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How to Make Armor – Tip #1 – Start Small
Almost certainly, you, like all of us when we started out, had your eye caught by some full suit of finely etched, engraved, gilded full plate harness, and have already decided, “I’m gonna make THAT!” Well, that’s a great goal to shoot for, but if you set out on your first day on the floor of your apartment with a used road sign, some metal snips, and a carpenter’s claw hammer, you are going to set yourself up for disappointment and probably failure. So my advice is this: start small. A full suit of armor has too many things in it to learn for it to be a first project.
Before you get too depressed over your newly deflated balloon, you should know that this is exactly they way medieval masters became masters of their craft. They had to audition their works on specific parts of armor harnesses; gauntlets, helms, breastplates, etc. Some masters never produced entire suits — they only made specific parts of harnesses as their specialty. So there’s no shame in starting small – the skills are still applicable to the whole of armoring.
Find An Armorer To Learn From
Armoring, without a doubt, is definitely a “hands on” skill. You can, and should, read all you can about armoring, but nothing will teach you to do it like actually doing it. For this reason I highly recommend working in another armorer’s shop if at all possible. I cannot overstate the value in learning this way. The reasons are numerous.
First of all, if you attempt to “go it alone”, you will be learning by the “school of hard knocks”. Now, that’s not to say that you won’t have your share of learning mistakes even working under another armorer, but at least you will have the benefit of someone who’s likely made all those mistakes already and can help you with the solutions. What’s more, by working in an existing armory you will get a sense of how a shop should be set up and stocked with tools. You will learn what tools are absolutely necessary, and which ones only get used occasionally. You will also learn where to acquire these tools, and when necessary, how to make them. And finally, by trying your hand at making armor you will have a chance to decide whether this hobby is for you or not before you shell out lots of money for your own equipment.
Unless you live in the boonies, chances are there may be an armorer nearby. The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) has chapters all over the world, and certainly covers all of the continental U.S. There are certainly many other medieval reenactment groups. If you are reading this, chances are you are already on the Internet – so search around and see what you can come up with. Most armorers are more than willing to teach new folks how to make armor, as long as you are willing to pull your share.
What does “pull your share” mean? That means you respect the armorer and his shop. It means you always offer (and follow through) to pay for materials used. It means bringing your armorer a case of beer now and then. It means doing armor chores for the armorer, like spending a Saturday dishing shield bosses for him. It means always staying after working and helping clean up the shop. It means treating the armorer’s tools like gold – always ask which tool is appropriate for the job if you aren’t sure – if you ever want to piss off an armorer use one of his mirror-faced hammers for peening a rivet. It means listening to what he has to say even if you think you might know a better way. Now, this doesn’t mean you two won’t have gab sessions about what the best way might be (you’ll have hundreds of them). However, when the armorer hands you a hammer and says, “Do it this way,” have the respect to try his way. They way I consider it is this: When you are in an armorer’s shop you are on his “holy ground”. Remember, he is teaching you a skill and turning you into a possible competitor in a market that isn’t that, well, essential anymore!
What if you actually do live in the boonies, and have no armorer to work under, you ask? Well, you can still do it. But like I said, I can’t stress enough how much faster you will learn under another armorer.
Let’s talk about some of the things you will need if you want to work in your own shop.