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.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Fabricating an arm brooch

Marathon 2015 is set for seven days in late October and early November, and Jevon Garrett informs me that rain is possible.

It's easy to pick gear for summer weather, not so much for rain and cold.  Among reenactors, it's popular to wear tightly-woven wool cloaks with natural lanolin.  I've said in the past that "Persians didn't wear cloaks as we know them," but more recently I've come across statements indicating that arm fibulae have been found in Iran proper.  This means that commoners may indeed have worn cloaks, as opposed to kandyes, which are believed to be status items.

These fibulae were almost certainly wax cast, but since I'm taking foundry for the first time this semester, I didn't want to test the professor's patience by asking to do too many personal projects.  Luckily, I could picture a method of creating one by hand which, while not strictly accurate, should be passable.

We start with two thicknesses of brass rod, 3/16 for the body and 1/16 for the pin.  The body piece started at three inches and ended up two and a quarter inches.

I don't trust myself to file the grooves straight to begin with, so instead I etched shallow channels to act as guides for the files.  Above, the rode is masked with permanent marker and covered with wax at the tips.

Some floss is lashed on with wax and the brass goes into a ferric chloride bath for about 40 minutes.

The string fell off, so I recovered the brass with rubber gloves and washed it in nail polish remover.  Here's the initial etch.

A combination of fine files deepen and round out the grooves.  I also ground the middle slightly thinner with the stone bit on the Dremel.

The brass rod is thin enough to be coiled by hand, but I didn't get it nice and even, and it hardened quickly.  That can be fixed.

A little jury-rigged way of holding the pieces while they're annealed with a butane torch.  Yes, the torch is on; it just doesn't burn brightly.  Those rippling air currents do show up on the backdrop though.

After annealing, it was easy to correct the coil of the pin.


Repeated annealing and hammering and the catchplate begins to assume its shape.

On the originals, the pin was often iron (usually corroded away) and emerged from a hole in the middle of one end.  I have no tool that would make drilling a hole in the middle feasible.  Instead the pin is soldered into a groove in the side.  This is also why it's brass instead of iron or steel.  This step and the next one should actually be done with two hands.

When the groove is deep and wide enough to accept the pin, you can begin adjusting how the pin will fit into the catchplate.  Enough of the catchplate needs to be folded over that a casual bump won't dislodge the pin.  I plied, hammered and re-annealed it for an hour, and it's still shallower than it should be, but also more curled.  This luckily gives it a bit of a snap without locking it into place irreversibly, but you can't count on that happening..

Widening the groove with a riffler.  I also wound up filing the pin slightly for a better fit.

Once the fit was flush, I dipped the base of the pin into flux and got help holding the pin in the groove with pliers while I applied torch and solder.

The finished product after burnishing.  At this point one could continue filing or etching individual fingers, which I may do in the future.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cold Steel's "Man at Arms classic leaf shape spear" just came to my attention.  It seems rather too broad and heavy for a Persian regular's spear, the head weighing more than 19 ounces, but with its breadth and long socket, it bears a striking resemblance to those carried by the guards at Susa, needing only to have the black finish sanded off and a hame ball fitted.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Making a Medgidia-type scabbard, part II & last

The leather facing is glued down with a thin brushing of contact cement and then sewn tightly around the core with a double-running stitch.  A little excess width is necessary for leverage when pinching the leather to the core; essentially, you need more than you need.  The smooth fit is possible because of the leather's slight stretch, although I expect it to be a double-edged sword, as the angular corner of the tab may cause the leather to wear out there.

I made small crosshair cuts in the leather over the tab hole and tried to glue it down there.  It didn't take as well as I would've liked, but it just about works.

The finished scabbard.  It's a good fit to my sharp akinakes, but awfully loose for my blunt one.  The decoration on the tab is a simplified version of that seen on the original.  My experiments last year showed that painted suede is doable with a hide glue sizing, and although I don't know of any scabbards in the archaeological record that were painted, I have rumor of a gorytos from Takla Makan as well as later quivers that were.

By the way, certain literature implies that the Medgidia "sword and scabbard" is in fact a single piece of bronze, perhaps part of a statue.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Making a Medgidia-type scabbard, part I

I've noted before that the classic Achaemenid akinakes scabbard with its expanded throat is very tedious to make out of wood, requiring two thick planks, most of which must be carved away to leave behind the large, hollow shells.  Getting a chape is also proving very difficult.

As an alternative, for those with less time, I present this scabbard based loosely on the one from Medgidia, Romania.  It's of questionable origin; it could be Achaemenid, Scythian or native Thracian manufacture, and pending further evidence, I'd consider it acceptable for any of the above.  It lacks an expanded throat or chape, and is thus much faster to make from thinner planks.  It's incomplete, but I intend to further simplify it by facing it in leather rather than bronze - leather-covered wood scabbards are often cited in literature on the Scythians, and I maintain that bronze and bone chapes found in isolation are further evidence for scabbards that were otherwise entirely perishable.  The original also has embossed decoration, which I intend to replicate with paint.

The wood core is mainly two pieces cut from a 1/4-inch poplar plank.  It does require a bit of carving and sanding.  Luckily I still have access to Bucks' band saws and belt sanders to make the business quicker.  I carved this in the span of four days.

I cut a 1/8-inch mortise between the two halves of the small subsection of the belt tab where the lanyard hole was to be drilled, and added a scrap bit of basswood with its grain perpendicular to that of the tab.  With any luck, the plywood effect should make this less of a weak point.

The original has no lanyard hole visible from the front, and I don't know what kind of suspension it used; perhaps there's a ring at the back of the tab, or maybe it was attached directly to the belt somehow.

After taking it to the belt sander a second time, I found I'd accidentally worn through and now the scabbard was partly open down one side.  Caution must be exercised with the really powerful tools...  Luckily it was still wider than the blade, so I glued on a thin basswood strip before continuing with the carving and sanding.