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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Mar, 2007 3:06 pm    Post subject: Historical Helm Thickness and 18 gauge steel         Reply with quote

Hi all,

I posted this over on SFI, but there are quite a few knowledgeable folks that don't post there, so there goes...

I've been glancing over various articles about the weights of historic helmets and have found that many helmets weighed less than 4lbs. The basicnet article here on myArmoury is the easiest to reference for exact weights. The skull portion of a bascinet in the Wallace collection (14th Century Italian) weighs 4.42lbs. A German bascinet in the Royal Armouries weighs 3.2lbs. Again, this is the skull portion only, the visor adds 1 or 2 lbs and the aventail adds a lot more. The skull of another in the Deutsches Historisches Museum weighs 3.53lbs.

When discussing helmets, people often say that only cheap and useless helmets are made from 18 gauge steel (and that 18 gauge is too thin for a historically accurate helm), but if you make the skull portion of a bascinet from 18 gauge steel, it will weigh approximately 3.5 to 4lbs. If you step up to 14 gauge, the most common thickness in the "serious" helmets, it will weigh considerably more, towards the higher end of the antique helm spectrum at over 6lbs.

Both of these weights fall into the acceptable range of antique specimens...so why are 18 gauge helms frowned upon? Are these also not, if well made, just as historically accurate as their thicker counterparts?

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Patrick Kelly




PostPosted: Mon 12 Mar, 2007 4:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Many people gain their knowledge of helmets from groups like the SCA, where helmets are typically designed to withstand a shot from an RPG. (I know mine was) Many of the surviving earlier period helmets are in the 18-16 gauge range. Remember, these things weren't worn by people who were just going to stand there flat-footed and let you pound them full force on the cranium. A good solid full-force shot on the head wasn't an easy thing to accomplish. Many later period helmets have thicknesses that vary within the helmet itself, with the frontal areas being thicker than the sides and back. It seems that mass distribution applies to helmets just like swords. The sad fact is that many people have preconceptions about medieval armor, as well as weapons. They often assume them to be much heavier and massive than they really are.
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Mar, 2007 4:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael, i've heard this often as well, and currently owning as well as having owned a fair number of original helmets over the years I have to say that what you've surmized seems to be correct as far as I can tell. I think whats meant may be that thats to thin for usage in the enviornment of todays various fight organizations, but often comes out sounding like commentary about the thickness of period helmets. In books where there are weights given for the armour shown the weights can vary by over a pound difference between helmets in the same familly ( ie, sallets) but they are generally closer to the weight you sighted for an 18 gauge bowel than not.
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Jared Smith




PostPosted: Mon 12 Mar, 2007 6:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is worth noting that some forms of armour had weight and thickness tailored for the intended application. At the Higgins Armoury one can view armour of similar period and origin, but see "field armour" weighing as little as 35 pounds, while "joust armour" displayed weighs as much as 89 lbs. Some of this is due to differing degrees of coverage, but there were also differences in thicknesses and weight of individual pieces. Similarly, there is quite a bit of difference between earlier cultures (Corinthian versus Roman, etc.) in terms of what appears to be different priorities for minimal weight versus maximum structural integrity. I suspect this type of variation could be identified over all periods ancient through present day.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 12:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To continue the themes brought up. Here are some things I have assumed working with medieval and early modern helmets.

As Patrick and Allen said. You have a wide spectrum. Both between seperate helemts and the same one.

You will find parts up to 1/1.2mm on a helmet. You will have parts up and beyond 3mm on a helmet (18g=1.2mm, 16 1.5 or 1.6mm and 14 2mm). An 18 gauge helmet in its entirety typically is not a historic thickness. You would find your helmet underrated-

Typically the skull at the front would be thickest, typically 1.6mm plus (most bascinets are up 2mm-3mm at the front skull from what I have seen) and the other segments thinner. I welded a 14 gauge skull with 16 gauge skirt and it came out close to 5 pounds which seems to be somewhat of an average of the bascinets I have looked at. a fair number of bascinets and around 3 pounds is from those I have handled not in the average range but below it. I have made a few bascinets of 16 gauge and think they were fairly light but do not remember the weight.... maybe I will make a few one 18, 16 and 14 and get a weight comparison for next time Laughing Out Loud

The largest issue is today we get metal in prefabricated sheets of a specific thickness. They got sheets but I assume not as finely made as ours as far as thickness. They then worked them and in the end made it so it varied in thickness all over the piece. It may have an 18 gauge or even perhaps a bit less at the tail or skirt etc. but the side might be 16 and the top center of the skull 14 plus. It likely varies even more than that it is just an explination.

Some of the sallets and armets I have looked at have been really weighty 8 pounds and have on average a 2-3mm skull at front with a reenforceplate. In the end keep in mind you have varying thicknesses. I would recommend finding more weights as it will help you get a better idea of an average to go from as one or two or even three pieces is just not going to help you unless you are recreating a specific helmet.

I have looked at about a dozen sallet now and the weights for about 20 someodd (my sample just got a nice boost) and I find the average not about two and a half kilos (little more than 5 pounds) ave. This will change as I find more to look at.

Patrick and Allan,

No to cause a stir but I have been able to look at the Coppergate (york) helmet, the pioneer (which I hope to get another look at soon) and have spoken with people who have examined the Sutton Hoo helmet in good detail and I am not sure they are remarkably thinner . The coppergate goes from 1.1mm to 3mm for example. Are the ones you have handled all private helmets you have come across of are they museum pieces? It would help as my sample is fairly limited if you have more info. I have not seen the Benty Grange yet but Hope to arrainge a visit, although it is in sad shape of the four I know of here in England it might have some useful info

So in short. Yes an helmet completely of 18 gauge would not be an average historic thickness in my opinion. It may weight close to some of the lighter historic ones but the varying in thickness will not be the same. I would tend to error on the side of heavier helmets or better closer to average than lighter as it is your head and the historic variance could be that of bettern armed men at arms to more likely to have armour failure lowly commoner (This is my own idea and it cannot be tested really --sadly). Also in the SCA they use clubs and its a game of mass, if I did SCA I'd go with a spiffed up on that surely had a 12 gauge skull at the front.

Hope that helped. Sorry it might go in circles but my 5 month old is figiting in my arms as I try and type this.... Big Grin

RPM
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 6:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randal, what I own or have owned are 1) burgoenette late 16th century of two piece construction, probably English 2) close helmet, mid to late 16th century again probably english based on the much more prowed form of the visor 3) zischagge in the " Hungarian" style c 1630-40 4) zischagge possbly Polish but with a distinct Turkish flair c1640 5) sallet helm c.1500 6) tottenkophf or deaths head burgeonette c 1630-50 7) cabascette of Italian manufacture c1550 8) combed morion c 1550-1600. I've also had hand on time with Dr. Lee Jones 15th century turkish helmet and and 15th century chapel de fer. These are all of course late helemts but of the lot the thickest were the "Hungarian" style zischagge, the Turkish helmet and the deaths head burgeonette with bowels that were around 16 gauge thickness at a guess. The others were thinner the burgeonette being somewhere between 18 and 20 and I would say leaning twords the 20 side of 18 gauge.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 6:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan,

Have you been able to measure the thickness on all the helmets you own? I would be interested in the results if so. I have contemplated buying some authentic armour but am sure my wife would go for it but then we'd have to eat it..... Big Grin

I really do not do much after 1500 but I worked in a armoury. We had close to 200 helmets, most 16th and 17th (not including 20th century on) and I started taking thicknesses on them as the weights were so misleading it just seems almost worthless to me now. I think over all the cabassets and morions I have seen, typically are the lightest, usuALLY BEtween 1-1.6mm from thair era. We had a fair number of burgonets but I do not remember any of them being that light but I have not read over my notes in sometime on them. I am suprised the death head was that thin. we have a few full suits (about 10) and I think only one is close to that thin, most the skull starts at about 2-3mm and gets thinner toward the neck opening. It just goes to show the variety out there I suppose. The most interesting to me were the lobstertails from the 17th. Some were thick thick, 2.5-3mm's at the crest and others were about 1.2-1.5mm at the crest.

Thanks for the info,

RPM
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 7:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randal, I used to have a device that you could run over a surface and it would send out sound waves and tell you how thick it was, haven't seen it in a while now that you've got me thinking about it though, i'll have to go looking for it.

Theres armour out there to be had although anything before 1500 is tough to just "stumble on". I found the four lower lames of a late 16th-17th century left pauldron Christmas Eve in an antique mall for $40 listed simpley as "armour plates". We're working out a deal now for a left hand mitten gauntlet (the plates from the first knuckle forward are missing) c.1530-40 for about $200. We've been beat a couple of times to but at something like 20 to 1 , times good deal vs times bad deal i'll take it ( I just keep telling myself its a tax write off).

The "Hungarian" zischagge bowel was formed especially quickly it seems as there were 3/4 of a dozen small ( 1/8-3/16") stress cracks around the bowel from I presume over hammering while the metal was to cool.

If I can dig up that little device i'll run it over the helmets and see what it tells me.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan,

That would be great if you have a moment.

Do you know what the devise you use is called to get the measurements? I recently have been contemplating a new approach to taking measurements. I have a few I have used but still everything is in the pot. I have somewhat put that project on the back burner until later. I saw how some scans were used on one test and it showed a very nice indication of thinning and thickening in various colour.

AS far as the stree fractures. Do you think they could have been caused or exaggerated by the milling of it? That sounnds like a very interesting piece. The most interesting one I worked with was a late 16th century pauldron that was 'repaired' later and one had the rerebrace plate rivetted on backwards..... for some reason no one caught it till I pulled it out one day and said... this would not fit right. I think the most interesting thing to see is delamination on pieces and find slag or different layers. Really interesting stuff.

Do you get most of your buys from private auctions or venfors if I may ask? I have seen some of the larger auction catalogues here in Europe but have never seriously considered buying anything except one really cool late 15th- early 16th kettle helm that was in somewhat sad condition but was pretty unique in design as it looked like a transition between the low profile ones in the 15th and a 16th century morion. And it was less expensive than everything else.

Thanks again.

RPM
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Its actually something my blacksmith got from his day job running a cell phone tower company. I don't know what they were using it for but it wasn't very large, maybe the size of an elctronic stud finder for drywalling. I'll have to ask him this weekend.

The zischagge underwent little if any grinding on the bowel, the planishing marks were plainly visible throughout the surface, which led me to believe that the cracks were visible at the time of manufacture if one were looking. That said I didn't notice them until I happened to hold the helmet up looking at it from the inside ( the liner was of course long gone) and saw little points of light. Once I noticed them they seemed obvious but given what it took to actually spot them in the first place it may be that I just became sensitive to them.

We've never had a period repaired piece in the collection over the years like your pauldron, that must have been pretty niffty to work with! We've had two pieces that were delaminating, the burgeonette ( since moved on to a new owner) which had numerous late 19th or 20th century flush riveted patches and an early 16th century elbow cop we got in about three months ago. This to has several flush riveted 19th or 20 century patches but along the inside of the elbow edge the delaminating of forge welded pieces in clearely evident.

The stuff i've had has come from a variety of sources over the years, gun/militaria shows, antique stores, a gift or two, ebay and some private offers. I've never been to a decent auction, or I guess thats the wrong way to say it, every auction i've been to has been 18th,19th and 20th century mititaria nothing earlier offered.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 10:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan,

That would be great. Interesting it sound like it was used flawed so. I wonder if it ended up in Marek's bargain bin or something.

I was speaking with a curator at the R.A. and he mentioned that he figured one reason to switch to the full back point bascinet was to forge weld them and speed up the process. Sadly he has been out sick so I have not heard more about it. I will email a friend there and see if he has seen him about. It is an interesting possibility. I have actually only gotten a few forge welds done so that they seem strong enough to use but to be fair I have only attempted a half dozen or so times. When I get a home where it is doable perhaps it will be on my list of things to do...


RPM
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Patrick Kelly




PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 11:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
No to cause a stir but I have been able to look at the Coppergate (york) helmet, the pioneer (which I hope to get another look at soon) and have spoken with people who have examined the Sutton Hoo helmet in good detail and I am not sure they are remarkably thinner . The coppergate goes from 1.1mm to 3mm for example. Are the ones you have handled all private helmets you have come across of are they museum pieces? It would help as my sample is fairly limited if you have more info. I have not seen the Benty Grange yet but Hope to arrainge a visit, although it is in sad shape of the four I know of here in England it might have some useful info


Why not? Stir away, let's not be afraid of some educational discussion. I'll also freely admit this isn't my foremost field of study and I'm more than happy to be proven wrong. My main interest lies with the earlier periods, so over the years I've tried to gain access to as many conical/spangen type helms that I could, which is admittedly few. The ones I've examined have been in private collections with supposedly good documentation. (but you know how that is) The ones I've handled seemed to be around a 16 gauge thickness or a bit less, although I had no sophisticated equipment for measuring such things at the time. Some later medieval bascinets and sallets I've been able to handle showed some obvious variance in thickness, at least with these helms the variance seemed to be an intentional thing done to reinforce vital areas, rather than just a variance in production. I really didn't notice anything like that with the earlier conicals, at least nothing that seemed intentional.

Randall,

I'd love to see any detailed information you have on the Coppergate and Sutton Hoo helms as those are of high interest to me.
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is an interesting discussion. I am wondering if anybody has done any testing on modern helmets. I've seen chainmail put to the test before but not sure I have seen a helmets protection ever tested. Would be very interesting to see what kind of blows an 18ga helm can withstand.
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 12:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm interested in the concept of varying thicknesses...however, at 3.5lbs for a bascinet skull, there doesn't seem to be much room for variation.

I know some historical helms varied a lot and were quite thick in places...I've read enough to have come accross a few of those. However, I am more interested in the lighter versions. How much variation could there be in a helm, which at about1mm (18 gauge) all around, would weigh 3.5lbs, if it's target weight is that same 3.5lbs? If you double the thickenss at the brow, for example, you would have to halve the thickness on an equal sized area, and .5mm doesn't seem like it would be of much use as armor.

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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 12:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jim Adelsen wrote:
This is an interesting discussion. I am wondering if anybody has done any testing on modern helmets. I've seen chainmail put to the test before but not sure I have seen a helmets protection ever tested. Would be very interesting to see what kind of blows an 18ga helm can withstand.


I've done a little of this.

You can't cut an 18 gauge helm with a sword, but you can dent it a little bit. This doesn't change much when you go up to 16 gauge, so I would rather have the lighter helm if I had a choice.

If you put an 18 gague helm on a tree stump at waist level and then cock your sword back as far as you can, you will be able to put a gash in it, but that is not combat...that's an execution. Happy

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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 1:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Edelson wrote:
I've done a little of this.

You can't cut an 18 gauge helm with a sword, but you can dent it a little bit. This doesn't change much when you go up to 16 gauge, so I would rather have the lighter helm if I had a choice.


I wonder what would happen if we tried the same experiment with a weapon such as a poleaxe? My untested theory is that there is a bigger difference in the thicknesses when it comes to impact weapons, though I really don't know for certain. It would make sense to use thinner and lighter metal if you are only dealing with edged weapons, since footwork and proper fencing should hopefully defend against the majority of attacks, and if a stray sword strike gets past, hopefully it will be more of a glancing blow, which even very thin metal could protect against. But something with more mass might be a different story, in which case slightly thicker metal might be preferred.

I don't know myself, but it's certainly an interesting topic.

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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Michael Edelson wrote:
I've done a little of this.

You can't cut an 18 gauge helm with a sword, but you can dent it a little bit. This doesn't change much when you go up to 16 gauge, so I would rather have the lighter helm if I had a choice.


I wonder what would happen if we tried the same experiment with a weapon such as a poleaxe? My untested theory is that there is a bigger difference in the thicknesses when it comes to impact weapons, though I really don't know for certain. It would make sense to use thinner and lighter metal if you are only dealing with edged weapons, since footwork and proper fencing should hopefully defend against the majority of attacks, and if a stray sword strike gets past, hopefully it will be more of a glancing blow, which even very thin metal could protect against. But something with more mass might be a different story, in which case slightly thicker metal might be preferred.

I don't know myself, but it's certainly an interesting topic.



I happen to have a poleaxe, but I would not hit an 18 gauge helmet with it, because it would probably squash it. Happy

Then again, I wouldn't hit a 14 gauge helmet either, for the same reason. I have 13 gauge spaulders and I have little doubt what would happen to them if I were to hit them with the poleaxe. A poleaxe is a massive weapon and hits with serious power. Even a 10 gauge helmet would not keep your head safe, I think (though it might keep itself safe).

It is for this reason that I would err on the side of a lighter helm (if I were to find it was historically accurate, hence this question). Why cary all that extra weight on your neck when a lighter helm will protect you from swords but neither the lighter nor the thicker helm will protect from hammers and axes?

Besides...in my experiments I found that it is the shape of helm that offers the greatest degree of protection (as opposed to the thickness of the steel, though that certainly comes into play as well).

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 2:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Patrick,

Give me a couple of days to type up some info on the coppergate helmet and I will send it to you.
I did some postgrad classes with Prof. Martin Carver and the men never ceased to amaze me by what interesting information he had learned about Sutton Hoo.

Michael,

A few things to consider regarding the 3.5 pound bascient. If memory serves correct the bascinet in question has a fairly short skirt and no visor. If so it would be thicker than 18 gauge as it has very little in additon to the skull to add to the weight and a complete barbute I made only weight 3.6 pounds of 18 gauge. The weight difference between 18 and 16 is not that big. I assume it quite easily could be 1.5mm or more at the crest and thin down to 18 or even 20 in some places at the skirt.

I would imagine the glancing of the helmet of a thicker helmet would put up a better fight against a hafted weapon. Also even if the sword does not cut through (which from what I have seen so far is more or less impossible unless really really thin) the less mass to slow the weapon the greater the impact will be on what is under it. It also could dent sufficiently to allow trama under as well depending on the weapon and force involved.

RPM
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Karl Knisley




PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 2:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello
I once hit a 18 guage, MRL helmet ,with one of thier swords(sharpened). I didn`t swing excedingly hard.it didn`t cut the helm,but it put a dent in the helm,that would probably, have killed the wearer,even with suspension or padding.


P.S. Nobody was wearing it at the time Happy
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Mar, 2007 3:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
I wonder what would happen if we tried the same experiment with a weapon such as a poleaxe? My untested theory is that there is a bigger difference in the thicknesses when it comes to impact weapons, though I really don't know for certain. It would make sense to use thinner and lighter metal if you are only dealing with edged weapons, since footwork and proper fencing should hopefully defend against the majority of attacks, and if a stray sword strike gets past, hopefully it will be more of a glancing blow, which even very thin metal could protect against. But something with more mass might be a different story, in which case slightly thicker metal might be preferred.

I don't know myself, but it's certainly an interesting topic.


Some time ago a friend of mine put a 16ga mild steel conical spangenhelm on a stump and had a whack at it with a sword. It dented, but the sword pretty much just skidded off. He then gave it a gentle tap, without any real force, with the pointy end of a geologists rock hammer and it punched clean through the hat leaving a square hole about an inch wide. Everyone who was around was expecting it to punch through but the sheer ease with which it did came as a bit of a shock.

This was hardly a scientific test and the profile and hardness of a rock hammer spike are a bit different from the back ends of war hammers but if nothing else it was fun Happy

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