Category Archives: Armour

Finished Buckler

I finished the buckler I had been working on a while ago and took a picture of it in its glorious, unbattered state:

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I have since used it in about 20 historical fencing bouts as well as innumerable relaxed sparring encounters, and it has held up very well. Far better than the previous all metal incarnation as thicker steel for the central boss worked well. The leather rim is doing surprisingly well, only showing a few nicks and scratches despite the fact that my regular sparring partner loves his longsword. I think that I have pretty much perfected my Secret Leather Hardening process (every leatherworker I meet has one!). Here it is after considerable punishment:

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The beautiful yet fragile blue oxide coating has been pretty battered but I actually quite like the silver accents that have emerged. The leather on the front is almost untouched. On the back things look considerably more ragged. As I had to have it finished for an event, I of course only put it together the day before and as I was finishing the handle at home I realised that I had left all my leather and string at work! The only thing I could find round the house was some knitting wool which was lovely on the hand but didn’t survive for long. I need to revisit it with a tooled leather grip at some point…

Whilst rereading the previous post, I realised I hadn’t taken any photos of the fittings which was a pity as I spent a bit of time making them more period appropriate.

Firstly I hand engraved flowers around each of the rivets. It takes a little while to do with a hand graving chisel, but as Daggerandbrush noted in the comments it really does enhance the look of the whole shield when viewed close up:

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Floral motifs were extremely popular on historical weapons, and I think the entire buckler was going that way so I decided to continue with the vegetable look on the handle. The main element of this was forming and chiselling a leaf on one end of the handle, the other end forms a belt hook and needed to be bent over after riveting so I kept it simple with a little punchwork on the top:

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As a final detail, I decided not to use modern washers under the rivets as they really do stand out on an otherwise handmade object. Mine were cut, chiselled and punched out of a sheet of steel and as such are all different. Not because I am lazy and couldn’t be bothered to measure, its because its historically accurate ;). The square shape was common at the time as it is much easier to make and works just as well:

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So all in all I’m very happy about how it turned out, now I really want to make one of these:

So many projects….!

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Progress on my new Buckler

I have continued to work on my metal and leather buckler, I have now made the leather rim for the steel boss. The leather in 6mm thick veg-tanned shoulder I also use to make singlestick basket hilts. I find that at this thickness the leather loses a lot in the way of flexibility but when it is hardened it can be really tough. I started by plotting out a 12″ diameter circle on cardboard, then measured the inner rim of my boss to determine how big a hole to cut in the middle.

I cut it out, rounded the edges and gave it a light cuirbouilli treatment, enough to massively stiffen it without making it deform, crack or shrink too much. I could have used it as is, but its a nice sunny Sunday here so I sat at the kitchen table and did some really simple freehand carving that should make it “pop” a little more. I used a couple of leather gouges that I got really cheaply off eBay, and to be honest they aren’t bad at all. Here it is after carving:

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I included the circle cut out of the centre to give an idea of the different levels of colour the hardening gives. The disk is the colour it all started out as. The boiling darkened it to the mid brown at the tips of the petals, the lines were then cut into the lighter core. I also did some faded staining to give the petals additional volume. I used iron oxide (rust from the forge) in solution in water and painted on lots of thin coats to give a gradated finish. I’m glad I did as it took a pleasing design and made it fit with the boss in a way that it would otherwise have failed to do. Here they are dry fitted:

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I think the dark boss fits in nicely, I need to decide whether to engrave through the bluing or not. It would be cool, but I don’t want to make it too busy or spend a silly amount of time on what is a test run!

Here is the back, with really simple staining and engraving just to take advantage of the fact that leather is such a fun medium to work in. The holes are for the joining rivets:

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This buckler is quite a bit bigger than the last one, here is a comparison picture:

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Cant wait to finish it and have a go with it! Next time I’ll be fitting the handle and riveting the whole thing together. Any views on whether to engrave the boss would be welcome as I am really torn!

Bucklers!

I was recently asked to take part in a play organised by my fencing club, debuting at the Brighton Fringe festival. In the play I will be showing off the Early Medieval “Royal Armouries I.33 manuscript” which depicts sword and buckler techniques:

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This is the earliest known illustrated western fighting manual, the fencers depicted are monks but the combination of an early “arming sword” with a small round shield of between 9″-12″ diameter was very popular from the 13th century right through to the 16th century. The shields were made of wood leather or iron or indeed combinations of all these materials.

Their small size appears at first to be undesirable in a fight as they provide little in the way of cover, but with  bit of practice they can run rings around bigger, clunky shields as the are highly manoeuvrable. In addition, whilst a larger shield protects the side of the body and head from cuts and thrusts, it does little to protect the sword hand which must necessarily be projected beyond the shield in order to bring a blow to bear. Not so with the buckler, as during the fight it stays very close to the sword hand and constantly denies access to this tempting target.

By projecting the buckler forward, rather than holding it against the body, it denies access to a large proportion of the body as it creates an oft-quoted phenomenon, the “cone of defence”:

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The further the shield is pushed forward, the less avenues the opponent has to attack, much like when you put a barrier in front of a light bulb. The closer it is, the more light is blocked until it is all shrouded. This can happen with the buckler as well, if the fight gets very close it can be pushed into the opponents face to blind them.

Of course, in a more visceral way, bucklers make excellent knuckledusters for gaining an advantage, some originals even have sharpened edges and spikes to give the blow even more power. I wouldn’t fancy using a razor sharp shield though, too much chance of gashing the sword arm!

These are some antique originals:

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I found these pictures in an inventory of the Tower of London Armoury. I have many books on medieval arms and armour, but flicking through them I was surprised by how few had pictures of bucklers. In fact none of the others had photos, there were a couple of drawings but I always find it is better to study an antique rather than an author’s interpretation of an antique. Even a few internet searches have only turned up a handful of the more fanciful examples:

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The first and last are the only European ones I can see, the middle one is Turkish. They all demonstrate the type though, and I like looking at Middle Eastern, Indian and African examples as the former two seem to have a lot of surviving artefacts, and the African ones are far more recent and still show details such as leather and wood that have often perished in European examples. Form following function, although it is impossible to prove that European hide and wooden shields would have looked the same as later African ones I believe that it can be a fruitful route to study.

Anyway, onto pictures of the bucklers I have made for myself as practice pieces for my “show” buckler. The first one was a quick dummy run, to see what size of buckler I wanted to make. It is on the small side at 9.5″ as I think this size looks cool. I made it out of scrap metal, in this case an old boiler cover I found in the street. It is very thin, but I wanted to dish it quickly so I could get a feel for the weapon:

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The first one is a “before” picture of the finished buckler, roughly dished with little planishing or smoothing but a quick buff on the grinder for vanity’s sake. The handle is held on by two of the rivets, the other two are purely decorative. The rolled edge adds a little strength and eliminates any chance of sharp edges, but its still pretty flimsy.

I ended up using it for a couple of classes and a tournament against longswords, arming swords, rapier and highland broadsword, and honestly I think it actually did rather well. There are some big dents in the boss and one of the sides is bent down but as the shield swivels and rotates during the fight it sheds the force of the blow and took very little damage. Considering the metal is less than 1mm thick I find it remarkable, and worth further experimentation to try out more light designs. Historically though, I doubt it would have put up a lot of resistance to a sharp blade thrusting and hacking at it!

After trying out the thin buckler, I love the speed and finesse of sword and buckler so I will make a couple of iterations to test out. This is my current project:

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This one is of thicker 2mm mild steel, dished out with much more care and planished before getting a rough surface grind and buff. Again this is just a test for a different construction technique as I want to rivet this boss to a leather rim and see if there is any effect in the performance. In idle moments at the forge I also turned a blunt spike for the front to use to catch and control blades, and gave the surface a basic bluing and oil sealing to carry on the flower motif. I will do matched rivet heads and I may engrave silver lines through the bluing.

The colour difference is stunning when viewed in person, to try to represent it I put the treated and untreated shields side by side. The surface is a pretty even blue, but I love doing it by hand as you get mottled purple veins in the blue, but I fear they are barely visible in the photos:

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It has really darkened! I will post pictures as soon as it is finished.