Sunday, September 4, 2022

Retailer assessment: Baird Brothers

In the runup to Plataea 2022, I found myself in need of several spear handles.  Ten years ago, the cheapest way to get one in the U.S. would've been to order a six-foot tool handle.  Unfortunately, the mail-order market for these appears to be a mess right now, for many reasons I won't go into.  With time running short, I capitulated and ordered from Baird Brothers, a U.S.-based retailer of various wood products.  (Their page for wood dowels is listed under Mouldings.  Here's a direct link.)

The advantages Baird Brothers offer include a good stock, a wide selection of genera (including favorites like ash and hickory), and a wide selection of sizes - you can order dowels up to 12 feet long, and anything up to eight feet can ship by parcel carrier.  They also offer many increments of thickness.  On paper, they are perfect for our needs.

There are two drawbacks:  First, shipping is rather steep - my order of four ash dowels for spear handles and a smaller one for a javelin totaled just over $60 and cost more than half that much to ship.  (On the plus side, delivery to my address in Pennsylvania was pretty quick.)  Second, the company will not select for straightness of grain, not even for an additional charge.

This is the result.  The small dowel and three of the large ones were fine.  The last one had extremely diagonal grain in the first and last third.  This goes far beyond the usual runout seen in cheap tool handles.  A dowel like this is liable to break if subjected to stress.  For the price, one in five pieces turning out to be a dud is very disappointing.  Luckily I still had the handle I'd gotten from Torrington to swap out for it.

Would I recommend Baird Brothers or buy from them again?  Probably - but only because I can't seem to find any other choices in the continental U.S. that aren't more inconvenient.  You can buy tools and learn to make your own or modify the commonly-sold ash spear handles that are too thick, pay even higher prices for martial arts fighting staves, or take a chance with Baird.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Various practical addenda from Plataea 2022

Well, Plataea 2022 ended on Saturday and although there's a lot to be said, I'm limiting myself to some observations to bear in mind about all the stuff I brought out there:

-  A four-inch-wide (internal), eight-foot-long PVC pipe with caps held on by duct tape makes a very protective package for spears, but it's so heavy and awkward (particularly when you already have two suitcases and a rifle case with your bows and arrows in it), and expensive to ship, that I wound up leaving both it and all my spears spears with other reenactors who felt they'd have a use for them and less difficulty/expense transporting them.  I will not travel with spears in the future.  If I send any more to Greece, I'll send them well ahead of time by the cheapest service available and leave them with a trusted friend.

-  Under the (to my Pennsylvanian standards) quite aggressive heat and sun, the film of linseed oil-beeswax sealer I applied on top of the oil paint on my crescent shield softened and rubbed off.  Specifically, the area on top of the dark red ochre-painted part of the shield; the area on top of the white edge was somewhat more resistant (presumably because the film is transparent and the dark paint heated up in the sun faster).  The same mixture used as a paint binder on my new gorytos was also more resistant, but did soften after prolonged exposure, allowing thicker bits to be scraped off.  The rosin-beeswax glue attaching the leather facing of my new akinakes scabbard also softened.  By contrast, anything treated, bound or sealed with only linseed oil or rosin (the ochre paint on the shield, the spear handles, and the sinew wrappings of my arrows) were all fine.  So basically anything containing beeswax was in danger of melting.

-  The buff leather weapon belt performed admirably.  The chrome-tanned belt sagged and became uncomfortable.  I'm not sure whether this is because the holes I punched in the buff belt allowed it to be laced tighter or because it's a thicker leather, but I suspect both.  The belt being nice and snug was definitely helpful.

-  As I suspected, the smaller bow and commensurately smaller gorytos and arrows were much easier to carry.  The search for an accurately Classical-styled bow of less than 36 inches strung continues.

-  The 1/2-inch-thick wooden crescent shield is at least as heavy as larger wicker ones in the same style.  This, too, needs improvement.  I also threw together a round wicker mat with pelta-style grips and a suede facing, which at 16 inches in diameter (about the size of the smallest Scottish targes, and barely large enough to cover my arm from elbow to knuckles with fingers closed around the handgrip) is so light I barely notice I'm wearing it, but I'd have felt much, much better about it if it were crescent-shaped.

-  A 12-ounce ceramic bottle, while convenient to carry, is only around a quarter as much water as I need to drink over the course of a Greek midsummer day in the field.  Also, water left out becomes as hot as the surrounding air in just a few hours.  What I wound up doing was to take a two-liter plastic bottle of water and keep it overnight in the hotel minifridge where it half-froze, wrapped it in spare clothing and kept it in my tent in my suitcase.  That way I could still at least refill my ceramic bottle with slightly cool water by the end of the day.  A proper cooler with ice blocks would've been better.

-  Food must be kept elevated or it will be invaded by ants.  A table of some kind, a crate, a box, anything will help.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Pieced gorytos, part V and last

The final steps were essentially no different from last time.  I put the strung bow in the case and used it to approximate the size and shape of the cover onto folded paper.  The curved top is my guess as to how it should be shaped if I manage to find a more authentically-shaped bow in the future.  I then traced it onto another piece of buckskin.

As with the main body, I stapled the seam at the edges, made the stitch holes with a hobby awl and sewed with heavy linen thread.

The belt attachments are roughly copied from the ones I made last time and are similarly fabricated from 14ga brass, cut with an angle grinder, annealed, and with the top bars expanded by being hammered with a small steel block.

I didn't have enough of the giant upholstery tacks from last time and they were no longer available at the fabric store, so I ordered some 1/2-inch brass tacks from Crazy Crow.  These have an advantage over the upholstery tacks in that, being solid brass, their finish can't be scratched off and the heads won't rust if scratched.  Stephan Eitler offered the quite reasonable alternative that the cord simply passes through a hole or slot in the spine and that what I've been interpreting as the attachment devices are actually ornamental.

The finished gorytos.  There is some difficulty in balancing how far up the spine the cord is attached (so the case will hang diagonally) versus how far down the cover can go (so it can sit partly on the spine instead of just lying on the bowstring and potentially slipping off).  The excess overlap of the cover onto the spine, combined with the square upper corner of the spine and how soft the leather is, explains why the cover appears particularly slouchy.  I may cut a semicircular notch on the upper (folded) side, as appears in some of the Persepolis reliefs and which I did in 2015.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Arm fibulae from Gaukler Medieval Wares

(Alert via Sean Manning, Book and Sword)  Mark Shier of Gaukler Medieval Wares in Canada is now offering a bronze hand brooch of a correct type for the Achaemenid period, so there'll be no need to have one custom-made or try to fabricate one.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Pieced gorytos, part IV

It took much longer for the paint to cure than I expected, as the slight grooves between the plywood face and veneer edge held accumulations that were thicker and took longer to oxidize.  Once this was done, I tried to attach the leather to the spine with pitch glue.  However, I was reluctant to keep the pitch glue melted with the heat gun for fear it would make the veneer edging delaminate.  All this could be avoided if I could figure out how to make a solid wood spine, but in the end, I peeled off the pitch glue, reattached the leather with rubber cement and finally started drilling a few days ago.

The stitching is soft hemp twine from a craft store, which I drew back and forth over a block of beeswax to lubricate it and reduce fraying.  I'm not sure exactly how much I used, but I spooled out about 24 feet more than necessary, which does make the stitching process tedious.

I spaced the stitch holes half an inch apart and marked them with a pen on the leather, then ran the gorytos under the drill press.  The size of the drill bit is dependent on the thickness of the twine.  In this case, a 3/32" bit was just right.  I could lace the first running stitch by hand with care.  After drilling, I scrubbed the sawdust off with a stiff nail brush.

When doubling the running stitch, I had to flatten the end of the twine and put it on a needle.  As the stitch hole was now crowded with the first stitch, I occasionally had to draw the needle through with a pair of pliers, but this became less often necessary as my fingers got sticky with beeswax.

After completing the stitching, I tied the twine off a bunch of times and cut it with about two inches of excess.

The fit is a little more snug than I'd like; I think the string and tip of the bow should not rub against the spine at all, so an extra inch of leather would've been a good idea.  This leather will stretch with time, but whether it will stretch enough is another question.

Anyway, the next step will be to make the belt attachments and then the cover.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Pieced gorytos, part III

I wanted to make the spine from solid wood, but was still concerned with it snapping across the curved part.  Historically, there may have been several solutions to this problem:  The spines may have been very thick and heavy, made of naturally curved branches, boiled or steamed and then bent, made in two crossgrain plies and glued like the one I made in 2015 (which nonetheless did snap when I fell on it), sheathed in metal to reinforce them, actually made of metal, or just treated with great care and/or replaced as soon as they did break.  I have no evidence for any of these methods.

In any case, what I wound up doing was cutting the spine from plywood.  This is, of course, the only method I can say for certain is not historical, but seemed to me the only one feasible at the moment.  I cut it on a scroll saw and smoothed the edges on my mini-belt sander.  Unfortunately, the edges are very clearly plywood and provide an easy entry point for water and grime, so my next step was to apply veneer edging intended for just this purpose.  This is a paper-thin continuous strip of wood with a hot glue backing, which is melted with a clothing iron, heat gun or other source of heat and pressed into place.

I edged the exterior and the interior, which will be rubbing against the bow.  The half-inch veneer edging turned out to be slightly wider than the half-inch plywood is thick, so I next had to trim off the overhang.

After that, I sanded the spine to 320 grit, rounding off all the sharp corners as I went.  This having been done, I still found its appearance unconvincing somehow.  On close inspection, it simply does not look like solid wood.

Ultimately what I've done is covered the whole thing with simple ochre oil paint (except the inner edge, to prevent it from rubbing off on the bow).  This not only masks the grain, but also fills in splintered flaws in the wood and provides some sealing against moisture.  The paint I mixed up was a little thick.  If it turns out to begin crumbling off the surface too easily when cured, I'll rub it down with a little extra oil and/or wax.  Otherwise, it should be roughly another week before I can stitch the main pocket on.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Ancient Iran exhibit at the Getty Villa Museum, Los Angeles

If you're in LA anytime between now and August 8, check out Persia:  Ancient Iran and the Classical World at the Getty Villa Museum in Pacific Palisades.  Thanks to Athanasios Porporis, who brought a Facebook post on the sword of Artaxerxes I to our attention via Ancient Hoplitikon of Melbourne; otherwise, I wouldn't have been aware of any of this.