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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 12:45 pm    Post subject: Cuir Boulli quandary         Reply with quote

Hello all!
Let me at first apologize if some of this has been discussed before, but I think I might be able to bring a new tidbit of information or two to the discussion, or at least a new slant to an old discussion...
I am aware of one example of existing medieval cuir-boulli armour, an elaborately tooled rerebrace in the British Museum. David Nicolle mentioned the possibility of hardened leather (cuir-boulli?) helmets found in a Crusader castle in Israel in his Osprey book Elite 19: the Crusades, although I've heard nothing else about this find. There is a cuir-boulli sheath for a cinquedea dagger of c. 1500 pictured in Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight by David Edge and John Miles Paddock. My question is, does anyone know if any sort of analysis was ever done on the rerebrace (unlikely due to its rarity) or the sheath to determine the exact nature of cuir-boulli?
Now, I understand there is some debate on the true nature of this leather substance. I've heard that cuir-boulli is made by hardening leather in molten wax (as mentioned by Claude Blair and Ewart Oakeshott, among others), or hardening leather in boiling oil or water (mentioned mostly in older works, like the books by Charles Henry Ashdown and Charles ffoulkes), or hardening leather by soaking it in cold water then heating it in a mould (mentioned in David Nicolle's Osprey book Warrior: Knight of Outremer 1187-1344, but Nicolle seemed to favor the wax method in the miscellanea in Medieval Warfare Source Book), or made by gluing and sewing thin layers of leather together (indicated in another Nicolle book, Essential Histories: the Crusades, in the caption of a photo of hoops of hardened leather armour from Syria or Iraq), or even something utilizing rawhide instead of leather. An intriguing description of Cuchulain arming from the chapter about "The Cattle Raid of Cooley" in Wars of the Irish Kings, edited by David Willis McCullogh, states that the legendary warrior "wore twenty-seven tunics of waxed skin, plated and pressed together, and fastened with strings and cords and straps..." I know this is from a myth, but I find the mention of "waxed skin" fascinating, even if twenty-seven layers sounds extreme.
So, which is right, or are they, as I suspect, all right? Could hardened leather armour or cuir-boulli be made differently at different times and different places? I've tried wax-hardened leather; it does make the leather stiff and form to a shape. I've also tried water-hardened leather, but I found that it tends to crack too readily. Water-soaked or boiled rawhide may be an option, but it would be vulnerable to damp. (Think a half-chewed rawhide dog bone; I have a dog, and know what a slimy mess that can be!)
Any opinions?
(By the way, in Archaeology of Weapons, Oakeshott cites a 1560 note regarding the making of cuir-boulli bottles. It specified that fresh wax was to be used to boil the leather in.)
Any input will be greatly appreciated!
Stay safe!

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 1:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While nobody knows how cuir bouilli was made it seems that Nicolle was wrong. Wax is probably the least likely method employed for two reasons. Firstly, leather that has been hardened with wax offers little protection against weapon points. The wax acts as a lubricant allowing weapons to easily pass through. Secondly, a lot of cuir bouilli was decorated with paint and/or gesso. These materials cannot be applied to leather that has been treated with wax.

Regarding the leather rerebrace. Chris Dobson has done the most detailed analysis. His work was presented at the 2003 IAAC Conference in Florence. It was called, "As Tough as Old Boots? A Study of Hardened Leather Armour. Part One: Techniques of Manufacture." http://www.international-arms-and-armour-conf...n_2003.htm

Regarding leather bottles, it was a phenomena that was largely restricted to England. Apparently, those on the Continent thought that drinking from leather was disgusting and often joked that the English "drank out of their boots."


Last edited by Dan Howard on Sat 07 Oct, 2006 2:04 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Al Muckart




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 2:01 pm    Post subject: Re: Cuir Boulli quandary         Reply with quote

Hi Richard,

It depends. You've mentioned a bunch of different applications of hide, in which the hides were treated differently, not all of them armour-related.

A lot of the confusion about the term "cour boullie" comes from the fact that it was used in period literature - especially by the French, from whom we get the phrase - to refer to all sorts of different things including water-hardned leather, wet-molded but un-hardened leather and wax-sealed leather. There is some ambiguity as to which treatment was used on a given artifact sometimes, but I don't think there is any great mystery as to what "cour boullie" actually was.

When it comes to armour I don't think there is much doubt that where leather was used it was either untreated or water hardened.

For use as armour, leather was almost certainly not treated with wax. Waxing makes leather easier to cut, not harder because it acts as a lubricant for the blade passing through the material. Oil will have the same effect. I suspect a lot of the perception that wax was used to treat leather for armour comes from the SCA where it's very common, because it's easy and effective armour for SCA fighting, and you can do it to cheap chrome tanned leather which won't water harden, but I have never seen a shred of evidence to suggest that it was done in period.

If you want a demonstration, take three pieces of thick veg-tanned leather, leave one untreated, dry one in a low oven for half an hour then soak one in wax (or wax & rosin if you want) and wet on in warm water then soak it in 80 degree (C, 176F ) water for about a minute, it will darken and shrink. You need to dry the waxed piece first because if there is any moisture in it it will crack and distort when it hits the hot wax.

Mold them to the side of a cutting target before they harden and once they are all dry, cut through them. I'll pretty much guarantee that the waxed one will cut more easily than the untreated one and the water hardened one will offer more resistance. If you don't have a sword and cutting targets, just dry the pieces flat and try slicing through them with a big kitchen knife on a chopping board.

The other thing to remember about period leather is that it was far less treated than what we have today. Modern leather is resurfaced mechanically, tanned rapidly with strong chemicals, and split to exact thicknesses. Medieval leather was scraped, tanned slowly over the course of months in bark liquors and relatively roughly thicknesses by hand. If you wanted a thinner piece of leather, you used an animal with thinner skin - hence the prevalence of calf rather than cow skin in medieval artifacts like scabbards and sheaths. I have been told by people who have handled both that bark tanned leather is also stiffer and tougher when dry than modern leathers are.

Personally I think that the use of leather armour is quite plausible. Leather was essentially a waste product of beef production so it was a lot cheaper then than it is now. Today the phrase "genuine leather" seems to be little more than an excuse to hike the price of an otherwise unremarkable machine-made item by 50%.

Even untreated, thick (6-7/8ths inch unsplit cowhide) untreated leather would offer a fair amount of protection from edged weapons, ablative protection to be sure, but a whole lot better than nothing. It wouldn't work so well if it got wet, so waxing the surface to keep water out woud be a good plan, but soaking the whole thing in wax wouldn't be a good idea. Water hardening leather isn't particularly hard, but it does involve a bit of trial and error. What it does let you do though is mold the leather to quite a remarkable degree while it is wet into shapes it will hold once dry.

Leather bottles and jacks were used extensively in England in the later middle ages and possibly much earlier. They weren't necessarily water hardened though, but they were wet formed and typically sealed with pitch/wax/rosin mixtures to make them watertight. Along with seemingly every other piece of archaeological leather which had ever been wet, they were referred to as cour bouille regardless of the similarity of their manufacture to any other "cour bouille" artifact Happy

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 2:36 pm    Post subject: Re: Cuir Boulli quandary         Reply with quote

Richard Fay wrote:
An intriguing description of Cuchulain arming from the chapter about "The Cattle Raid of Cooley" in Wars of the Irish Kings, edited by David Willis McCullogh, states that the legendary warrior "wore twenty-seven tunics of waxed skin, plated and pressed together, and fastened with strings and cords and straps..." I know this is from a myth, but I find the mention of "waxed skin" fascinating, even if twenty-seven layers sounds extreme.


This translation is dodgy. Cuchulain is said to be wearing 27 cneslenti. Old works translate this as "hide tunics" but modern scholars believe that the word is used to describe a garment worn "next to the skin", not "made of skin". It is much more likely that the garment was in fact made of multiple layers of textiles - probably linen. The word "leinte" is a possible derivative of "linen". The passage cannot be used as an example of Irish leather armour and there is definitely no mention of wax in the original text.

However, this passage may be used to build a case arguing that layered textiles were being used as armour in Britain much earlier than previously thought.
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!
Dan Howard wrote:
Secondly, a lot of cuir bouilli was decorated with paint and/or gesso. These materials cannot be applied to leather that has been treated with wax.


Thanks Dan!
I forgot the point about cuir boulli decorated with gesso and painted. I remember seeing a helm crest made from cuir boulli that was painted, and wondered how the paint would adhere if the leather was treated with wax! I've also heard of cuir boulli being partially gilded, a process that I doubt would go well if the leather was soaked in wax.
Like I said in my post, David Nicolle did seem to change his mind regarding cuir boulli. I believe his mention of using water to harden the leather is more recent than his mention of using wax. Maybe he was following Blair and Oakeshott in his older work.
Now, if the leather was waxed to protect it from the damp after the hardening process, how was this done? Was it rubbed on like a shoe polish? I will have to reject the wax method (messy and potentially dangerous) and try water hardening again. I used wax because I was following Blair, Oakeshott, and Nicolle's earlier work.
By the way, thanks also for the link, it was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for! I'll have to take a look at the site later.

Al Muckart wrote:

When it comes to armour I don't think there is much doubt that where leather was used it was either untreated or water hardened.


Al,
Are you suggesting treating vegetable tanned leather a similar fashion to the process used in tooling? (Yes, I would only use vegetable tanned leather; chrome tanned doesn't work! Nicolle stated in Medieval Warfare Source Book that deer-skin leather was considered best.) Then, would it be treated with wax to seal it, or even painted?
I believe that if you wish leather to take a certain form, you don't even have to heat it after soaking, just let it dry. One thing I find questionable is soaking in 80 degree water; would they have been able to be that exact in the middle ages? I think the shrinkage process would make it difficult to get pieces to fit, unless it's made into scales. (I tried it once, and found the shrinkage to be too unpredictable to make pieces of a certain size.)
I don't doubt that leather was used for armour, however, I know about the curie and other references to leather armour. There is a plate from the Manessa Codex (illustrated in Chivalry by Maurice Keen; I wish I could scan the image and post it, but my scanner only takes single pages) that shows two knights jousting, and one clearly wears brown-coloured greaves tied with laces. I think the greave can be interpreted as leather. There are also the references to cuir boulli helms and breastplates used at the Windsor behourd in 1278 (I used Tournaments by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker as my source, but many books mention it), and the vambraces illustrated in Rene d'Anjou's treatise on tournaments (ditto). There are also some questionable interpretations of certain effigies, especially in southern Italy and Sicily, where much of the armour is considered to be made from hardened leather, elaborately tooled. (The pieces do look a bit similar to the leather rerebrace in the British Museum.) I have also encountered the description of the arming of a 14th century knight for tournament that describes the knight donning plates of steel or cuir boulli on his thighs, knees, and calves, and a "leather hauberk" or cuirass (from Nicolle's Knight of Outremer, but I've seen this elsewhere, too).
(I actually thought most of what I mentioned, other than the cuir boulli bottles, was armour-related, although I don't know how much weight to put on the legendary account of Cuchulain arming, but I thought it was interesting!)

Nobody else has any more details regarding the hardened leather helmets Nicolle mentioned being found in Israel?

Thanks again for all the help! I'll have to try water hardened (or formed?) leather again sometime.

Stay safe!

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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 3:24 pm    Post subject: Cuchulain's armour         Reply with quote

Hello again!

Dan Howard wrote:

This translation is dodgy. Cuchulain is said to be wearing 27 cneslenti. Old works translate this as "hide tunics" but modern scholars believe that the word is used to describe a garment worn "next to the skin", not "made of skin". It is much more likely that the garment was in fact made of multiple layers of textiles - probably linen. The word "leinte" is a possible derivative of "linen". The passage cannot be used as an example of Irish leather armour and there is definitely no mention of wax in the original text.


Thanks again Dan!
I must have been entering my latest post almost at the same time you entered the one I quoted above.
It's sometimes hard, as I'm sure you're aware, to rely on some of the secondary and tertiary works for the details. I wish they would get their translations right!
Linen armour, hmm...would that be something like the (possibly debatable) lino-thorax (did I spell it right?), or something like the late medieval jack, or is there little difference between the two (other than cut and style, obviously)? I concentrate so much on medieval armour, since my novels are based in a medieval-type world, that I'm not always up to date with the latest thoughts regarding ancient armour.
Do you have any more information regarding early linen armour?
Thanks for the help!

Oh, by the way Dan, nice Dendra panoply! (It is, isn't it?) Do you have the boar tusk helmet as well?

Stay safe!

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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 3:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oops!
Sorry Dan, I didn't look close enough at your picture (my eyes are starting to go "buggy" being on the computer so long), you do have the helmet, too!
Nice!

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Al Muckart




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 5:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Richard,

Richard Fay wrote:

Are you suggesting treating vegetable tanned leather a similar fashion to the process used in tooling?

(Yes, I would only use vegetable tanned leather; chrome tanned doesn't work! Nicolle stated in Medieval Warfare Source Book that deer-skin leather was considered best.) Then, would it be treated with wax to seal it, or even painted?


For tooling you just dampen the leather a bit so it takes the toolmarks. What I'm talking about is complete immersion of warm, soaked leather in hot water. The hot water polymerises the leather fibres, making them shrink and harden.

I'm curious about the deerhide reference. Do you mean best for armour or best for tooling? I've worked with some veg-tanned deerhide and it has a much more open structure than cowhide or calfskin. It's also a lot thinner. You could probably tool it, but I can't see it making great armour.

Quote:

I believe that if you wish leather to take a certain form, you don't even have to heat it after soaking, just let it dry.

One thing I find questionable is soaking in 80 degree water; would they have been able to be that exact in the middle ages? I think the shrinkage process would make it difficult to get pieces to fit, unless it's made into scales. (I tried it once, and found the shrinkage to be too unpredictable to make pieces of a certain size.)


Leather soaked in hot water like this is a bit more elastic and pliable when it comes out and obviously harder when it dries. It's perfectly possible to wet-form leather soaked in cold water (or even acetone) though.

Medieval folk figured out how to do all sorts of fairly high-precision stuff that we rely on things like thermometers for. Experience plays a major part - they could cook some extremely complex dishes after all, and when it comes down to it that's all this process is - cooking.

Quote:

I don't doubt that leather was used for armour, however, I know about the curie and other references to leather armour. There is a plate from the Manessa Codex (illustrated in Chivalry by Maurice Keen; I wish I could scan the image and post it, but my scanner only takes single pages) that shows two knights jousting, and one clearly wears brown-coloured greaves tied with laces. I think the greave can be interpreted as leather.


I've attached a picture of the guy I think you're talking about. I think those are definetly plausibly leather greaves, particularly considering the period of the manuscript.



 Attachment: 35.69 KB
ManesseLeatherGreaves.jpg


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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 7:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Cuir Boulli quandary         Reply with quote

Al Muckart wrote:
Hi Richard,

Even untreated, thick (6-7/8ths inch unsplit cowhide) untreated leather would offer a fair amount of protection from edged weapons, ablative protection to be sure, but a whole lot better than nothing. It wouldn't work so well if it got wet, so waxing the surface to keep water out woud be a good plan, but soaking the whole thing in wax wouldn't be a good idea. Water hardening leather isn't particularly hard, but it does involve a bit of trial and error. What it does let you do though is mold the leather to quite a remarkable degree while it is wet into shapes it will hold once dry.


Just a question / observation that I have made before on other topic threads dealing with leather as armour but no one has commented yet on the idea: The idea being that the protectiveness of leather to cuts depends a great deal on how sharp a blade is used i.e. With a razor sharp blade leather will be easily cut but with an even slightly duller blade leather gives much better protection. The average sword can be very sharp but not razor sharp, so leather armour would be a lot better than nothing at the very least !

I base this on the fact that when cutting leather doing crafts, as soon as one's blade dulls even a bit an easy cutting job becomes more and more difficult until with a very dull blade leather becomes almost impossible to cut without enormous pressure applied to the cut.

Now, all else being equal the type of leather and the way it is processed would improve its cut resistance by a significant amount.

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Al Muckart




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Oct, 2006 11:38 pm    Post subject: Re: Cuir Boulli quandary         Reply with quote

Hi Jean,

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
[Just a question / observation that I have made before on other topic threads dealing with leather as armour but no one has commented yet on the idea: The idea being that the protectiveness of leather to cuts depends a great deal on how sharp a blade is used i.e. With a razor sharp blade leather will be easily cut but with an even slightly duller blade leather gives much better protection. The average sword can be very sharp but not razor sharp, so leather armour would be a lot better than nothing at the very least !


Absolutely, the other thing about leather, particularly thick, hardened leather is that it is quite wood-like and a sword blade seems quite likely to bite into it and stick.

I'm not much good at test cutting, though I worked some stuff out today that really helped.

Is anyone game to make up some samples and give it a go against tatami or rolled newspaper targets?

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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Sun 08 Oct, 2006 9:15 am    Post subject: more discussion and pictures...         Reply with quote

Hello all!

Al Muckart wrote:

I've attached a picture of the guy I think you're talking about. I think those are definetly plausibly leather greaves, particularly considering the period of the manuscript.


Thanks, Al!
That's the one I was looking at!
Thanks again for allowing others to view the image!

I still have some questions regarding leather hardened in hot water (I'm trying to get the details of the process straight in my head). Is the amount of shrinkage fairly constant and predictable? I would imagine that leather, being a natural material, would vary, so the amount of shrinkage may vary.
Do you think that leather hardened in hot water was the process used for curies, full leather greaves, or leather vambraces, or were these pieces made from formed, not necessarily hardened, leather? Like I said earlier, I don't think the shrinkage would cause a problem with something made from scales of leather, or even for making simpler items like poleyns or couters, but it might be difficult to estimate the size and shape correctly with more complex pieces.
Another question, can you tool leather hardened this way? I guess you could tool it while it's still wet. The rerebrace in the British Museum is tooled, and many examples of poleyns, greaves, rerebraces, and vambraces on the effigies that may be interpreted as leather appear to be tooled. Like I said, I'm just trying to get the details straight.
Maybe I am still suffering from the "modern is best" mindset drilled into all of us from an early age. I know ancient and medieval craftsmen were capable of amazing things (Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, Chartres blue glass, and Gothic cathedrals), and were capable of feats that modern people find hard or impossible to accomplish.
Oh, I almost forgot, David Nicolle stated that deer-skin leather was considered best for cuir boulli armour. I wish he cited the source he used, but he didn't use footnotes in that work. I wonder, could it have been used in a similar way to the leather used in the armour hoops from Iraq or Syria? Do you think "layered and laminated" deer skin might work? If they made the pieces out of several layers, then the thiness wouldn't be such an issue. You might even be able to alternate the direction of the "grain", just like plywood. What do you think?

By the way, I have a few more images that I saved on my computer. Note the brown gauntlets on the one figure form the Romance of Alexander. Those might be interpreted as leather gauntlets, or covered gauntlets. Note also the greaves on one of the figures in the two illustrations from an illuminated chronicle of 1360 from Budapest. Theses might be leather, studded or splinted, perhaps?

Thanks for all the responses to my questions! Even after twenty-plus years of reading about this stuff, it's always good to learn new things!
Enjoy!



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Romance of Alexander-detail.JPG
Detail from Romance of Alexander (Bodelian Library).

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ILLUMINATED CHRONICLE 1360 BUDAPEST (reduced).JPG
Illuminated chronicle of 1360 from Budapest.

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VICTORY OF ISTVAN ON CHIEFTAN KEAN (reduced).JPG
Victory of Istvan on Chieftan Kean from illuminated chronicle 1360, Budapest.

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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Sun 08 Oct, 2006 11:29 am    Post subject: more leather armour...         Reply with quote

Hello again!
For anyone that's interested, I've found a few more images that may depict leather armour. I was able to post a couple from Romance of Alexander from the Bodleain Library in Oxford, but you will have to read my description for the other two. Again, if anyone has these images and can scan them in to post them, it would be greatly appreciated!

First, I found a detail from a manuscript image in David Nicolle's Osprey book Campaign 71: Crecy 1346: Triumph of the Longbow. It depicts an Arthurian knight from King Nabor and Sir Gawain, Ms. Fr. 122, f. 80v., in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France. The knight wears rondels at his shoulders, a splint rerebrace, and a splint vambrace that may be leather. Interestingly enough, the arm protection appears to be sewn or laced together. That may indicate that it is leather. It's also a dark colour, darker certainly than the demi-greaves and poleyn. I find the stitches or laces very intriguing, because I think this may indicate a piece made from leather hardened in hot water. The shrinkage wouldn't matter as much in something made from "splints".

Secondly, I found an image in Knights by Andrew Hopkins (I've also seen it elsewhere, but can't find where right now) from another Arthurian romance. It shows Sir Lancelot crossing the sword bridge, fighting the illusory lions, and then battling Sir Meleagant. Lancelot wears tan or beige reinforcements over his chausses and the sleeves of his hauberk. The rerebrace and vambrace even appear to be stitched or laced, just like the other Arthurian knight! I think this may again be hot-water hardened leather, or at least formed leather.

I am able to post a couple from the Romance of Alexander. The first shows two knights mounting their horses in preparation for a joust. One wears black greaves that are tied shut in three places. Other than the colour (black versus brown), they look similar to the greaves on the jousting knight from the Manessa Codex.

The other picture is a strange one. It shows at least one knight with red scale greaves. This might be leather, or something else. I included it just because of it's peculiarity. It certainly could be leather, or hot water hardened leather.

Again, if anyone could post the first two pictures I described, it would be greatly appreciated!

Stay safe!



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knights preparing to joust-detail from Romance of Alexander.JPG
Detail from Romance of Alexander, Bodleain Library, Oxford.

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knights with scale greaves-detail from the Romance of Alexan.JPG
Detail from Romance of Alexander, Bodleain Library, Oxford.

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Charles M. Cameron




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Oct, 2006 4:35 pm    Post subject: cuir-boulli armour.....         Reply with quote

In less I miss my guess the people to ask about leather , rawhide and such would be the people the work with it the most. I'm going to try to contact saddle makers and boot makers to see if they have any information from the 1800s.
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PostPosted: Wed 11 Oct, 2006 3:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm going to chime in with a personal (boyhood) experience...
I tanned a squirrel hide with oak tannin (acorns and bark) when I was about 12 years old.
What resulted was far from my expectations, since I hadn't realized the hair would come off...
but, the resulting tanned hide was almost translucent, very stiff (again, I'd hoped for soft) and very hard.

Although I did not attack it with a razor blade, I have no reason to believe it would have been any more successful than my other attempts to cut it with my whittling knife.

This is non-expert conjecture, but I'd be willing to bet that deer or elk hide tanned in that manner would yield a covering for a shield or other armor item that would not succumb to the first blade hit.
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PostPosted: Wed 11 Oct, 2006 6:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thomas Watt wrote:
I'm going to chime in with a personal (boyhood) experience...
I tanned a squirrel hide with oak tannin (acorns and bark) when I was about 12 years old.
What resulted was far from my expectations, since I hadn't realized the hair would come off...
but, the resulting tanned hide was almost translucent, very stiff (again, I'd hoped for soft) and very hard.

Although I did not attack it with a razor blade, I have no reason to believe it would have been any more successful than my other attempts to cut it with my whittling knife.

This is non-expert conjecture, but I'd be willing to bet that deer or elk hide tanned in that manner would yield a covering for a shield or other armour item that would not succumb to the first blade hit.


Too bad you didn't try a sharp razor blade at the time but if your whittling knife could easily cut curls of hardwood it would be close to a razor edge. I do take your evaluation about how hard to cut this specific piece of leather as very credible. Cool

If I remember correctly Allan Senefelder of Mercenary's Tailor uses rawhide for shield rims and that he cuts it when it's wet because it almost impossible to cut when hard and dry. ( Maybe Allan could comment on this if he reads this post. )

I have one of his kite shields but I really don't want to cut into the rim to find out how easy or hard rawhide is to cut. Razz Laughing Out Loud
I like to keep my things in good shape. ( Would be different if I used the shield for sparring or re-enactments and damage would be an accepted thing as opposed to collecting. )

BUT, I could buy some rawhide dog chew and try to cut it with razor sharp and duller blades. This as a cutting test to see if how much effort it takes to simply cut: More extensive cutting with sword or axe when mounted on a simulated shield edge I leave for others to try. ( No promises when, but I'll try to to remember getting a dog chew next time I go to " Zellers " :Local store. )

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Johan S. Moen




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Oct, 2006 4:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:


BUT, I could buy some rawhide dog chew and try to cut it with razor sharp and duller blades. This as a cutting test to see if how much effort it takes to simply cut: More extensive cutting with sword or axe when mounted on a simulated shield edge I leave for others to try. ( No promises when, but I'll try to to remember getting a dog chew next time I go to " Zellers " :Local store. )


The problem with cutting dry/stiff rawhide is that is does not want to be cut per se, it rather dents or breaks on you. The quality of rawhide also varies quite a lot; I've had some rawhide shieldrims just dent(or not being affected at all) when struck by a steel weapon, while a the rawhide covering on an axe haft got a small crack from parrying.

That being said, you can make cuts in dry rawhide, but in my experience the cuts are usually rather superficial; if yoy apply enough force to get the blade through the hide too often cracks.

Johan Schubert Moen
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Oct, 2006 7:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Johan S. Moen wrote:
Jean Thibodeau wrote:


BUT, I could buy some rawhide dog chew and try to cut it with razor sharp and duller blades. This as a cutting test to see if how much effort it takes to simply cut: More extensive cutting with sword or axe when mounted on a simulated shield edge I leave for others to try. ( No promises when, but I'll try to to remember getting a dog chew next time I go to " Zellers " :Local store. )


The problem with cutting dry/stiff rawhide is that is does not want to be cut per se, it rather dents or breaks on you. The quality of rawhide also varies quite a lot; I've had some rawhide shieldrims just dent(or not being affected at all) when struck by a steel weapon, while a the rawhide covering on an axe haft got a small crack from parrying.

That being said, you can make cuts in dry rawhide, but in my experience the cuts are usually rather superficial; if yoy apply enough force to get the blade through the hide too often cracks.

Johan Schubert Moen


Thanks, this partially answers my question and I won't assume that a dog chew is going to be representative of all grades of rawhide in quality: I just want to get a general idea of how the rawhide responds to a very sharp edge by my trying to cut it i.e. direct tactile hands-on feel.

I think I will learn more if people with extensive experience working with rawhide and trying to cut it chime in with their experiences with it.

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Richard Yarbrough





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PostPosted: Fri 13 Oct, 2006 10:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello everyone, I am new to the site. I will admit, I nearly jumped out of my chair at finding such a superbly functioning website. I thought I had read some authoritative papers on other websites, but, I must say this is the best research I have come across on the net. Thank you for this serious and well thought out site.

First off, I hope this is not too long of a post. If my subject is not interesting or sophisticated or what ever just reply so. I have never really written on any web site before and I am not so sure as to this one's rules. Thanks.

Now to the good stuff. I am writing a fantasy game similar to Dungeons and Dragons and always felt like their armor system and weapons were a bit off. This was my chance to test my theory. I boiled some pieces of 1/8" leather (admittedly primitive, spur of the moment quality) and the pieces varied in dimensions from around 5" to 8". I took them outside with my 3/4 pound machete (fairly sharp but, not razor) and put the pieces on a 2x4. The machete cut through 3/4" of stacked leather pieces no problem (some tanned and some boiled) and as an insult stuck into the board. I was shocked. I then folded up a pair of boxer shorts creating possibly 20 sheets of cotton (I think, a big wad o'boxers) and put them on the board. The machete slammed down and neatly cut every single sheet and stuck in the board. I got really frustrated thinking what a joke this leather armor is.

But, I wasn't overcome yet. Next I placed single pieces of leather on the grass and whacked away. It was glorious, the leather held up beautifully, but of course it was buried several inches in the ground. After dozens of these very heavy blows there were only little scratches on the leather to show where the blade had made contact. I also placed just one fold of boxers (two and 4 layers of cloth) and chopped with the machete. These two measly fabric layers showed no damage what so ever and followed the blade into the ground (ground being mock human chest, not a good thing for chest). I realized at this point that when leather is laying on top of a rigid unyielding surface it can be cut like a piece of cake. However, when on a spongy surface it is near impervious to cutting.

Next I found a surface more akin to the possible flexing properties of animal flesh and bone, my own head (just kidding), it was a gravel rock pile with crushed rock dust (similar to my head in many ways)! Not scientific but, the most handy surface around. The rock pile when struck will compress perhaps 3/4" at the most. I laid the tanned leather (not boiled) on top and began to smite it with the machete. Remarkably only small cuts were made, presumably where a gravel rock was directly under the leather. Still these small cuts were only 1/2" wide, not deep in the least, and the cuts only occured on maybe 1 out of 10 hits. I then took out my bush axe and beat the tar out of the leather. The bush axe is dull, no getting around it. But, the leather held up beautifully with no cuts from bush axe. I also had an old very stiff leather glove of thin construction. This glove suffered several big gashes in the finger areas, but, the larger palm surface had few cuts. One note, when the bush axe's point was used and not the blade, the leather was severely pierced.

To summarize: I used a fairly sharp machete and dull bush axe and axe in this experiment, along with both boiled and non-boiled 1/8" tanned leather. Leather and cotton boxer shorts against hard backing will chop with no problem (more than 3/4" of leather, probably easily more). Leather and cotton against soft surface of grass and dirt will survive any of my blades at this point. A semi rigid surface, gravel and rock dust pile, will yield similar results to the ground i.e. the leather survives largely intact with very few tiny cuts. One thing of concern however, I did not put 100% power into the gravel cuts because of some misplaced affection for my machete. But, still they were possibly 80% speed and up, after I got the feel for it. Also, leather has very little strength against piercing weapons like the bush axe's pointy tip.

I also took 3/4" pieces of very low quality pine (I think) of perhaps 4" by 1 1/4" and laid them on top of leather then over the rock pile and ground. The wood held up beautifully against the bush axe (very powerful swings), wood axe and machete, with only superficial 1/8" deep cuts. Granted, none but, the machete are what I would call "sharp", but, they will cut a tree down real quick. I am convinced that wood armor would have been extremely efficient and cheap in the olden days. Why they didn't use wood except for shields beats me. One note, I used 1' long wooden pieces at first and they broke with ease, that's how I got the 4" pieces. But, once they were shortened up they didn't break until well into the hacking. The greatest thing about the wood was that it spread the force out over the ground. The whole 8" by 4" (estimated) wood and leather armor piece would bury about 3/4" in the soft ground (less in rock pile), but, it stopped the axes cold.

I just remembered I also placed non-boiled leather on a 2/3 filled 1/2 gallon plastic juice bottle of heavy construction. There is very little give to this once the top is on. I whacked on this for a while until a gash appeared and water and mud flew all over my sweat pants. The leather showed absolutely no sign of damage from this experiment.

My next test will be to use larger breast plate size pieces of leather as the shorter ones are pulled into the ground too easily, and maybe the wider piece will get cut because of its larger mass and slower ability to flex and follow the blade. I also will sharpen all my blades, I have a bad gut feeling this is going to make a huge difference.

One interesting thing I read yesterday is that the Mongols would wear thin silk clothing to "catch" arrows and follow them into the body. The silk could then pull the arrows out easily. After seeing the way the leather and boxer shorts sunk into the ground with the blade I am convinced this silk arrow catcher would work.

I am going to go out and buy some sort of large cut of meat, and commece to "tenderize" it with my leather and bush axe. I will report back on the results, if any one cares about this please tell me so. Also, if you perform any tests similar to these write about them. And until tests are performed with a VERY sharp blade I will not be convinced of the leather's performance. But, until then bring on the leather.
P.S. This is a great way to get better ventillation for your boxer shorts. Big Grin
Sincerely
Richard
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Richard Yarbrough





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PostPosted: Fri 13 Oct, 2006 11:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am really sorry. I had no idea that was going to come out so long. I just kept copying it into memory and then pasted it back into a reply. Really sorry, I will speed up further replies.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 14 Oct, 2006 12:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard Yarbrough wrote:
I am really sorry. I had no idea that was going to come out so long. I just kept copying it into memory and then pasted it back into a reply. Really sorry, I will speed up further replies.


Richard welcome to the site and don't worry about length of text, it is more important that your tests were very interesting. Wink Cool

With a very sharp blade you could try to see if a draw cut would give better results than a chop: In other words a slicing cut

I would tend to think that slicing cuts would be more effective all else being equal.

Leather armour worn over a gambison should be difficult to chop through in a way similar to your tests.

Also note that if the surface of the leather was covered with more or less closely spaced studs or rivets a slicing cut would be spoiled by any metal getting in the way of the cut.

In many ways maille also benefits from having a soft layer of padding under it making it even more difficult to cut for the same reasons.

Scientific tests using highly controlled and measured conditions may be the ideal when it comes to " proving " anything like this, but casual tests can give some valuable insights also. Wink Cool

So with a soft body covered with some padding, a " moving " and uncooperative opponent's leather armour, should give reasonable protection from light blows or cuts from less than razor sharp blades. Protection from a thrust would be a lot less. As said before a lot better than unprotected skin !Eek!

On the other hand I don't think leather armour is going to stop a solid blow otherwise there would have been no reason to use maille or plate armour. All armour can be defeated under the right conditions with the right weapon: The thing is that armour doesn't have to be 100% protective for it to be worth the heat and weight of wearing it as long as it improves the odds of avoiding crippling injury or death by a meaningful degree.

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