Wednesday, June 21, 2017

LOW COST ARMOR UPDATE JUNE 2017

NOTE: A COUPLE MORE LINKS HAVE DIED, SO I AM RE-POSTING THIS WITH CORRECTIONS

IT'S BEEN SEVERAL YEARS sine I updated my post on low cost armor. a lot has changed since then, the biggest thing being that Ashcaft Baker has gone out of business. This is a HUGE blow to the SCA and to getting new fighters started in the SCA. Not only did they have the most affordable basket hilts, they produced "starter kits" that were the best way to get people into armo on a budget. They are going to be sorely missed.  

I try to keep up with trends in armor, who the new armorers are and where to go for deals, but it is not an easy task. The rise of Eastern European armorers, most of whom cater to the ACL crowd, had been particularly difficult to keep track of. However, one thing can be said: ten to fifteen years ago, the emerging armorers from the old Eastern block provided an influx of cheap armor that may or may not have been sturdy enough for SCA combat. Theey are now the primary source of high-quality reproduction armor that is built for steel fighting, and the prices show it. 

I've decided to reorganize this new version a bit to start with appearance and then how to achieve it, but the basic premise is still the same. I am not only interested in how to get on the field cheaply but whether or not you can create a reasonably period kit for less than $300. That's a heady task fifteen years later, due to inflation, so I won't hold to that number quite as rigidly any more. 

I am also not saying "be cheap." As a commentor on an early version of this post noted, the SCA is notoriously cheap. It's true. It is in our genes. It comes from our hippie aesthetic and our college dorm roots. The founders of the SCA not only didn't have the resources we take for granted (like an internet that not only promotes commerce in low cost reproductions but the exchange of information and techniques in how to build stuff), they didn't have money. There was NOBODY in the US making and selling authentic garb in 1966. NOBODY who even knew HOW to make armor. The SCA spurred a great rise in creativity and research into these areas, but they did so, at first anyway, as kids living on a budget in college dorm rooms. Very few of the early SCA members were gainfully empoyed. They were also doing it in Berkeley and New York and Chicago in the late sixties and early seventies, an era of plucky do-it-yourself experimentation, when a social movement was rejecting store-bought and corporate-produced items in favor of those you made yoruself (an exception could be made for a used VW microbus to haul you and your gear to tourneys or Greatful Dead concerts, or for an old Norton Comando motorcycle to double as your trusty steed). It was even better if you were learning how to make stuff as you were doing it. Hippies and college students had no money but they had lots of enthusiasm.  

When I first joined the SCA in 1979 I was a 15 year old high school freshman without a job. My first suit of armor was arms and box gauntlets that I made myself with the help of my future knight, 20ga articulated plate legs with 16ga knees and a set of 20ga Laurica that I bought from the guy who had made it, for $20, and a freon can helmet that my best friend's dad had welded for me as a birthday gift. My knight was great at getting people on the field for next to nothing, which was necessary when we were all in high school or college or working minimum wage jobs as 20 somethings. Now people come into the SCA with solid well paying jobs and disposable income and can drop $1,000 at Mandrake or Icefalcon and not worry about it. 

This  article is not for either of those two sets of people. You can still get on the field for next to nothing with some simple tools and some sewing skills. For a brief time I had a set of armor, worn under a t-tunic and harem pants-that came entirely out of garage sales: two catcher's chest protectors worn as boy armor (one front, one back), a flotation belt for kidney protection, a gorget made out of a cervicly collar, catcher's shin guards as knee protection, lacross shoulders, hockey gloves, and a pair of youth motocross grieves on my arms because they worked as rigid vambraces with elbow cops. I taped a shin guard to the inside of my forearm. Only the helmet (still a freon can) was a speciality item The helmet always is. These days you can get cast off plastc pickle barrels and make ugly body armor out of it. If you cut the plates and sew them to canvass or leather you can even make a decent looking visby coat out of it. You can still find hocky vambraces and motocross armor at garage sales. You can get on the field cheap. Please, just cover it up if you do. You can even, fairly easilly, make a barrel helmet out of a plate of steel with no welding--just rivets--that will get you on the field. Patterns for this are all over the internet. Check out the pattern archive section at the Armour Archive for this and lots of other helpful tips. This site should be your first stop after reading this blog post. 

You can also still go to IceFalcon or Windrose or any number of armorers and buy $1,000 suits. You can go to Jeff Wasson  and pay $10,000 for a custom, museum quality 16th Century garniture. But can you, without special tools, metal working knowledge, or artistic sill, get a munitions grade, resonably period suit of armor for around $300, either off the rack or with just a bit of sewing or assembly? 

Yes, and that is what this article is about. 

The first thing to remember is that your look is determined by your silhouette as much as anything else. The most important elements are a helmet and a surcoat, and these are where your efforts should be. The SCA's Known World Handbook has patterns for surcoats and gambessons, and you can find those things on line as well. The main expense is always your helmet. It should be at least 14ga, 12ga is better. It should be made from a well known armorer who makes a lot of gear for the SCA. It can easily cost more than our budget. In fact, it often will. However, there are still a few places where you can still get a period looking (we will make some allowances for a bar cage) helmet at less than $150, which is absolutely essential for this project. 

So decide what you want. In this post I imagine a couple of 14th Century impressions, and a 13th Century one, all munitions grade. Note, that for ANY time in the SCA period, if you are trying to put together a knightly kit, it will cost you. Knights were at the top of the social order, they were at all times part of a complex and expensive weapons system. They way to think of a knight is not as some bozo with a sword, it's as the medieval equivalent of an F-15 fighter jet. Now think about how expensive an F-15 is, and then ad individuality and vanity to the mix, take the technology back 600 years, and you get knightly armor.  When you are starting out in the SCA you are a soldier, a levy, not peasant but not a knight either. You should dress accordingly.

As with all things the prices listed in this post are subject to change without warning, and some of the armorers may have gone out of business by the time you read this. 

The two armorers I use most often are both armoring laurels who make affordable mutions grade armor at good prices: Master Alail Horsefriend and Master Cet Donegal.  (Among other things, Alail made the helm I wear using Rough from the Hammer parts made by Ronald Wilmot, and then Cet put the bar cage on it: so three armoring laurels worked on my helm, which in the end cost me less than $100). Cet purchased Rough From The Hammer from Duke Ronald and makes rough unfinished parts as well as custom pieces. As I write this his web site is undergoing a reconstruction and he doesn't have his catalog up, but you can contact him there. This is the place to go to REALLY keep the prices down. Cet’s stuff comes rough finished and un-strapped—he sells parts to other armorers who finish the products and resell them. On his most recent price list, elbow cops from this shop were $15 a pair. Shoulders are $20 a pair. He makes very affordable helmets, but only as custom orders. Alail also has some great prices on munition grade armor: a sugarloaf helm for $100 in 14ga mild, splint legs for $120, splint arms for $80 and stainless for only 150% of his base price. Here is a basic suit put together from his catalog:

Great Helm, $80
Elbows, $20
Knees, $25
Churburg Breast plate (w/ Kidney Protection) $120
Simple Gorget, $40
Spaulders, $20

That totals out to $305. We still need a few pieces. We have to make cuises and vambraces and we don’t have hand protection. Some scrap leather to make vambraces and cuisses out of, a basket hilt and shield basket, and you’ll have a suit of armor most of which came from an armoring laurel within our target price. Not too shabby. Then add a gambeson and a nice surcoat and you will look very knightly.

To complete the project you have to pick and choose pieces. Some armorers have expensive helms but reasonable legs. One has the best price on bascinets but their gorgets are expensive. In every case to keep prices down avoid buying cuises and vambraces. Those are easy to make. I want to put together not just SCA armor, but a kit that, if not historically accurate, is at least evocative of a single time period. Below are a few more kits which fit the bill.

Crusader Kit:
From True Hearth Armory
• Teardrop Helm $100
• Standard gorget $50

From Bokalo’s Armoury
• Demi Gauntlet $30

From Rough From The Hammer
• Fanless elbow cops, no wings, pair $12
• Fanless knee cops, no wings, pair $13
• Spaulder A $13
• Kidney Plates $20

That’s $238. Now invest in Period Patterns #101, available from several SCA merchants, sewing sites, and amazon for $20.
 

Make the long, short sleeved crusader gambeson, reinforced with some of the plates from Rough from the Hammer. Make the gamboized cuisses, also included in the pattern, and attach to those the kneecops using leather lacing or cord. Use an inexpensive canvass and cotton batting, and materials for this should be about $40. They are not required under SCA rules, but some kingdoms require vambraces, and they are really a good idea. You will need to make some out of scrap metal or heavy leather, but the elbow cop is the hard part and you bought that.

We are now SCA legal. Total for this project before shipping is $298, including the cost of the pattern, which really shouldn’t count towards our total since it will be used several times over. Note: I didn’t include materials for a shield, but my first several shields were free anyway—scrap plywood, discarded garden hose and an old belt for straps.  Edge it in alluminum chanelling.

Regarding hands: Ashcraft Baker is gone, but the Ren Store still sells basket hilts for $20. (shield baskets same price). Bless their hearts. Still a good spot for beginners. Gauntlets would be at least $120 a pair. Good gauntlets would more than double the cost. Go with the $20 baskets.  You will want a cup, and some elbow pads (you don't need knee pads with the gamboised cuises). This  raises our cost by about $50. Guess what, we are just around $350. 

14th Century Kit #1
One slightly more expensive variation is to turn this into a Wisby suit. Do everything as above, except don’t get the helm or the or make the gambesson. Instead, invest in the Wisby kit from Polar Bear Forge ($90 in aluminum)
. For backing you can use leather or the pattern that came with Period Pattern 101. Period Patterns #102 even has a pattern for the coat itself.  Now top it off with the $80 great helm from Horsefriend Armory.   

14th century suit #2

From Illusion Armory
• 14 ga. Bascinet (the 16 ga is only $85, but please get the 14ga). $110

From Bokalo’s Armoury
• Pinned dog collar gorget $38
• Demi Gauntlet $30

From Rough From The Hammer
• Fanless elbow cops, no wings, pair $12
• Fanless knee cops, no wings, pair $13
• Globose Breastplate $65

From Ren Store.
• Basket Hilt  $20
• Shield Basket $20

That comes to $308. NOW: get both Period Patterns #101 and #102. Make the gamboized cuisses from pattern #101 and the jupon (short, long sleeved gambeson) from pattern #102. Materials for the jupon and cuisses, again, are about $40. Use some sole leather for vambraces. Note that this suit doesn’t have shoulder protection. That's another $13 from Rough From The Hammer.

Really, the secret is to get a good looking helmet. The rest of your hard points can be armored fairly inexpensively. Then cover it up with a good surcotte and you won't look like a schlub.

With the exception of Polar Bear Forge, all of the armorers listed above are ones that I have done business with personally. I included Polar Bear because Mad Matt's  and GAA went out of business and I needed somebody who makes a Wisby coat kit. That piece is the only one that I cannot say I have personally inspected. All the others-- Rough From The Hammer, Horsefriend Armory, Bokolo's Armory, Truehearth, The Ren Store, Mandrake, Illusion, and IceFalcon, are all places that have purchased stuff from and have been satisfied with. Jeff Wasson and Ugo Serrano are people who's work I cannot afford but which I've inspected, and who, lets face it, have sterling reputations. Although I haven't used each and every piece listed in this post, I've bought stuff from all these armorers and don't hesitate to recommend them as businesses.

That being said, here is the standard caveat: SCA combat is a rough sport. You can get hurt. You do this at your own risk. I don't endorse directly any of the specific products mentioned here, and am not responsible nor liable for anything that happens to you while you are using them. 

A word about my own kit, pictured on this blog in a number of places. I'm not big into persona. I'm an SCA Knight, and my persona is SCA Knight. My inspiration for the knight I want to be comes not from history but from my youth: Sir William The Lucky, Duke Paul of Bellatrix, Duke Radnor of Guildemar, Duke James Greyhelm, Duke Rolf the Relentless and my knight Sir Alfrik Favnesbane chief among them. I'm not trying to be Marshal or Charney or Bayard. My own aesthetic for the past several years has been to present an impression of a 13th Century knight fighting in a brouhard--that is to say a rebated tournament in which swords made of whale bone or even, soetimes, cane were used. In other words, when they fought in period the way we fight in the SCA. I've recently (finally) gone back to gamboised cuises with soup-can knees and away fro the plastic legs I'd been wearing (which were supposed to be a temporary fix three years ago). Most of my armor--kidney belt, pauldron's vambraces including elbows, and even my gauntlets, are courboli leather. I get most of it from Torvaldr's Leather Works As soon as I can save enough for his leather Globose I'm getting that too for when I fight without a shield (I'm currently using a Kendo kit for that, worn under my surcotte, of course). Then I'll replace my current courboli shoulders with his cops, and eventually my knees as well. That is how I stay relatively period--by fighting in the type of stuff a medieval knihgt would wear if he were fighting with rattan. (I do have a bar cage--which would be much later) 

It is 62 days until crown. I am nursing a wrist injury, and will not be in armor till after Barleycorn at least. 

3 comments:

Brent Davis said...

Everyone seems to forget you can get full stainless gauntlets from Ward. Metals for ~$150. These, again, are 16ga STAINLESS STEEL mitten gauntlets for $150

Anonymous said...

150 is half of 300 so why spend so much on a single item for your $300 kit?

Anonymous said...

And you can get Sir Andrews (Andy Ward) to make you 18 gauge stainless gauntlets for the same price (without the lifetime guarantee).

I think they are just as safe and a bit lighter. $120 a pair plus $15 shipping. What a deal!

Note that his website now says "Our shop only has gauntlets for order. Due to personal circumstances, no other orders are available to be made at this time."


http://www.wardmetal.com/index.html

Leif
(Who can't comment using his Google ID because he's on his work computer). :)