Basic Spangenhelm (Viking Helmet)




The helmet made for this tutorial won TechShop Austin's Best of Metal 2013 competition!

In this tutorial we will make an authentic Viking helmet (Spangenhelm) using the Basic Helmet Frame as the base.  After finishing the steps in that tutorial, return here and we will finish the helmet in the style of a 6th century Viking.  We will be cutting and shaping the dome plates, riveting the piece together, and adding padding.

If you want to use your helmet in SCA combat, you'll need to follow the SCA Marchall's Handbook in the design.  In particular, you need to make the frame and dome from 0.06" thick metal (brass and stainless steel) as both the strength and mass of the metal are what protect your head from blows (i.e. don't make it from aluminum, titanium, or other ultra light materials).  In addition, SCA combat regulation specifies that your rivets are no more than 2.5" apart and your padding needs to be a minumum of 0.5" thick of closed cell foam padding.  In order to make the helmet SCA combat regulation, you'll also (eventually) need to make a face mask, but we won't be creating a face mask in this tutorial.

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:  there's a Lowes right in the shop!  If you need more supplies, you don't need to drive 45 minutes to the hardware store, you don't even need to step out into the rain.

Tools I used:
- Electric drill
- Cobalt or titanium drill bit (sizes 9/64" and 1/8")
- Beverly shear (or you can use a hand shear)
- Electric grinder or sander
- Buffer and buffing compound (white is fine for both the stainless steel and brass)
- Armoring swage (or you can use a leather sand bag)
- Plastic (polyethylene) mallet
- Riveting gun
- Measuring tape
- Marker

Materials I used:
- 0.06" thick brass sheet metal (type 260), cut from about 6 inch by 6 inch section. (However, you can use mild steel, stainless steel, or aluminum instead)
- 0.06" thick stainless steel sheet metal (type 304) about 1 foot by 2 feet (However, you can use brass, mild steel, or aluminum)
- (12) screws (#6-32)
- (12) wing nuts (#6-32)
- a box of rivets (1/8" diameter by 1/8" long)
- another box of rivets (1/8" diameter by 1/4" long)
- a few more rivets (1/8" diameter by 1/2" long)
- some rivet washers, if needed (1/8" diameter)
- 1/2" closed foam padding, about 2 foot by 2 foot
- Beacon's Quick Grip adhesive (or some other glue to attach the padding to the inside of the helmet)
- some card stock or manilla folders to cut out your template (about 2.5 feet by 1 foot)

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Step 1: Notes on Tools

You can use a leather sandbag to hammer the dome pieces, but I found a swage to be much easier.  The dome swage easily prevents "taco-ing", where the piece starts to bend into a U shape instead of a dome shape.

The Beverly shear make cutting out the sheet metal as easy as cutting paper.

The buffing wheel and white buffing compound is perfect for getting a fine mirror finish on both the stainless steel and brass.  The bar of buffing compound can be seen sitting on top of the buffer/grinder.  If you don't want a mirror finish, but want a satin finish, use a wire wheel pad instead.

The riveting gun is a great time saver.  If you want a more authentic look, you can use roofing nails, cut to fit, then riveted by hammering the cut-off nail with a ball peen hammer.

Step 2: Build the Helmet Frame

Follow the steps in the tutorial Basic Helmet Frame, to build the frame for your helmet.  The rest of this tutorial is based off that frame.

Step 3: Cut Out the Dome Pieces

You'll need to cut out 4 triangles that will be formed into the helmet's dome.  In addition, you'll need to cut out 3 domes about the size of a mason jar lid to form the inner structural dome, the outer decorative dome, and (cut in half) to form the two decorative half-domes for the front and back of the helmet.

The size will need to be calculated from the size of your head.  Make 3 measurements (or use the measurements from when you made your Basic Helmet Frame):  1)  the circumference of your head from brow to the back of the head and just above your ears, 2)  over the top of your head from the top of one ear to the top of the other ear, and 3) over the top of your head from the top of your brow to the back of your head.

The 4 triangles will need to have a base (the bottom side) of 1/4 the circumference of your head plus about 1" to give yourself some room to overlap the spine, rib, and brow bands and not bump into the other dome pieces.  One of the other sides will need to be about 1/2 the length of the helmet spine and the final side will need to be 1/2 the length of the helmet rib (again adding about 1" for proper overlapping).  Name each of your pieces so you remember which is which (i.e. LB for Left Back, RF for Right Front, etc).

Now draw a "bulging triangle" on your template.  The bulges should stick out about 1/2" from the triangle line in order to account for the dome curves you will be creating so the piece sits flush with the helmet frame bands.

Cut out the pieces from the sheet metal.  I used stainless steel for the dome pieces and brass for the smaller decorative domes.

Notice that I cut this piece out too big, bulging out nearly an inch instead of just a half inch, and had to cut a lot of excess off in later steps.

If you're new to dishing, it's helpful to draw out a grid on the piece so you can easily visualize how the metal is forming, warping, and curving after each blow.

Step 4: Hammer the Dome Pieces

Using the leather sandbag (or dish swage) and a plastic (polyethylene) mallet, hammer the dome piece into shape.  Start on the outer perimeter and work your way around in a circular pattern into the center of the piece.  Check your piece against the inside of the helmet frame often to see if it's getting close to fit.

After you've bashed the piece into a rough dome, take the piece to the planishing hammer and smooth it out.  Be sure to keep checking it against the helmet frame, as the planishing will change the piece's shape as well.

Step 5: Cut the Hammered Dome Pieces to Fit the Frame

Now cut off the excess to fit the hammered dome pieces to the helmet frame.  Just place the piece in the frame and draw a line matching the center of the frame band on each side and cut off the excess with the Beverly shear.

You can see I started with nearly an inch bulge around the triangle, so I had a lot to cut off.  

Step 6: Fit the Dome

Use "temp rivets" (6-32 machine screws and wing nuts) to fit all the dome pieces to the frame.  Using a 9/32 size drill bit (cobalt tipped works fastest), drill a hole in each corner of the triangle, right through into the frame.  Use the temp rivets to bolt the dome piece to the frame.  This is where you'll need to do some adjustments like hammering a better fit or cutting off excess to make every piece fit the dome, overlapping the frame as much as possible to add strength, but not overlapping the dome pieces with each other.

Notice in the photos how mangled the top and back frame-to-dome connections are?  We'll cover those ugly mistakes with the small brass dome and half-domes.   At least the plastic covering the sheet metal and brass bands (mostly) survived the hammering process, leaving the surface scuff-free and making it easier to polish later.

Step 7: Rivet the Helmet Together

Now that everything fits together and fits your head, it's time to rivet the helmet together with "permanent" rivets.  (don't worry the rivets can be easily drilled out if you make a mistake).  

Before you begin, remove any protective plastic that remains on the pieces and polish them using the buffer and buffing compound.

One by one, remove the temp rivets and replace with a 1/8" diameter rivet (either 1/4" or 1/8" depending on how many plates are stacked in that spot).

Then drill 1/8" holes about every 2.5" (or less to space them nicely) on the edges of each dome piece, and rivet with a 1/8" rivet (again either 1/4" or 1/8" depending on how many plates are in that spot), bolting it through the helmet frame.  If a rivet keeps pulling through either use a longer rivet and/or use a rivet washer on the inside to add strength.  I drew guide lines to keep the rivets lined up nicely.

Notice the top and back still look pretty ugly; they'll be covered with the small brass domes in the next step.

The last two photos show how it looks after being polished with the buffer and buffing compound.

Step 8: Decorate the Helmet

This is where you add the finishing touches to your helmet (and hide your mistakes).

Remember the ugly mess in the front, back, and top of the helmet?  Now we hide those behind decorative plates that not only hide any mistakes but also add additional strength to the helmet.

Cut two circles from the brass plate large enough to cover any mistakes (like extra holes, crooked joins, etc) on the top, front, or back.

Dish out the two brass circles into shallow domes.  Cut one in half.  The full dome needs to be fitted and riveted to the top of the helmet, covering the rivets and rib/spine joins.  One of the half-domes needs to be fitted and riveted to the front of the helmet and the remaining half-dome needs to be riveted to the back of the helmet (as seen in the photos).

As you can see, I've left the wing nuts on the sides of the helmet because I'm eventually going to add further decoration to the helmet (in another tutorial).

Step 9: Pad the Inside of the Helmet

Now all that's left is to add padding to the interior of the helmet. 

Cut sections out of the 1/2" closed foam padding and fit to the inside of the helmet.  Use a strong multipurpose adhesive, like Beacon's Quick Grip, to glue the padding to the interior of the helmet.  The Quick Grip is as strong as super glue but takes a minute to set, giving you time to slide everything into the positions you want.

Once dried, the helmet should fit snugly to your head.

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28 Discussions

Tim P

3 years ago

could you simply use a stainless steel bowl, then cut and bend it to a "head size" then add the brass where the cuts are and then use rivets?

I couldn't disagree more. Welding is not authentic for the time period, as helmets were bolted together. Pull-rivets are simply the best way to bolt a piece like this and they can withstand the rigors of combat. Brass was very much available to the Vikings of that time period, and I like the contrasting steel vs brass alternating design of this piece.


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Sorry for comment a little late, but never is late to contribute I think :) . Despite the authenticity, you could achieve a more pleaseant looking with pop rivets if you put them upside down (or pop them from the inside) an peened them at outside like a normal rivet. You will need to use a pop rivet with a shank al least 1/8" - 1/4" longer that you would normally use. Hope this help. And by the way sorry for my horrible english, not my mother language :D

IMG_20130803_204413.jpg2013-07-28 09.19.31.jpg

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

I mean a 1/16 -1/8" longer rivet shank. 1/4" may be too much. In retrospective my rivet heads looks a little big for this helmet, but anyway, I like the overall look.

Okay, sircorvus, I'll help you out here. You can disagree as much as you like, but please listen, I am only trying to help you.

Spangen helms were riveted together using iron rivets. Pop rivets had not been invented in the Dark Ages. Helmets were not bolted together either. Whoever told you this has misinformed you.

Brass will be argued as it was not common, so uncommon in fact that at one time in England it was valued and used to make coins. The metal that was more common to use was bronze, which consists of copper and tin, not copper and zinc like brass.

I like contrasting metals also, however you will find that just a little is enough.

The helmet you have made is close to the Benty Grange, albeit without the bore on top.

What you need to do to make your helmet more authentic is to lose the pop rivets, and replace them with standard iron rivets. Lose the brass and replace it with steel. This will make a much stronger helmet for combat, also an added bonus will be that your helmet wont rust as fast due to the galvanic reaction between the brass and the steel.

A note about welding, welding is authentic for the Dark Ages, it was how large pieces of metal were created, so that you could make swords.

The process is called forge welding, and this process was used in not only sword construction, and utility construction, but it was also used in helmet construction, in particular the cross bands.

I am more than happy to help you with information, as I have been making authentic replicas for over 30 years. I also teach Dark age weapons combat, also for over 30 years.

I don't use sticks to fight with, I use real swords.

I can support every thing I have said with documents and references.

Kindest regards Charles

I'm aware of forge welding but it just isn't authentic enough. Nothing screams "Dark Ages" like big bold rivets. I stand by the design.

If you are interested in authenticity then attaching the plates to the frame you should be using irons rivets, not pop rivets (blind rivets). Pop rivets were not invented in the dark aged, pop rivets were invented in 1916 which is almost 1000 years later than the dark ages.

If you want to be closer to authentic get rid of the pop rivets.

If you need references to the archaeology, or people to contact who live in the same country as you, I'll be happy to provide the references or introductions. They will be only too happy to help you with historical resources.

For SCA combat where authenticity is a little looser so that many people can play, your helmet is fine. For live steel re-enactment it only needs a few modifications.

It would be easy to replace the rivets, just drill out the pop rivets one at a time and put in some "real" rivets.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

This helmet is not SCA legal either. SCA helmets require face protection and pop rivets are not allowed in the constriction of helms.


5 years ago on Introduction

The helmet I made for this tutorial just won TechShop Austin's Best of Metal 2013 competition!

1 reply

6 years ago

Got my vote. Great execution and and well-written. You're a good Tech Writer.

1 reply

6 years ago on Introduction

BEAUTIFULLY DONE ! It is, however, beyond my skill level. Certainly makes me jealous of such talent.

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks so much! But it really wasn't too complicated, you might want to give it a try. It was really just time consuming.

The hardest part was dishing the dome sections, that took me a couple hours to figure out. The second dome section took me an hour and the last two took me a half hour each. They may have gone even faster, but my arm was getting pretty sore by then. lol

Nice job ,but I have to agree the pop rivets really distract from the beautiful work you did with the rest ... you could still replace them.


6 years ago on Introduction


instead of beating the stainless into rounded triangles (work) , why not just get a silver salad/mixing bowl from a $1 shop/thrift store? find one in your size and then give it that ye olde authentic look by kicking it around the back yard whilst wearing safety boots. some tailoring with an angle grinder to get rid of the rim.

1 reply
Cant Hardlyaltomic

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

For a decorative helmet, that would probably work fine.
But the SCA standards mentioned in the instructions require 0.06" (1.524mm) or about 16 gauge metal. An industrial mixer bowl might be this thick, but it is unlikely a dollar store find would.