Introduction: Building a Turban Helm for All Sorts of Fighting

My old helmet had a few design flaws, mainly it regularly tried to rip my head off if I got stabbed in the face plate. Having dealt with that long enough I decided to build myself a new helmet.

My previous helmet was modeled loosely off a a chichak helmet, This time around I went more along the lines of a turban helmet.

As well as the casual rebated steel fighting I've been doing there are also SCA and EMP fight practices in my area, so I wanted to make a helmet that will hopefully let me use a single helmet for all 3 styles of fighting.

Step 1: Mark, Cut, Debur

I was pretty loose about patterning on this helmet, the only real measurement I took was to get a length for the brow band. For that I took the circumference of my head then added 5 inches to make space for padding and another half inch for riveting. My brow band ended up being 2 5/8"x27".

The panels I drew up off the top of my head. I assumed the bottom wouldn't need to change much and left the tops wide so I could cut them down later as I needed. They are about 3" at the bottom, 2" at the top and 7" long. The wiggly sides are to give it a bit of a twisted effect. In retrospect I would have had to exaggerate this shape a fair bit to get the twist I was hoping for, but I'm happy with how it worked all the same.

I laid my patterns out on some 14 gauge steel and since I was out of jigsaw blades I grabbed a zip disc. It worked great on the straight lines of the brow band, but all the S curves on the panels were a pain. Next time I'll just go get more blades.

Once I had all the parts cut out I used a flap disc to quickly grind back any excess material and deburr the edges.

At this point I should have removed the rust and mill scale, but instead I made myself some extra work and didn't.

Step 2: Brow Band

With my parts prepped I started on the brow band.

The first thing I did was to give it a once over with a slightly domed hammer into my shallowest dish. Then I gave it a pass of planishing. I find this makes it more easily take an even curve and the slight compound curve transitions into the skull of the helmet nicer.

After planishing I used a rubber mallet and worked it around a 4" T stake till it looked roughly head shaped. Then I swapped over to a 1-1/2" T stake. I find the smaller diameter usefull for tine tuning the overlap, also it's a more solid stake and better suited to riveting on.

I marked and drilled my holes in the overlapping side first, clamped it in place and then drilled the matching holes. I left the top of the brow band un-riveted because I was not sure where the rivets for the panels would end up and didn't want to interfere with them.

Once I had it riveted I banged it around a little into a more even oval. It doesn't need to be perfect, it will warp when the rest of the plates go in and will need to be straightened periodically until the helmet is finished.

Step 3: Roughing Out the Panels

Since I was just winging it with the panels and wasn't sure how many I would end up needing I just chose to cut out 12. In the end I ended up using 10 of them.

Because there are so many panels they need fairly little shaping done to them, side to side they each only have maybe 1/8" to 3/16" of curvature, top to bottom however I aimed for about 1 1/2"

I shaped my plates with my shallow dish again, but this time used the rounder face of my dishing hammer. I just gave them a couple quick passes going from the outside to the middle and focusing on the middle third of the plates. As I did that I rocked the piece from the top left to bottom right corner to add a bit of a twist in the hope that it would help them all overlap smoother.

Step 4: Rough Fitting the Skull

With my panels roughly shaped It was time to see how they would fit in the helmet.

I started out by marking out half inch lines on the overlapping edges of the brow band and skull plates. This was to give me an easy visual reference so I didn't use too much or too little.

I started in the back at the seam, lined up the lines and eyeballed it to center. To match the curves I used a stake with a channel for the top and a hammer with a matching face. Striking the unsupported area between the sides of the channel makes it easy to tighten up the radius of the curve to match the brow band. I tightened my curves up a little bit extra on one side to make space to slide in the next plate.

When I was happy with the fit of each plate I drilled a hole 1/4" down the brow band, along the center line of the plate and put in a cleco to hold it in place. Small nuts and bolts will work just as well. As I worked around the helmet I found that the overlap was forcing the top of the helmet down like a spiral staircase. I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to force things in place without having pieces riveted solid.

An Important step I missed taking pictures of was marking the plates order. I did that by using a center punch to mark out 1-10 as I took the plates off the brow band and put mark where the first plate went.

After that I had to clean up my plates to rivet them.

Step 5: ACID DIP!

Rust, mill scale, and galvanizing are all things I regularly have to take off metal and any time that comes up I turn to my trusty bucket of acid.

If you aren't doing this sort of thing often vinegar will work just fine. Since I do though I use about 5 gallons of water to 2ish cups of muriatic acid... I think, this batch is a few years old. It's not face melting strong, but if you leave it on your skin for more than about 30 seconds you'll definitely notice.

It's important that you submerge the entire piece, otherwise the acid will etch a line into the steel along the waterline. Although you can polish that out it makes for a lot of extra work. I put my parts on wire hooks to make handling them easy and just let them hang in the bucket. In vinegar you'll probably have to leave your plates submerged for at least 24 hours, I usually leave things in my bucket overnight, but it only needs 5 or 6 hours.

When I remove parts from the acid I give them a good rinse in water and baking soda to neutralize the acid. At this point the plates look like nothing has really happened, but under running water you can just wipe everything off with a rag, leaving bare metal behind. It's important to dry them off fast because they are particularly susceptible to rust with this acid stripped finish.

Once they are dry I go over them thoroughly with a wire wheel, this burnishes them to a much more nicer and more durable finish.

Step 6: Reassemble, Disassemble, Trim, Reasemble

If you want a really smooth even finish on your helmet now is the time to do your final passes of planishing and any grinding, sanding, and polishing you require. I'm building this helmet mainly for rebated steel fighting. It's going to get banged up pretty fast anyways, so I'm skipping it.

This time around, with no shortage of swearing, I managed to get the whole skull roughly fit together. Where pieces were sitting well I drilled the rivet holes for the panel overlaps to help hold things in place. I drilled them 1/4" down the brow band and about 1/8" in from the edge of the outer panel.

To fit the last few plates ended up bracing the helmet flat on the ground and using a pry bar to push down the first plate and lift up the 7th and 8th plates while I slid in the last 2. I am sure there is an easier way to do it, but I managed to make this work before I figured it out.

Once it was together I used a sharpy to trace the edges and see where everything was overlapping. When I pulled it apart the overlaps showed where plates were sitting skewed and where all the excess material was. I eyeballed out an average and cut off the top left corner of each plate where it looked about right. With the corners clipped it went together much better and I was easily able to mark and drill the rest of the rivet holes for the bottom edge of the plates.

Once I had all the holes drilled I picked a spot and started riveting the panel overlaps. Where plates pulled away I riveted one side and then used a hammer to push the other side into place. Once the overlaps were all riveted I came back around and did the rivets in the middle of the panels.

Step 7: Riveting the Skull

Now that all the skull plates are riveted to the brow band it's time to fine tune the shape of the skull and rivet them all together.

To mark the height of the rivets I put 2 combination squares together and taped a sharpy on to it. Then I used it to mark the rivet heights at 1" intervals up the helmet. Next I used my finger as a guide and ran a second line about 3/8" in from the edge. In retrospect, aiming for a 1/2" overlap I should have made my mark 1/4" in. There are a couple spots where I just barely caught my overlaps.

Starting at the bottom row I picked a spot to start and started drilling holes and riveting as I worked my way around. The bottom row all fit together well but at the second and third rows there were places where the plates stood apart. I used my planishing hammer and the ball stake to push those spots down to meet the other plates as needed and planished out some of the rougher spots while I was at it. I didn't bother to really fit anything above whatever row of rivets I was working on though as everything north of the rivets shifts a little with each additional rivet you set.

When I had the top row of rivets set I decided I wanted a rounder top on my helmet so I used my sledge to push the remaining point down and clean up the fit of the tops of the plates.

Step 8: The Top Plate

I used a flap disc that looked like a good size to pattern out the top plate. Then I grabbed my jigsaw and some cutting fluid, cut out the plate and deburred it with the flap disc.

I was aiming for an onion top sort of a shape, but wasn't ale to get as much point as I had wanted. Looking back on it I should have welded up a shallow cone to start with rather than a flat disc.

Instead I started out by giving my disc a once over in my shallow dish, then using the back side of that dish I hammered my riveting hammer into it to make a good divot to start the point. To stretch the divot into a lump I used a block of steel with 1" holes in it and hammered my ball peen hammer into it to stretch it into a deep lump.

At that point I realized that I still just didn't have enough shape to get to where I wanted to I took it to my deep dish and put some more shape. This mostly erased the lump, but still left enough to work into a point. I could have probably got more of one if I'd re hammered in the lump

From the bowl like shape I had I used a small mushroom stake and curve faced hammer to gradually push the curves inwards and form a point at the center. I did it by working from the center out in a tight spiral, striking the plate just off the point where it contacts with the stake. I cant explain it exactly how it's done but it shouldn't be overly jarring your hand or wrist and the metal gets an almost mushy feel under the hammer when it's right. After 3 or 4 passes I had a shape I was happy with.

I centered it by eye then marked out 2 holes on opposite sides of the top plate and drilled them. I used clecos in those holes to hold the plate still while I drilled and riveted the first few holes. I did them 2 or 3 at a time to take into account the way the metal would shift as the rivets pulled parts into place.

Step 9: Vervelles, the Things That Will Hold on the Maille

Historically most of these helmets had a maille drape attached to the bottom edge. The common and simple way of doing this was to put 5 or 6 small holes with cotter pins coming out of them then the maille is hung off a wire strung through the loops on the pins. Instead I opted for the less common, more fiddly method.

I cut some strips of 18ga steel about 2" long and 5/16" wide. I bent them in half around a nail and used my riveting hammer to close them up to the nail. Next I clamped them in my vice, cleaned up the rolls a bit and made sure they were all a bit offset to make a flat side.

After that I ignored them for a week instead of finishing them.

When I came back to finish them I marked and cut them all 5/16 back from the roll, then used a zip disc to taper the tabs on both sides.

Step 10: Nasal and Eye Holes

I didn't get any decent pictures of the start of this step, but the first thing I did was use my jigsaw and angle grinder to cut a strip of metal 1/2" wide and 28" long for the main trim strip. Then I patterned and cut out the trim for the eye holes and the top bit for the nasal. I just eyeballed the pattern for the eye's on some cardboard and then I used the cutout for the eyes as the base for patterning the top of the nasal.

The nasal runs down the center line of the face, so it seemed like a good place to start at. Originally I had planned to use a 1" bar to make it from, but after allowing for the width of the trim on the eye holes it seemed like it would be a bit too wide. Instead I used a 3/4" bar. The stock I had came with some very machine like roller mark on it from when it was made. To get rid of them I used my sledge to hammer it against a different block of steel. This worked by flattening out the roller marks and stamping any imperfections in the steel block into the bar. The finished result was something that looked much more hand made.

As with everything else so far these parts all had to be acid dipped and wire wheeled. I made sure to put my holes for the wire hangers where I would need holes for rivets.

To assemble the nasal I got the top bit in a good looking spot, then marked where it's rivet hole was on the bar. I drilled a hole to match and put in a cleco. Next I flipped it over and drilled through the original hole in the bar to put a matching hole in the top bit and riveted it all solid. I'm planning to paint a crest or something on this piece, so I used a larger drill bit to counter sink the holes through the top bit then set the rivets flush with the surface.

To position the nasal on the helmet I just measured around from the overlap to find the center, made lines 3/8" to either side of center and riveted the nasal between them.

Next I curved the eyebrows to match the helmet and used them to trace the cutouts. I used my jigsaw to cut them out then carefully touched them up with a flap disc until they lined up nicely with the eyebrows. When I was happy with the fit I riveted them in. In retrospect I should have used clecos as I ended up having to take those rivets out shortly after.

Now that the eye's were cut out I was able to throw in some temporary padding to get a feel for how the helmet would sit and decide where to cut the nasal off. I used a combination square to mark out 2 45 degree angles and cut the nasal down to a point, I also made 2 small cuts above the point. Those are just because I thought they looked nice.

Step 11: Remaining Trim and Maille Loops

To install the remainder of the trim I started out be deciding where I was going to put the loops for the maille. There are 6 of them and I just evenly spaced them around the helmet by eye. Once I had their locations decided I started started by one eye cutout and worked my way around the helmet to the other.

At each maille loop I used 2 pairs of vice grips to hold the trim down tightly while I drilled a hole through the trim and loop. Once I had a hole I put in a cleco to hold it in place and moved onto the next one. as I went I made sure to keep the trim strip as tight to the helmet between loops as I could.

When they were all in place I realized that I would need to take the eyebrows off to get the fit between them and the rest of the trim right. First I marked out roughly where the extra trim would need to be cut off and marked which loops went where on the trim. Then I removed the eyebrows. I carefully ground off the backs of the rivets holding them on and used a punch to knock them out.

With the eyebrows removed I started to attach the trim. I worked my way around from one end to the other, only riveting the trim where it crossed over the loops then came back around and drilled the remaining holes and put in the remaining rivets, snugging up the fit wherever I needed to.

Once the trim was riveted in place I re-fit the eye brows using a file to fine tune the transition between them and the trim. when I was happy I put them back on with colecos

Step 12: Wrap Plate Shaping

I'm building this helmet to fight in so I want something more than some padding and chain maille to keep me from getting a broken jaw. To that end I opted to go with a wrap plate. as the name suggests it wraps around the base of the helmet, protecting my cheeks, sides of my head and the base of my skull.

I experimented with a few different ways of patterning this out, but ultimately went with a single solid plate.

To pattern this out you just need to do some trial and error with cardboard, don't forget to allow for extra bulk caused by a gorget.

Once I had chose my pattern and cut it out shaping it was relatively simple. I just used a dead blow mallet to curve it over my 4" T stake. that gave it a nice even curve, but left it with a conical profile. To straighten out the cheek area I used my vice and some muscle to just twist it to where I wanted it.

The cheek area comes down in line with the brow band of the helmet, but the back, over the neck, flairs outwards. to make riveting easier I flared a 1/2" lip around the back third of the plate. I missed taking pictures of it, but it shows in the next step.

I used the curved faced hammer and the metal block I hammered the nasal into to stretch the lip up to match where about it would sit on the helmet. It wasn't perfect, but it was close enough for the rivets to pull it the rest of the way.

Once I was happy with the shape I drilled my holes and test fit it with clecos

Step 13: Blackening and Mounting

This part of the helmet will be hidden, so I never bothered to acid dip it, Instead I'm just going to blacken it over the mill scale.

It was cold out, so to speed up the process I started out by pre-heating the plate to 500 degrees in my oven, then I took it out to my BBQ and used a blow torch and a couple of wiped on coats of linseed oil to blacken it. Once it was blackened it was ready to mount.

Since it was already fit up with cleeco's mounting it was as simple as putting it back in place and swapping out cleecos for rivets. I made sure to leave open the holes that would also pick up the eye brows since they will hold in the face plate as well.

Once it was together I went around the base of the helmet and touched up the fit in a couple spots using a scrap bit of flat stock as a punch

Step 14: Just a Face Plate and It's Done

Since getting hit in the face generally sucks I felt a face plate would be a good idea.

I lucked out on a stack of scrap perf plate, it's 1/8" holes spaced on 3/16" centers and 18ga. It's a little thinner than I would ideally use, but in past helmets it has still held up fine.

I made the pattern by simply pressing a bit of cardboard into the opening the way I wanted it to fit and tracing the outline. Next I added a generous half inch around it and cut it out. When I laid it out on the perf plate I made sure to keep it as square to the rows of holes as I could and added some extra length below the chin.

Initially I tried to make my face plate from a single piece. That didn't end up working in this case and I quickly ended up cutting my initial piece in half. When I cut it I made sure to make my cut across a single row of holes so I could leave a clean flat edge. I made the cut even with the end of the nasal and about a half inch below the cutouts on the cheeks.

To fit it in place I bent it roughly to shape over a t stake then worked from the center out fine tuning the fit over my ball stake with a soft faced hammer. I added clecos to the rivet holes as I went to make sure everything stayed where I wanted it to.

Because I added the extra below the chin I was still able to use the lower half. I cleaned up the cut edge, curved it roughly to shape and fit it place. On this plate I started by putting in 2 clecos on either side of the nasal to keep my minimum overlap in place. Next I fit the bottom corners on the cheek plates. That was because I had to pull the chin inwards to push the top corners up until they would be picked up by the rivets at the base of the upper piece. Once those upper rivet holes had enough overlap to work with I was ready to start riveting.

I started with the eyebrows near the nasal then worked my way out. Once I got to the wrap plate I started at the bottom and came up to the points of the cheeks then did the ones by the nasal. After those were all in I came back and drilled holes for the remaining intermediate rivets and for good measure I ended up putting a couple into the nasal as well.

At this point the helmet is structurally finished. I can toss in some padding and a chin strap and go fight, but I had some extras I wanted to do still.

Step 15: Extras

Since I plan on using this helmet for a while I figured I'd try and make it as comfy as I can, to that end I'm planning on making a padded suspension liner for it and hiding 1/2" of closed cell foam behind that for added insurance. In order to mount the liner I riveted in a pair of leather strips around the bowel with a row of 3/16 holes along the bottom edge to stitch the liner onto.

Next I felt that the helmet didn't really look right without a drape of some sort on it, so I used an old T shirt to improvise one until I get my maille. All I did was stretch the neck hole around the helmet and then cut off the sleeves and around the chest. I used the left over lower half of the shirt to make a torse for above the drape by bunching it up and wrapping it around the bowl of the helmet like a rubber band. It took about 5 minutes but it makes the helmet look a lot nicer i think.