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Amtgard Armoring: An Introduction
[01/30/2014] [Avi]

So you've decided that you want to start making armor. Whether you want to last longer in militia games, have a certain look you want to achieve, or are trying to use all of your favorite class's features, making your own armor is a truly rewarding experience. Having made several pieces in a few different styles, I've learned, often the hard way, a few things that I wish someone had been there to tell me at the beginning. I will be placing an emphasis on plate-based armors, but most of these points can be applied reasonably to practically any armor type. While I'm not going to address any actual armoring techniques in this article, I hope that these general points should make entry level armoring easier.

Shop Safety: Before I get into armoring itself, I cannot stress workshop safety enough. I grew up in my father's carpentry workshop, so I learned these from an early age. For those who haven't been around a shop of any kind, here are some basic safety tips. For those of you that are familiar with shop safety, a reminder never hurts.

There are a few points that apply in all cases. Whether you're cutting cloth or using a chainsaw to make a dishing form, be careful and know your tools. If you're unsure of how that bench grinder operates, ask someone or read the manual. Ensure that you have adequate lighting. The less of your work that you can see, the more likely you are to make a mistake or injure yourself. The human brain has a limited ability to focus on a given task, so take breaks! For a normal task, you can work effectively for about 2 hours at a time. After that, relax for 15 to 30 minutes. If you're working on something that requires intense concentration, work for 15-20 minutes then rest for 5 minutes. Last amongst the general tips, keep a first aid kit on hand. Accidents happen, but you can prepare for them.

Power tools and metal working have a few other things that are particular to them. First of all, wear safety goggles. If you can't see, you can't work or fight. Second, WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES. Getting hit on your arm with a hot shard of metal hurts badly enough. Imagine it hitting your eye. In addition to safety goggles, you should invest in good leather gloves and hearing protection. You will slip with a tool at some point and cut metal tends to have really sharp, really nasty edges. The leather gloves will offer a good degree of protection. As for your ears, loud noises damage your hearing, and the more you are exposed to noise, the worse the damage will be. Ventilation becomes a key issue here as well. Metal work throws lots of metal and silicon dust into the air and some chemicals can give off hazardous fumes. Make certain you have space to breathe and consider a face shield. Lastly, wear safety goggles.

Selecting Your Armor Type: When deciding what type of armor to make, there are a few things to consider. Assuming that you have access to whatever tools you are going to need, you still need to ask yourself a few questions. Are you aiming for a certain point value? Is your goal to achieve a certain look for your persona? When do you need the armor? For what rule sets are you building the armor? Do you cross-game at all? All of these factors weigh upon the decision of what type of armor to make, but how you weight them can vary greatly amongst individuals.

To give an example of how these balance, we'll use my current project. Since I love playing warrior, I can aim for whatever total I want, but 6 points gives me the most bang for my class feature buck. My persona is late 12th- mid 13th century Norman English, which means that maille is spot on as far as looks go. However, I place more weight on practical considerations such as point value. As of this writing, I play under V7.7, but V8 is in play testing. If I don't want to worry about the value of my armor under V8, I have to account for both rule sets. In addition to Amtgard, I also play in the SCA. Since I don't particularly want to have separate kits for the two, I need to build something that satisfies the armor rules for both.

After weighing the desires for one kit to meet all three rule sets, something full point value for warrior, and the goal look, I decided on plate since it fulfills the 6pt requirements for both V7.7 and V8. In the end, it doesn't matter how you prioritize these things, but you should still consider them all.

Research: What? Research? I thought this was a game, not a class! Armor research is an extremely important part of the process, but it shouldn't be intimidating. The vast majority of your research phase can be as easy as looking at pictures of your intended armor and reading on how it should be executed. There are plenty of great websites to read, and museums (if you're lucky enough to live near one) can be sources of inspiration.

One big thing to be aware of is that most fantasy, anime, or video game armors should be taken with a grain of salt... or a shaker of salt, some lime, and a shot of tequila. Those armors are often designed solely to look cool on a TV or computer and not to be worn by actual fighting humans. Even if you've seen them worn by cosplayers, the weird bits are often done with craft foam or paper-mache, not steel or leather! There are exceptions to most rules, and I would be remiss if I didn't address a major one here. The vast majority of armor from The Lord of the Rings movies is perfectly usable with slight modifications.

Resources: There are some amazing resources of information available, particularly online. While museums are great to visit and the library will often have some books on the subject of armor, the internet is often faster and easier as a tool. For online resources, there is one website that I cannot stress enough: The Armour Archive (armourarchive.org). It's free to join, and the articles and discussion forums contain a great deal of information. The Arador Armor Library (arador.com) is another good option. It has quite a few good articles and how-to guides for free. As far as sites with pictures go, Icefalcon Armory's catalog (icefalcon.com) has some excellent close-ups of their work. Stonekeep Armory (spiers-saddlery.stores.yahoo.net) is another source of pictures and has a good description of generic sizing, rather than custom fit information. Obviously, once you have an idea of a specific piece you want to construct, Google is your best friend.

Tools: No matter what type of armor you're making, investing in the right tools will make your life significantly easier. While awesome armor can be made entirely with hand tools (after all, they didn't have power tools pre-1650), technology allows us a few short cuts. Sewing machines speed up garbing significantly, and a bench grinder will deburr a piece of metal faster than a set of files. Having deburred steel with both a Dremel with a grinding bit and a bench grinder, I spent more on Dremel bits for one set of brigandine greaves than I did on a bench grinder. Additionally, the bench grinder is much faster. By spending $60 on a grinder, I saved myself hours of time and a couple of hundred dollars for Dremel bits. The right tool for the job, and you'll save time, money, energy, and frustration.

Assuming that you're making plate based armor such as brigandine, lamellar, or plate, there are a few general tools that you will need. The basic steps you will be taking involve cutting, deburring, shaping, punching holes in, and assembling your steel. For cutting, I use a jigsaw, a Dremel, a hacksaw, and aviation snips depending on the size and detail level of the cut. Choosing which tool requires practice, but any of them will work. A Beverly shear would work better than most of the above options, but they tend to be bulky and somewhat beyond the price range of a single person. Deburring can be accomplished with metal files, a Dremel, a bench grinder, or anything else that will remove small, nasty bits from edges and smooth the edges of the steel. Generally, I start with the grinder and then use the Dremel and files to hit areas that are too small or tight to get with the grinder. Punching holes in the steel can be accomplished with a drill or a steel punch, such as the Whitney #5 Junior. The gauge and hardness of the metal will determine which is best. Assembly simply requires a way to peen rivets. This translates to a hard surface and a ball-peen hammer.

Shaping the steel has a few special required tools. Shaping falls into a few basic categories, such as dishing, fluting, raising, and planishing. For these processes, you need the right hammers and shaping forms. The basic ones needed are a ball-peen hammer, a dishing hammer, a soft face hammer, and a planishing hammer. The soft face can be as simple as a rawhide or wooden mallet and the ball-peen can be bought at Walmart. The planishing hammer is somewhat difficult to find, but most auto-parts stores carry them. A dishing hammer is the most difficult to find. Occasionally one will come up for sale on Ebay or the Armour Archive, but making one is fairly easy. Starting with a 3lb engineer's or mini-sledge hammer, use your bench grinder to round the face. Afterward, polish it to a shine using finer and finer grits of sand paper (see Arador's article on making a dishing hammer).

Shaping forms can be made from any of several things, but the most common today are dishing forms, fluting channels, and ball-stakes. Of these, the only one that is even remotely difficult to make is the ball-stake. For dishing, a bowl shape dug into the face of a log makes a wonderful form; as with making a dishing hammer, Arador has an excellent article on how to do this. Fluting channels are simply a groove dug into a piece of wood that you use a hammer and chisel to push the steel into a ridge shape. Mine are simply chiseled out of a 1”x6” board. For raising a piece, the forms can be as simple as a length of pipe or baseball bat to around which to push the steel down. Ball-stakes are the tough ones. These are used for planishing, to make the surface of your armor nice and smooth. In a pinch, a large trailer hitch can do double duty as a ball stake. Most of these can be easily made or purchased at a local hardware store.

Tool Suggestions Summary:

Cutting: Jigsaw*, Hacksaw*, Dremel*, Aviation Snips*, Beverly Shear
Deburring: Metal Files*, Dremel*, Bench Grinder*
Punching: Drill*, Whitney Punch
Shaping Tools: Ball-peen*, Soft faced mallet*, Planishing Hammer, Dishing Hammer, Cold Chisels*
Shaping Forms: See above
Assembly: Ball-peen hammer*, Hard surface* (such as mini-anvil or back of a bench vise)
Generally Useful: Clamps*, Sandpaper*
*Available at Walmart, Lowes, or Home Depot

Armoring can be extremely rewarding hobby within our game. Whether to help you survive a little longer in a battle game or as a way to look cool during the day, the right armor for you can make a world of difference. The process of making armor yourself allows you to better understand how it moves, and gives you the chance to make a little money on the side. Proper research, particularly making good use of available online resources will save you not only money on wasted materials, but significant amounts of time. Investing in your tools acts much like research: a little money spent on the right tool saves hours down the road.

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