artisan; and Roberto di Milano--the most gifted craftsman I know.

Photos of Some of My Projects
12th Century 12th Century Habergeon
Chainmail Habergeon 5 images
Spangenhelm 3 images
Bracers 4 images
Late 14th Century Late 14th Century Panoply
Arm Harness 14 images
Leg Harness 5 images
Miscellaneous 9 images
Learning the Hard Way

Graduate studies--for myself and later my wife--were very disruptive to my armor pursuits (Try hauling several hundred pounds of anvils and sheet metal stakes around the country in the back of a minivan!) and entirely prevented me from studying under any of the masters that were so willing to share their knowledge. While living on campus at the University of Alabama where my wife worked on her MFA, her professor, Ruth Howell graciously allowed me use of a small corner in the theater's costume shop where I was able to complete the Milanese arm harness shown in the pictures, but to this day, I have yet to set up the full shop I'd love to have. (I don't think the neighbors in my Boulder subdivision would appreciate the coal forge and incessant hammering!)

While in Alabama, I was also fortunate enough to learn a tiny bit of the blacksmith's trade from Bill Shoemaker, an immensely talented Civil War recreationist smith at Tannehill Forge. (I was gratiously accepted as the lone Yankee, though not exempted from much good-natured ribbing!) Mr. Shoemaker

The tools I use are fairly primitive by trade standards. I have almost no professional sheet metal stakes, but have made several useful items from railroad rail and other large chunks of found-iron. I have a throatless Beverly shear which I would not trade for the world, but with no welding equipment at all, I am forced--no doubt for the better--to adhere strictly to period fabrication techniques. (Modern bodyshop equimment is a great temptation to "cheat" on the old methods of hand-raising, -sinking and -forging, but I have had my eye on an affordable English Wheel.) I design and build the tools I need for special projects (like a spring-winder and ring shears for chainmail work), but haven't devoted the financial resources to purchasing proper sheet metal forming tools.

The Technique

The process of forming armor from flat sheets (usually 14 or 16 gauge hot-rolled steel, i.e. approximately 1/16" in thickness) involves two techniques: raising and sinking. To form a domed shape--like a knee cop--one can either pound the metal into a hollow form (a dapping block or simply a hole in a wooden stump), thereby sinking or stretching it to the desire shape; or alternatively, one can hammer the metal plate over a rounded surface to raise the form. Beyond the initial rough forming stage, I resort to the later method as it offers the most precise control. In raising, the metal is hammered thinner in the middle of the sheet. By thinning a constant volume of metal at its center, the worked surface area of the sheet increases, and since it is bounded by a border of unworked metal of the original thickness, the metal has nowhere to go but away from the plane of the sheet: it bulges upward. With persistance--and a lot of noise--a sheet of steel can be raised into a very deep shape, even conical or spicular forms..

Because steel becomes work-hardened--i.e. it's carbon-in-iron crystalline matrix becomes more brittle as it is worked--it is necessary to anneal the piece by heating it to a glowing red and allowing it to cool slowly. Not the dramatic process of quenching which actually hardens the steel, this slow cooling allows recrystallization and relaxes the built-up internal stresses caused by deformation.

Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Brian Zegarski, all rights reserved.