A New Helm – Part 3, Finishing Up

After all the hammer work is done it comes time to start sanding. I start by using a 80 grit belt for the initial cut back. This is a bit aggressive but as I am working in reasonably thick metal I can afford to do this.

rough sanding done siderough sanding backsanding


I then go over it with a 120 grit belt looking to remove the previous sanding marks. After this I use greaseless compound. This is a paste that goes onto a buffing wheel and acts like a soft sanding belt. Again I work over the entire helm looking to get an even finish. I am not trying to get a perfect finish. Some sanding marks are OK.

sanding done side sanding done front


Before starting the polishing I put in the roll on the bottom edge and set the holes for the liner and chin grill.

ready for polish 1 ready for polish 2


Polishing is done first with maxicut on a sisal wheel. Then multishine on a stitch wheel. 

polishing in progress

The final polish is done with green chrome to bring out a deep finish.

polishing done polishing done2


The final bits are putting in the liner rivets. These were cast findings I have had for a while. Cast by Sir Felix from a master made by Sir Leofric. Added also was the chin grill. These grills are a SCA sport fix. They work well and give you excellent breathing, but are a modern tweak.

Finished side finished 1:3


So there is the new helm. I am not totally happy with this project. I am planning on doing it again later in the year using spring steel. But until then it will do nicely.

in action



A New Helm – Part 2, Shaping

The helm blank is now together and it is time to light up a hot torch and start hammering.

I am using a LPG/oxygen mix to get the material hot and just hammering it down onto a ball stake.

This technique is very fast once you get it going, as in “holy crap that was fast”. I managed two complete heating passes on the helm in the first session. The basic shape is already there. I should have been able to do a clean up pass under heat to have the main shaping done at this point…



A few issues emerged. I pulled up the keel as the first thing. This was a mistake and I should have waited until I had the basic shaping passes done. Pulling up the keel will ‘lock’ the from to a significant degree and make it very difficult to majorly change the shape after you have put it in. It also resulted in a major stuff up.

The other big issue I had was the helm was way too big. I am used to being able to size down a helm as I go. This is not that easy with this technique. I was going to spend a lot of time and effort working the helm down. As it was at this point, it was about one inch too big in the side and about two inches too much front to back.

Fortunately it is just a matter of working the form down to reduce the size.

I was also going through O2 at a furious rate, this is partly using too much heat in places and having to do extra passes.

Working it down on the big T-stake. Unfortunately I lost some of the nice shape in the skull.




Working it in. You can see where the keel is not coming down with the rest of the skull.




The black lines are me working out where the occularia will end up.




At this point it was time to work down the front and start pulling up the chin section. I have done this in some ways with the full visors on previous projects. As your work the visor (or front part in this case) down you end up pushing up a ‘wave’ of material as you go. So you just work it down to where you will have the occulaia and you have the basic form.





I then use a fluting stake to define the shelf.







Once I had the face looking OK I did an initial planishing run. The grid is so I can keep track of where I am up to.




I was having issues with the keel. As I mentioned, I brought this up too early and it hampered me in the sizing. In an effort to get it looking right (you can see in the photos it is way too tall) I managed to fold it over at the front. 



To fix this I decided to cut out the metal where I had folded it under, hammer in the remaining keel bits and weld it all back up. I was a bit disappointed that I needed to do this, but as the entire helm was welded anyway I should not be that bothered by this. I did not take a photo of the fix up. I also tidied up the keel over a fluting stake and a bit of heat.

So here is the helm in the process of being cleaned up/planished. (Before anyone asks, the red on the table is me making up some red leather belts, not a sacrifice to the armour gods.)


Planishing is one of the more tedious processes. It just takes time. You also need to be aware of getting to a point of diminishing returns. Yes you can hammer the piece to being very smooth, but you can also just cut things back with a sanding belt. 

That now is the primary work completed. I had to adjust and then square off the bottom edge. Cutting out the occularia was done with a angle grinder and jigsaw and then files to clean it up.

Now onto finishing!


A New Helm – Part 1, putting it together.

This post is all about making armour…

As many of you may know, I love sallets. I love the lines and shape of them and have in time modelled my kit and impression around the need to wear them. Anyway, my current sallet has been in service for about 15 or 17 years. I love that helm but it was getting time to replace it, as all things will wear out eventually.

I intended to replace it with basically the same thing. There would be a few small changes to things I got wrong all those years ago. I have been intending to get started on this for a long time, but always had other projects on the go. I have also been looking at some of the posts on Armour Archive about a raising technique that makes things very fast and I wanted to try this new method out.

Basically you make up the helm in flat sheet with only two dimensional bends. You weld it all up and then sand back the welds flush. Then, under heat, you work the form down to the desired shape. The technique was developed by Robert Macpherson, whose work is fantastic and I wish I had 1/10 of his eye and talent. The raising  involves compressing the metal and hammering the form from the outside rather than working the form from the inside as is common with a lot of modern armouring. I did a test run on a shield boss and it worked a treat. So I drafted up a pattern based on the old helm and off to the workshop!

Here is the pattern mock up next to the old helm.



I drafted the pattern over the old helm. This ended up being a big mistake. This technique requires you get the pattern spot on, as I will explain soon…

Cutting out the plates.



From here it is a straight forward job of bending the plates and welding it all together. The top portion of the helm is in 2.5mm mild and the bottom plates are 2mm.

Top of the helm welded up.



The front of the helm. Top welds have been sanded back.


Helm all welded up. I should have done the bottom plate in one piece. The weld there would cause problems latter on…


After this I sanded back the welds on the outside. I am supposed to do the same for the inside welds but these were relatively flush anyway (the bonus of doing with gas welding) so I did not spend too much time doing this.

The next step is to light up the torch and start hammering.

Conditioning for Beginners

 A while back someone asked me what a good set of exercises would be for someone starting out in armoured combat. I am a bit late in responding to this request as the person was looking to get into some shape for Easter (and this is next week). Anyway if anyone is interested you can always come and find me at an event.

So beginning conditioning.

Most SCA combatants do not come from a sporting background. I was defiantly typical in this regard. Role playing games and painting miniatures do not prepare you for the physicality of armoured combat.

One of the most important aspects of fitness you can work on is your short to medium term endurance and recovery. I wrote post about this here. While I think high intensity intervals are awesome for armoured combat you do need to have a minimum level of fitness to not totally kill yourself doing these. Remember this is supposed to be enjoyable…ok…mostly.

So look to building up a base level of aerobic capacity first. Rowing machines, bikes, elliptical machines and treadmills are all good. If you are capable of running then this too is good and the “couch to 5km” program is an excellent place to start. Be able to sustain 20-30 min of constant effort. Your breathing should be such that you can talk but not sing. This is a heart rate of about 50-70% of your maximum heart rate.

From here you can start doing some HIIT or sprint training. Or a very effective way of building your fitness is to stay in armour as long as possible. Go to the stage you would normally stop. Have a short break and then fight 3-5 more bouts. Just make sure you are able to maintain form and not cause injury.

I would also suggest doing some resistance work. This is more about building up flexibility and your joints to protect them from injury. Body weight exercises here are fine. Squats are king for fighting. So make sure you warm up, just get your heart rate up and your body warm. Now do one complete round of the following. If you can have a break and do another round. Aim to be able to do three rounds.

  • 20 Squats – make sure you are not leaning forward and the weight is on your heels.
  • 10 push ups
  • 20 walking lunges (that is 10 leach leg)
  • 10 dumbell rows (use a big milk container as a weight) or 10 incline pull ups
  • 20 second plank
  • 30 star jumps

Do this two or three times a week but not on consecutive days. Once you can get through this three times then you should be moving onto other routines.

So this is probably a good plan for those wanting to work on their fitness for fighting.

What I do however need to mention is that any conditioning work MUST be backed up by a good diet. Quit smoking. Do this now. Stop drinking all that coke. Eat a lot more vegetables. Avoid processed food. What you eat and drink is the main contributor o your long term health.

Being lazy can be good

B and C duel


I would like to present some notes on power generation. In Oplomachia we refer to Frame Weight Transfer, or just moving the body into the cut or thrust in order to provide the power required to hit hard with a weapon. This is a subject for another post.

What I want to address here is the idea of power without effort.

Throwing a good cut is much like firing a gun. Once the initial explosion has taken place in the barrel the bullet flies of it own accord. It accelerates naturally and does not need to be push along. While this is technically not quite correct I would like you to keep this analogy in mind.

What is important to realise is that you will never be at your best when trying your hardest. That is you will be able to move and cut more efficiently if you are going at less than 100%. Almost universally, experienced combatants hit their hardest a around 80% and almost as hard at 50% of their effort.

Think to your own experiences. Have you ever delivered a cut with natural movement thinking it was way too light, only to have your opponent stagger and say that you do not have to hit them that hard? This is now the realm of good technique.

Try this experiment at you next training. Have someone hold out a shield for you to hit. Now hit it as hard as you can several times. Have your partner note the power of each strike. Relax. Take some deep breaths and shake out the arms. Now throe the same cut but at 80% of your effort, stay relaxed yet focus on delivering a smooth cut. How hard was it?

Now experiment with a dozen or more strikes going up and down randomly: 50%, 80%, 30%, 90%, 70%, 50%…Loosen up between strikes. Again ask the person holding the shield how hard the cut were. You may be surprised.

You may need to experiment with dialling the ‘volume knob’ in on the desired settings to find your personal optimal setting.

Another aspect of cutting with power is to applying force to the weapon as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Think again the bullet analogy. We must move the body forward to apply forward motion to the weapon and these needs to be a focused movement. If you are tight or stiff it will be hard to accomplish this smoothly. If someone is trying to go at ‘100%’ they are often too tight.

Imagine a video of your swing that is broken down into ten frames. For how many frames are you applying frame weight transfer? At what point do you squeeze the hand to make a solid cut? A new swordsman engages their muscles too long and then too soon in the movement. They are self-conscious about the attack. They are trying to remember technical details. They are using all sorts of energy to move and direct the sword through all ten frames. A more advanced practitioner, in contrast, stays loose and relaxed kicking off the sword in the first few frames and then not tightening until frame seven or eight. At higher levels this last phase may only occur at frame ten.

This efficiency is not soft in anyway. Efficiency does not slow down or weaken the power movements but limits the duration.

Do not confuse speed and power with effort.

A question of numbers


Calibration is an often hotly discussed concept. Being about to ‘take’ a good cut or thrust is central to our honour system of governing the outcome of tournament combat.

We have adopted a numbering system in order to gain a common frame of reference when talking about the perceived impact power of an attack.

I need to emphasise that this is an entirely arbitrary system and is totally subjective. A combatant needs to take into account many different factors in a very short space of time. What was the armour in the way? What was the target location? How were people moving etc etc…

So we can describe the power on a 1-10 point scale. It is not a precise measure but an only an attempt to provide a short hand descriptor.

5 – This is a ‘good’ cut or thrust. The minimum level required to make an effective attack. Remember face plates need to be taken lighter.

8 – is getting on the hard end of the scale.

9- This is about the hardest you want to be hit.

10- Excessive.

Most people should be aiming to strike in the 5-7 point range.


Ok, remember that this is an objective rating. One person may ‘read’ a cut at 8 while the person making the cut may think it is a 5. What the rating scale gives you is a common vocabulary.

We will use this to compare were we are in power levels. After each bout the person hit gives a number of what they perceive the power was at and the person making the attack also gives what they think the power was. This allows you to work together to reach a consensus on what is a good level of power.

This schema is only a tool. Good communication and constantly talking with your training partners and all the people you fight with is essential.

Have fun, train hard.






While I was in Perth I can a quick introduction to Spear work in the Oplomachia style. Several people have asked me for the notes so I’ll provide them here.

This should also go along with Count Gemini’s video on spear and the first spear form.(will add links soon).



Aggressed Stance – stand with body square and feet shoulder with apart. Move the back foot two ½ steps back. Weight on the balls other feet and knees bent. The back foot is the one on the same side as the hand holding the butt end of the spear.

Grip– Forward hand halfway along spear. Back hand at the butt end, this hand is then as far back as you can (point or long guard).

Thrusts are lined off the back shoulder

Greek Thrust – Extend Forward Hand. Bring Back Hand to armpit. Half step forward. Point stays level.

Sliding Thrust – With either a ½ step or passing step. Extend both hands forward, letting the spear slide through the Forward Hand. Do not let the hands closer than about a foot.

Swiss Thrust – Lift spear over head and slide spear forward as per the Sliding Thrust.

Parries must be quick ‘beats’ snappy and return to guard

Outside – push heel of hand out.

Inside – Volta to beat opponents spear away but keep point on line.

High – lift spear straight up, keep point on line (Swiss Thrust).

Low – Squat and beat. Do not drop the point


First Spear Form

Aggressed Stance

Face north, left hand leading. Outside, ½ step, Sliding Thrust. Inside, passing step, Sliding Thrust.

Turn to face south, right hand lead. Outside, ½ step, Sliding Thrust. Inside, passing step, Sliding Thrust.

Face east, left hand lead. High Parry, Swiss thrust. Low Parry, passing step, Sliding Thrust

Face west, right hand lead. High Parry, Swiss thrust. Low Parry, passing step, Sliding Thrust.

Face North and come to parade rest.


Some thoughts for beginners

A few posts ago I talked about some things experienced combatants need to consider when working with novices. In this post I will provide some ideas for the beginner about what to expect and what to focus on to help your training.

Many times, one who pursues the martial arts expects to see results too soon. You cannot expect to move, strike, block ar attain any understanding of the art before you know how to stand. Syr Gemini.


This is all a bit complicated.

Armoured combat is a complex and sometimes difficult art to learn. There is a lot you must take in. The complexity lies in the many different actions and movements you must master to be able to attack and defend. To add to this difficulty there is also an opponent trying to block your attacks and hit you.

I suggest that it is it important to remember that this is a complex art and that you will not get it all right immediately. True progression in a martial art can take years. Take it one step at a time and focus on getting your basics right. Do not worry so much about not winning a bout, focus on getting your body in the right position, hold your shield between you and your opponents weapons and cut cleanly and with good form.


Good form is more important than winning.

It may seem odd to say this. Are we not training to be able to claim victory against our opponents? This is true but as a beginner (and I would say all combatants) you must focus on maintaining good from in training and practice.

‘Good form and technique will eventually lead to frequent success. But frequent success will never lead to good form and technique’

This quote is spot on. I see too many beginners sacrificing good form for the sake of immediate success. While these people often do well in the short term. At best they only go so far and then their development plateaus in the mid ranks. At worst they build up bad habits like striking with the flat of the weapon which is cheating or using poor power generation and getting injured.

You are at a beginning. Nearly everyone you will fight against will be more experienced in armour that you are. This is fine and the only expectation that you have is to keep working on your basics. As I mentioned, at the start of your armoured combat career the aim is not to win bouts but to keep good form and do all the basics right. No one is keeping score, so it does not matter who ‘wins’ any given bout.

I know it is hard to take the long term view but trust me that focusing on technique is the best thing you can do.


Learn from what is happening.

When you are doing free sparing, always ask the person you are working with what they are doing and how they are making their attacks work. How are they blocking what you are doing? Always always ask for feedback.


Not all feedback is helpful.

This is sort of counter to the pervious comment. While you should always ask for some level of feedback, understand that it is not always useful. It is common for everyone wanting to help the new combatants. Everyone has some suggestions and wants to help. While good intentioned, this advice is often too much, contradictory and confusing. Make note of what people are saying and take on what is making sense to you. If you walk away from a training session with one or two ideas than that is a good thing. If you are getting confused with different feedback, and you will, talk it through with your main trainer and follow their advice.

It is also important to remember that there are many philosophies and attitudes in the armoured combat community, and not all are compatible. Just because a particular Duke likes a particular cut or move does not automatically mean that it is something everyone can or should do. Different styles do not always work well together. Some techniques may be fine for a big guy weighing 130kg but it not going to work for a small person pushing 70kg in armour…


‘The student of everything is the master of nothing’

I see many new trainees look for the magic weapon combination. They think two swords is the One True Way. Or that a particular shield type will make them untouchable. I also see people trying every new trick they can find.

At the beginning it is important to keep things as simple as you can. Stick with one weapon combination for at least your first two years. Learn how to move, strike and defend with the basic weapons of the tournament (sword and shield). Only after you start to understand the basics of armoured combat should you venture to playing with other things.


Armour must fit you

It takes time to get used to being in armour, and moving in it. I guarantee your first few times in borrowed harness you will not be that comfortable. Getting your own kit to fit and work with you can take a bit of time and fiddling around to get it right. Loaner armour will vary rarely fit you well. If something does not work or you are getting hurt you need to talk to your trainer about it.


Wearing armour is a skill

Getting into armour will often cause you to unlearn or forget all that you’ve trained. Work on moving techniques from the pell, to pad-work, to slow-work, to full speed. Do not be afraid to go back to the pell and work though the fundamental moves while in harness. Do a lot of slow to medium speed work. Again, do not rush your development.


Don’t’ be afraid to talk to people about concerns and issues, be it with fighting or armour.

Finally, keep talking to your trainers or mentors. Yes sometimes things can be confusing even with the best intentions. Ask questions, discuss options. Do not make things too complicated.



So there are a number of things to keep in mind. Many of my points apply to all of us following the path of swordsmanship. In many ways we are all novices. We keep learning new things and gaining a greater understanding of what we do and how to go about it. If I am making this sound all a bit hard or complex I remind you it is not. Remember, swords are cool and so are sallets.



Setting Goals

Setting goals is an important way of progressing your training. Setting goals will help guide your training and give you distinct techniques and actions to focus on rather then just going out there and fee-sparing.

One way to approach this is to set a goal that you can achieve in a few months. The more specific this is the better. Then use this goal to inform smaller, short term goals than can be achieved within a few training sessions.

These goals should follow the SMART format.

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Attainable – attainable, agreed upon, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Here is an example:

Main Goal- Do well in Baronial Championship
Specific – target a specific area for improvement


Get to fifth round of the Baronial Championship

Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

Win at least three rounds.

Attainable, agreed upon, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

I am letting my training partners know about this and get there OK to help me train.

Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.

I am my trainers thing this is realistic, but getting a good draw may affect the outcome greatly.

Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

The Tournament is in September. I have six months to train for this.


As you can see the goal here is a bit generic and does not have specifics. That is fine as this general goal then gives you the broad schema for working out how to add the detail.

In the example you have six months to prepare. Break this now down into monthly segments and also work out specific techniques you want to work on.

Example of things to work on to achieve Main Goal:

Get shield defence better, get pendulum cuts to work, make wraps better, fix helm strapping and work on fitness.



Short Term Goal- get pendulum cuts to work
Specific – target a specific area for improvement


Be able to throw a pendulum with power and speed.

Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

I will be able to hit my opponent with a pendulum with good power and speed

Attainable, agreed upon, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

I need to practice this on the pell and then in training. I need to work with training partners to drill this technique.

Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.

I can do this but will also have to work on setting up the placement and timing.

Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

I will work on this for the next four weeks.


We now have a short term goal that is reasonably specific. You now break this down again into single ‘micro’ goals that are achievable over a single training session or week.

For the pendulum example the first week goal may be to get three 20 minute pell-work sessions practicing the cut. The second may be starting to use the attack in pad work and drills. The simpler you make your short term goals the easier it is to work on them.

Remember that achieving your goal now becomes your victory conditions for free-sparing. So at a practice, you are working on pendulum. Even if you get ‘killed’ most of the time, as long as you are getting pendulums to work then you have ‘won’.

How formal you want to get with your goal setting is up to you. I keep a training diary and keep notes of what I am working on, what is working and what is not.

The important thing is to go into each week with a good idea of what you want to do. This then will also guide what you do at training in armour (or out of it).



Main Goal-
Specific – target a specific area for improvement







Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.





Attainable, agreed upon, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented





Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.







Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.







On working with novices

On of the more difficult thing we must due during our training is work with and spar against novices. There are a number of things you need to be aware of and due when working with new or lesser experienced people than you. It must be a good experience for the novice, not just blasting them out of their socks every time. To help people with this part of our training I am attempting to write some notes to acknowledge and assist with this process. Any comments or suggestions are going to be well received.


Working with new combatants

Understandably, novices who are in armour and fighting for the first time will be anxious at the thought of being hit and or looking awkward. Getting hit is an adjustment that most people need time to get used to as is hitting someone back. It is totally normal to feel nervous and a bit overwhelmed when it is your first time in amour. For some people it takes a long time to get used to what is going on in a full paced bout.


Start light

When you are sparing with a novice who is just recently in harness it is important to start with light contact and build you up to harder contact. Make sure the novice is ok with what is happening. Take care that you are targeting decent armored areas. Most novices are in loner amour that is not made for them and will not cover everything or may not work that well. You also need to be aware that most people have no amour fitness when they start, do not run them into the ground.


Play against experience

In general I would not get new people sparring with other new people for a while so they can get used to what is going on against an experienced person who can demonstrate good form and control. It takes time to build trust with somebody and know what level of contact they are okay with.



Nobody can read minds so make sure to check how they are feeling. There is no shame in asking for lighter contact. When people get quiet during sparring it often shows that they feel either afraid or they are becoming angry. If somebody lands a good shot that you don’t mind, it’s always a good idea to tell them, “Nice one!” or “Well struck.” You are letting them know that you are okay with the level of contact by giving them those constant little verbal cues.


Fight to their level

It is no good just one-shotting new people, It does not teach them anything. The trick is to fight at just above their level. If they do everything correctly then they should land an attack. It is important to let them succeed to show them that a technique works.

Do not use techniques that they have not yet been taught. An example of this is thrusts. We do not show our novices thrusts until after they have been fighting for a few months, thus we do not use thrusts against them until they have reached that stage in their learning.

It is also important that you do everything you do cleanly and with clean and perfect form (treat this as an excellent training opportunity). The novice will copy what you do, make sure it is worth copying…8-)


Do not overload them

Novices have a lot they need to think about. This is a complex game for the new person. By all means offer some pointers but keep it clear and simple. I generally will only remark on one thing. Any more than this you are likely to create confusion and frustrate the novice who is trying to take it all in.

You must also be aware of the training the novice is receiving. If they are being taught A-frame style DO NOT try to show them something from a different style. This only causes confusion. Just because you have a particular style or move does not mean it is universally applicable.


When does a novice stop being a novice?

Tricky question. Everyone is different and will progress at different levels. As the new combatant grows in skills and experience you can begin to up your levels against them. This is something the more experienced combatant has to judge. Remember, as the senior combatant you are in the position of responsibility and control. Your job is to encourage and demonstrate what good swordsmanship is like. If the lesser experienced person walks off the training field believing they have gained something and want to do more, you have won.