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Old Tired Squire In Action

Old Tired Squire In Action

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Experiments in Leather

I decided to try and build some elbows from some of the leather scraps I picked up at Tandy a few months ago, using the plans from Duke Cariodoc's The Perfect Armor Improved. My results were less than spectacular, but it was a learning experience and the only failed experiment is one in which you did not learn something.

I began with the elbow patter HG Cariadoc published.

Simple, right?

Well, easier said than done.

I cut two mirror images of the pattern from my leather (5-7 oz vegetable tanned bellies), which I had soaked in water before cutting.  Then I attempted to following HG Cariadoc's instructions. 

First hiccup -- someone lost the thermometer!  The process requires that you heat the water to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius).  So, I "eyeballed" it to see what I could do.  After all, our ancestors didn't have mercury thermometers in the 14th Century, right?

After heating the two pieces (separately) for what I thought was the right time at the right temperature, I took each piece out and tried sandwiching the piece in two bowls, each of which has a diameter of about 6.5 inches.  

As I had feared, the process left major folds and creases in the leather, which I attempted to smooth out with my fingers. 

The resulting pieces look like this:


The piece on the left shrank more than the piece on the right, and is thicker and harder. Both pieces are not in the optimum shape for an elbow cop because there was too much leather that needed to be removed or folded to create the right shape.  

So, what have I learned? 

1. Water temperature (and immersion time) is very important in getting a consistent product.
2. Modifications must be made to the pattern or process to obtain a "cop" shape for the elbows.

For the next step in the experiment, I am going to try softening the larger cop in water, then removing a gusset of material on the front and rear of the cop and riveting or  bolting it together.  Then I will try  re-hardening it in 180 degree water with a thermometer!  

Hopefully, this will give me the desired shape and size. If so, I am considering reinforcing the cop with plastic to add some extra protection, followed by adding a strap that will ride in the fold of my elbow, holding the cop on. I also intend to experiment with baking wet leather in the oven at 200 degrees and liberally basting the leather with hot rabbit glue or other organic glue to more accurately reproduce what is believed to be the period procedure (or at least, one of them) for creating cour boulli. (See excellent articles here, here and here).

My fantasy is that, once I have a good pattern and consistent procedure down, I can turn the cops out fairly easily and create new loaner/new fighter gear for our Barony. 

And remember, do as I say, not as I do -- "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"  


  1. 5-7 oz is awfully thin for the purpose--I use at least 8 oz, and by preference 10-12.

    I recommend experimenting with bits of scrap, so that you have a good idea of how the leather looks at various points in the process.

    One possibility if you don't have a thermometer (which I haven't tried) is to bring a measured quantity of water to a boil then add a measured quantity of tap water--having calculated, based on the latter's approximate temperature, how much it will take to bring the mix down from 212 to 180.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Dr. Friedman I fear that you are correct and the leather is too thin. But it was cheap! :-)

    It has always been my plan to both harden and splint the pieces I am making, to compensate for the thin leather. And my experiments with scraps and smaller pieces showed promise. I just need to go to Walmart or Harbor Freight and get a new thermometer.

    And my experiments have another purpose -- to help me combat my lamentable tendency to put off starting a project because it is no longer "perfect" (in my mind) once I start.

    It was, in some ways, easier back when I first started the SCA in AS IV or so. The armor requirements were substantially lower and nearly everybody had self-made armor, so the stuff I made was not so primitive (by comparison). Now, I see better quality stuff on the field, or read about it on, and I feel that mine is inferior.

    This is, I know, a personal failing, but I am working on it. Hence the quote of the inestimable Ms. Frizzle. I only hope that I have done a better job at inculcating her values in my children, than in me.

    Thanks again for your comment.