Introduction: Basic Helmet Frame

This tutorial will show you how to make a basic frame for an authentic helmet similar to those used in the Dark Ages, medieval times, and the Renaissance by such diverse groups as Vikings, Mongols, Crusaders and Saracens.  In later tutorials we'll see how to add plating, padding, and decorations to the helmet to suit different time periods, cultures, and styles.  Here is a tutorial on how to make a Viking Spangenhelm using this frame as a base.

I made it in TechShop.  You'll need to take the MTL103: Basic Metal Shop SBU and MTL201: Sheet Metal - Organic Shapes SBU classes in order to be qualified to use the tools in the TechShop for this piece.  The best thing about TechShop:  air conditioning!

Tools I used:
- Electric drill
- Cobalt or titanium drill bit (size 9/64)
- Beverly shear (or you can use a hand shear)
- Electric grinder or sander
- Electric slip roll (or you can use brute force over your knee)
- Armoring swage (or you can use a leather sand bag)
- Plastic mallet
- Measuring tape
- Marker

Materials I used:
- 0.06" thick brass sheet metal (type 260), cut from about 2.5 feet by 6 inch section. (However, you can use mild steel, stainless steel, or aluminum instead)
- 0.03" thick stainless steel sheet metal (type 304) about 3" by 3" (However, you can use brass, mild steel, or aluminum)
- (12) screws (#6-32)
- (12) wing nuts (#6-32)
- some card stock or manilla folders to cut out your template (about 2.5 feet by 6 inches)

Step 1: Notes on the Tools You Need

I used an armoring swage I bought from eBay to quickly dish the dome plates with the plastic mallet, but it totally isn't necessary, a leather sandbag works just fine.  You can ask for the leather sandbag behind the counter at TechShop.

The Beverly shear is a huge time saver for cutting out the pieces from the sheet metal, but you can do it with a hand shear.

The electric slip roll is also a huge time saver and it's used for curling the pieces so they fit around your head, but you can do it by hammering them in a sandbag or just by bending them over your leg.

Step 2: Create the Template

You'll need to measure your head and cut out a template from card stock to make all your pieces fit correctly before you cut them from your sheet metal.

Start by using the tape measure to measure the circumference around your head from your brow to the top of your ears and around the back of your head.  If you're going to be using 1/2" padding in your finished helmet, you should add about 3" to the length of the brow piece (5" if you're going to use 3/4" padding).  This is the brow of the frame.

Then use the tape measure to measure across the top of your head from the top of one ear to the top of the other ear.  Add 3" if you're going to use 1/2" padding in the finished helmet, or 5" if 3/4" padding.  This is the rib of the frame.

Finally, measure the top of your head from your brow to the back of the head, adding 3" or 5" for the padding and another 2" for the nose piece.  This is the spine of the frame.

Now trace out a rectangle on your card stock or manilla folder 1" wide and the length of your head circumference (plus 3" or 5"), this will be your brow piece.  Cut out another piece 1" wide for the length of the top of your head (plus 3" or 5").

You'll also need to trace a circle out about 3" in diameter. I used a mason jar lid to trace out the circle onto the card stock.  This will be used for both domes of the frame.

Cut the three pieces out of the card stock.

Now tape all the pieces together and make sure they fit your head, including the padding you'll be using in your finished  helmet.  Cut the ribs off at the edges of the spine, so the rib will be in two pieces (one for the left side of your head and one for the right).

Step 3: Cut the Sheet Metal

Trace out the brow, ribs, and dome onto the brass sheet metal and another dome on the stainless steel sheet metal using the marker.  Trace the pieces next to each other so you save on materials.  It might be easier to cut the ribs out as one piece so they're easier to roll and grind, then cut them into two pieces after they're rolled.

Cut the sheet metal with the Beverly shears.

Grind down the edges of the pieces with the grinder or sander.  You'll need to shape the piece to fit the trace, and remove any burrs from the edges so you don't cut yourself while working with them later (or wearing them on your head). 

Step 4: Roll the Pieces

Using the electric slip roller, roll the brow, ribs, and spine.  Start with a shallow roll, making two passes (once in each direction) for each piece before tightening the roller, this is to create a consistent roll on both ends.  

Keep tightening, one inch at a time for each round of passes, until the brow goes all the way around in a circle.  At that tightness, the spine will be a half circle, and the ribs will be quarter circles.  Towards the end, you'll need to pop the roller off to get the piece into the roller because the circle will be so tight it won't slide into the top of the roller anymore.

Step 5: Dish the Domes

Using the armoring swage or leather sandbag hammer the brass and steel circles into domes with the plastic mallet.  You'll need to fit the dome to the curve of the ribs and spine, so fit the dome to them often while you're working to get the fit right.  If you dish too deeply, you'll need to pound them back flat with the plastic mallet on the table or anvil of a vice.

Step 6: Drill the Pieces

Eventually you'll need to bolt the frame to plates and fittings using 1/8" diameter rivets.  You'll need to drill 9/64" holes so the temporary rivets will fit loosely and the permanent rivets fit tightly.

Drill two holes at the ends of each rib, spine, and brow.  Drill two holes at the center of the brow, right between your eyes.  Drill two holes on each side of the brow where the ribs will go. Drill 4 holes in the bottom stainless steel dome, with one hole in each of the ribs and each side of the spine.  The bottom dome holds the ribs and spine together.  Drill one hole through the middle of the top dome down through the spine.  The top dome covers the joinery of the ribs and spine.

Be sure to mark each piece for what side it's on (left, right, front, back, top, bottom) because the pieces will only fit one way now that they've been drilled.

Step 7: Assemble and Fit the Frame

Finally!  You can bolt all the pieces using the temporary rivets (i.e. the #6-32 screws and wing nuts).  The wing nuts go outside the frame so you can fit the frame on your head without stabbing your scalp.

The bottom dome holds the ribs and spine together and the top dome hides the joinery of the ribs and spine and holds the decorations of the finished helmets (like spikes, feathers, etc).

After bolted together, press sides of the frame into an oval to fit your head.  Bend the nose piece up so it doesn't press on your nose.

You're done with the frame!

In later tutorials we'll cover how to add leather or steel plates, decorations, and permanent rivets.