2/12/24. All Armor is Divided… into Three Techniques?

Connor O -

About two years ago, I started my own blacksmithing business, selling knives, hammers, and just about anything else I could imagine. Now, as a senior, I have more than enough free time to run the business, so instead of looking to make more money, I want to have fun. And to have fun, I’m going to challenge myself.

Blacksmithing is the practice of forging steel. The reason it’s called blacksmithing is because as iron is heated in an oxygen-lacking environment, such as the interior of a forge, it undergoes an oxidation reaction in the atmosphere, becoming Iron (III) Oxide, also known as ferric oxide, which appears black, as opposed to Iron (II) Oxide, which appears red-orange. Silversmithing, on the other hand, involves hammering nonferrous metals, such as copper, tin, silver, or even gold. I may pick up silversmithing in old age, but for now, its blacksmithing that is my ultimate passion and lifelong hobby.

Here in the United States, being a blacksmith means one of three things: you either make weapons, tools, or art. I quickly ran through each of these categories, but I still have yet to find something that I could specialize in for years to come. That is when I came upon making armor, or armorsmithing. Armor is something that is much harder to come across, because each piece generally takes much longer to produce and finish when compared to basic weapons (hence, why full-body armor throughout the Middle Ages was mostly only carried by the wealthiest elites). Because of this, American smiths who specialize in the production of armor are few and far between, especially compared to in Europe, where renaissance and medieval tournaments are common annual festivals.

In my nine years at BASIS Mesa, I have been learning Classical Latin for eight. That is why I have decided to produce a Roman Imperial “G” Helmet, not just because of its simplicity, but because it encompasses every armorsmithing technique that I would need to produce any armor I want in the future. On a personal note, I would like to finish it in time to wear it to graduation.

So, I had a goal and a product, but still lacked the means, aside from the basic set of tools scattered carelessly around my backyard. In the coming weeks, I plan on consulting my faculty advisor, Mr. McMath, who has a number of former colleagues in the field of Classical archaeology, as wells as my on-site advisor, David Goodman, who has a plethora of different blacksmithing contacts, including Michael Allenson, in Payson, AZ, but extending as far as Zeevik Gotlieb in Israel, and Neels van der Linde, in South Africa. Also using various metalworking resources online, I can piece together centuries worth of knowledge in armorsmithing techniques and culminate that knowledge into this single ancient helmet.

Armorsmithing can mostly be divided into three different processes. The first, and easiest one, is called forming. This involves hammering the inner side of the product down into a concave form of the desired shape. The second is called raising, which contrary to its name, involves hammering the outside of the piece down onto a convex raising stake. Next there is chasing, which is much less common than the first two, and involves chiseling fine details into an already raised product. Each of these techniques will be fully demonstrated and explained in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more thorough explanations.

This coming week will focus solely on forming. This will create the bowl-shaped portion of the helmet, which rests on the top of the user’s head. Pictured below is the end product, a Roman Gallic “G” Helmet, from the Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives:

And here, so far, is what I have to work with — a 60-pound anvil, a rounding hammer, a forming stake made from my friend’s car’s CV joint, and a few pounds of sheet metal:

To make this forming stake, all I have done is removed all the grease from the car’s CV joint, heated the axle end to an orange heat, and hammered it to a square cross section. This allows it to rest in the square hole on the anvil, known as the Hardy hole.

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    Where did you get your materials from? They all look really hard to get!
    Hey Alex! Most of my steel comes from welding supply stores such as AZ Metals, I usually get a discount by buying leftover scraps from the bigger companies that buy in bulk. I also get scrap metal from friends who have replaced parts of their cars (I once persuaded my mechanic to let me keep my suspension springs), or from Goodwill. The more expensive stuff like the forge and anvil are from Amazon.
    My uncle built his own forge. He makes knives and cast metal objects.
    I never knew the difference between blacksmithing and silversmithing before (let alone that silversmithing even existed)! I can't wait to see what you are able to make in the future.
    Silversmithing is definitely a lot less common -- I didn't really know it existed until I learned that my great grandfather was a tinsmith in the 30s!
    I love that your dedication will help keep armorsmithing alive in the US, maybe you can start the next big trend. Hope I can see the helmet at graduation!
    Kasey Ray
    This project is super cool! I look forward to keeping up with your progress! 2 questions: Iron (III) oxide was always the formula I used to describe rust, while I thought Iron (II) oxide was the more blackened of the two. Am I mistaken in this? Are different pieces of the helmet to be fashioned separately, then attached together in the end? Or will you forge and kind of weld these pieces together in the furnace?

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