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.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Making a gorytos, part I

Over the coming months I'm planning to make an all-new gorytos for Marathon 2015.  While the gorytos was used for many centuries and came in several shapes, I only know of one that is attested in Persian art.
Relief on the Persepolis apadana

One of essentially the same shape is attested in some Greek pottery.  As near as I understand, these were made of soft leather with a wood spine sewn into the top to prevent sagging
Archer and hoplite kylix
Scythian on an amphora
Another Scythian

The upper edge is seamed; the main body may be a single piece folded up from the bottom or a front and back half.  Note in the second image that the bottom edge (the side facing down when the bow staff is worn horizontally) appears somewhat shaped to the bow staff.  This may be the result of leather being stretched, or it may be that the leather is seamed there - it's my understanding that fat-cured leathers don't mold well like veg-tan, and failing to stretch the leather sufficiently would leave the bow difficult to remove.  Many gorytoi seen in Greek art are shaped in this manner

A more extreme example that clearly illustrates the principle:
The bow- finding of olon kurin gol- some additional experiences and thoughts
This one is made with a wide, external wood spine.

Based on these, I've come up with some possibly reconstruction methods.

The choice between one- and two-piece construction and the exact widths required informs the choice of hides.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

An ivory chape at the MFA

Not sure whether there's any practical value in posting this, as it's unlikely any of us will be replicating it, but it does demonstrate the existence of isolated chapes made of solid ivory.  It's the standard goat motif - again - although exact provenance is not provided.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Minnetonka, the final chapter

Earlier this year, I noted that the Minnetonka "classic fringe" boot could be improved by replacing the laces with flat thongs, and more recently that the side openings are actually accurate for the standard Medo-Persian shoe.

Art from the period of Darius to the Alexander Sarcophagus does not indicate shoelaces run through slits or eyelets.  Thus, to the best of my knowledge, the thongs should probably be just stitched around the upper edge of the shoe.  So this is what I've done.

Before doing this, I also managed to pull off the heel layers.  I believe that this is the maximum extent to which this particular model can be improved.  I tend to work slowly, and I estimate the total time in this case to have been about six hours.

Conclusion:  If you find yourself in a hurry, the earlier slit method is still okay, but otherwise what you see above is what I'm going to recommend if you don't have the skills to make shoes yourself.  (Again, the hardsole version seems to have been discontinued; softsole boots can be used as-is or you can tunnel-stitch or glue a leather or rawhide hard sole to them.)  The significant remaining flaws are that the soft sole wraps too high up the sides, resulting in something of a "moc toe" look, and that the forward edges of the quarter slant forward instead of backward.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Making a wooden akinakes scabbard, part III

Next up is finishing the tab.  Drilling a large enough hole for the attachment is simple enough.  But since the little ear where the suspension is actually attached looks like a weak point to me, and furthermore pine is a rather weak wood to begin with, I'm trying to reinforce it, using sheet brass and epoxy.  I don't know of any evidence for this sort of feature; probably the originals were made of a stronger wood.  But it'll be covered with something (probably leather).


The chape is proving problematic.  The originals were most commonly made of bronze and sometimes bone.  Since I can't cast bronze yet and am having trouble finding a useable lump of bone (it should probably be made of the knuckle end of a cow, sheep or goat leg bone) here I'm using wood as a stopgap measure.  Wood is only this side of allowable on the precedent of the scabbard from Egypt, and it should be replaced presently.


Again it's the very common goat motif, though others are sometimes attested.  Unfortunately, what I thought was maple has turned out to be something quite a bit softer and more open-grained, also of less uniform hardness, so this carving is cruder than I'd like.  I'll probably attach it with rubber cement so it can be easily pulled off when the time comes.  A good friction fit will do most of the job, but a little adhesive is necessary, as I learned by nearly losing my pewter chape in the sand at Marathon 2011.