Monday, August 9, 2010

Lamellar options

The following is re-printed from the Bryn Gwlad e-mail list:

Historical and archeological evidence is available for lamellar scales of brass/bronze, wrought iron, leather, rawhide, horn and (in some Chinese examples) stone. Ridged, fluted or embossed examples exist in both brass/bronze and iron. Iron lamellar is known to have been tinned or bronzed in some cases, including some where bronze leaf has been applied with a bituminous glue. Lacing materials include brass or bronze staples, leather and silk cord. While linen or hemp cord makes sense to me I don't remember seeing any evidence that it was used.

It is important to realize that making hundreds of scales by hand is a project for fanatics (Hi Aeddan!) and not recommended in this case. So we are down to commercial sources of scales which at present includes 2 sources for stamped plates in stainless steel, a couple of sources for mass-produced aluminum plates in a variety of finishes, a few sources for custom designed laser-cut plates in a variety of materials, one source for leather plates and one for plastic in a couple of sizes/styles and a variety of colors.

Considering cost, maintainability, durability, weight, ease of ordering, authenticity of materials and authenticity of appearance I recommend 20 gauge stainless with a central flute down each scale, laced with paracord and edged with chrome-tawed leather. These fluted scales are only commercially available from one source to the best of my knowledge. This will do an excellent job of representing an authentic wrought-iron lamellar laced with silk cord and edged with alum-tawed leather. After a single week of use, this will appear MORE authentic than an armour of perfectly authentic materials because we beat up our armour far more than our ancestors ever did, we persist in working or going to school rather than spending our off-time polishing armour like a legionary or a steppes nomad, and we lack the servants of an upper class cavalryman or officer of the classical or medieval periods.

On a chemical level stainless steel and modern mild steel are both quite a ways from wrought iron, but it would take advanced instrumentation and a highly trained eye to spot this difference on the field. When you add in the effects of various heat-coloring and finishing techniques it is simply not possible to tell the difference between these materials by eye. While many people (some of them Laurels) have claimed to be able to spot this difference, experiments have shown that they are mistaken. On the other hand, if you mirror-polish your stainless and then expose your unwaxed mild steel to some humidity the difference is obvious.

Some day I'd love to make some wrought iron scales and experiment with tinning and bronzing methods, but that would be an arts and sciences project rather than practical armour for on the field.

My closest second choice for a practical recommendation would be a mass-produced aluminum scale, either acid etched or annodized for a desired finish. The added thickness of this material catches my eye but it does not bother most observers, and it has the benefit of being easier on the lacing material. This makes an assembled lamellar more durable. It really comes down to cost and aesthetic preferences. See:

I fought for years in the plastic lamellar and now my son wears it. I feel that it does a reasonable job of simulating a hardened leather armour if made from appropriate colors, but the "metal" colored plates look a bit off and look far too thick to be realistic simulations of metal. Given the comparative cost and availability of metal and leather lamellar plates I no longer recommend purchasing plastic lamellar for adult fighters, but if I was given some I would certainly put it to use.

I'd need to run some tests to be sure, but I'm not convinced that the plastic or aluminum plates are any lighter weight than the 20 gauge stainless. Both steel and aluminum provide far better heat transfer than leather or plastic.