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Making Armor

Armor Manufacture

The manufacture of armor required skill, and was an extension of the art of the blacksmith. Armor was made to be lightweight and flexible, stories of knights being lowered into the saddle by crane and being immobilised by the weight of their armor are greatly exaggerated. Even in the late medieval period, when knights wore heavy full plate, a trained man could vault into the saddle fully armored and could move on foot almost as easily as the footman in his chain hauberk.

Leather, padded and hide armors were more the province of the leatherworker or tailor than the armorer. For details of the manufacture of these armors, see the descriptions of the armors themselves. To manufacture such armors, tailoring and/or tanning facilities were needed.

Mail links were made by wrapping a metal wire around a dowel to form a coil spring. This coil would be severed in places with a chisel to form a series of open rings. The rings would be interwoven and then hammered shut and sealed with a punch.

Metal plate armor was the most difficult to make. The preparatory stage involved detailed measurements of the intended wearer and trying on the raw parts to ensure a perfect fit. This is why it is so difficult to find plate armor that fits your character, especially as metal, unlike cloth, doesn't stretch! A towering 6'5 warrior would never find armor to fit him (bearing in mind the average height of the medieval man, about 5'8) and would have to have it tailor-made.

Having done this, the smith would take iron ingots (known as 'pigs', hence 'pig iron') and hammer them into roughly-shaped thick plates. These plates would then be finely shaped. The armorer had a bewildering array of anvils (known as 'stakes', small anvils set in wood or on trestles) and shaped hammers to do this. The anvils and hammers would be complete with ridges and depressions to form any decorative parts. For a customised suit of armor, special anvils would have to be made, which goes some way to explaining the cost of parade armors. To prevent cracking at this stage, the iron would be annealed (heated to soften it). While doing this, the armorer also had to ensure that the armor was of the right thickness, especially in the often-targeted areas of the face, chest and left side (when swinging at an opponent with your right arm, you tend to hit his left side... which is also where his shield is, annoyingly enough).

After the sheets were finished, the edges were cropped with shears and often rolled over a wire to prevent an opponent's weapon glancing into a vital area. The armor was now almost serviceable, although black from the forge and covered in the marks of hammer blows. In the late middle ages and the renaissance, the common foot-soldier's armor would be shipped out in this condition, but the gentry deserved and got better. Any gilding to be done on the armor was added at this point. Straps and buckles would be attached, and then the armor would be lined with quilting in the breast and backplates, cuisses, tassets and helm. Any decoration, such as etching or engraving, was added last.

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