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Jonathon Hanson




Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Nov, 2010 10:28 pm    Post subject: Wood Armor Use? A Few Thoughts.         Reply with quote

Can anyone here shed some light on the concept of using wood as armor, as to if it was ever commonly done? It seems like a good idea, on paper, for the following reasons:

1. It's Cheap- Wood is pretty much everywhere in the form of trees and is definitely easier to find than, say, leather or metal. It's so common that it is burned as fuel! Theoretically it could cost a fraction of the money to equip a garrison with wood plate (out of just a few trees) compared to mail or scale armors.

2. It's Easily Worked- Carpentry is a much broader skill and takes a lower level of intensive knowledge than mailing or working plate armor. Wood only needs to be sculpted and finished. Ancient carpenters would definitely have these skills.

3. It's Durable: Not as much as metal, but wood provides a hard surface to absorb the shock of blows and, given a hard wood such as oak, is not easily pierced. Leather, cloth, and chain don't give this same level of protection.

4. It's Light: It's pretty light when compared to the protection that it offers from blunt trauma and piercing.

5. It Was Used In Shields: So why not for other pieces of armor?

What I'm trying to suggest is that wood seemed like a no-brainer for ancient and medieval armies. A peasant or foot soldier who would otherwise be fighting in his clothes or some padding could have had a much higher survival rate in wood armor that while cheap provided good protection. Despite this, I have seen absolutely zero evidence on the internet for wood armor, with three exceptions:

1. The Inca definitely used it as wood plates sewn into quilted padding in a similar style to modern day body armor. This was recorded by the Spanish when they fought the Inca.

2. The board breaking tradition of Korean martial arts originated as training to punch through wood armor, or so Iv'e heard.

3. The Chinese for a time used armor made of mulberry paper, that while not truly wood was surprisingly effective.

Any theories, links, or other info related to wood armor would be appreciated.
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William Knight




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PostPosted: Fri 05 Nov, 2010 11:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I mostly know medieval european armour, and I don't know of any examples of wood armour being used.

One thing that isn't mentioned in your list is that cloth armour is cheap and effective (period accounts in the later 15th century mention it being sword and mostly arrow proof), and medieval europe and many other civilizations had lots of cloth.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 05 Nov, 2010 11:42 pm    Post subject: Re: Wood Armor Use? A Few Thoughts.         Reply with quote

Jonathon Hanson wrote:
Can anyone here shed some light on the concept of using wood as armor, as to if it was ever commonly done?


Used in North America, including in the far north, and also Arctic Asia. The most common form I know of was rod armour, where vertical wooden rods were tied together. See the picture on pg 259 of The North-Americans of Yesterday. Bone rods were used as well. There were also various similar armours with flat slats, usually called slat armour. One of the major books covering this is Native North American armor, shields, and fortifications.

Quote:

3. It's Durable: Not as much as metal, but wood provides a hard surface to absorb the shock of blows and, given a hard wood such as oak, is not easily pierced. Leather, cloth, and chain don't give this same level of protection.

4. It's Light: It's pretty light when compared to the protection that it offers from blunt trauma and piercing.

5. It Was Used In Shields: So why not for other pieces of armor?


Not so durable and not so light. Wood splits, so not easy to use large sheets unless you make plywood. (Thus rod armour.) And it's much, much easier to cut wood, even across the grain, than to cut steel or iron. Paper armour avoids the splitting problem.

True, it's less dense than steel or iron, but it needs to be thicker. For weight, 8mm of wood = 1mm of steel/iron. How heavy does it need to be to achieve similar protection?

Shields tell you something about the problems wooden armour might have when facing steel weapons. They break; they're essentially disposable. Things go through them. Held in hand, it needs to go a long way through before hitting the user of the shield. Worn on the body, not so good.

Apart from splitting, I think the required thickness is a problem - makes the armour bulky. I expect rawhide would provide equal protection while being lighter, thinner, and split-proof. (Also used in shields.)

Doesn't look like a matter of wood not working, or not being usable as armour, but rather that other things were better.

You might be interested in looking at coconut fibre armour - the Gilbert Islands are famous for it (some examples in Stone, as Kingsmill Island armour, as he uses the earlier name for the islands). "woven coconut armour" will find some in a google image search.

Quote:

2. The board breaking tradition of Korean martial arts originated as training to punch through wood armor, or so Iv'e heard.


Myth, I believe. The modern Korean martial arts where board breaking is a Big Thing are largely descended from Shotokan karate, which also features breaking.

The story I hear is that the board is a rib substitute like straw around bamboo is an arm substitute.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Jojo Zerach





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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is textual evidence that the Byzantines used wooden armour.
A book I have hypotheticaly illustrates them in the form of splints, which would be a plausible form for armour made of wood.
Plywood is a period material. Splinted armour made from light plywood would be worthwhile investment.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 2:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yeah the Strategikion mentions wooden greaves but doesn't suggest how they were made.
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Eric S




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bamboo has been used in armor.

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Luke Zechman




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am not trying to be a smart %$@ here but would a shield not be considered armor? I would have to say that all the reason you have mentioned in favor of wood would all justify its extensive use in shields. So basically, if we consider shields as armor then that is my answer to your question.

I would think that wood would offer good protection against blunt weapons, but that pointy or sharp weapons would do quiet a number on it. Plus I wouldn't want to be the guy wearing wood when facing opponents using axes. Happy
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 3:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Bamboo has been used in armor.

They are tiny photos. Do you have a close up? Exactly where is this armour located and what date is it?
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 3:32 pm    Post subject: Re: Wood Armor Use? A Few Thoughts.         Reply with quote

Quote:

2. The board breaking tradition of Korean martial arts originated as training to punch through wood armor, or so Iv'e heard.


Quote:
Myth, I believe. The modern Korean martial arts where board breaking is a Big Thing are largely descended from Shotokan karate, which also features breaking.


Although I do not doubt that the story of, broad breaking being used as training against wooden armour is a myth, IIRC the japanese used wooden cuirass' back in the bronze age

Éirinn go Brách
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 3:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luke Zechman wrote:

I would think that wood would offer good protection against blunt weapons, but that pointy or sharp weapons would do quiet a number on it.


From personal experience, plywood works well in a blunt weapon sporting context. At least against rattan, but I think blunt steel would have chewed it up quickly. Plywood lames, about 8mm iirc, never broke.

Bamboo is standard in kendo armour. Works well, lasts well. Noting that bamboo is a standard test-cutting target, one might hesitate to wear it against sharp steel. For battlefield use, spear and arrow resistance count.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Max Chouinard




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 3:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Looks like an early kendo bogu to me. I don't see what else it could have been used for.
Maxime Chouinard

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Eric S




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Nov, 2010 5:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Quote:
Bamboo has been used in armor.

They are tiny photos. Do you have a close up? Exactly where is this armour located and what date is it?
Dan, unfortunately no, the pictures were all the seller of this item posted. From what he stated the bamboo armor was possibly a very early form of kendo armor but he was not sure it seems and this item was located in Japan. I have read about peasants using armor such as this but as usual no one can come up with any proof. But it is an old wooden armor and possible had an much older form as its origin. I have some old kendo armor from the 1900s or even later and its much more sophisticated than the one pictured even though it to is made from bamboo. http://s831.photobucket.com/albums/zz238/estc...equipment/



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Max Chouinard




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This bogu is pretty much the same actually. http://www.hifreeads.co.uk/real-antique-kendo...-4017.html

Makes no doubt to me that it wasn't used on the battlefield.

Maxime Chouinard

Antrim Bata

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I don't do longsword
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Jonathon Hanson




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 8:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsZnTCQptWc

I found this video called "Shield Tests" from the Weapons That Made Britain series. While the series does fudge up a few things when it comes to historical accuracy it seems to be one of the better programs out there. (At least better than Deadliest Warrior.) I think that it raises a few interesting points about shields and wood armor in general:

1. The linden wood shield used is indeed vulnerable to splitting when faced by attacks from both axes and arrows. Keep in mind that the wood used is both thin (1/8 in.) and made of a single plank as opposed to overlapping planks as used by Roman and Viking shields.

2. The rawhide used on the second shield does a good job to keep the shield together and protect the wood from splitting apart. It is proof against both the axe and the bow although it is heavier. The dane axe does not penetrate either, although the energy transferred would no doubt incapacitate somebody in a wood and rawhide cuirass. It seems pretty obvious that a blow like that would just about kill anyone in cloth or leather armor. At least the wood gives a solid surface to absorb the impact.

3. The lenticular shield successfully repels the dane axe attack thanks to its weight and rounded shape. By being rounded it deflects some of the axe's energy and the wood bends but holds firm.

By the details presented by this video it seems that wood by itself would not be sufficient since it could easily split but wood layered against the grain and covered with rawhide does a good job against period weapons and while heavy gives more than adequate protection. IMHO a wood cuirass definitely seems workable although I wonder if it would be any lighter than an iron one. Dark Age warriors must have known something about combat that led them against using wood armor despite its potential benefits. Maybe the armor and shields in use gave good enough protection or perhaps it was more of a mobility issue of lugging around 25 lbs of wood all day.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 11:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathon Hanson wrote:
By the details presented by this video it seems that wood by itself would not be sufficient since it could easily split but wood layered against the grain.

All it shows is that linden is insufficient without rawhide. There are other timbers that can withstand a lot more abuse. The trick is to find one that isn't so dense that its weight hampers manoeuverability. The Romans solved the problem by using multiple layers of birch in a construction similar to modern plywood.
Quote:
MHO a wood cuirass definitely seems workable although I wonder if it would be any lighter than an iron one.

No, wooden armour is not lighter than metal armour. Pound-for-pound, no low-tech material is lighter than metal - that is the whole point of metal armour. Anything else that provides similar protection weighs a lot more.
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Nat Lamb




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 6:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Dan 99.99%, almost no low tech material is stronger for weight than metel, especialy if you are talking steel.
The 0.01% where I don't agree with Dan is that there are 1 or 2 possible exceptions, but they are so outlandish that they actually re-enforce what he is saying.
From memory, spidersilk is stronger than a steel wire of the same diameter, and probably comes under the heading "low tech". If someone were to take individual threads of spider silk and turn them into a twine, and then make cloth out of them and make a padded armour out of it, it would provide exceptional protection for weight. This scenario is "possible" but would be so ridiculously, painfully laborious as to be dismissed. I do not even want to think of the man hours that would be involved in something like that.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 7:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Primitive or pre-historic Neolithic cultures might have used wood armour since they wouldn't have metal.

Hard to prove since I don't think any wood armour has been found from pre-historic times, but it does seem at least possible when little else was available except other natural materials like heavy hides.

As others have mentioned there was coconut fibre armour used in the South Pacific and I seem to remember some wooden armour used by Alaskan natives.

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 9:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nat Lamb wrote:
I agree with Dan 99.99%, almost no low tech material is stronger for weight than metel, especialy if you are talking steel.
The 0.01% where I don't agree with Dan is that there are 1 or 2 possible exceptions, but they are so outlandish that they actually re-enforce what he is saying.
From memory, spidersilk is stronger than a steel wire of the same diameter, and probably comes under the heading "low tech". If someone were to take individual threads of spider silk and turn them into a twine, and then make cloth out of them and make a padded armour out of it, it would provide exceptional protection for weight. This scenario is "possible" but would be so ridiculously, painfully laborious as to be dismissed. I do not even want to think of the man hours that would be involved in something like that.

It has been done.
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/spider-silk/
By the time the filaments were spun into thread and woven into a cloth it had lost a lot of its tensile strength. It is probably still better than silkworm silk but nowhere near as strong as the original filament spun by a spider. Looks like it has a lot of other benefits though, such as requiring no carding or preparation before being woven.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Nov, 2010 10:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Primitive or pre-historic Neolithic cultures might have used wood armour since they wouldn't have metal.

Hard to prove since I don't think any wood armour has been found from pre-historic times, but it does seem at least possible when little else was available except other natural materials like heavy hides.


I can't remember right off the top of my head, I'll have to look it up again, but I think examples of wooden cuirass' were found in pre-historic japanese sites. But as has already been said this was before the discovery of metal armour and not as a cheap alternative to it.

Éirinn go Brách
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Nov, 2010 1:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's also wooden armour from Indonesia. The most famous examples are Toraja. ("Toraja armour" makes for a fine google or google images search term.) Usually sleeveless vests or woven fibre (palm or rattan?) with plates, discs, or scales attached. Plates can be wood or bone, or hard flat seeds.
"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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