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I Forge Iron

Making Roman Armor


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Hi I was thinking about making some decorative Roman armor from bronze cut out by a CNC machine. I am trying to re create something I saw on HBO.

Making the armor is simple making each scale look good with detail is the challenge.

Link to photo - click here

The challenge I have is to make the scales not flat but to give them some definition. Since back in the age of antiquity they used a forge. Would a simple bent metal rod over a forge work. Sorry to display my post as being from a novice.

Would I need a forge that can get up to 800* or could I use a simple torch with map gas.


The posted photo seems to be copyrighted by HBO.
It has been removed and a link added in place of the photo.

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Bronze expands at about twice the rate of steel so be careful of how you decide to mount it and allow a bit of room for expansion if heating. It melts from 930c to 1000c depending on the blend, but unless you are casting it, a lower temperature would work to anneal it(copper gets hard when you hit it, so periodically you would need to heat it up again to soften it up). There are well over 400 different copper alloys. 1/4 of those are bronze. Could be a phosphor or aluminium or silicon Bronze and be wrought. If it's cast it might be a manganese, or tin. I'm not sure what they originally used. But a little searching on google should give you a better idea. If you want original a decent amount of research is needed.

My advice is to find out how they did it originally and make a period piece with period tools, barring that:
If you are using a cnc though you might simply want to go with the cheapest that will properly machine. You should be able to chase the tooling without really applying heat. As long as you don't get too complicated it should work like any other repousse(look it up). It can be done, obviously they did it 2000 years ago. So don't get frustrated, be prepared to learn a lot, and good luck. I probably raised more questions than I answered. But it's just not a simple thing to answer. make sure you search on google books, and your local library. Spend the time and do it right, everyone will be impressed, including you.

edit: Btw, I have done none of the above. Just hoping to point you in the right direction.

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800 degrees? In the knifemaking unplugged video they place a piece of steel across their charcoal forge and use that to anneal some silver. Silver anneals arround 1400 degrees F. You might be able to use the same trick not bother with the forced air and save some map gas.

It would be cheap to try and could allow for more of a continuous process than torch annealing.

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Since in the roman times these scales would have been worked *COLD* with perhaps an annealing run done with charcoal every once in a while what is this about a forge?.

Scales for scale armour are usually pretty thin as well and the folks who make this stuff professionally generally get them punched out as that's the cheapest method once you get a punch/die set up. The relief work can be done cold over a pitchpot or tin backing with a dull rounded edge chisel and a hammer.

My suggestion would be to go to the forums at armourarchive.com and ask the folks who spend all their time making armour about the best way for you to do this---you may even be able to find someone with a punch/die set up already that would work for you.

Generalyy one of the most difficult parts of making scale armour is the lacing pattern---something you can't see from the picture. Talk with folk who have done this stuff!

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I was just referencing what I saw in the Knifemaking Unplugged video for annealing silver. Seemed cheaper than using map gas.
Knifemaking Video DVD

Yes you work bronze cold. But without a decent annealing every now and then the modern silica bronze I've played with work hardens fairly fast.

I agree about getting dies to punch them out. The last time I saw scale armor made out of stainless the maker cut every piece on a shear and cleaned it up on a belt sander and buffer.

As a side note.

I went and checked the source photo.
They say the armor is leather.
HBO: Rome - Artifacts - Gaius Octavian

here's an old link talking about courbouilli
Cariadoc's Miscellany: The Perfect Armor

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If you are making armor you might try looking over at
The Armour Archive :: Index

Very knowledgeable group of people, lots of info about armor around in that site and some info on construction.

You could also check,
Living History Library (Powered by Invision Power Board)
It's a bit newer, but I've been fairly impressed by the quality of information I've seen.

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  • 1 year later...

No offence, but you realise that in the picture. That is not bronze, that is leather.

But you could do it in bronze im sure. I don't think you would have to hot work the scales to get them to shape up properly, you could do it cold. You just need to get a mold which you can shape them into. =]

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  • 4 weeks later...

Another thing to consider is that, the example you showed is used to represent the armor of the future emperor of rome(Octavian/Augustus). Most scale armor of the period is believed to have been much more rough than that. The individual pieces probably being made from sheet iron or bronze or orialchum(not sure on spelling? the Roman version of brass). Many archaeological examples aare shaped with little punches and chisels to decorate them. Often there is NO decoration and they are rather "crude" in appearance. I'd go with your idea of annealing the pieces and stamping them to shape with a die if you want one just like the photo though.

Here is an article from some very knowledgable folks that may be of help:

Legio XX Scale Armor

(Dont be fooled by the Welcome to LARP.COM, your home for Live Action Roleplaying address - these guys really know Roman stuff and are quite accurate) :p

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For a very good description of how "real" Roman armor looked, try here:
Legio XX Scale Armor
This website is well researched, and shows some photos of actual artifacts. Using the size of an average scale, a shirt would have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15000 scales, all punched and sewn down on a heavy, layered linen (or soft leather) shirt with fine wire. Might take all afternoon to make that, probably ought to bring a sandwich with you when you go out to the shop. :)

If you're making the TV stage piece that they used in that series (which I really like, though there are a number of historical inaccuracies, as usual) then you will only need a couple of hundred scales. But be aware that Roman armor didn't really look like that. For ease of construction, have you considered using mild steel sheet, say 18 or 20 gauge, heating with a torch and brushing it with a bronze brush? It gives a very similar look, without the expense and extra weight of bronze.

Good luck on that piece. Looks like fun.

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  • 4 years later...
Posted · Hidden by jeremy k, May 2, 2014 - spam
Hidden by jeremy k, May 2, 2014 - spam

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