Introduction: Battle Ready Medieval Leather Armor
Second Prize in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016
In this instructable, I will be showing how to make a medieval style leather gorget.
I started this instructable over 5 months ago, as part of my medieval Templar costume for Halloween. At some point, I decided to make this more historically accurate and battle ready. I hope the techniques in this project help you make your own sat of leather armor!
I will be using a lot of armor terms you may not be familiar with, or not know the makes of. Here is some information about the armor you will be making. Keep in mind that there is little evidence of leather armor in the late medieval, as leather would have decomposed, so this project is not completely historically accurate.
Gorget- The gorget was a late medieval piece of armor, made of metal or leather, that protected the wearer’s lungs and heart from sword blows. Additionally, other pieces of armor were attached to it to provide more protection.
Pauldrons (or spaulders)- Spaulders were a single plate of steel or leather covering the shoulder with bands (called lames) joined by straps of leather or rivets. This made a flexible, yet strong, piece of armor that could move with the same degree of motion as the wearers arm.
Rondels( or Besagues)- A rondel (from the French word for round) is a circular piece of metal or leather used for protection, as part of a harness of plate armor, or attached to a helmet, breastplate, or gorget. These round pieces of leather or steel protected the auxiliary arteries from attack. See, you’re learning stuff already!
You may recognize the design from the popular show Game of Thrones, where several characters use similar armor. This design can be used for anything from cosplay to larp, as it has a very versatile look. Keep in mind that some of the techniques I will use will seem advanced for beginners, so, if you are new to leathercrafting, I recommend reading up on the subject before starting.
*The use of the words “battle ready” in the title does not mean I will take responsibility for any harm as a result of those testing the strength of the leather. The term was used here as for illustrative purposes. I do not take responsibility for any injuries inflicted through accident or carelessness. In this project we will be cutting, soaking, hardening, dying, and finishing the leather to make a set of real leather armor.
Supplies and tools- I use a variety of tools in this project. In later steps, I will highlight some alternative tools you can use if you do not own ones made specifically for leatherworking. If you are on a budget, and are comfortable using tools other than the ones I used in this project, feel free to use what you have.
Ok, let’s do this! Onward noble crafters!
Step 1: Supplies and Tools
Supplies- The first thing you need to get is the leather, as nearly everything in this project will be using leather from the same hide. Real leather armor is made from hides that are 4.8 mm (12 oz.) or thicker. As you probably won’t be riding into a real battle anytime soon, you have the luxury of choosing a thinner hide, which is usually cheaper.
When buying leather, you need to take into account the thickness, quality, size and tanning. This may seem daunting, but there are many resources online. One I found most helpful was Tandy Leather’s website, which has information that can help, along with customer service to answer questions. https://www.tandyleather.com/en/leather-buying-gu...
For my armor, I used 4mm (10 oz.) Veg-Tanned double shoulder, which is the best for this project (You can also use “Armor leather” but it is more expensive). Keep in mind, the thicker the leather, the easier it is to cut with a knife, but thicker is more expensive. A single shoulder (See link) is the amount of leather needed to complete this project, I just chose a double because it was on sale for cheaper than a single. Veg tanned leather is important because it is tough, dyes easily and is easy to harden.
- 10-15 oz. leather (anything over 6 oz. will work)
- 4-5 oz. leather (for straps)
- Gel-Antique dye
- Leather strips (optional)
- Leather lace (square or round)
- Leather satin sheen finishing product (optional)
- Large snap rivets (Any other kind can work)
- Q-tips (optional)
- 8 small buckles
- Antique Lion decoration (optional)
- Pen or marker
- Crafting knife (or utility knife)
- Leather scissors (optional)
- Steel rivet setter
- Hole punch (or electric drill)
- Edge burnishing tool (optional)
- Rubber mallet
- 6-Gallon bucket
- Three sponges (these will be ruined in the process)
- Poly cutting board (optional)
- Hair dryer (optional)
Many of these products can be found in your local craft store, or can be ordered online through amazon. The buckles were hard to find, as they were hand cast brass. The ones used in the project can be found here (Here and here ). Less expensive buckles can be used, but I like the authentic medieval look these provide.
The antique lion was originally a door knocker, but the ring was missing. I found it at a local antique store, and you can find similar ones at garage sales and flea markets. If all else fails, you could use a modern one, or search eBay for the right item. I like the look it gives the project, but it is not required, you could choose to use something different, to tool a design into the front if you want!
The rivets are colored an antique brass, as that is a color I use throughout my project with the buckles and decoration. You could easily use any other color rivet, as this is your project. The most important piece of this project are the patterns.
Step 2: Safety First!
Woah there, hold up a second! You might want to look over some safety guidelines first! Leatherworking can be dangerous, if you are not careful. It may sound stupid now, but, trust me, you will thank me later.
- Always wear eye protection when stamping or punching leather and closed-toed shoes. Always. Not buts. Gloves can also be a good idea
- Always cut in a direction away from your body and appendages when using a leather knife or cutter.
- It is easier to cut from right to left when you are right handed and from left to right when left handed.
- If you drop a knife or cutter do not attempt to catch it. Let it fall to the floor. This is how most people get hurt. Including me.
- Never run with a pair of leather shears or leather knife/cutter in your hand. Just don't.
- When using a mallet or maul, strike the head of the tool accurately and firmly to achieve the desired pattern effect, cut, or punch hole. Do not overstrike the tool.
- Do any dyeing and finishing outside, as some may contain chemicals that are dangerous if inhaled.
- Put away all sharp (or otherwise) tools when not in use.
- Always use gloves when dyeing leather.
- Do not touch the hot hairdryer to skin, and keep a layer or two to avoid nasty burns.
- In the event you are hurt, to not panic, wash the wound with soap and water and take a break to avoid further injury. Leatherworking involves lots of knives and pointy objects, and there is always a possibility you can hurt yourself.
Now that we've got this boring (important) stuff done, lets get back to the project.
Step 3: Patterns, Get Your Patterns Here!
When I began this project, I could not find any existing pattern for a medieval gorget, so I was forced to design my own.
The design I came up with is based off of a 15th century style, with a pointed front. There are very few historical examples so this may be inaccurate to what a knight would have actually worn. My design has two main pieces, attached with buckles so you can easily take on and off the armor. I spent hours working on the design, I used a shirt to make sure the design would fit by body.
Because of this, you should print off the design, and trace I onto a shirt that fits you well, as I will not have the same body proportions as you. You should adjust the design to fit your body, e to ensure a good fit. As a reference, the point of the gorget came down between the pectoral muscles, and the back piece mostly covered my shoulder blades. The sides were a few inches short of my shoulders, to make space for the pauldrons.
There are multiple patterns, two for each piece of the gorget, and one for the symmetrical pauldrons. There is also one for the straps and the rondels. You will need to either print off a second paper, or simply reuse the same pattern twice for each. You will need four short straps, and four buckle straps. You will also need four long straps, and two of the rondels.
The straps that hold the pauldrons together are not included, as the size of the pauldrons themselves impacts the strap, which will change depending on your size. As I said before, you may need to resize the patterns to fit your body, so make sure it will fir before you continue to the next step.
Due to what browser you use, the patterns may or may not be full size for downloading. In this case, click the link Gorget Pattern project">here to get them full size (all patterns will fit on a standard U.S. size printing page)
Step 4: Knife Time!
Now that you have modified the design to fit your body, you should redraw it on paper, and cut it out as well as possible, as you will be tracing it onto the back of your leather. Make sure this is the grain side, or the rough side of the leather.
Go slowly, as you don’t want to make any mistakes. No pressure, as you can correct any mistakes by simply drawing a new line. Draw the parts at least a ½ inch apart, to avoid problems when cutting the pieces out. Important: The Back and Front pieces have been cut in half and are separate pages make sure your "Front" piece (P1, P2) and your "Back" pieces (P1, P2) are a single piece. Tape both sides together to avoid confusion.
Hold onto your hats, ladies and gents, as we will be cutting out the pieces next!
Grab your knife, and get ready do some cutting. Hold up, not so fast, you need to have something under your leather when cutting. First, you need to think about the surface you are cutting over. The knife will go through the leather, and scratch the surface under it. You might want to think about a cutting mat like the one I mentioned in the list of tools. You could also just use a flat piece of plywood, although that may dull the knife blade. You cannot cut over concrete surfaces, as that will break the blade.
Ready? Ok. You want to start by using the tip of the knife into the leather, and cutting using long, slow cuts towards yourself. Make sure the leather is completely flat, so tape the edges down to keep it from moving it around while you cut it. Be careful, as the knife can cut you the same way it cuts leather. While cutting, leave a small margin of error around the edge, you can always take away material, but never add it. If you have leather cutting scissors, you can either use them to cut the leather into shape, or use them to trim off unnecessary material after cutting it out with a knife.
Keep the knife blade at a 45-degree angle to the leather. Some leather knives have an angle so you don’t have to bend your wrist. Go slow, and take your time. Now that you have cut the leather out, the edge will inevitably end up a little uneven, and have some small bumps and divots on the side. To fix that, take some fine grit sandpaper to even out the edges. Next, take your hole punch tool and place it over where the design dictates you need to punch them.
Use a tubular centerpunch by holding it as straight as you can, and hitting it 3 times with the mallet. Make sure you have the wood board or ply mat underneath, as the punch will need to go completely through the leather. I strongly advise against using a drill, as it can do a lot of damage to the leather if not used carefully.
Next are the straps. You want to cut these out of the thinner leather if possible. The steps are similar to the previous instructions. Use a straightedge ruler (preferably metal) to cut out straps that will fit the width of your buckles. The long straps I used (keep in mind that you will also have to adjust the size to your body) were 12 inches long, and 3/8th inches wide.
You will also need to make similar straps to hold the pauldrons together. Start by checking the distance between the holes. When measuring, remember that each lame of the pauldron covers the one below it, so the rounded part does not show. The edge, then, should look straight, as the rounded to half is covered by angled half the previous one. Mark where the holes will go, as this is what holds the pauldrons together. Make sure you have spaced out where the rounded shoulder piece will go as well.
Step 5: (Optional) Hardening the Leather
This step is necessary for hardening the leather. I you don’t want to, or have the time, this step can be skipped. This is what makes the leather "Battle ready"
You will need a large 6-gallon bucket. You will need to fill this with warm (warm water is absorbed faster) water. Place the main two pieces on the bucket, and leave them for 12 to 24 hours to soak. The leather will take a while to absorb the maximum amount of water. The leather will turn the water brown, and may stain the container. I do not recommend putting leather in a container used for food or drinking water.
The pauldron pieces can be put in the same bucket, but I kept them separate. If you used pen or marker, keep the grain side from pressing against the front of other pieces because the pen may transfer over to the flesh side and leave you with a permanent mark (as you can see from the pictures, that's what happened to me).
Now that your leather has been soaking for a while, grab your hair dryer. Take one of the pieces out of the bucket, and grab an oven mitt. When you take the leather out, you will find that it is extremely flexible. This is your chance to mold the leather into shape so it fits your body. This is very difficult to do on your own, so grab a friend (preferably one who has a similar body type). You could alternately use a mannequin (be careful, plastic melts). To avoid burns, use a sweatshirt and some towels to separate the hair dryer from the skin. Be careful, as you could easily burn yourself or your friend.
Set the hairdryer to its highest heat setting, and keep it more than two inches above the leather surface. Remember to keep the flesh side up, not the grain side. Move the hairdryer back and forth, making sure to dry the leather evenly.
You will be able to tell what parts are drier than others because they will be lighter (water makes the leather darker). It will take a few minutes for the leather to take a shape, and you can take it off of your model. The leather will still take some time to dry, so the longer you spend using the hairdryer, the harder the end result will be.
If you are experienced with leatherworking (or feeling lucky) you can accelerate this process by placing the leather on a cookie sheet, over tinfoil, in the oven. Keep the leather at 100 degrees, and check every 5 minutes for burning. This will achieve the hardest results, but you are at risk of ruining the leather by either drying it out, or burning it. Remember to mold the leather first.
If you mess up with the molding step, just put the leather back into the water for another 12-24 hours. This will allow you to go back and fix the mistake. Before you dye the leather, you might want to finish the edges. Start by using the sandpaper to give the edges an even feel. Edge burnishing is a complicated process, that can easily take up an entire tutorial by itself. If you decide to finish the edges, please view this excellent instructable jessyratfink made (hope she doesn’t mind) https://www.instructables.com/id/how-to-burnish-le...
Step 6: Dyeing Your Leather
Now it’s time to dye the leather. I will be using a gel dye, but you may use any other variant of leather stain. I like the used, weathered look the antique gel gives the leather. You need to lay down paper bags, or cardboard, as this will satin everything. Put on your rubber gloves, as the dye works on human skin just as well, and can take weeks to come off (trust me, it’s not good).
Take two sponges (different colors help when you need to tell which one is which). One for application, one for removal (dye on, dye off). Apply a liberal amount of antique to one sponge. Work into leather, rubbing briskly in a circular (small circles) motion until surface has an overall, even color. Remove excess with the other sponge, slightly damp. Continue rubbing until surface achieves a mellow gloss. Dye only on the flesh side, as dyeing on the grain side as well will cause the satin to wear off on anything you are wearing underneath. Allow it to dry completely. There is a demonstration of how best to use the dye above.
To dye the edges, q-tips make the job easy. Just dip the q-tip into the dye, and cover the edges.
It can take up to 10 hours for the dye to completely finish drying, so be patient. Don’t panic if the leather looks different from the color advertised on the outside of the bottle, it will change over time to match the color.
Step 7: (Optional) Finishing Your Leather
To start finishing your leather surface, you need to cover the surface in an even coat, wiping the excess off with a paper towel. The leather should be clean and dry before you start. Apply a light even coat of Satin Sheen with a slightly damp sponge. Work in a circular motion, making sure finish gets into all cuts and impressions.
Allow the first coat to dry completely, and then apply a second light coat. Leave it to dry for a couple hours. this is in now way the most difficult step, and it is difficult to mess up. When it dries, the leather will have a slight matte finish that will make it look even more professional.
You may also want to look into applying products that resist rot and water.
Step 8: Putting It All Togeather
Rejoice, friends, you have almost completed your armor!
We will be riveting the whole project together.
Test fit first! You need to make sure everything fits together, this is why snap rivets are the easiest to use, as they can be locked together temporarily to check how everything fits. It is also a good idea to try it on, as this may uncover some issues you need to address before finishing the project. If the rivet looks like it will be too long, use a washer between the rivet and the leather to add extra space.
To begin riveting, you will want a strong, hard surface underneath to ensure a good rivet. I recommend getting a granite sample slab from a counter top installation company, as these are usually free, and work great for setting rivets. You could also use an anvil, or other strong metal surface to do this on.
Start to assemble by beginning with the pauldrons. With the straps you made for the back, start with the lowest lame, and stack the next on top, including the rounded shoulder piece. Next, attach the straps that go around your arm. The shorter piece that holds the buckle should go on the side that is closer to your back, so that the strap faces behind you. Attach the buckle strap to the top of each pauldron, so it can be strapped to the gorget strap.
Next is the gorget itself. Start by attaching the buckle straps to the back piece, so that the straps will face behind you. Next, attach the strap that attaches to the pauldron so it goes under the other straps, and faces outward towards your shoulders. Next are the straps on the front piece, followed by the lion decoration. The lion decoration has a threaded post in the back, so I simply used a threaded screw to attach it.
The rondels don't directly interface with the armor, instead, they are laced through the underlying chainmail. You probably do not have chainmail, but the laces allow you to tie them to the pauldrons.
You want to put the post (the longest part of the rivet) through the back, so it pokes out of the hole. The cap snaps onto it, and needs to be driven down with a mallet and a rivet setter. You went to hold the rivet setter as vertical as possible, and hit it with a short and strong strike. Hitting it a second time usually finishes the job, but make sure the rivet setter is still vertical, as you don’t want the rivet to be set at an angle.
Test whether the rivet holds by trying to pull it up using your fingernails. If the rivet pops off, you didn’t hit it hard enough. If it stays where it is, then you did a good job. Now, try it on. You may need the assistance of a squire to fit the armor, as it is difficult to strap yourself.
Step 9: Fin
How does it feel, knowing you made your own custom leather armor? Store the leather in a dry place when not being used I battle, and make sure that it is not in a place where it can get damp, as leather can rot if not cared for. Other than that, I can only congratulate you on your fine craftsmanship skills, and leave you to further your skills as an armorer and a leatherworker. Until next time!
Please, feel free to ask questions in the comments section, as I would be happy to answer any questions about historical armor, leather working, or other related questions.
This is the first instructable I have made so far, so feel free to offer advice or criticism on my project. I would like to thank you all for reading this, and I hope your project turns out better than you expected!
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Please be positive and constructive.