ADVICE ON ARMOUR AND PRICES
Ben Norman aka
Otto Sex Burger
It is important to note that under the SCA rules for Armoured Combat (colloquially referred to as ‘Heavy’), we have stringent rules and standards that define the allowable behaviour and equipment. The Fighters Handbook (available from http://lochac.sca.org/marshal/ ) defines the minimum standards for armour, which would allow an authorised combatant to engage in combat under normal conditions without the risk of serious injury. Is important to stress that these standards are a minimum, and not necessarily practical for frequent combat over a long period of time. As such, the majority of combatants will wear well above the minimum standard for armour. You are welcomed and encouraged to wear as much armour as you feel comfortable in when starting out, as it will be better to err on side of too much rather than too little when starting out.
DISCLAIMER: All new armour should be inspected by an authorised marshal before use, and by a senior combatant at the very least. Be aware that pieces of armour often interact with each other to provide protection, and that changing an item of armour may change the coverage and effectiveness of your protection. When purchasing armour online, do not rely on descriptions to ensure items conform with the minimum armour standards - verify all thicknesses and gaps yourself or seek advice from a local armourer or senior combatant. As per the rules, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that your armour conforms to the minimum standards.
Common materials used in construction are metals, leather, cloth, plastic & foams. Most metals are used interchangeable although the thickness will vary; leather and plastic will be often used interchangeably, whilst thin leather can be substituted with heavy cloth.
NOTE: Sheet Metal gauges are based on weight per square metre, and so will vary between materials. The thickness of steel sheets can be approximated by dividing an inch in millimetres (25) by the gauge number, lower gauges are thicker sheets.
Mild steel is a common and popular rigid material for armour, however is prone to rust if not painted or cared for. 18 gauge (~1.21mm) is the minimum thickness required for a rigid material (as per the rules), however it will dent and deform easily on sword impacts over time. 16 gauge is considerable more resilient, and my recommendation for armour on joints. 14 gauge is heavy, but very resistant to damage. Note the minimum for helms is 16 gauge (1.6mm) equivalent, after all work and polishing is finished - and this to provide a minimum mass.
Stainless is not as common, but still a popular choice. It tends to be stiffer than its equivalent thickness in mild and is less prone to dents - equivalent to one to two gauges thicker mild steel. Resistant to rust and so offers maintenance free armour, but visually has a different hue to mild steel. As it is harder to work than mild, prone to metal fatigue & cracking and is more expensive, it will come with a premium attached. Helms especially come with a considerable markup, often jokingly referred to as being required for the armourer’s shoulder reconstruction or the purchase of a power hammer.
Spring Steel is rare, but available at a high premium. Higher costs are due to the skill that heat treatments require, the difficulty in working the metal and the occasional failure due to warping during heat reatment. Armour made from this will not dent easily if at all, and can often be constructed of thinner materials due to its resilience. However when it does fail, it does so spectacularly with cracking.
Aluminium is not as common, but a popular choice due its lightness and resistance to corrosion. Generally 2mm is the minimum thickness required for a rigid material in aluminium. It will dent easily, and is more difficult to work due to difficulty in welding and cracking due to metal fatigue.. As such, often comes at a premium similar to stainless.
Leather is used in a variety of roles. Thick leathers can be hardened to create rigid armours, or thin leathers can be combined with metal or plastic plates to splinted armoured. Required thickness will depend on application or purpose. Generally 2mm is ideal for straps, and splinting rigid plates. 4.5mm-6mm (>11oz ie sole leather)) wax/water hardened veg tanned leather is used as rigid material.
Plastic is used a substitute for hardened leather or rigid material. 3mm thickness is generally sufficient rigidity for protecting the body, although 2mm will suffice. Generally undesirable for protecting joints, due to the lack of mass and flex. It important to note that plastic can degrade from exposure to UV light, and that not all plastics are suitable for impact resistance. Generally, ABS, HDPE, Kydex Polypropylene, and Santoprene are suitable polymers.
Cloth used in armour tends to be of a heavy weight, such as a canvas or duck. Layers and batting may be combined for built up padding. Generally natural fibers are encouraged for the their breathability and wicking properties - wools, cottons, linens & bamboo are the fibres of choice.
Closed Cell Foam is the synthetic option for padding. Generally required for helmets, and often used for padding metal components. EVA & Neoprene foams are a popular choice, however caution should be exercised with respect to foam degrading with time.
You may see some terms used to describe new armours.
Munitions Grade - This refers to armour lacking aesthetic finishing or styling. It may come in set sizes, or may even be made for the individual. However it is emphasised as being armour where function is only required and no allowance given to its form. Some examples include:
‘Helm-In-A-Hurry’ - Mordenvale ‘Grog Pot’, ‘Pickle Barrel’ Armour.
Made to Measure - This refers to armour or components made from a pattern and measurements given by the purchaser. This offers a fair degree of customisation but without the additional cost or requirement of fitting and sizing, but it is reliant on standard body shapes.
Bespoke - This refers to armour customised specifically for the wearer. Often there will be fittings, along with insuring the armour works with the existing harness. This is often required for spring steel, due the inability to adjust the metal once heat treatment.
Reproduction - This refers to armour that is a copy of an extant piece found in a museum.
Sport - This is modern looking armour, often made to comply with a specific ruleset but without the historical looking aesthetics.
Parade - This is armour where is form is prioritised over function, and historically was armour used to display wealth or status. Contemporarily this refers to armour which is functional, but worn for its appearance and aesthetics.
Display - This is armour that is suitable for display, but is not suitable for practical use. May not conform to minimum armour standards.
The values I have provided are approximate, and based on Australia dollars for an average exchange rate. It can be hard to value armour, and these prices are given based on readily components off the shelf. Usually you will be able to save money by assembling armour components yourself, but this isn’t always the case. These prices are based providing functional equipment, rather than historical accurate or visually appealing. I have provided examples of common components, but the following list is not be considered the ‘minimum’ armour requirements.
The most important piece of kit, and not something to cut costs on. Helms are required to be at a minimum of 16 gauge Mild steel or equivalent in weight. Mass is a key aspect of a good helm. The required minimum is generally impractical for armoured combat, as it will dent with prolonged use and lack the mass to offset the impact of blows. I recommend a skull cap of 12 gauge, and 14 gauge on the sides. It is strongly recommended that you buy new helms from a known SCA armourer, as they will make sure the helm is compliant with the rules. All gaps must be less than one inch on the helm. Be wary of cheap helms, or merchants claiming a helm complies with SCA standards or is suited for SCA combat. Note that the Fighters Handbook explicitly specifies the requirement as to how the helm components are joined (ie rivet spacing and weld penetration). It is unadvisable to spend more than $500 on a helm when starting out, as helms in this price range often have little to offer over the cheaper helms and will not compare to the quality and customisation of helms produced for over $1000.
Arming coats/aketons - $100-$200
This is an item is often made by individuals for less, but well worth purchasing due to the complexity and labour involved. Made to measure coats can be readily purchased from european (ukrainian) merchants. Use natural fibers like cotton, wool, linen or bamboo wadding for padding. A well constructed and fitted arming coat is desirable investment. These will act as padding for the elbows, neck & kidneys.
Maybe be referred to as gambeson, however this technically incorrect as that is a padded garment worn over armour.
Arms - $40-$ 100
Arms will get hit alot, and protecting them will assist in getting the most out of training. Avoid adding too much heavy weight, as this will impact your stamina for holding your shield & sword. For those with strapped shields, often minimal couter (elbow guard/cop) is used whilst the fancy couter is kept for the sword arm. A vambrace (forearm protection) is recommended for the sword arm, rerebraces (tricep protection) are often unnecessary but do provide a better aesthetic. Bazubands are a couter & vambrace combined.
A basic Half gauntlet and shield gauntlet will suffice for someone starting out with sword and strapped shield. A half gauntlet can also be used behind a centregrip shield.
As for full gauntlets, note that mobility is traded off against protection. Ice Hockey gloves can be used, but are the bare minimum and generally inadequate protection by themselves. A good set of gauntlets is an investment akin to purchasing a helm, and cheap gauntlets tend to lack either protection or mobility or both. Note that gauntlets are not as foolproof as a basket hit, as broken fingers & metacarpals are a constant risk.
Poleyns (knee guards) are mandatory and cuisses (thigh protection) are high recommended.
Stainless steel is worthwhile investment, as fighting from the knees results in the poleyns being exposed to moisture. Cuisses made from plastic and leather offer a good trade off between weight, protection and feedback of blows. Steel cuisses are protective, but will dent over time (unless they are spring steel) and can be difficult to calibrate leg shots. Note padding for the knees is required.
Body Protection $100-$250
The kidneys and lower back are required to be protected, which. It is advisable to provide armour for the upper body when starting out, especially when fighting without a shield. Lamellar a popular choice as it can be easily configured for the individual. Coats of plates are another choice doe to their simplicity in construction.
Neck Protection. $50-$100
The neck needs be protected, covering the throat and 3rd vertebrae. There are a number commercial gorget options available for fencing, most are a two piece collar of rigid materials. Note that this will need to be checked against your helm to make sure no gaps are exposed.
A c-belt is the desired method of suspending leg harness, and can be constructed or commissioned. Generally made from leather, but were made from cloth in period, and pointed directly arming cote later..
Chausses provide padding for the legs & knees, and are constructed into a similar fashion to an arming coat, consisting on a funnel that can be pointed at the top of each leg.