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Ask me about leatherworking and leather armor

Discussion in 'Research' started by Weaver, Sep 28, 2012.

  1. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    I spent more than a decade working alongside my twin as a leather armorer, making everything from studded soft-leather jerkins to fully articulated, fluted-plate cuir bouilli. I also have some experience making leather garments for reenactment. The tools we used, aside from being made of modern steel, were basically the same kind of tools used during the Middle Ages and Renaissance for such work, so I have a good understanding of techniques as well as materials.
     
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  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Thanks for this.
    One first question...
    Would you know how well does leather armour stand up to heat and humidity more specifically a leather breast plate [more at the cuir bouilli end of the scale (and I had to look that up)]?
    My MC will be going through what is almost a tropical mangrove swamp and I’ve just realised that their armour might melt...
     
  3. FireBird

    FireBird Troubadour

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    Funny, this is something I've been wondering about, so thank you for offering to answer questions

    Just how strong was traditional boiled leather armor? What about other common types?
     
  4. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    Water-hardened cuir bouilli, as oposed to the kind made with wax, isn't particularly vulnerable to heat, but it needs to be hot-water hardened to stand up well to high humidity. (This is personal experience and observation talking.) Cold-water cuir bouilli (technically not cuir bouilli, but the water does make the leather quite firm - less brittle than hot-water hardened, too) will lose its shape if it gets soaked, although good, thick leather is still good, thick leather, and personal experiments confirm that unhardened leather even just 3/8-inch thick will stop a two-handed swing with a broadsword wielded by a rather large, strong person.

    Keep in mind, too, that the wax used to make medieval armor would have been beeswax or some other natural wax, which doesn't harden the leather as much as parafin does, plus beeswax has a nasty tendancy to attract insects... Now, if you wanted to use that problem in your story, have the character with the cuir bouilli armor get chased by evil zombie mega-wasps or something, beeswax-hardened armor is perfect. :)

    I hope that answered your question (without drowning you in too much information). If you need something more specific, just ask.
     
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  5. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    Strong in what way?

    As I said in my reply to CupofJoe's question, leather armor is good at stopping a slash from a sword. Against a stab, not as much, but still good. Nothing is going to stop a spear thrust or a thrust from a large sword unless you have fluted plate metal and get lucky. Leather is excellent against impact - unlike plate metal, it doesn't dent and stay dented. (True story: I'd be dead if not for leather armor's ability to absorb impact. Several years ago, I was on my way back from a medieval faire with my twin - we were there as merchants - when his car was hit from behind by a van whose brakes had failed. I was in the back of the car, and it was only the trunk full of leather armor pieces that saved me from being killed. The back of the car was crushed.)

    Chain is good against slashes, and plate, as I said, can deflect a hit if it is shaped to do so. The trouble with plate is that if it takes a dent, that dent stays until someone can fix it - this can even cause the armor to inflict additional damage on the wearer. Chain is good against slashes because it moves, and wearing it over plate (this was actually done sometimes) adds to the effectiveness of each. Of course, you always want some kind of padding under the armor itself, even if the armor is leather.


    And for gods' sakes, ignore the old game rule about metal plate being harder to hit than chain or leather. Common sense ought to show that this isn't true. Plate is a lot easier to hit; it's just better than some armor types at preventing harm to the wearer. :)
     
  6. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    It occurred to me that some may not know what I mean by some of the terms I use: fluted-plate cuir bouilli, for example.

    cuir bouilli - leg - Mythic Scribes

    THIS is the fluted cuir-bouilli. The shaping is necessary for the articulation on the joints to work properly, although it doesn't have to be quite this decorative.

    leather scale armor - Mythic Scribes

    This is my clone-sibling wearing his leather scale horseman's armor. The arms and legs are cuir bouilli like the red armor in the previous photo.

    The cuir bouilli in both photos is hot-water hardened.
     
  7. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    I have made some items for my SCA persona in leather.
    All basic.
    Several pouches, a suede mantle, a quiver. Currently using leather to edge my shields.
    I have not gotten into decorating the leather other then painting it.

    How easy is it to put a design into leather? stamping?

    (shield edging alittle heavier weight then suede. but the pouches were various weight leather.)
    I bought a box of scrap leather I use for handles on the shields, it has some nice sized pieces that I could practice a design on.

    Like all areas, I recomend at least trying different period activities for the writers interested in the era we tend to write about.
     
  8. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    That's definitely a good idea, sort of like experimental archaeology for writers. :) If you try it for yourself, you'll have a better idea of how it really worked back in whatever period you're writing about. Not to mention the fact that it's fun.


    Stamping leather... I assume you mean vegetable-tanned leather; the chrome-oil-tanned stuff doesn't take stamping well, if at all. A little heavier than what kind of suede? Garment weight (up to 2-ounce), or something heavier? I work with 4-ounce suede most of the time. (With smooth leather, weight/thickness is easy to gauge: it's 1/64 inch per ounce, so 4-ounce leather is 1/16-inch thick. Suede is thicker for the weight because of the napped surface. ...I've noticed that some SCAdian publications about armor, for example, have this information wrong and say that 11-ounce is 1/8-inch thick. *shakes head*) Vegetable-tanned leather that is about 4-6 ounces is good for stamping, and you can always use heavier (as heavier as you can find - I've done tooling on 24-ounce) leather if you like.

    I've only done a little bit of actual stamping of leather, since I prefer to tool (carve/inscribe) it with my own designs. If all you need to do is lines, you can tool those into wet (saturated) veg-tanned leather with no more than a pointed stick of some kind. Stamping should be done on wet leather, too, since that makes the marks deeper and thus show up more. Stamping goes a lot faster, ovbiously, but has the limitation of requiring pre-made stamps of some kind (which can be expensive, especially if you buy them from a hobby store like Tandy), and the available designs 1) will be the same ones everyone else is using, and 2) may not be the best size or shape for your projects. Tooling takes longer and requires more effort (repeatedly carving marks into the leather versus hitting a stamp once with a mallet), but gives practically infinite options for design.

    (An example of simple tooling to outline a painted design can be found here: tooled leather belt - unfinished - Mythic Scribes If you've done painting on leather, you may have already done this kind of work. More complex tooling is just more of the same - more detail lines, texturizing, etc.)

    Does this information help? Do you have questions that are more specific?
     
  9. Brave_Raven

    Brave_Raven Acolyte

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    Do you think a society could develop leathworking before they learn to forge and work with metal? Im thnking of writing about a society that uses obsidian instead of steel or iron weapons and tools.
     
  10. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    Absolutely. You don't need metal tools to hunt the animals, or to skin them, or to tan the leather, or to work it. Bone and stone tools work just fine for that: stone weapons for hunting the animal, stone tools for scraping hair off the hides and for cutting the leather, bone needles to stitch/lace the leather together.
     
  11. Brave_Raven

    Brave_Raven Acolyte

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    Very cool thanks
     
  12. Bikerdoc

    Bikerdoc New Member

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    Help! Armour problems

    My son and I are making a cuir bouilli armor cuirass. 175F for 70s. We made as mistake as it was cooling, and the hardened edges are curled so we can't attach straps/buckles.
    So my question is, is there anyway to redo the edges?
    Various help sites for this topic suggest we may be able to soak it in water and re-shape. Or maybe soak it in warm water. Or maybe hot water. Or maybe we should use a leather softener. Or maybe we're SOL.
    I realize this is a site for writers, FWIW my wife is a (mostly fantasy) writer.
    Thank you very much for any help you can give.
     
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