Up to our necks in it

Ripped a cow in half yesterday. Tore into it like a pack of velociraptors. Sectioned it off, scattered it amongst us, cut it to shape.

Started with half a cow actually. It’s skin, to be a little more honest. A full side of tooling leather. Six gorgets for the class, to start. After that maybe a set of demi/clamshell gauntlets for everyone. Some of the students of Valkyrie WMA gathered in our living room for our first armour making session. We started out with leather because it’s a little less intimidating to begin with, and it’s easier to see how small shaping differences can have a big effect. Leather is squishy enough that you can mold it by hand and see how it feels on the body. You can do that with metal, but you have to spend time building hammer skill first. It’s tempting to take short cuts with steel and say “good enough” when you start. Hopefully this sort of beginning will keep people going in spring when we start to put hammer to steel.

The first thing we did was learn to make our own patterns. We started with the fun trick I learned from Chris Moone…aluminum foil. We wrapped our necks in it, and smoothed it down. Then we grabbed markers and sketched out on the foil the shape of the finished gorget we wanted. I provided some assistance, explaining about articulation points and were lames and support were needed. One we finished that up, the foil was carefully cut and flattened out, giving us the first rough pattern. We snipped out the pattern pieces from the flat foil and transferred them to paper for actual pattern pieces, and did some final adjustments.

One that was done, I showed everyone how to play tetris on the leather side with all the pattern pieces, as we marked out our cut lines, labelled and initialed the pieces-to-be…and then split for dinner. Which was mostly cow, oddly enough. And much enjoyable talk about the smell of wet leather and the shaping thereof, which earned us many interested looks from the waitress. We told her it wasn’t what she thought, but had to do with swordplay. Probably would have been better off letting her think we were a weekly BDSM club meeting. Oh well…

The next step was cutting out all the leather, which, as always, involves swearing, cursing and re-cutting a piece or three. The cut pieces then had the edges re-cut if needed. Then we soaked the leather and did an initial fitting, fixing up any issues. Once things looked okay, it was time to correctly finish the edges. I got to show everyone how to use different kinds of slickers, and demonstrate what a good clean edge looked like.

That kind of wrapped up the day. Some people spent a little time working on tooling and decorating their pieces, but mostly the next step is going to take another full day. We’ll give the leather a real soaking…a few minutes, if not half an hour. The we will do the serious rough shaping work, possibly some hammer work to shape and compress the leather a little. Once the rough shape is in, we will dye the pieces and toss them in an oven at 250. I’ll check the pieces every ten minutes or so until they reach the plastic phase, at which point we will quickly do any last minute fine fitting or adjustment…and then back in the oven until thoroughly dry. Once dry, and while still hot, we will start working the wax into the pieces. Mostly I just rub paraffin into the hot leather until it isn’t absorbed anymore, but I sometimes mix in a little beeswax. The wax adds a wee bit of stiffness, but mostly serves to protect the now hardened leather from sweat and moisture.

Of the wax is impregnated, we’ll use fingers to smooth and polish the surface, and then buff with a cloth to get a nice smooth finish. After that we move on to articulation, punching holes and riveting. The last step is strapping, which involves cutting and finishing the strap leather, punching holes, riveting in the buckles, and the riveting the straps on to the now complete gorgets. One more day should do it.

Of course, being fencers, we didn’t spend the whole day just working with leather. Got to introduce Bad Carrot and Doran to the joy of Zweihander fencing. Squeak and I got to be elegantly thuggish with each other and did a little of la Canne du sportif with each other. There was some rapier slow work going on, too. Good fun and smiles, freaked out new neighbours, and a muddy mess made in the front lawn grass.

I’m not sure how better a Saturday with friends could be…