In making armour there are a lot of different tools that need to be used. I have over 30 different hammers and mallets for the various metalsmithing “things” that I do. Most of the work, however, is done by a small core of hammers. I make most of my own hammers, as well. Well, I shouldn’t say that I actually make them. I modify existing hammers, such as the 2-pound sledge that I bought at Princess Auto, to suit my needs.
It’s very hard to find the actual working tools that are needed to do any decent kind of smithing by hand. There just isn’t enough of a demand any more for manufacturer’s to bother making the highly specialized tools. I recall an awesome sinking hammer that I used once (it was stolen), which had just the perfect angle to the head and was a great length for doing small sinking jobs (up to 4″ deep). Wow! Of course, I could make it myself now should I decide that I need to do that kind of sinking. I just need access to a forge to bend the base metal to the correct angle for the sinking that would be ideal for such work.
The raising stake that I use (shown in the picture here) was fashioned from a solid bar of tool steel. I ground down the end to make it the curvature that I wanted. Then I sanded and polished it to a mirror finish, making it beautifully smooth. It’s easy to clamp into my multi-vise and angle it whatever angle I need it to be at for the project I am raising. It can be used for elbows, knees, helms, and even goblets! I am planning on making a larger one for helmet use, but that will take a couple of weeks before I get around to it. And I’m not certain that there will be any advantage to the bigger surface. It’ll be an experiment.
I’ve also discovered that I can obtain 1000 grit sandpaper for my sanding wheel! That really helps makes things go a lot faster. Now I can make more than minimum wage on polished armour. I know there are tools that I can use to speed up the finishing process, but they are hard to get (and the supplies are quite costly) where I live. It’ll happen in good time. I’m always expanding my tools and learning to be more efficient.
Everything starts with the most basic of tools, a pencil and paper. I draw out what I want the final product to look like, or do line drawings from the photos I get of the historical pieces. I try to draw a few different perspectives so that I can then picture how the metal has to move in order to become the shape that I need it to be when I’m done. Then I will sometimes build a model out of simpler materials, which helps me picture it. And from there I will do the initial patterns for a piece. I’m rarely far off in my initial designs. And sometimes some mathematics are required. Yes, that high school trigonometry does pay off! When I teach metalsmithing students are often surprised that they have to remember such things. They often don’t know the formulas needed to calculate such things as diameter, area, and circumference, especially with circles, so I just give them a reference sheet for that. It’s just quicker to memorize these things. The application is what really counts!
Initial shaping is from the flat metal using hammers and mallets. From there fine shaping can be done through other hammers and/or mallets, sanding, and sometimes grinding. There is always some sanding involved, which is the part I enjoy the least. And then there can be brush finishing or polishing. And polishing can take as long, or longer, than the entire rest of the process. Better tools would probably help on that. I’m working on that!
After everything is polished, then assembly begins. Some pieces require a fair bit of fiddling to get them just right. There are pieces that I do that have a tolerance of about 1 millimetre, which is very finicky. But most are not so definite. Straps, which I prefer customers to put on themselves, are usually only done for local clients, as I can fit them personally to make sure they’re correct. Strapping can be very personal. Of all the pieces I’ve built, I wish I had taken more photographs! I never took any before this year, and that is part of my downfall. Now, of course, I don’t have access to most of what I’ve done in the past. As I complete more, keep watching the site to see the newest and latest.