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.

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.