Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Making a gorytos, part III - belt attachments

I've never been able to track down evidence of how Achaemenid gorytoi were attached to the weapon belts beyond Persepolitan iconography.  That being the case, I have no idea whether my method resembles the original in construction at all, so all I can hope to do is make something that at least looks right and is functional.

The attachments are made to fit a flat suede band of the same type used for tying shoes.  They're cut and ground from 16ga. brass.  Since I have no drill press at the moment, I farmed out the drilling of holes and slots to Newtown Hardware House down the street.  I next rubbed a small half-round riffler over the edges of the slots to round them off and hopefully keep them from cutting into the leather too badly.

After being annealed one last time, the upper section of each slot is hammered using various steel bars and rods to shift it out of plane relative to the rest of the piece.

The leather band should now pass through the slots even when the attachments are held flat against a surface.

The attachments are to be nailed down, two on either side of the wooden spine, using oversized 5/8-inch upholstery tacks.  These are, unfortunately, only brass-plated steel, so they can't be polished; thus the brass belt attachments are left dull from annealing so as not to clash with the tacks' antiqued finish.  The usual arrangement of rivets or nails on the front of the gorytos seems to be a lower cluster of three and two pairs above it, but there are a few examples of a single upper pair, which is fortunate, as I ran out of brass plate at this point.

One last note:  Given the cross section that I picture for the wooden spine, it seems likely that the shanks of the lower attachments will have to be bent to angle upward and nailed in with great care.  Since the lower attachments are to be the load-bearing ones, the angle at which they would go in if they remained perpendicular to the inward-tilting surface seems like it would make them want to yank out under pressure.

Until archaeological findings come to light, it's not impossible that gorytos belt attachments were made in a manner similar to mine.  I would, however, sooner expect that if they were made of metal, they would have been cast to shape.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Plan for a gorytos spine

After further discussion with the good folks over at Hippeis, I'm going to see whether I can commission a carved external spine based on the ones seen at Persepolis (the type that I initially interpreted as a folded top strip of leather).  I may or may not be able to get a custom woodworker to create one for me.

It's a bit heavy-looking, but thin in cross section.  It is perhaps a concern that the wood in either the straight top or curved end would break easily since, if it's cut out of a plank, one section or the other will have a short, crosswise grain over a long area.  Splicing multiple pieces together could help alleviate this, but I'm not an expert woodworker, so we'll see what they have to say.

This design, with several inches of wood surface, gives the process advantage that the belt attachments can be simply nailed to the exposed spine after the leather is stitched down.

If it turns out I can't afford it, I'll fall back on the internal spine I've already made.  An exposed spine of flat cross section and uniform width and thickness would probably also be acceptable.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Making a gorytos, part II

Jesu, it seems to have been the better part of six months since I last posted on this topic, and we've only got another four until Marathon 2015!  Better get busy.

 The leather I selected is a smoked German-tanned buckskin from Crazy Crow Trading Post in the 14 to 16 square foot size.  To recap:  It appears that most leathers prior to the Hellenistic period were not vegetable-tanned but cured with fats in a process similar to brain-tanning.  The German tanning process is the cheapest widely-available example of such leather, and although it, unlike braintan, doesn't require smoking to preserve its integrity (due to the cod liver oil producing its own aldehydes), I believe smoked hide is preferable in the absence of evidence about what kinds of fats might have been used in Achaemenid times, plus the smoke masks the fish odor somewhat.

The 14 to 16-foot size gives plenty of hide for bowcase, cover and arrow pocket, plus some scraps for messing around with (I hope to use one as a hand wrap now that I'm learning how to shoot to the left of the bow staff, which is more painful).

Unlike a molded veg-tan, oil-tanned leather will require a spine to keep the gorytos from sagging when the bow is drawn.  Giannis Kadoglou pointed out to me that the gorytoi seen at Persepolis probably don't have an "upper strip" of leather, but a tall, exposed wood spine.  Similar ones are seen on the quivers from the temple of Aphaea statuary which included several archers in Asiatic dress.

However, I don't have access to a band saw at the moment, so I decided to use an internal spine made from a dowel.  This has been less than optimal.  My attempt at heat-bending it only went so far, and I wound up cutting the end into several pieces, sculpting them to fit and gluing and binding them to get a decent curve.

The leather is laid out and an outline of the bow and spine traced on with a pencil.  There has to be plenty of extra edge in the front to wrap around the spine and stitch to the back upper edge, locking the spine into its own little tube of leather.  I'm not sure I did well enough...

In any case, this is what the cut pieces look like before assembly.  You are looking what will form the inside surface.  I added one more bit to the curved end of the spine.

Flipping the main body over, the arrow pocket must be the first piece to be sewn.  It as well needs lots of slack, to fit the big blunt rubber arrowheads used in reenactment combat.  Since it's cut with extra room rather than stretched like a veg-tanned leather would be, this results in a highly puckered bottom edge.  I haven't figured out how to avoid that.

Next up will be tackling the belt attachment.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Don't try it 'till you nock it

The subject of Classical arrow parts other than arrowheads seems to have received less than its fair share of study, probably at least in part because everything except the point is organic and tends to decay.  I'm reliably informed by Hippeis poster arminius that reed arrows made from Arundo or Phragmites sp. require an insert or full separate nock.

The famous Epiktetos cup shows a Scythian's arrows with large C-shaped nocks.  For comparison, later wooden arrows from Miran in the Tarim Basin had bulbous wooden self-nocks that must have taken a great deal of work to shape.  Neither of these are snap nocks.  I prefer snap nocks, but it wouldn't be possible to create a profile like that with them.

As an exercise in exploring possibilities, I'm using cheap wooden beads (about a dollar a dozen) combined with bamboo skewers.  Other possible and likely more durable materials include bone and horn, but the wood is easily shaped and I think it will hold up well enough.

A cashier told me that the wood was probably pine and might splinter.  This hasn't happened so far, perhaps because I'm using very fine-toothed files - one backed, one round, to get the complex snap shape, which I may later reduce to a simpler and more open shape as per the historical examples.  I'm going to test them "raw" and perhaps rub glue inside if they do splinter with use.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Making a wooden akinakes scabbard, part IV

Akinakes scabbards were sometimes covered in embossed sheet metal, but judging from the number of bronze chapes presented in isolation in museum collections, I would have to think that scabbards were more often completely organic apart from the chape.  So here I am covering my scabbard in leather.  Fabric or thin rawhide would probably be equally acceptable.

As with the Medgidia-type scabbard, I laid the cut leather down with a thin brushing of contact cement (hide glue would probably work about as well, and be more authentic), trimming away the excess as I stitched.

Upon reaching the end of the seam, it's reversed and turned into a cross stitch.

At the other end, the shape of the expanded throat seems to make it likely that the leather there could peel off eventually (maybe that's why the top of the throat sometimes sloped back toward the middle?).  In this instance I drilled a very small hole through the core and put the thread through it, lashing the leather down in the process.

With that done, I made a cross cut through the leather where the belt loop is to be tied.  The cut in the leather can be cleaned up by putting a drop of glue into the hole and using a pencil or something to squash the corners down.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Converting the Native Way CH257

Alongside their G202, Native Way offers several models of Chinese bronze arrowheads that may be of interest to Classical reenactors.  The best prospect as far as I can discern is the CH257.

The smaller one above is the 257.  Wilkie Collins very kindly included a packet of  the larger CH259 with my order.  The 257, not counting the tang, is about 24mm (or a bit less than an inch), which would be on the small side for those used in the Graeco-Persian wars, but acceptable.  It weighs 12g as cast, more than half of which is in the tang.

The 259 is more attractive, with grooves giving the suggestion of triple flanges.  It's 49mm in the head and weighs 25g.  I think this is an acceptable length; definitely on the big side, but I've seen arrowheads at auction and antique dealer websites described as up to 50mm.  Still too heavy - but our techniques here should help that.

Mr. Collins describes them as armor-piercing.  I don't know anything about Chinese archery, but I can believe it.  They show a compact, sturdy cross section with little or no waste, and the tang would combine well with a bamboo shaft, resulting in a very tough, heavy arrow with plenty of momentum in a small area.

Occasional flawed castings may be found.

Chinese armor-piercer to Persian bantamweight

The first thing to do is grind in the flanges.  I've obtained a respirator for my foundry class, so grinding the leaded bronze with a Dremel shouldn't be a problem.  Here I'm using two different-shaped cutting bits to incise grooves and grind out the bulk of metal, and small files and rifflers to finish.  Finally they are sanded and then burnished with a steel brush.

The tangs are cut off with an angle grinder - wrap the heads in something like leather and hold them in a vise to accomplish this step safely.  Next the bases must be ground flat.

A post hole is drilled into a block of wood with a drill press.  The head is embedded in the hole to hold it steady.

The drill press is fitted with a 1/8-inch drill bit, brought down very slowly so as to let the cutting edges gradually shave at the bronze and not get jammed in it...

...  and the socketed arrowheads loosened with gentle hammer taps and extracted.  Weight is down to approximately 3g; a bit heavy for the size, but an excellent historical weight range for the type.  The heads can now be attached to reed or bamboo shafts using a wooden insert - I intend to use sections of bamboo skewer.

A lot of work?  Yes, admittedly, and attainable mainly because I have access to a drill press at the moment.  Also I still can't produce a finish as good as arrowheads that were cast as three-bladed.  But if you're in North America and have a drill press available, this is a very economical option.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An akinakes chape from Bucks County

A side benefit of taking foundry at BCCC is being able to do a small personal project even in my first semester.

The positive is composed of Victory Brown sculpting wax in sheets pressed around the end of my wooden scabbard core, with additional lumps acting as filler.  The whole is scraped and rubbed smooth; detail is then applied by rolling tiny pieces of wax and squashing them onto the surface.

 Gating was indirect and complicated.  I attached one vent to the inside of the front because I didn't want to mess up the design on the outside.

Dipping, firing and pouring proceeded smoothly.  Divestment was a bit delicate, however, for obvious reasons.

About eight pounds of bronze were poured to make a casting of less than two ounces.  I had to tediously wear off all the stubs with carbide-edged die grinder attachments.

It was during the fitting process that I began to regret having put a gate on the inside.  In the end I even sanded down the scabbard core a little in desperation - a loose fit will be necessary because the scabbard is to be covered in leather.  Since these chapes are usually found with the holes at the top empty, I speculate that they were held in place with organic pins, probably wood.

Divesting had to be continued on the inside entirely through sandblasting so as not to deform the walls with hammer blows.

The finished chape, after sanding with 400- and 1500-grit paper and burnishing with a steel wire Dremel brush.  I intend to create a permanent rubber mold from it before applying a finish of clear wax and attaching it to the scabbard.