Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cast belt concho

Another item I cast this spring was a concho for a weapon belt.  I've done a number of posts on this subject and I won't go into the background yet again, so here goes.

As with most of my bronzes, I modeled it in Victory Brown.  I formed the cone by rolling out a sheet of wax to roughly 1/10 to 1/12 inch/2-2.5mm thick, cutting a circle, removing a small pie wedge from it, and bringing the cut edges together.  I cut the scalloped edge with an X-Acto and formed the rims around the petals by rolling ultra-thin wax "noodles" and pressing them into place, separating the petals by dragging the tip of a hobby awl between them.

On the back, I attached six wax gates of around 1/8 inch/3mm near the edge and two of perhaps 1/16 inch/1.6mm a bit in from the edge to serve as the rivets (as no rivets are visible on the original's face, I assume they were cast in place on the back, since adding them and then grinding them smooth on the front might undo the peening).  These all branched out from a central main gate of about 1/3 inch/8-9mm.  There were no gates or vents on the model's face.

The back bar was cast straight as a section of one of the thicker gates, with room on either end so angle grinder could cut through without touching either the bar or the concho itself.  Since I had doubts about whether it would cast, I didn't poke holes all the way through for the rivets before casting, but instead just made small pits to serve as guides for the drill press (which has an annoying tendency to slip a bit to one side when first entering).  I then drilled fully through the pits after de-gating, and formed the kink through repeated bending with needlenose pliers and annealing.

BCCC lab tech Nick investment-cast the model using a centrifugal casting machine.  This technique, also called spincasting, allows for very fine and detailed models which are almost guaranteed to cast whole, unlike gravity casting, as the centrifugal force throws the molten metal into every nook and cranny.  It also obviates the need for venting, since the weight of the molten metal being sent into the mold forces the air out the same way, through the pouring gates.

One drawback is that the investment, which as I understand it is basically plaster of paris with some sort of strengthening agent, traps a lot more small bubbles than ceramic slurry does.  Where these bubbles are in contact with the wax, they form little warts all over the model, making finishing more tedious.  You can see one large bubble on the bottom center there, and close examination will reveal the remnants of a number of smaller ones.

On the plus side, the investment is much easier to remove than ceramic shell.  Most of it crumbles away with a dunk in water, that which is left can be softened if necessary with a baking soda solution, mostly scrubbed away, and any remaining traces scraped off with metal tools or buffed off with a wire Dremel brush.

The rims around the petals are almost certainly too prominent.  Going by the OIP drawing, I interpreted them as sort of a gently rounded lip, but because I didn't spend enough time smoothing the noodles down, they instead look high and sharply differentiated from the petals' faces, with crevices that I couldn't successfully polish.  As a result, there's still a significant amount of brown as-cast finish there, giving the face a slightly antiqued appearance.  The dip around the middle cone is probably too deep as well.

Dry-fitting the back bar was the most tedious part of the process, since the rivets were crooked where the met the concho's back, and I still failed to get it perfect.  Once the fit was sufficient, peening the bar into place only took a couple minutes.  I did so with the face resting on a thick carpet on top of concrete, so as not to damage it.

As you can see, after being bent, the back bar sticks out considerably more than the original.  I should have made it only a little bit longer than its desired final length.

As I mentioned before, I think this is a low-strain application, and the thin bar and small rivets will be good enough.  Should they break, a replacement can be silver-soldered on.

If possible, I intend to make a whole new belt with a strap of buff cowhide in place of my old belt's veg-tan.  I will probably still use latigo lace for the time being, however, since it doesn't stretch like fat-cured leather, which is likely to become an issue when supporting the fully-loaded gorytos.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cast arm fibula

Three years ago, I fabricated an arm fibula out of brass rod.  I was never satisfied with the lack of depth afforded by filing the details into stock that was narrow to begin with, so I've always wanted to replace it with one that was properly cast.

Last semester I took foundry at BCCC again and took the opportunity to make a few more reenactment items.  This one, which I finished up just last week, is wax-cast (as the originals probably were) and based on an example found at the Harvard Art Museum.

Although this is a huge step up from the brass one, I still made a couple of mistakes and compromises.   First, I had been meaning to replicate one from Deve Hüyük, and ran a simple Google search for this purpose, but didn't read the article carefully enough.  This example is of unknown provenance, although the article does point out that it's similar to two Deve Hüyük examples.   All three are of unusually large size, each around 4 inches/10cm long, with "bead and reel" decoration, flared at the base, and having fingers filed in after forging.

I cast it as a blind vent on a larger assembly.  The hand was cast as a bulb.  Unfortunately, I didn't account for shrinkage, resulting in a mushy hole where the wrist should've been, and the bulb fell off during de-gating.  I forged the bulb out into a flared catchplate roughly 1mm thick (finding out, along the way, that the Everdur silicon bronze Bucks uses actually hot-forges nicely).  Luckily, crack lab technician Ray was able to weld the catchplate back on, but the result is a much thinner "wrist" than the original has (it's still thick enough, though).

You'll also note that the proportions are slightly off.  This probably had to do with my inability to sculpt the wax for the beads and reels thin enough, and of course I bent the elbow a little too sharply.  The rough patch on the elbow is a remnant of the chill ball, and I may grind it smoother later on.  The original might have been cast straight and then bent, but I don't think this is the case, since it's slightly thicker where it's bent than immediately above or below.

The other problem that occurred with casting was that the slurry, which is quite thick, apparently failed to flow between most of the very thin wax noodles which formed the reels on my wax positive.  The first pair of reels just below the elbow cast fine. The second cast part of the way.  The rest cast as single thick reels with only a short groove in one or two places around.  This was sufficient as a starting place for me to file the grooves in, but it means that the grooves are sharp and the sides a bit square, unlike the nicely rounded cross section on the original.

The fingers were filed before bending the catchplate over.  It proved too difficult to get the bend in the catchplate to align with the pin, but as you can see, this was a problem with the original as well, so it's perfectly accurate.

I made the hole for the pin with a drill press, unfortunately a bit off-center.  The pin itself is simply a piece of springy 3/32-inch steel welding rod hard-soldered into place.  The original used bronze, but the bronze welding rod at Bucks was too thin and I imagined that brass would contrast unpleasantly with the orangeish Everdur.  In any case iron was also commonly used for arm fibula pins.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Conversion reversal

More than two years ago, I undertook a project of modifying half a dozen Native Way CH257 tanged triangular Chinese arrowheads into socketed Scythian-style trilobals.  The result was acceptable in weight though a bit crude in appearance.  However, when I shot them at Marathon 2015, the heads had a tendency to lodge in the wooden target while the rest of the arrow popped loose, as the arrow glue by which they were attached failed.  Arrowheads with the tangs left intact did not come loose.

I was left with two options:  order more arrowheads and convert them into trilobals without removing the tangs (arrowheads of this type are known from Achaemenid Persia, though rarer than the socketed types), or try to attach new inserts with a stronger bonding material.  In this case I chose to create new tangs by soldering the socketed heads to metal inserts.

Since the sockets were created with a 1/8-inch drill bit, it was easy to create the tangs from 1/8-inch brass rod.  I sanded the ends of the rod segments up to past where they would enter the sockets to make sure they were clean and free of oxidation, smeared a little solder paste (top) onto the tangs and placed the arrowhead onto the tang.

I worried that the tangs would anneal and wind up bending if they struck a hard target.  To try and prevent this, I clamped each tang up to 1/4-inch from the point in a heavy vise before hitting it with the gas torch, and applied heat only just until the solder melted and flowed around the junction.

The soldering seems to have been successful, but whether it will be strong enough to withstand shooting into hard targets remains to be seen.  With a melting point of 430F, this is not a "hard" solder, and the contact area can't be very large.

I also took the opportunity to anneal and straighten the tang of a Native Way G202.  While I have not yet tested it, I think that crooked tangs may run the risk of bending further when striking a hard target.  On the other hand, tangs that have been softened too much through annealing may also wind up bending.  These questions will have to wait until spring for answers.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Making Scythian boots, part III

The leg lining, attached with a double running stitch.  Tests show that the lining will stiffen the entire area that it's stitched into, so for flexibility and the option of tightening the boot around the ankle, the lining had to be cut off.  Extra rows of quilting within the lined area don't appear to be necessary, but could be added in the future even after the boot is constructed.

Putting stitch holes in the leather layers with just a hobby awl was much easier and faster than with the latigo sole.

Along complex curves or where clamping isn't possible, it's much easier to temporarily pin the leather pieces than to glue them, although this should be avoided when possible.

The foot is attached with two rows of double running stitches, then the leg is slid over the edge of a table to glue up the welt.

Laying the glued pieces out to dry.  Possibly just placing a large book, a plank or other heavy, flat object on the boot while it's still over the table would work best, but it's not that difficult to just arrange it so that the welt sits flush against the leg while drying.

Since the welt is likely to be a high-wear area, I attached it again with two rows of stitching.  The second edge had to be glued up by pinning at roughly two-inch intervals and squeezing glue between the pins (this photo is taken halfway through the process).

It's harder to stitch the second row because it's often hard to see the holes by looking down the boot leg.  As an alternative, one can poke the awl back into the holes and feel where it protrudes, then slide the needle down to where the awl is protruding through the leather.

The toughest part was trying to close the gap at the heel.  Because the welt is attached entirely on the outside, there's a hole where the back end of the sole, the back corners of the foot and the bottom of the welt come together.  I tried to ameliorate this by whipstitching the welt to the sole using the preexisting holes that attach the sole to the foot.  However, perhaps it would be better to put the welt between the sole and foot when they're first being stitched together, before the foot is turned rightside-out.

The finished first boot.  Although it looks okay at first glance, there are several things I don't like about it:

Firstly, the middle of the instep just before it meets the leg is too low and pinches the top of my foot painfully.  This may be the result of my tailoring in part II where I wanted to get rid of excess material around the arch.  I don't think that a softer leather would help, because the linen thread wouldn't stretch (something that must not have been apparent when the felt pattern was loosely basted together) and in any case this foot is already made from the relatively elastic part from the hide's belly.  Only a fuller cut would really help.  Possibly the curved stitch where the instep meets the leg should be cut higher.

Second, the toe is too low.  That angle in the profile is my toenail pressing against the inside.  Again, this may be because I cut away the "excess" length back in part II.  If so, it may indicate that the original Missouri River patterns were, as I first suspect, too small.  It's a very good thing that while I did mark the felt pattern with the revised lines, I didn't trim it, so it still has the pre-tailored shape.  I will have to go through the entire bootmaking process again without the extra trimming and see if I can confirm these suspicions.

Lastly, aesthetically, the brown color is too dark and the "natural" linen thread too light, making for a very odd look with the bright line cutting across the leg just above the ankle.  To achieve this kind of very dark brown, a hide would either have to be heavily dyed or smoked for an excessive amount of time.  I think that a more natural smoked color (buff, goldenrod or golden brown) would make these boots much more plausible for portraying a person of middling economic status.  Many buckskinners say that white leather was historically preferred for special occasions and that most leather would have been smoked - perhaps the Chärchän Man's white boots and red jacket were the equivalent of being buried in a formal suit today.  The fil au chinois "natural" is off-white, whereas unbleached linen and hemp are beige - however, I'm not sure where to find truly unbleached linen thread at this time.  Regular brown may be another acceptable option not because it's necessarily more correct but because it would stand out less.

In conclusion, while I have the basic steps down, it's clear that more experimentation is needed to turn out a pair of wearable boots.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Making Scythian boots, part II


The patterns are taped to the flesh side of the leather at multiple points and traced with a pen (I prefer a red rollerball pen of the kind used for proofreading).  The tape does cause slight degradation of the pattern each time it's used by pulling off some of the felt fibers, but unless you're making large numbers of boots all of the same size, this shouldn't be a problem.

I cut out both sets of uppers at once because I wanted to put the hide away and vacuum my floor, but this isn't necessarily the best order to do it in, for the following reason:

Once one vamp and its matching sole have been cut out, it's time for a final fitting.  Although felt is probably the best commonly-available material for simulating leather in test fittings, it's not perfect, and in particular it doesn't really simulate the thick leather of the sole.  When the sole approaches 1/4 inch (over 6mm) in thickness, the stitch holes are put in at an angle, emerging from the edge rather than the other side as with a thin felt sole.  Therefore when the finished shoe is turned rightside-out, the upper wraps around the sole and fits in a slightly different manner.  I soon discovered, by basting the upper and sole together, that I'd cut the felt patterns rather too long.  This is, of course, not as bad as if they'd been too short, but refitting is a pain.  I traced the excess while the shoe was still on my foot and took it apart to re-cut.

Everyone's feet are slightly different shapes.  Mine are narrow in the heel and wide across the ball.  A good fitting requires a rather odd shape.  I re-traced the altered upper onto the pattern so that the correction will be permanently incorporated into it.

Finally, it's time to sew up.  I'm using Crazy Crow's five-ply waxed linen cord in "natural," but waxed hemp would probably be more correct for Central Asia, and real sinew is ideal (.  White linen cord from a major craft chain like Michael's would probably be okay since no one will see it - it's certainly no less correct than the latigo, which will be visible.  Artificial sinew and other synthetic materials should be considered a last resort.

Speaking of latigo, it's a very tough material and difficult to pierce with the kind of awl I'm using here.  This is a hobby awl made for light applications.  I am informed by Nadeem Ahmad and Jax Reeder that an awl with a diamond cross section and mushroom handle will make putting holes in the sole much easier.


The finished foot.  Once stitching is completed, the toe is pushed inward and the entire shoe slowly inverted so that the stitching faces inward.  The insole will keep the stitching from touching your foot.  I re-cut the upper perhaps a bit too short, while the sole is still a bit too long and wide, making for an odd fit, but it doesn't yet appear so bad as to be unusable.  Luckily, a single cowhide split should yield enough material for a second pair if the first one doesn't work out.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Retailer assessment: Fabrics-Store.com

This is the first site that shows up when I search for linen by the yard on Google.  It's a U.S.-based online retailer mainly of all-linen fabrics and also linen-cotton blends, located in (or at least shipping out of) Commerce, CA.

Prices are relatively low, lower than Jo-Ann's regular prices on 100-percent linen, for instance.  Shipping rates aren't flat, but "determined by the weight and location of the order."  My order, which cost $188.37, should have totaled about 7 pounds 10 ounces/3.46kg, and shipped to southeastern Pennsylvania, was charged $28.63 in shipping and handling.

The new fabrics, even the "softened" ones, have a smooth, slightly stiff finish, which reverts to the familiar fluffy and wrinkly appearance after washing and tumble drying.  I haven't yet measured it for shrinkage.  The 5.3-ounce medium weight is indeed heavy enough for a tunic.  The 7.1-ounce heavyweight is just about heavy enough for trousers, but both are definitely summerweight if worn unlayered.

Unfortunately, to judge from reviews and customer photos, the site's own swatches don't accurately represent the fabrics' colors.  Thus, trying to choose colors that approximate those produced by historical dyes is an uncertain endeavor.

I've tried to correct the colors in my own photograph, but take them with a grain of salt anyway.

Redwood, top left, is close in appearance to linen dyed with a high concentration of madder (compare the 12.5-25 percent weight-of-fabric tests here).

I'd hoped that Blue Bonnet, top right, would resemble indigo, but it's actually more greenish than it appears here.  Perhaps one of the other medium blues would be better.

Wisteria, center, is very slightly violet.  I still think it's close enough to woad that I wouldn't complain about it.  Again, perhaps another light blue would be better.

Compared to distillatio's tests of lye water and sun-bleaching, Fabric-Store's Bleached is quite a bit lighter, being a pale ivory.  It may be that continuous washing and sun-drying could lighten linen still further, but until I see more evidence, I suspect that the Pebble color might be a better choice for a commoner's moderately bleached linen.

Ginger, bottom left, appears to be well within the ranges of walnut hull dye that I've seen images of.

I didn't get a photograph of the natural (it was in the dryer at the time), but since it is just natural, unbleached linen, that shouldn't matter.  Suffice to say it's the familiar dark greyish beige color, and not as yellow as it appears in the site photos.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Making Scythian boots, part I

Background and considerations
Central Asian peoples from at least around 1000 BCE through recent times frequently wore tall pull-on boots.  With modifications to height and toe shape, these were used by Arians, Drangians, Parthians, Black Sea Scythians, possibly Bactrians, and others at least as far east as the Altai.  Kuz'mina ascribes tall boots to the Bronze Age people of the Andronovo culture, widely believed to include the early Indo-Iranians, so it is possible that the ancestors of the Medes and Persians also wore them.

Artwork is scant on construction details, which, of course, probably varied a lot over such a wide expanse of space and time.  Black Sea Scythian boots on several artefacts from Kul Oba are shown with a strap that appears to gather the boot leg tight around the ankle.  The women's decorated boots from Pazyryk have wide bands of woolen braiding in the same location, but these don't appear to fasten or make the boot leg tighter and instead seem to be appliqued into place (strictly, the Kul Oba ankle straps aren't shown with any obvious method of fastening either).  Otherwise boots appear to have no fastening, like wellington or cowboy boots, which are a modern iteration of the same equestrian concept.  The Chärchän Man's surviving boot doesn't appear to have an ankle strap, but is seamed between the foot and leg.  On balance, I would call the evidence inconclusive.

Since I have thin heels and wide toes, my heels tend to lift out of any pull-on boots that are wide enough to fit my toes into.  I'm making some felt mock-ups and plan to tie straps around the ankles to see if they can be left as separate pieces or need to be partly stitched down.  On Medo-Persian low shoes, the strap has to be attached, since if it rides up even a little, it will be above the top edge of the shoe, and thus fail to serve its purpose of tightening the shoe around the ankle so it stays on the foot.  It doesn't seem to me that tall pull-on boots would have such a strict requirement.  On the other hand, as noted above, stitching the strap down all the way around would make it impossible to adjust, which could well result in a worst-of-both-worlds setup in which the strap impedes putting on and taking off the boot but isn't tight enough to provide good fit around the ankle.

Sergei Rudenko states that the Pazyryk women's boots are seamed at the back, which makes them sound similar to Plains moccasins.  Some Plains boot moccasin patterns may be ideal, but the ones most readily available to me are laced and in such case, I figure I might as well wing it when it comes to fitting the leg, since lace-up shafts won't fit in the same manner as pull-on ones.  The Pazyryk boot legs were open in back, but artwork seems to show that most Scythian boot legs were closed.

The commercial cowhide split I'm using is an inexpensive substitute for a fat-cured leather, but both it and the German-tanned buckskin I used for my gorytos are quite lightweight and floppy.  I expect that leather boots had linings to stiffen the legs and prevent too much sagging, and luckily, I have some lining leather on-hand.  A double layer of the outer material or a felt lining would also work.  Whatever the material, a few rows of stitching to add a little bit of quilting effect should increase stiffness, ensuring that the lining and upper behave as one piece of material.  For cold regions and seasons, a dense shearling hide might get by without an added liner or could even be the liner for a de-grained leather outer.

Soles might have been a single or double layer of soft leather, thick felt, or rawhide.  Rudenko describes one of the Pazyryk soles as "chamois" (which may mean chamois goat or just soft suede - I don't know what the original Russian word was) and another as having "a heel of thick (2mm.) rigid leather."  However, one look at the ornamented Pazyryk soles shows that they weren't made for a great deal of walking, and were likely intended just to show off while sitting or while riding side-saddle.

I'd prefer rawhide, but it works best with special processing such as de-stretching, and most of it on the market tends to be either very thin (goat hide, drumheads), too stiff (most bleached sides and boiled chew toys) or sold in costly whole sides (heavy cowhide, bison, etc.).  There are apparently rawhide soles commercially available, but I failed to find any before just ordering some latigo pieces.  Better luck next time!  Latigo is heavy wax-stuffed leather used for saddlery and other weather-resistant outdoor equipment, and the most common material for modern "hardsole" moccasins.  White latigo looks like bleached rawhide but is much more flexible.  Moccasin-makers around the Web have opined on the pros and cons of rawhide versus latigo with regards to durability, ease of sewing, comfort, traction and so on.  But either one should be acceptable for occasional reenactment use; rawhide simply has the edge as being more historical.  I wouldn't blame anyone for sticking with soft soles, though; they would be less protective, but far easier to stitch and more flexible if you prefer that.

Hemp and wool thread (used in Pazyryk felt stockings), sinew (used to attach the Pazyryk boot soles) and linen would all be appropriate stitching materials.  Artificial sinew and other synthetics would work as well.  For the final construction, I'm currently planning to use all waxed linen, since it's the only historical material I have on hand:  heavy cord for the soles, and light cord or multiple rows of thread to assemble the uppers.

Making the pattern

Assembled materials ready for measuring and cutting, including felt for the mock-up.  The spool of artificial sinew, next to the scissors, was my initial choice for assembly before I obtained some linen cord.

The first step is to find the correct size.  I normally wear a men's size 9 wide, so this is what I initially went for in measuring and cutting.  The Missouri River pattern is unfolded, laid out, and pieces of tracing paper are laid over the desired sections and weighted with various objects.  Trace with a pencil or ballpoint pen so the ink won't bleed through the tracing paper onto the original patterns.

In Plains moccasins, the topline is not a hole but just a T-shaped cut; the moccasin extends to the ankle and has a lace running through slits, and a tongue is sewn into the front.  Here, I'll be cutting away material from the topline to make that swooping seam seen in the Chärchän and Pazyryk boots.  No tongue is needed because the foot will be protected by the boot leg.

The paper copies of the original patterns are pinned to the felt, traced in ink and cut.  The felt pattern should become the permanent pattern cut for my own feet if everything goes well.

As recommended, I added a welt between the sole and upper for the first attempt, but have since decided that this made things needlessly complicated, especially since I'm going to be using insoles.  After cutting out a nicely rounded topline, I attempted to measure its perimeter with a tape measure and then cut a big rectangle for the leg.  Then I stitched it all up loosely with dental floss.

It turns out the size 9 fit FAR too small on me, being too short, too narrow, and too flat in the toe.  It may be partly that these moccasins are designed to be worn without socks or insoles, or they may just run smaller than they should, I don't know.  Add to that, a true fat-cured leather would stretch with wear.

After two more attempts, I now have a pattern that will accommodate my stocking foot and an orthotic insole comfortably, made by combining the back half of a size 10 with the front of a size 11.  In fact, it's a bit too wide now, though a good length.  I don't know if the welt running up the back was used in period, but it's one way to accomplish a flat seam without overlapping the edges and causing a raised edge that could chafe the achilles tendon.  Of course, the welt itself could prove irritating due to being an extra-thick, less flexible part, and any kind of raised seam would be.

The next step will be to cut all the stitches I've just done, do some slight final adjustments to the foot and sole pieces, and then start tracing onto leather.