Introduction: Medieval Fantasy Beer Helmet
Finalist in the
Halloween Props Contest
This started out as a quick picture I scribbled out just for laughs. Since then it had been swimming in my head for a while until I suddenly realized I had a matching pair of pewter steins and a drink helmet sitting around doing nothing. I had been wanting to learn a few more legitimate prop building techniques so I searched around online and found a cosplay crafting method of using craft foam and acrylic paint to fake metal armor. A few days later the Dwarven Mead Helm was a reality.
This helmet is based off of the design of Gimli's helmet in the Lord Of The Rings movies. Because who likes their mead? Dwarves like their mead. And what piece of dwarven crafted armor is more recognizable than Gimli's helmet? Of course this technique could easily be used to craft all manner of anachronistic beer helmets, like a Plastered Pict, Inebriated Knight, Soused Samurai, Smashed Spartan or even a Brovahkiin helmet (Brews Ro Dah!).
Step 1: Beginning Thy Quest
Before setting off for adventure, be sure to equip yourself for the journey ahead.
Heat Gun (or other SAFE heat source)
Stencils - I got a few from this costume research site that worked quite well for the cheek guard and that crest up front.
2 Matching Tankards - Since it's hard to clean these out once they're on the helmet, try to find a pair that will fit the whole drink
can inside. If not, I'd suggest finding some half-sized drink cans or water bottles to keep inside.
Craft Foam - Sheets both 1/4" and 1/8" thick, They are sold in craft stores but for larger sheets you may have to go online.
Start by stripping your helmet of its cup holders and vizor. Any way goes so long as the rest of the helmet remains in one piece. I wound up using pliers and a small handsaw for this.
Step 2: Creating the Components
Time to start changing your helmet into the proper shape. For this we will use your 1/4" thick craft foam. Start by cutting a 2" wide strip to go around the edge of your helmet. You may have to do this in multiple pieces if the foam panels you bought weren't big enough. Next trace and cut the outline of the cheek plates and crest according to your stencil. Make sure you're only cutting the outside shape, and not messing with the knotwork patterns inside.
After that you'll need to work on the frame of steel braces over the top of the helmet. With a little toying around I came up with the stencil outline included in the pictures below. This may turn out differently on your helmet, depending on the size and placement of things. Basically, you'll need to find the center of your helmet and measure out to each side. This stencil is for the side of each brace across the helmet. The full shape is traced and cut twice (two sides of one brace) to stretch across the helmet from front to back. The side braces are then made by tracing the bottom half of the stencil four more times (adding up to two more braces) to place down the left and right sides of the helmet. With these side shapes cut out, set them parallel and connect them across the top with strips of foam cut 1" wide.
Finally cut a 3.5" side strip of foam to extend the back of the helmet down over the neck. You will need to toy around until you have a shape that looks flat along the curve of the bottom brim of the helmet. The foam I bought came in sheets too small to stretch around the helmet, so I had to connect two pieces together. While I was at it I decided to put a small angle in the middle to help find that shape easier.
Step 3: Adding a Bit of Flair
Now time to start with the patterns around the helmet. Glue your pattern templates down to your sheet of 1/8" foam with a thin layer of Elmer's. Using an X-acto knife, cut through the template and foam. This will destroy your stencil, but you will not need them for later steps. Once you have each pattern cut out, carefully peel off the paper left behind from the printout.
For the pattern on the cheek plate and the knot work around the brim you will need multiples of this pattern. Instead of re-printing the stencil, trace the pattern using the foam you already cut as a template.
I was unable to find a good stencil for the knotwork around the band of the helmet. With a close eye it should not be terribly difficult to pick apart. Start with a 1.5"X3" box (the approximate size it should be to fit on the helmet band) and pick out geometric shapes by dividing the box with straight lines at symmetrical angles. To find the number of these knots you will need, divide the length of your helmet band (minus width of the crest at the front) by 3 inches (the approximate width of each knot).
While you have the 1/8" foam out, cut out a 2.25" circle to glue down over the place where the braces for the top of the helmet meet.
Step 4: "Forging"
Now you're going to start reshaping the foam used for the band, cheek plates and back. Use your heat gun to heat the foam so it's more easily malleable. Bend the foam into a curve by wrapping it around something round, like a wide pipe. Hold it in this shape until it cools, and it should remain stiff in that shape. This step is only really needed to keep the cheek plates in the right shape, but doing this to the band and neck plate will make assembly easier, and allow you a chance to practice more. If you don't have access to a heat gun I've heard that you could CAREFULLY hold your foam above a burning stove to soften it up.
Go ahead and attach the neck and ear plate around the bottom edge of the helmet. To do this I used what was left of my 1/8" foam to act as a patch between the inside of the helmet and the inside of the plate. This hold was later reinforced by the zip ties used to attach the tankards to the sides.
Step 5: Piping
For the the drink tubes to fit into your steins without having to prop their lids open you will need to drill a hole through their tops. Find where you want to place the holes on your stein lids. I'd recommend placing them off center toward the handle. This will allow you a little extra room for the tubes to reach the bottom of the cup. If you were able to get steins big enough to fit a drink can inside, try to match the hole over where the mouth of the can will sit.
Carefully drill a hole in the lids of your tankards. The pewter used in these cups are thin and very bendable, so try not to push too hard with the drill, or you might punch straight through damage something else. When I started on this step the rounded drill bit I used bent the pewter more than dug through it. I found that it helped to start with a pointier drill bit to punch in a pilot hole and then widen it with the properly sized bit.
Next use your iron file to smooth down the edges of the holes. Check to see how the drink tubes fit and rinse the metal dust out of the cups. You don't want to drink that stuff.
Take this time to assemble all the pieces of your helmet to make sure it fits together okay. Don't glue anything down yet, just place things together to find anywhere you may need to add or remove any material. Take a look at where the tubing runs underneath the helmet braces and where the handles of your steins must fit under the helmet band.
Step 6: Painting
Now we start making this silly headgear look legit. Start by sealing your foam with the Elmer's Glue. This will give the foam a smooth surface to help achieve that metal look. Make a mix of 2/3 glue and 1/3 water and brush it onto every surface that will be visible on the foam. Let it dry and and brush on another coat. Repeat this several times until the surface is no longer porous.
Make sure your glue sealant is dry and start painting everything with acrylics. Again, you will need to use several layers until you have a good, solid color. Paint the base helmet brown, the embellishments gold and the rest a steel or silver color.
Start gluing the gold embellishments down onto their silver bases with hot glue, and add pleather scraps down around the back of the helmet. Use a zip tie to reattach the tubes to the top of your helmet and get ready to assemble everything.
Step 7: Final Assembly
Find the place where you want the tankard handles to attach to the helmet and cut four slits using your X-acto knife for the zip ties to go through. Try to situate the bottom zip tie at the bottom curve of your stein handle, that way the downward force of gravity from the full mug will pull the cup outward with this pivot point instead of straight down. The second zip tie will hold against that outward force.
Place the tubing back on and zip tie it down. Assemble everything else you've made and glue it down. Place the braces down on the top, fitting the tubing inside the hollow part inside. Next glue on the band around the bottom edge, overlapping the bottom edges of the braces you just glued down. Next, add the cheek plates and crest on the front of the helmet. Finally glue down any knot work embellishments you haven't already.
Step 8: Touching Up, Then Tavern Time!
Everything's pretty much done, but it still looks a little bit cartoon-ey. For the last step we will add some weathering. Make a half-and-half mixture of water and black acrylic paint. With a paper towel or a rag on hand, brush on the watered-down paint and let it sit for a few moments before wiping it back off. Work in small areas at a time, and be sure to work the paint into every small crevice of the surface. Don't worry too much about wiping the paint back up in the hard-to-reach areas, this will just add to the effect; those are the places that would stay dirty on a helmet. Take extra care to wipe up paint on areas that would be touched or rubbed frequently, as these places would be less dirty.
When brushing paint on the fake leather in the back, brush in a downward motion. It would make sense that the overlapping areas would stay clean while the exposed surfaces accumulate grime. Don't worry if the material you used simply soaks up the paint preventing you from wiping it back up, it will look fine in the end.
When using this helmet, find something removable to line the inside of the steins with. If you pour any drinks into the mugs themselves, you will have to figure out a way to clean them back out without splashing water everywhere and ruining all your hard work. It would be much easier to clean something you can pull out of the helmet easily. The tankards I used were just barely too small to fit an entire soda can inside and still close all the way. Instead I was able to find a couple of half-sized water bottles that nestle nicely inside.
That said your helmet is done. Time to begin your adventure! You are now the proud owner of a legendary helmet of +3 to
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