Materials and tools needed:
1. Enough leather of at least 12oz. thickness to cover your torso from underarms to midthigh, and from the side of your neck to just past your elbows, plus enough to make internal straps and external straps for buckles.
2. Paraffin or candle wax (do not use tallow wax or wax with an excess of animal fat – in fact, stay away from wax with animal fat at all, if you can help it), an old painter’s brush with natural hairs, and an old cookpot to melt the wax in, and a pistol-style hairdryer.
3. A sharp utility knife, a Sharpie marker, a ruler, and measuring tape.
4. A good supply of #9 copper peen rivets and burrs, a rivet setting tool, a pair of facing snips, and a good ball peen hammer.
5. A rotary hole punch and an awl.
6. 7 small (1 inch inside measurement) steel/nickel plate buckles, and 24 – 40 nickel plated “D”-rings (depends on the number of your torso lames), 1 inch inside measurement.
7. 4 2-inch wide heavy brass hinges, and 2 1-inch wide brass hinges, with the hinge pins capped on both ends.
8. Leather dye, and wool daubers.
Cutting the Plates:
Using a ruler, mark each plate out on your leather with a sharp pencil, pen, or Sharpie marker. Carefully cut out each plate using a sharp utility knife. If you have a metal ruler, you can use this as a cutting guide. Several passes may be necessary to cut completely through your leather, be patient and do not rush it. Remember to “measure thrice, cut once”.
The Torso Lames, or ribs:
Start by measuring your torso all the way around at the level of the top of your pelvis, add 5 inches to this, then divide the total by two (equals X). Cut two rectangles of leather 4 inches wide by X long. Mark these on the backside of the leather as “1”.
While holding these around your torso at the top of your pelvis, measure your torso again at the top of the leather pieces, but measure with the tape laying on top of the leather, overlapping it at a point two inches from the bottom edge. This allows for a 1.5 inch overlap of the torso sections, called “lames”.
If done right this measurement will be slightly larger than your first. Again add 5 inches and divide by two (equals new X). Cut two rectangles of leather 4 inches wide by X long, and mark these as “2”.
Repeat these steps until you are taking a torso measurement just under your armpit. When you have this set of leather rectangles cut out and labeled 1 through 6/10, you should have on the average and depending on your height, between 6 and 10 sets of rectangles, or lames. Set these aside.
The Shoulders and Torso Connections:
Using the picture I have posted, cut out the plates and note how they overlap and where the rivet points will be. Measurements for the plates are in the right-hand lower corner.
Once you have cut out the plates, set them aside.
Dyeing the Leather:
Dye your leather before you wax it – waxed leather cannot be dyed. Any color can be used, but unless your leather all comes from the same lot it may be of different tanning shades. Generally black and brown work well for odd dye lots, and reds, greens, and blues work best on dye lots of the same shade. For more translucent dyes, such as greens and reds, it can be best to rag dye each piece instead of using wool daubers, so as to eliminate the unsightly “streaking” effect daubers can have.
While wearing plastic gloves take an old cloth and dip it in your dye, applying the dye to each plate in circular rubbing motions. Even with rag dyeing it is best to use a wool dauber to dye the edges/sides of each plate. Lay out your pieces on a few sheet’s thickness of newspaper or a piece of old plywood, and dye away, making sure to wear disposable plastic gloves and to dye the edges of your plates as well. You need not dye the underside of each plate.
Waxing your Leather:
This is where you will both harden and waterproof your leather in one step. Lay out your leather plates on a surface such as a large section of plywood that it will not matter if wax is spilled on. Place your wax in your cookpot and turn the heat to high medium. Take care when melting wax, it is flammable. I also suggest having a fan on and pointed out an open window – the smell of wax melting can be unpleasant, and the evaporating wax vapor can build up on walls, appliances, and furniture as well as making breathing difficult.
Once the wax has completely melted and is approaching a low boil, turn your heat back to maintain the temperature. Using your brush, quickly “paint” each leather plate with boiling wax, front and back, using a spatula to flip the leather. At first the leather will quickly absorb the wax, but stop painting as each piece stops absorbing the wax and simply lets it set on the surface.
When all pieces are saturated with wax, top and bottom, use the hairdryer to remelt any wax left on the outside and to heat up the leather all the way through. This will allow the leather to become thoroughly saturated with wax, completely. If there is still wax left on each piece after this, use an old cloth to wipe the excess off of each plate.
Allow each piece to cool off and harden. This can be facilitated by dunking each piece in cool water, or by placing them in a freezer for about a half-hour. The shoulder pieces will have to be slightly curved as they harden to allow for the curves of your upper torso, while the rib lames will have to be set in a curve to match your body side-to-side.
Punching each Plate:
At this time you will be measuring on each plate where your internal straps will pass and marking the places where you will be putting rivets. I suggest using the picture I have supplied as a guide and making a cardboard template to ensure you have uniform rivet spacing. Not only does this help out with construction, but it greatly increases the appearance of the armor and reduces mistakes. Use the rotary hole punch to place rivet holes, and do not make them too large. Start small, using a piece of scrap leather, and when you reach a hole size that the rivet pushes through easily but is still snug, that is the hole size you need.
Cut all internal straps 2 inches wide, and make a lot of them – you’ll need six for the torso sections, six shorter ones for the shoulders, 5 1-inch wide straps about ten inches long for the buckle/tongues on the sternum and spinal plates, 2 1-inch straps for the bicep plates, and a bunch of smaller 1 inch wide x 3 & 1/4 inch long straps for the D-ring tie-off points. Dye them if you wish, and lightly wax them inside and out to provide waterproofing, as you are not hardening the straps, only protecting them against water and sweat.
Making the Tie-off Points:
Take your #1 torso lames, and decide which ends are the “backs” which will meet at your spine. Measure up 1 inch from the bottom of the plate, and 2 inches in from the end, and mark that spot with your awl. Hole punch this mark. Take a 1-inch strap and cut it 3 1/4 inches long. Using a D-ring, pass this 1-inch wide strap through it and bend it over to lay against itself. Make sure the ends meet and are flush. Hole punch this strap 1/2 inch from both ends.
Take one of your 2 inch wide internal straps and hold it against the underside of the #1 lame, at a right angle to it with the bottom end flush with the bottom edge of lame #1. Mark the rivet hole with your awl and punch the hole. Place a rivet through the hole in the internal strap first, and then through the #1 torso plate and through the holes in the D-ring strap, and place a rivet burr over the end of the rivet. Using your rivet setter and a hammer, set the burr firmly down onto the rivet. Use your facing snips to trim most of the exposed rivet shaft off, leaving about 2-3 millimeters thickness for peening. Make sure the D-ring “points” towards the end of the plate, and the internal strap is at a 90 degree right angle to the torso lame as you peen down the rivet.
Working slowly, use the peen end of the hammer to “mushroom” the end of the rivet into a rounded shape, similar to a mushroom cap. Your rivet setter should also have a shallow “dish” in the end next to the setting well – place this “dish” over the mushrooming rivet and strike the tool with the hammer once or twice. This will further round and smooth the rivet end, making it into a safe part of your armor, and not something that will snag clothing or cut flesh. A badly set rivet can be dangerous.
When done this will make the first of your tie -off points.
Following the steps above, continue making tie-off points on only the back ends of each plate – you’ll be trimming the front ends to fit later, and placing front-end tie-off points now would simply ensure that you’ll have to move them later.
Attaching the Lames to the Internal Straps:
As you place each tie-off point on the back ends, you will also be attaching each torso lame to the same internal strap. As you attach each lame you must ensure that the top lame overlaps the lame under it by 1.5 inches as you mark the rivet holes. Check your overlap before you punch those holes.
When you attach the last lame and D-ring in the back, and have both right and left sections, trim off the top extending end of the internal straps. Lace them up in the back and wrap it around your torso while wearing a thick sweatshirt. This ensures your armor does not constrict you and allows you to wear a thin tunic or shirt underneath. Have someone mark a line directly under each armpit straight down over all lames, and use the awl to make a mark 1 inch up from the bottom edge of each lame. When this is done, hole punch the awl marks and attach another 2 inch wide internal strap to the bottom lame, ensuring each lame overlaps the one under it by 1.5 inches. When all lames are attached to the side straps, trim off the extending end of the straps.
Now place them again around you and bring them together in the front. Overlap them left over right, and have a friend use a ruler to mark your mid-torso line down across each strap. Take the armor off. Measuring from the back, measure the #1 left rib from the back edge to your new line in the front and add 1.5 inches to your total. Take this total and mark a point matching it on your #1 right rib. This ensures all matching ribs are uniform length. Measure #2 left rib, add 1.5 inches, and mark #2 right rib to match.
Repeat this process until you have all ribs marked. Cut off the excess from each rib only after you ensure at least 1.5 inches of side-to-side rib overlap, that is the right ribs should overlap the left ribs by about 1.5 inches and vice-versa.
Once you have the rib lames trimmed to a comfortable fit and overlap, attach your tie-off points so that the leading edge of your D-rings is 1.5 inches back from the rib ends, and rivet an internal front strap underneath each lame so that your rivet passes through your strap, your lame, and then through the tie-off point and peens down, the same way you did in the back. Work bottom to top, and ensure each lame overlaps the one underneath by 1.5 inches as you attach them to the internal straps.
Using the picture as a guide, begin assembling the shoulder sections. Rivet the bicep plate (#8 on the diagram) to your straps first, and work backward to #5. Overlap each successive shoulder lame by 1 inch over the one below it. Note that here is where you will be rivetting plates #5 to your hinges, and rivetting the hinges to plate #4. Rivet the leather plates on top of the hinges, and remember to ensure the plates hinge upwards, not down. Smaller brass hinges connect plates #2(R&L) to plate #3, and plate #3 to plates #1(R&L). Remember to allow for overlap, but on plate #4 you will have a 1 inch overlap on both plate #6 and plate #3, as #4 covers both and is the “top” of the lame construction. Construct your buckles straps and tongues and rivet them to your front and rear collar plates where indicated. Once this is done, set the shoulders aside.
At this point you should have two torso sections, completely rivetted, with each higher lame overlapping the one below it, and with tie-off points at the front and back of each lame to allow for lacing. You should also have a shoulder yoke, completly rivetted and strapped with the necessary buckles and tongues.
Attaching the Shoulders to the Torso:
On my diagram of shoulder plates #1 & #2(R&L) you will notice two heavy black rivet points on the end of each plate. This is where you will be rivetting your shoulders to the top torso lames. Put the torso lames on and lace them up, front and back. Put the shoulder yoke on and have a friend adjust it so that the ends of shoulder plates #1 & #2 overlap the top torso lame by about the same amount. If they are too long you may have to trim them a little. Using the punched holes as an awl guide, make sure the plates are centered on your rear torso and mark the tops of the topmost torso lame in the back. Hole punch those marks and rivet the shoulder yoke to the rear torso. Put the armor on again and mark the holes in the front. Punch and rivet.
Completion and Care:
You are now wearing a completed set of Roman Lorica Segmentata, and no doubt have invested an ungodly number of hours in preparation of your material alone, not to mention becoming rather proficient at hand-setting copper rivets as you went along. But you must take care of your armor, and there are some key points to know:
1. don’t worry too much about the green copper oxide that will form on your rivets – it’s natural, and just adds character to your armor. If you like clean some of it off with a scouring pad.
2. keep your armor in shape – hang it in a cool, dry place away from heat and sunlight, and never leave it in your car, even on a “cool” day – sunlight can rapidly turn your car into an oven, and your car seats will become a giant “sponge” which will leech the wax right out of your armor.
3. if mildew should start, clean it off using an old cloth and a spray mildew remover, but wash off the chemical afterwards in the shower with cool water. Chemicals left on your armor can eat into it, and also will burn like fire if they get into any cuts or abrasions you might have on you when you wear it.
4. re-waxing can be helpful from time to time, especially any “sweet spots” that tend to take a beating. my solution to this? Learn not to get hit there.
Addendum: Permission is hereby given by the author to print out copies of the sketches contained in this post and its comments for personal use only. The Roman armor designs and sketches are property of the author who retains the copyright and publishing rights for these designs. No commercial or widespread printing or distribution is allowed.