Monday, October 12, 2015

Making a gorytos, part IV - spine construction

I've had some difficulty keeping in contact with custom woodworkers to get this spine made, but if a reciprocating or band saw is available (luckily my uncle had one), a flat J-shaped spine may be pieced together from a plank.

To begin with, the leather gorytos body is used to trace a cardboard pattern.

The pattern is traced in sections onto a 48x6x1/4-inch poplar plank (the ones from Home Depot actually measure 5.75 inches wide).

The cut pieces are to be made into a two-ply spine with the grain of the two layers running perpendicular to each other, to hopefully reduce the risk of splitting.  The lengthwise-grain pieces will be on the left (outside) of the spine when the gorytos is worn on the left side of the body with the curved end pointing forward.

Due to the aforementioned slightly inaccurate labeling, an extra 1/2-inch-wide piece needed to be added to the lower end of the curve on the lower face.

The spine is glued together with a waterproof wood glue, and placed on a flat surface to dry.  Using scrap wood, half an inch of shims are placed all around it to make sure the weights sit evenly.

Twenty volumes of an encyclopedia form the weights to try to keep the spine completely flat as it dries.

I let the spine dry for two days to be absolutely sure it wouldn't warp.  Since the inside edge won't be visible, it only requires further cleanup if there are any large pieces jutting inward.  The outside should be shaved and sanded if necessary to achieve evenness between the two layers; the edges can also be rounded.

Either the floor or distribution of weights must not have been perfectly flat.  Lamination failed at one point where the back layer bent away from the front.   I worry that if this bit is allowed to flex in relation to the rest of the spine, it could crack.  I think this is an unlikely concern, but there's no point in risking it.

After the wood putty dries, the area is shaved and sanded down.

Applying a modern stain may seem like cheating, as it's basically trying to make one species of wood look like a different species, but that grey and green poplar is gross-looking.

Ordinarily, I would be finishing up with linseed oil at this point, but time is running very short, so tomorrow I'll apply a quick-drying varnish to protect from moisture and then get to final assembly.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Making a wooden akinakes scabbard, part V and last

Here you go:

The scabbard is finished with paints, in imitation of hide glue paints which we know were used on brain-tanned leather in more recent times.

My cast bronze chape from last semester is held in place with a pair of wooden pegs which pass through the front board of the scabbard and are glued down.  (Since none of the chapes I've seen which feature holes for these pegs have metal rivets or nails in place, I assume the pegs were organic.)

Lastly, a braided cord (cotton, unfortunately, but it's all I could find - and it is a period material, though preferably for high-status impressions) is tied tightly around the scabbard, with its knot in the back.  Both ends of the cord are sewn and tied off to prevent fraying, but on the long end, this step should be deferred until the cord is cut to its final length.  A little experimentation is needed to find the right length so the long end can pass comfortably around the thigh but not hang much below your knee or allow the scabbard to swing wildly when you run.  The short end is waxed so that it can compress enough to pass through the fluted brass bead and be knotted on the other side.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Update: Cappadocian cloaks

Two years ago, I wrote that the Cappadocians wore square cloaks.  Experiments with unstitched fabric demonstrate that I'm an idiot.  Since only two corners are visible hanging in the front, and the lower hem appears to wrap straight around the body, the Cappadocian cloaks were apparently semicircular.

This will make cutting and (if necessary) finishing the edges a bit more complicated.  The semicircular version of the Roman paenula was similar, if longer - going by the Persepolis reliefs, the Cappadocian cloak was shorter than the knee-length tunic - so we should be safe using a paenula pattern.  Together with the arm fibula, this is what I intend to wear as rainwear to Marathon 2015.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Just came across this shop on Etsy that features bronze Central Asian knives and akinakai which might be good for certain Scythian subgroup impressions. They are small but look nice.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A bronze shield cover from... ?

I've finally tracked down the Axel Guttmann violin-like shield I mentioned back in 2012.  It's not quite the shape of the violin shields seen at Persepolis and is much smaller (only 18 inches/46cm across).  Other differences are obvious upon viewing, and running the page through Google Translate I find that a "Prof. P. Schauer, Regensburg" (presumably Peter Schauer) assigns it a Hittite origin.  I don't know much about Hittite shields in the Iron Age, but in the late Bronze Age they used shields of a similar shape.  FWIW, Matt Amt has suggested that these gave rise to the Dipylon/Boeotian shield of Greece, thus raising the possibility that the Greek and Persian shields derive from a common ancestor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

One more leather canteen

After reviewing the various craft supplies I'll have to order for Marathon 2015, and paying off a huge ER bill from that little eye accident in May, I've decided I can't afford a custom ceramic canteen.

That being the case, and what with waiting on some final decisions before finally putting in those orders, and my hands getting bored, I decided to make another leather canteen instead.

Although veg-tanned (and therefore molded) leather is probably not accurate for the Achaemenid period, I could at least aim for a better shape.  The one I made for Marathon 2011 is a blobby trapezoid with ears on either side of the neck, made according to the shape of the remaining leather scraps I had at the time, without thought to accuracy.  This new one is based on a clay canteen shown in OIP 69, plates 71 and 72 (pages 293 and 295 of the PDF).

This shape (I've always thought of it as "turtle-shaped") isn't very convenient; at just under four and a half inches/11.4cm across plus more than a quarter-inch of seams all around, it's a bit awkward to hold in your hand, but contains only around 14 ounces of water, a little more than a standard can of soda or beer.  One of the tapered bottle shapes would probably be more practical.

The leather is a Tandy economy shoulder, which I've been using up gradually over several years.  It seems to have been discontinued, but that's just as well because I don't like it and it's too heavy (around nine ounces) for most uses I put it to; I had to skive the pieces here by about a third.

In the original, the earholes were actually vertical, and grooves in the sides of the body indicated that the carrying cord passed all around the lower two thirds of the canteen.  I didn't think this would be practical to reproduce in leather; I think it would be prone to break.

.This time around, I made the stitch holes with a thin hobby awl rather than a drill or Dremel, and stitched with artificial sinew instead of dental floss (they're basically the same thing, but artificial sinew is much thicker).  It was a tight fit; I had to yank the needle through with a pair of pliers each time, but it was worthwhile because the seams don't appear to leak at all this time.  Just to be on the safe side, I went ahead and flash-sealed the inside seam with beeswax and melted more into the outside seams (which should also hopefully shield the artificial sinew; a lot of its own wax rubbed off while hot after the initial soak).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Thanks Alan Rowell for alerting me to motodraconis' new gallery of high-resolution photos from Naqš-e Rostam and Persepolis.