hammered metal armor dollHAMMERED METAL - Part 2

Last modified:
Wednesday, March 12, 2003 7:37 PM

03/10/03- We're back at the ongoing project to tie up a few things related to the figure and show the reason for extending this project: The armoured horse. But first... ARRRGHH... DAMN, I'M TIRED!

THE SWORD I had rushed through the sword so I could go to work on the helmet, so I plan to eventually redo the crossguard & pommel (maybe). To recap: the blade was cut from a sheet of brass, shaped, and polished with a Dremel mototool. The blade was then plated with nickel to give it a silvery hue. The grip is a hollow styrene rod with putty added to increase the width at the center, then wrapped in twisted wire. The crossguard is the hardest part to do in metal because it needs to be milled through for the blade's tang; The quick and easy way was to drill through copper tubing and flatten it.

THE SPURS I've made several armoured figures which I refer to as "knights", but it didn't occur to me to give them spurs. That's a dumb oversight because horses were what defined a knight, so I wanted to remedy that with this figure. The spur wheels were pretty simple to make; they're squares with a hole drilled through the center with bites ground out of each of the four sides: The corners become the sharp points. This operation really made me feel okay about spending all that moolah on the Foredom flexshaft: It was easy to cut the bites without the very small pieces getting instantly unbearably hot or flying out of my fingers because you can control the tool's speed below 5000 rpm. Similarly, the copper tubing shafts were drilled with a hole for the axle (again, the Foredom lets you drill tiny holes that you would normally do with a pin vise) and cut lengthwise to make the fork. These were soldered to copper wire and attached with straps; there probably should be another strap going under the foot, but it wasn't really necessary to keep them in place. The axles used to articulate the wheels are short segments of copper wire, flared at the ends by light tapping with a hammer.

THE DAGGER Even though I haven't seen very many pictures of knights wearing daggers, I kept hearing that they did, so I made one. The construction was similar to, but easier than the sword's-- the crossguard and pommel are very simple "rondels" (circle-shaped guards), with a short brass tube handle inbetween. The scabbards for both weapons are made of leather, decorated with copper foil.

I got to try out a new tool/toy in making this accessory: the butane torch. Jeez! That sucker puts out some major heat (approximately 2000 degrees Fahrenheit), and my first attempt to solder with it was a learning experience-- I couldn't bring the solder within two inches of the target area! I quickly learned that you don't: The area gets heated, and then you touch it with solder. It stays toasty for quite a while too-- I thought I'd waited a respectable amount of time, picked up the dagger and the pommel slid off-- The solder was still molten. So this is a very scary tool since you realize that it could destroy flesh in nothing flat-- unlike a soldering iron, which just produces pain and that mouth-watering barbeque smell. This makes me hesitant to try casting brass (especially with the warnings about steam explosions in moist molds) or messing with acetyline torches (5000 degrees F). On the other hand, I've been reading a little bit about arc welding, which is a major bit of learning all by itself...

OTHER STUFF I'm in the process of studying a recent acquisition, "Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction" by Brian R. Price (ISBN 1-58160-098-4), one of the best books I've seen on the subject so far. The book has filled in many of my knowledge gaps regarding the design of armour and I'm very tempted to go back to the figure and rework a few things, like the knee poleyns and elbow cops.

I considered making a mace, but couldn't get past the hassle of constructing the head that the fins attach to, using all-metal construction. The problem is that the head is a fairly robust piece of metal that's too thick to create from metal sheets or tubing-- ideally, it would be milled from a solid metal rod so that it could have an interesting shape. This could be done with putty and electroforming, but I'm more interested in all-metal fabrication process than just making the piece. The figure doesn't need it and I'm really more interested in moving on to the horse. I hope I find the motivation to return to the figure later since I want to redo a bunch of things anyway. And maybe evenually work on the head???



I decided that this figure deserved a horse. That's a special honor because I don't have a bunch of horses to spare, and I don't have the room to display very many of them either-- they're shelf hogs and you can fit 2 or 3 figures in their place. After seating the figure on a horse though, I was convinced.

THE HORSE I'd come to the conclusion with my "Excalibur" knight that Marx horses were the way to go; for looks and for size. My sole unassigned Marx horse had been "in-the-works" for several years-- I had changed his head position and had given him a shy member (which took some Internet research and I'll probably never forget the description of how one goes about cleaning that part). Before starting though, I wanted to consider my options: You just don't use your last Marx horse without rounding up some more for future projects. My Dragon "Horst & Blitz" set could be cannibalized, or I could see about buying a loose Blitz... but after evaluating the horse, I decided that it was kinda big and ugly. Anyway,I wish I'd bought a few extra Thunderbolts at discounted prices during Marx Toys' short-lived reissue; the remaining stock is dwindling and available for full retail price at their website. Which once again, leaves Ebay... where else can you get beat-up customizing-quality fodder and pay nearly as much or more than brand-new retail? Marx horse collecting and customizing is a whole hobby unto itself, so there's usually healthy competition in the bidding. But at least they're available. Anyway, I obtained a second-hand Marx "Commanche" (with articulation and slightly smaller than "Thunderbolt") to satisfy my curiosity and for use in a future project.

THE SCOPE I know practically nothing about horses and have forgotten everything I learned the last time I studied them (except how to clean their privates). Therefore, I did some Internet research before starting, mainly to help decide what I wanted to make and to accumulate some reference images for technical details. The decision about what to make wasn't very clear-cut. There are lots of reasons for making a plain, unadorned horse, but that wasn't in the spirit of the project. However, the plate armoured horse carries some "historical reality" baggage. First, armoured horses weren't very common (horses cost a bundle; armour cost a bundle) and they were a late development in the history of armour. Most reference photos of museum pieces therefore showcase some very ornate armour. Neither of those issues really matter since my figure's armour isn't historically or technically accurate for any period of time. But borrowing from historical examples can't help but tie the fantasy piece to a specific and identifiable century. My aims were simple: A fun project, the freedom to pick and choose elements of design from historical examples, and a kewl-looking horse to match the knight; a lot of metal with simple decorations. I'm not too enthralled about making the full horse barding because I think the rear armour section looks kinda dorky, but I may change my mind about that (and I did).

The broad areas of horse armour present an opportunity to practice fluting techniques: The minor bit of fluting on the figure's tassets didn't turn out very well. Since my first attempts, I've found a few woodworking chisels and screwdrivers that I didn't mind blunting to make embossing punches for the fluting. Making the embossed lines isn't difficult, although it probably does pay off if you plan your work more precisely than my eyeball-it method. Also, the embossing former influences how "tight" the lines are-- I've used an oversized gully for this which produces quite a bit of spread at the base of the flutes. At 1:6, refining the flute is difficult because the target area to place an outside hammer blow is small and proportionally lower-profiled. I've been grinding my hammer's head smaller and smaller to allow better access to areas like this. There's no getting around the fact that it's very difficult to hand make closely-spaced parallel flutes at 1:6.

female knight  armor horse dollTHE PIECES Regardless of whether I was going to make an unadorned or armoured horse, I needed to make a saddle, so that's what I tackled first. Medieval saddles were different from those of today; essentially front and rear "walls" to keep the rider seated during combat with lances. Going with the theme of this project, I made the two plates out of hammered metal, with fluting for rigidity and decoration.

I've read that it wasn't unusual for knights to outfit their horses with just a few armour pieces since the stuff was so expensive: The chamfron/shaffron (head armour) was usually the first choice. From reference photos, I came up with a composite design which was made up of four main plate sections (forehead, sides and nose). This might have been possible as a single piece, but the multi-piece construction appears to allow for a deeper, more full-coverage headplate.

I bent the pieces to the general shapes, but it looked really funky. A minimally formed but functional piece is adequate to build the chamfron since it doesn't need to conform to all the curves of a horse's head... but the flatness looks terrible. The piece needed some contouring to make it look like it wasn't simply a sheet of metal cut and wrapped around the horse's head. The main challenge of working metal sheets is giving the surface some life through contours: This, I think is the art of armour- making. (Not that I'm capable of producing it, but I try...) Adding the fluting helped eliminate some of that flatness.

The crinet (neck armour) seemed to be the next logical step. The same issue of flatness and contours applies here (as it does to all sections of armour), and bending the lames to fit the neck and each other wasn't enough. I therefore dished the central ridge to make it a little more interesting-- I've seen hints of this in some pictures, though not enough to give me good idea of the actual construction. Certainly, doing this makes the fit between the pieces and articulation considerably more difficult. Practically speaking, the articulation doesn't really have to work properly or efficiently on a 1:6 statue of a horse, so I'm not complaining. I decided not to make the underside neck plate armour because it seemed to be uncommon-- chainmail seemed more interesting too.

There were a lot of different photo examples of the peytrel (chest armour) to pick and choose from. These ranged from contours resembling upside-down boat bows to spiked bibs, and some integrated with other body armour to provide complete coverage, or independent sectional coverage. I went for a fairly large front bib with pointed scallops. The size would give me the option of proceeding with the fully covered look, or stopping there, or creating the crupper (hind armour) without the flanchard (side armour).

After I attached the rough draft of the chest armour, I discovered that the horse needed the hind armour: Without the figure in saddle, the horse was front heavy and a slight tip of the tail would send it crashing forward. So I guess the crupper doesn't look that dorky, after all... (LOL) I had several different styles to select from and chose one which came close to matching the chest armour with its scalloped edges, and repeats the motif of the overlapping neck armour articulation. However, the panels are slightly dished, and if joined edge to edge, would look like fluted points. Obviously, you can't do that with the panels overlapping-- good riddance, because it would have been a bitch to match the edges and solder them! It was enough trouble just to get the panels spaced properly to fit the rear section. I riveted them together so that they would be more manageable for further shaping.

With those major sections done, I was satisfied with the overall look and went back and worked on some detail-- rivets, edging, the stirrups, the bit, and the armoured reins. Stuff like that can be much more gratifying than banging away endlessly on the larger panels. I don't really have the stamina to tackle the chest armour's fluting right now...

female knight  armor horse doll

03/12/03- Some really subtle changes in the second version of the picture above: The horse has been painted and a few straps have been added, plus a few other things. It's all downhill and anticlimactic from here.

PAINTING THE HORSE I decided to paint the horse black and wanted to give him a white tail and mane, which would look really kewl. So I looked for reference photos on the Internet, not just for that, but for closeups to give me an idea of the texture that a horse would have. I was particularly interested in how the horse's body hair (which I presume is short and satiny) becomes the longish hair which is sculpted in the Marx toy around the hooves. If you don't have access to a real horse, it's a good idea to have some good reference photos. Unfortunately, I don't have any and I didn't have the patience to sift through all the search results since there are a zillion places or things which call themselves "Black Horse" and have nothing to do with horses. The horse sites I visited had crummy pictures, and none of them showed black horses with white tails. So I assumed that such a beast didn't exist. Oh well... why not a plain black horse? I was fixated on black because I don't have any toy horses that color and it seems to go well with the copper... besides, it sounded easy. I wasn't in the mood to paint; most of the horse is covered (which is a good thing, since I put a few dings in it), so how much fun could painting it be? Just like the figure, it doesn't really matter what it looks like underneath the armour. Without good reference shots, I'd have to wing it. How difficult can painting black be?

Painting simply in black poses a unique problem-- even though much horseflesh doesn't show in this case, how do you paint the parts that do show? A simple coat of black spray paint would be quick and easy, but would be uninteresting and unrealistic. It would have no texture, and the hooves would be indistinguishable from the rest. To give the horse a little bit of texture, I sprayed an undercoat of Krylon's specialty Brushed Sienna "Suede" paint (the color wasn't important, and I don't think it's available in black) -- this gives it a slight pebbled texture. I then sprayed a coat of Ultra Flat Black over that. That didn't look terrific-- like I said, the uniform sprayed coloration looked uninteresting and totally unrealistic. But it provided the durable coloration undercoat. Over that, I hand brushed an acrylic wash of licorice with a hint of brown, and blew in a very sparse dusting of flocking fibers while the wash was wet. The acrylic is flat, but has a little more sheen than the UF black; the main effect I was trying to get was the subtle variation in mix coloration that happens when you hand-brush paints from a palette. The flocking lays down and has a different texture than the suede paint; it contributes to creating a very subtle texture (not furry like a flocked thing) which takes it away from the look of it being painted smooth (or pebbled) plastic. Unfortunately, it doesn't blend to become the longer sculpted ankle hair of the model, and I'm not quite sure how you could blend from the hint of short hair to defined ankle hair without the transition looking odd.

Finally, the trick of distinguishing different areas of black: You can do this by using different shades of black, but a lot of cues that the black materials are different come from their texture and resultant sheen. The hooves are smoother, so they were given a diluted gloss varnish which yields a slight satin sheen. The eyeballs got a straight gloss varnish.

NUTS & BOLTS- There's a whole area of construction which I haven't mentioned that pertains to how the pieces fit together. A historical modeler would probably insist on replicating the way it was actually done; I'm a little impatient and it's unlikely that I'll be making a trip to the Higgins museum in this life cycle. So construction details that pictures don't reveal have to be invented or guessed at.

The saddle was a lot of fun to make: It began as the front and back panels which were placed atop a heavy leather "blanket", and could be independently positioned on the horseback, with a quilted leather cushion in between. It worked fine, but eventually I decided that I should set the distance between them, so I riveted arms between the front and back sections along the sides. Because of the cross-sectional curvature and the way the rivets hinged the pieces, I could still adjust the tilt of the front and back pieces. After I'd played with that for a while, I fixed the tilt with solder. I needed a place to attach the stirrups, so I welded tabs onto the side pieces. Because of the stirrup tab locations, I couldn't attach the side chainmail panels directly to the saddle-- not in an elegant way at least --so they were attached to the leather blanket which the saddle rested on. This required three attachment points per side, with the middle one necessary to keep the chainmail from drooping in the center. To strap the saddle to the horse, I couldn't attach the straps to the saddle's side rails-- these rested atop the chainmail and would have to either wrap around it from the outside, or loop back inward and wrap around the horse's torso under the chainmail-- which wouldn't work. I therefore added a rod to the center of the saddle assembly, connecting the front and back panels. The straps could attach to this, then pass through the openings where the chainmail attached to the blanket and wrap around the horse's belly. This incidently created a desirable higher ridge for the center of the cushion, theoretically keeping the figure's cheeks where they were supposed to be. I'm not really done with it yet, either. The rear armour should be attached, and one of the obvious attachment points would be the back of the saddle-- some more soldered tabs are necessary for that. I haven't done that yet because I'm still puzzling out how the rear armour stabilizes at the back-- strapping to the legs or through the rear to the belly strap seem to be the only way, but I do wonder whether this would work on a real-world horse and not restrict or chafe his legs, or threaten his privates. Part of the deal is to make this work as a doll while retaining a plausible connection to the real world (or else we could just hot-glue everything together).

The treatment of the side chainmail panels demonstrates another aspect of this, which is the practical side. I'm not certain whether historically, an entire chainmail suit was created for the horse... but it really is irrelevant to me because there's no way that I was going to waste chainmail in areas where it would be hidden by armour. Same for the chainmail at the neck: It only extends a short distance under the neck armour, and is laced together along the top of the neck. This was an interesting "nuts & bolts" problem: My first instinct was to attach it directly to the neck armour, possibly by hooks. I saw that this wasn't going to work-- while you could permanently attach it to one side, how could you manipulate it to attach and adjust it to the underside of the other side without going bonkers? It therefore had to be attached as a separate piece, and hopefully, one which could attach relatively painlessly. I didn't want to sew or lace the thing on since that would be a time-consuming hassle. The solution was to thread a strap with eight hooks-- these could quickly and easily "lace" the chainmail together over the neck. The neck armour would be placed over that, adjusting the lacing to ensure that there weren't any exposed edges.

You can see that a good deal of my problem solving is a mix of trying to capture the appearance while trying to remain practical-- a kind of "cheating". But it's fun and helps to keep your sanity. Other generic things were deliberately done in a "doll-friendly" way. For instance, buckles are a pain in the ass to deal with at 1:6, especially if you have to undo two or three of them to remove a part. That's especially true while you're developing a figure and may have to remove pieces many times. It's more practical to construct a working belt and buckle for appearance, but have the actual strap detaching mechanism as a hook, hidden where the strap disappears behind an armour plate-- that's how the saddle's belly strap attaches (in addition to others). In some cases, you don't even need to hide the hook. A strap which is normally fastened to a ring may not look objectionable if you insert a hook in between.


Part 1