Easy ProjectsMaking flat pieces such as lamellae or scales is easy. Because it is hard to predict the exact amount of shrinkage, you may want to first to water harden the whole piece of leather, then flatten it under a cutting board or something similar for a few minutes, then cut out your lamellae with a utility knife and add holes with a glitter leather punch; at this stage in the process the leather can still be cut fairly easily.
If I want my lamellae slightly curved in the horizontal direction, to provide a little additional stiffness and to better fit my body, I take a cooking pot with a diameter of a foot or more, line up the lamellae around it while they are still flexible, tie them on with a strip of rag, and let them dry that way.
Making a vambrace, a rerebrace, or any other piece that is curved but not stretched--any shape you could make from a sheet of paper--is equally easy. Cut the piece of leather a little bigger than you think you need (remembering to allow for shrinkage), harden it. Wrap a towel around your forearm to protect it from heat and provide extra thickness to allow for padding (or wear your gambeson, if it covers your arm). Tie the piece of leather around your arm with strips of cloth (string will leave marks on the leather). Leave it there for fifteen minutes or so. Untie it and take it off, being careful to keep the shape--at this point the leather is still fairly flexible. Trim off any surplus. Leave it somewhere to dry. Instant vambrace.
Further DetailsFor SCA fighting, you should probably start with at least 8 ounce leather, which the hardening process will thicken to about 10 ounce. 12-14 ounce is better--but harder to stretch over forms. In general, you will want thicker leather over vulnerable points such as knees and elbows--which means either starting with thicker leather or leaving your leather in the hot water longer to get more shrinkage.
Sometimes something will go wrong; you pull the piece of leather intended for a bazuband out of the water only to discover that it has shrunk too much to fit your form, or that a thin section you didn't notice has shriveled up, ruining the piece. All is not lost. Flatten the piece out and cut it into lamellae. Enough mistakes and you have a free klibanian.
One minor problem with the process is that the leather gradually turns the water you are using brown. For a simple project, such as making lamellae, this may be tolerable; you can stir the piece of leather to the top of the pot every ten seconds or so to check its condition. For something more complicated, such as a bazuband or greaves, you may want to heat fresh water for each piece--which is a nuisance but makes it easier to see what you are doing.
advantage of water hardening is that when the piece comes out of the water it
is stretchy--more so than leather that has been soaked for a much longer time
in cold water, as described in my earlier article. This makes it possible to form
pieces. You must work quickly, since the stretchiness goes away in a minute or
Elbow cops are easy. Start with a roughly oval shape, about 10" by 7.5", as shown in the figure. Find two bowls, diameter about 6.5", that will nest together. When the piece comes out of the hot water, put it into one of the bowls, forcing it down with your fingers to stretch the leather into the bowl, then put in the other bowl, so that the leather is being stretched between the two.
Finally, take out the inside bowl and make sure that the leather is fitting into the other with no folds, crinkles, etc.--if necessary smooth those out with your fingers. Let the leather dry. Sew or rivet on straps and you have an elbow cop. For a knee cop, do the same thing, making the piece about 14" x 7.5" and using about 7.5" diameter bowls. Details will vary according to the size of your elbow and knee and how thick your padding is going to be.
A bazuband--the Islamic forearm and elbow piece described in the previous article and shown here--is a more complicated shape. There are four ways to try to make it.1. Use your arm, wrapped in a towel, as the mold. This will probably work better with two people, giving you three hands to stretch leather. I have not yet tried doing the initial stretching that way, although I usually put the piece over my arm for the final adjustments.
2. A positive form. Get something roughly the shape of the inside of the bazuband. A steel bazuband is ideal if you happen to have one lying around, but lots of other things will do. For a less precisely designed form, but one somewhat easier to obtain, use a wine bottle with relatively steep shoulders.
With a positive form, you take the leather out of the hot water and stretch it over the form. I find that it helps to tie the wrist end of the leather around the form with strips of cloth, then do the stretching at the elbow end, which is where it is most needed. then tie that down to the form with strips of cloth. This is like making an elbow cop with only one bowl, by stretching the leather over the bowl--but harder. You may find it useful to do some preliminary stretching over a rounded corner of the kitchen table, or something similar.
3. A negative form. Get something that is roughly the shape of the outside of the bazuband and stretch the leather into it--like forming your elbow cop in the inside of a bowl.
4. Nested forms. This is the best way--once you have the forms. I've done it using a pair of steel bazubands. They don't have to be steel--once you have made a cuirboulli bazuband you are happy with, you can use it as your negative form for the next one, nested onto whatever form you used to make it.
Alternatively, you could make both positive and negative forms out of wood--by the next version of this article, I may have finished that project, using lengths of 2x4 sandwiched together and pegged. In theory, you end up with forms that can be made narrower, for thin people's arms, by removing the central piece, or wider, for big people's legs, by adding another piece.