What type of leather should I use?

Discussion in 'Historical Re-enactment' started by Gavaha, Nov 19, 2003.

  1. Gavaha

    Gavaha Art House Member

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    I would like to do a Elven Warrior type armor, but not with the metal middle. Just some hard leather. Any tips on kinds, places to get? (I am a newbie on leathermaking if you can't tell yet)
     
  2. MacDhai

    MacDhai New Member

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    Lot's of places to get the leather from... luckily for me I've got a "The Leather Factory" close by (well, couple of hours away, but beats mail order)... They've got web-sites and they're nation wide... Good selection, reasonable prices... everything you need...

    The armour you're making... "functional" or just show??

    Functional, I'd go some moderately thick stuff... (lousy with leather gaging...) 1/4" or so would do the trick...

    Show, go with some lighter stuff... something under 1/4", deer skin would do, but if you want to do any tooling on it, go for thicker-belt weight leather.

    Ideas for your armour?? Again, is it functional or show...

    M
    (aka Ld. Robert Davidson, called the Bastard,
    Mercenary and Leather crafter for the Shire of Heraldshill,
    Kingdom of Calontir)
     
  3. Gavaha

    Gavaha Art House Member

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    I would be making a functional one
     
  4. Gavaha

    Gavaha Art House Member

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    anyone know any good sites for leather? Particulary cowhide?
     
  5. waenlotien

    waenlotien Healer/ Magicuser

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  6. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Gavaha,
    If you are planning on making functional (real) armor use 10 - 12 oz leather. You can also harden the leather. There is a misconception that the only way to harden leather is by soaking it in melted bees wax. Leather hardens when brought to 120 degrees and held at that temperature for 10 minutes. So you could boil it. Problem here is if you over boil it not only does it become extremly hard but it also becomes extremly brittle - not so good for armor. I have hardened leather armor pieces in the past by soaking them in water then placing them in a preheated oven for about 10 - 15 minutes. Watch your items closely though. Bake them too long and not only will they shrink but they will also become brittle. BTW the oven is preheated. That means bring it up to 200 degrees for about 10 minutes then turn the oven off then put your leather piece in the oven. You don't actually bake the leather. Now if you choose to harden your leather the way it was done in period just wear it and sweat a lot. The salts from your sweat will harden the leather. Of course you could speed up this process by soaking it in urine. Might work on the battle field for keeping the foe off you! Sorry, but this technique was used a great deal in period and works very well. Again, its the salts in the urine that harden the leather. As for smell.......well.........you wont get any dates!!!

    If you are making leather for show go with 4 - 5 oz leather. It is thick enough to do some tooling on but flexible enough to move in.

    Christophe of Grey
    Leather crafter of Medieval Accessories
     
  7. Lanterne

    Lanterne New Member

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    i dont know much about leatherworking... but cant you just skip the whole sweating in it for a month or pissing on your leather and instead use salt water? if it is indeed the salt that causes the desired effect?
     
  8. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Your reply was funny! However, I have never seen anything about using salt water. I'm not sure it's the same type of salts. However, in reference to the less sanitary method of hardening leather, you could use hot water instead. Remember, the action that hardens leather is a process called elastomerization and this occurs when leather is brought to 120 degrees (F) and held there for 10 minutes. Hot water works fine. So does putting the item wet into a preheated oven (200 degrees) for about 10 - 15 minutes. The advantage of this technique is that you can shape the piece before you harden it. this works particularly nice with things like vambraces. Get them wet, shape them over your arms and wrists, then put them in the oven. You will have a very nice set of armor vambraces that are custom fitted to your arms and wrists. I did this with the vambraces my wife and I use for combat archery.

    Just be careful! If you over heat leather it becomes very hard AND very bittle! Try boiling a small piece for 10 - 15 minutes to see the effect. It turns black, is as hard as plastic, and shrinks about 1/3. Any tooling you may have done on it will be gone due to shrinking. Hit it with a hammer (or sword) and it shatters. Not great for armor!!
     
  9. Lanterne

    Lanterne New Member

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    i might have to try making my own leather. what i think would be really awsome would be making my own leather harness for throwing knives. and making my own gloves and vambraces. Know any techniques for putting metal studs and such into armor?
     
  10. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Sure! Metal studs as applied to leather are known in the industry as spots. You can get them in nickel or brass. Usually the better ones are all brass with nickel plating. They come in sizes ranging from 1/8 inch diameter to over one inch and shapes of round, pyramid, diamond, etc. Check out www.tandyleather.com, enter SPOTS as search criteria. If you are going for a total fantasy look you could use spikes instead of spots for a more "dangerous" look. I'm working on some vambraces right now that have round spots on them. Usually the spots have two or four posts that stick through the leather and are folded over on the backside so the spot won't fall off. Spikes are held on with a screw that goes through the leather and into the spike from the backside.

    Good luck on your projects. Gloves are not easy to make! Have you considered using leather work gloves and adding your own gaunlet decorated as you please? This is how I made glove/vambrace combinations for my wife and I to be used as armor for combat archery.
     
  11. Lanterne

    Lanterne New Member

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    To tell you the truth i know nothing about making leather.

    I just think it would be extremely cool to make my own gloves/vambraces/jerkins whatever and be good at it.

    Pehraps i could take some college classes or what not. Or parooz this website /shrug.

    Though i would probably need to invest in many expensive tools and such. Is leatherworking expensive? and do i need heavy machinery to do it?
     
  12. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Lanterne,
    Take a look at this site, http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/shoe/SHOEHOME.HTM. While it is mostly shoe related there is lots of great information about working with leather. As to expensive, it's like any other hobbie, how much do you want to spend? I've been doing leather work for about 10 years now and have a collection of over 300 leather carving tools at the tune of about $4 each. Plus I have lots of other tools; strap cutters, specialized hammers, stranders, laceing tools, skivers, stiching horse, etc. I have done lots of leather projects and having the right tool not only generally improves the end product but it makes the job much easier.

    If you are new to leather working may I suggest you start with a simple project such as the vambraces you would like to make? They are not nearly as difficult as gloves, or shoes for that matter!, and you will not only have beautiful new vambraces but a great deal of satisfaction knowing you made them. You can tool them, carve a pattern into them, or put on metal studs called spots. Your choice. If you would like some help with patterning and making the project just let me know. I would be happy to coach you through the process here on the forum.
     
  13. Gavaha

    Gavaha Art House Member

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  14. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Latigo leather is chrome tanned leather. Lots of folks make armor out of latigo leather. You won't have to harden the leather though as it will be plenty stiff as is. If you choose veg tanned leather it is generally softer and would require hardening but then you could do some tooling on it if you choose. However, you would also have to dye the leather.

    Double cap rivets work but so do regular (non-double cap - sorry forgot the name right now). Double cap means that both ends of the rivet have a finished cap. Single cap rivets are essentially the same thing but the post end, when viewed from underneath, has a hole in the center. Either one works just fine. the issue is to make sure the rivets are long enough to go through however many layers of leather you intend them to hold together. i.e. 8 - 10 oz leather is 10/32 inch thick. Two layers is 20/32 or 5/8ths inch thick. the post has to be long enough to pass through both layers with just a little, i.e. 1/32 inch, sticking out. When you set the rivet cap the rivet holds snugly. Don't buy rivets that are too long nor too short. You may ask your vendor for suggestions here. The rivets can be set by placing them on a hard surface, anvil or vise, and striking them with a smooth faced hammer. There is a special tool for setting rivets that will result in a nice round top cap, but it's not essential for a good set.

    Most armor needs straps to stay on so you will need buckles for the straps. You can make the straps out of the leather you buy to make the armor or buy some 5 - 6 oz leather for your straps. The lighter leather is easier to use for straps. To make your life easy buy a strap cutter. They are made out of wood, hold a razor blade and can cut strapping up to 4 inch or more wide. Make your armor straps 1 inch wide. Your buckles will have to be 1 inch buckles. I would recommend getting halter buckles. They are slightly bent in the middle to handle the thicker leather better. Halter buckles do not require keepers for the extra length of strap passing through the buckle. DON'T CUT THE STRAPS UNTIL AFTER YOU FINISH THE PROJECT AND PUT THE ARMOR ON! If you cut the finished size of the straps before you wear the armor, with all the under clothing you entend to wear, you will invariably cut the straps too short! Voice of experience here!

    You will also need a hole punch. You can get inexpensive good ones with a choice of hole sizes at the leather shop. Or, if you want to save some money, use a drill. Actually drilling makes a stronger hole in the leather than punching any way!

    If you are going to do any sewing of the leather get some pre-waxed sewing thread from the leather supply place. It is quite thick but very strong. You should also get saddle maker's sewing needles. They are large, blunt on the working tip (that's what the hole punch is for), and have a large eye to accept the thick sewing thread. When you get ready to do some sewing post here and I'll tell you how to thread the needle. It's different than regular sewing and important!

    The last item you will need is a good pair of leather cutting sissors. Regular sissors will not work. Some folks use tin snips but a good pair of leather sissors can be had for about $10, better ones for more. Good sissors means accurate cuts and with armor that's important. There is little in life more unpleasant that armor bite due to a poor fit!

    Good luck with your project. If you need encouragement or help just post and I'll help as I can.
     
  15. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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  16. iggyp

    iggyp New Member

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    You're saying that veg tan leather is softer than latigo? Not in my experience. get something like 14oz veg tan and it's extremely stiff.

    I'm also pretty sure wax hardening doesn't work on anything other than veg tan.

    You also don't need beeswax .Beeswax is expensive, smelly, and it can melt in the sun. Some people suggest paraffin wax as a cheap alternative but it can be brittle. I use white candle wax. I've had people call it expensive but it was a couple bucks for a block big enough to do an entire torso worth of leather, and I had left over. I got it at a local craft store.

    Once the leather is wax hardened it is extremely hard, almost like wood, but it is still durable so if you do hit it very hard it will bend and not break. To repair it you can reheat the leather (think blow dryer) and it'll fix itself.

    When dealing with wax hardening be advised that the leather needs to be bone dry and the wax will discolor the leather.

    As for wear to buy leather.

    Tandyleather is a great place for crafting supplies, rivets, tools, etc. But their leather prices aren't that good. Try buying directly from a local tannery, or ebay. Lots of tanners/hunters etc sell on ebay and you can get great deals. Something that'd cost $4/sf at Tandy might be $1/sf on ebay. Ebay also has a better selection.

    It can be hard to find the Ebay category with actual leather so here it is (I save it as a favorite search).

    http://search.ebay.com/search/searc...eather&ht=1&category4=28132&combine=y&from=R9


    I highly recommend taking the wax hardening route. I have some links I could PM you. You only really need 6 or 7oz veg tan if you're doing wax hardening (especially if you'll have multiple layers, such as a chainmail shirt on underneath, or layers of leather). I use either suede or some oil-tanned cowhide as a base for the wax hardened parts (depending on how thick I want it to be, and if it is just for show). If you're going to be cutting the vegtan into small pieces try buying scrap instead of whole sides. You'll save a bunch. I buy boxes of veg tan scrap on ebay and on shopforleather.com and end up paying around 50 cents a SF for it, pretty thick stuff too.

    Oh... one more thing. Since you're new to this, don't get confused and buy a vegtan split. That is not what you want and will not work for you.

    All in all you should be able to build wax hardened torso armor, including an under skin of soft leather, for less than $100 + the cost of tools. Depending on the style you could build it for less than $60.
     
  17. Gavaha

    Gavaha Art House Member

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    thanks all, very helpfull
     
  18. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Good advice. Bees wax is not neccessary (but is most commonly refered to in articles). Actually wax is NOT required. The issue is to heat the leather to 180 degrees for a few minutes so that it will undergo elastomirization, the process that hardens the leather. This is a chemical change in the fiber structure of the leather. Here is a site that talks about that http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Articles/Perfect_Armor_Improved.htm. And yes, the advantage of heat hardening leather is that it can be reheated and rehardened.

    And also good advice, latigo can not be heat treated for hardening.

    As for stiffness of veg tan, 14 oz will be stiff, but I should think that due to its thickness. If you buy skirting, as used on saddles, it will be fairly stiff in lighter weights, 8 - 10. Yes. Some veg tan leather is processed in what they call polishing. This is running the leather through rollers in reverse to smooth out blemishes in the finish to make it more suitable for tooling and carving. This results in leather that is slightly stiffer. You can also buy leather that is used for shoe midsoles that has been compressed under great weight resulting in very stiff leather.

    In the SCA I don't know any one who uses split grain leather alone for armor. Leather as it comes off the owner is about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Splits are the inner pieces that are shaved off to make thinner weight ful grain leathers. As such, split grain leather is porous on both sides and typically quite flexible. I have seen folks make Coat of Plates using split grain leather but here the leather is backed by metal plates on the inside of the grarmet. The leather serves only to hold the metal plates in place.

    Armor is specific to the weapon it is providing protection from. In the case of modern re-enactment groups protection is required from blunt weapons. Leather was used in period as protection from sharp cutting weapons. Chain mail was also used to protect from sharp cutting weapons. However, leather that is not hardened and chain mail are not good protection against blunt weapons. Today many re-enactors use leather armor over gambisons, padded undergarments, as suitable armor against blunt weapons. The objective is to spread out the area of inpact.

    At one point I read an article about how knights in period in their full metal suits of armor were defeated using weapons that were equivalent to today's angle iron material. The foe simply beat on the knight's armor until they became incapacitated. Think about putting an animal in a tin can then beating the can with a base ball bat. Same effect. The metal armor was great for sharp weapons but not effective against blunt trauma weapons.

    As i buy leather in small quantities I choose to buy from suppliers where I can see the material I'm buying. Some hides, while measuring the full square footage listed, have holes in bad places for my intended projects, or range marks etc. in areas that would also adversely effect the ultimate use. I would say, if at all possible, see what you are buying before you buy.
     
  19. Axaerukai

    Axaerukai Chainmailler for life

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    Is there a way to tell if the leather is veg-tan if you don't know for sure? Like, if you got it in a scrap bag, how could you tell if it's latigo or veg or whatever?
     
  20. Christophe of Grey

    Christophe of Grey Cordwainer to Royals

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    Axaerukai,
    Its easy to determine how the leather was tanned, veg versus chrome. Cut a piece of the leather. If the fresh cut edge is grey in color - chrome tanned, if a light beige color - veg tanned. That's assuming the leather is cow hide. Now if the leather has been deer tanned, which you can puprchase deer tanned cow hide, or is an exotic such as deer, antelope, buffalo, etc the tanning process is different. Generally these types of leathers are very soft to the touch. Yes, even buffal or or elk. BTW both of these leathers make great shoes. They feel like deer hide but are thicker and even more durable. Now option number, what are we up to now 3 or 4?, anyway, the next option is oil tanned. This is easy to identify because the leather has an oily or waxy feel to it. Usually these hides are drum dyed so the color goes all the way through the leather, top, edge, and back. This type of leather is often used for work aprons and chaps. Not great for clothing due to minor rub off, but good for shoes and light armor. And our final choice is leather used in the upholstery business. These are cow hides, usually chrome tanned but in a manner that results in a very soft hand much like deer tanned hides. These hides are also usually drum dyed so the color goes all the way through the leather. This leather is good for clothing, sturdy clothing, or pouches. I have made shoes out of this leather but they don't hold up as well as the other choices. Belts stretch too much.

    Hope this helps,