Size isn’t everything …

Workshop space, for many, can be at a premium. For the hobbyist and the professional the hunt for workshop space can be a genuine problem of finding any and/or using it efficiently. Assuming that you have found the space you like to call your workshop, be it the basement, a small bit of space in the garage, a spacious rented air conditioned building or the area out the back under a tarp – space should always be a consideration.

Firstly when planning the area think about the tools you will most frequently be using and try to keep clean routes around them. For example, if you’re doing hot work it is advisable to keep a clear, trip hazard free path between the forge and your anvil/stakes. Keep the tongs and forge tools in or near the forge and have a clear idea of where your emergency equipment is.

Below are a couple of physical solutions I have found to work very well in the workshop.

The first came about as a solution to the problem of doing mobile demonstrations at schools, museums or reenactment events. Under most anvils is a block of wood or stand. All around this stand is valuable real estate for hammers and other frequently used anvil tools. A few strips of leather off cuts and nails (old belts, plastic webbing straps all work) enables this space to be used well, gives you great access to your frequently used tools and makes for an easily moved all in one demo piece.


A major problem in most workshops is keeping rivets and other fixings sorted and out of the way until needed. I have found that the spice posts in Ikea as a cheap solution. The bases are magnetised and can hold a full load of rivets to a metal strip nailed to the wall (or door in this case). Not only is this a useful storage solution but you can see at a glance what the stock levels are.


There are probably as many decent solutions as there are workshops in the world, however these are just a coupl eof the things I have found over the years I have been working in my workshop. I hope you find it useful.

Posted in general musings, workshop

Something a little different …

Recently I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Deeds of Arms on their 1805 cannon project. There is much more to come from the project, but phase 1 has been about researching, equipping and making a cannon and truck from the period to help tell the story of the HMS ‘Fighting’ Temeraire, 2nd rate ship with 98 guns.

10407164_10155639327605006_2906241933039540852_nIt’s been a great project, offering up unusual work from my stock and trade work of armouring – giving me the opportunity to revisit simple blacksmithing skills, something I haven’t done for a little while.

Making the different bar shot (solid bar, expanding bar and chain) raised a number of questions about the strengths of the materials involved and whether or not these would survive the forces involved as they were shot from the cannon.

Simpler shot such as the star shot, demonstrated just how dreadful it would have been aboard deck during an exchange with all the various shot whistling by with no more counter measures than the thickness of your hull.

Smaller parts of the truck’s metal work was made by myself, but in various ways from stock removal to actual forging techniques.

All in all tremendous fun so far as we look forward to more work over the coming months.


Posted in 19th century, blacksmithing, general musings

Blazewear X5 Heated Insoles review

img_5335editAn unusual review this time, the Blazewear X5 heated insoles. At the end of last year I discovered that I unfortunately have gout. Constantly working in a cold environment can be a major contributing factor to extremely painful gout flareups that can in turn mean the loss of working time as you are forced to rest, unable to stand on the foot for any length of time. Over time cold temperatures can cause poor blood circulation through the feet causing uric acid to crystallise and cause very painful symptoms.

Typically, during the winter, floor temperatures in the workshop will idle around -2 to +3 Celsius. Whilst this is no means Arctic by any imagination, throughout a working day it does leave the feet extremely cold. Before learning I had gout this was just one of those things that happens in a workshop environment. After find out about the gout I looked to see what I could do.

After trawling the internet for various solutions and trying thermal socks, two pairs of normal socks, woolen insoles &c,. I decided that I would take the plunge and buy some heated insoles. After a bit more investigation I got the feeling that the price of a ‘decent’ pair was about £80 – £100. I found Blazewear’s product normally retailing in this price bracket was on 50% off coupled with the simple key fob control I decided to give them a go.

The ordering process was straight forward and the goods arrived as advertised. After an initial charge I put the insoles in my boots. The insoles are a little stiffer than a sporter sports insole and a little thicker. However I have no intention to run a marathon in my work boots which are a little larger than I would normally wear so I could wear two pairs of socks if needed. Generally I walk two miles to and from work each day.

When I first tried the insoles it was in the middle of a UK cold snap with temperatures about -2 in the workshop. Throughout the day I had the insoles sat at their low setting and my feet didn’t feel cold once throughout the working day. I didn’t get a ‘hot water bottle, hot’ type of heat out of them, rather my feet were never cold and felt simply nice and warm on a day that they would have otherwise felt frozen solid.

The insoles are great and as advertised in  my circumstances. How they would cope with -7 or so I can’t say, but at the standard temperatures of an English winter they have been fantastic and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone in similar work. Just be sure your boots are big enough.


As an aside, if you suffer with gout I’d recommend a visit here:

Posted in Product Review, workshop

Simple belt and disc sander clones

Getting a smooth or consistent line along a lame edge or other end of sheet can prove tricky when rushed or tiresome for those that would prefer to get the job done speedily. Hand filing is a skill like any other and the hand and eye require constant training to get them working together to produce a nice, smooth, consistent line pleasing to the eye.

One way to help with this is a belt sander. The broad edge, steady speed and filing action of the sander can help make nice lines along the edge of a piece; however this still some effort to learn to do well and not sand in ‘flats’ or too much material and finishing with a hand file will bring you more accurately to the desired shape.

Large 3 phase sanders will cost anything from a few hundred pounds to several thousand depending on the make, build and age. For others there is the constant worry of whether or not a sander clone such as the one offered by Axminster at the moment are worth the money.

I use a single face belt sander of most edge removal, finishing with a hand file. Early days I struggled on using hand files and power files to create lame edges and found the results to be unsatisfactory when compared to the neat edges I coudl see in museum pieces and some fellow armourers.

Eventually I bought an Axminster belt sander clone similar to the one above. Once mastered it helped significantly with creating smoother, cleaner edges that light could play along well and that look pleasing to the eye. I believe I paid almost £300 for mine, first hand from Axminster.

The tool has served me very well and barely a day doesn’t go past that it is not used; in that respect it has proven to be worth every penny I paid for it. However, given ebay and other auction and sales websites I probably paid well over the odds for it as similar second hand ones can be found for £30 – £60 ranges.

In conclusion, I would heartily recommend one of these sort of sanders if you have nothing and only single phase power, but I would consider caution buying them new as they are very highly priced for what they do and second hand ones can be found (with effort) at a tenth the cost.

Posted in Product Review

Product Review – Makita 9554NB Angle Grinder

downloadI used to buy cheap angle grinders from my local Wickes. These would generally only last about 9 months before they broke and had to be replaced – under the year long guarantee that came with them. Typically the lock nuts holding the disks would seize or fall to pieces, occasionally an engine would cease working. Additionally the grinders always felt very heavy and not particularly ergonomic.

Eventually I spent some reasonable money (you can expect to pick up a Makita Grinder from about £45+) and bought the Makita 9554NB grinder.

As I have quite small hands most power tools always feel as though I have borrowed one of my dad’s tools when I was about 11 years old. The Makita 9554NB however has a reasonable size on it and does not feel unwieldy, even in my small hands.

There is a reassuring quality to the feel and strength of the pieces that would usually come apart in the cheaper none branded equivalents. The guard can prove a little tight for some of the thicker abrasive disks that I use, but after a few moments the chaffing stops and the more sponge like satin polishing mops are the correct shape with no danger to myself or the tool.

The power cable is well armoured for standard workshop use and long enough to make its way around the workbench without too much difficulty.

I have used my grander in the worskhop for over three years without any technical or working difficulties, a very robust, well made grinder that I would recommend to anyone in similar work.

Posted in Product Review, workshop

Online Research help

library-booksResearch is pivotal to the modern armourer’s work. Without it, the often, subtle changes in shape, aesthetic and thought created in the original pieces are all too frequently missed. As soon as general decade long changes are negotiated, you start to learn of different regional variations in style and metals; then individual original armourer’s techniques can be seen … frankly the research can and should never be allowed to end.

Below are a couple of the starting points that I tend to use when researching armour for a client that you might find useful. By no means exhaustive it should be considered as a useful starting point.

The first and probably most over looked research resource available to us today is the local library. In an age when just about everything seems available to us online the library is frequently forgotten. It is always work a visit and enrolling at your local library.

Like an online library the google books initiative is a tremendous starting point for almost all manner of historical research with a great many well out of print books freely available at the end of simple google style search.

Museums increasingly have their collections available online in some style or other from requests to directly and freely available for us to look at. Each museum have taken a different approach to the online community that listing them here would be impossible, however, in the UK the Wallace Collection and Royal Armouries are great places to start.

Secnd hand bookshops frequently hold coffee table books on armour and art that may be useful for obscure references or simply being able to always keep the subject in your mind to enable the better identification of armour and its changes.

Lastly there are a couple of very useful websites including, Karen Larsdatter’s fantastic searchable picture resource found here, the peerless Effigy Database and finally the forum Armour Archive are all great places to begin online research.

In my opinion, research should be considered as vital to the armourer’s work as time at the workshop, without it an armourer cannot really hope to gain the depth of knowledge required to be able to produce proper, period specific pieces.

I hope this is useful in getting you started.

Posted in general musings

QEST – Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust

I am frequently asked about why I became an armourer, what support I received and how it all came together, I hope this helps and pushes the fine efforts of individuals and organisations that have and are helping me forwards with my work.

In 2008 I was given the opportunity to start my own business. The recession had struck home and the customer service based soft skills I possessed meant that within the Tech company that I worked I would no doubt eventually be at risk. Redundancy eventually followed late 2008.

After some consideration and chatting through with my family I decided to step away from trying to return to the work I was familiar with and instead would try and turn my hobby into my job and become an armourer. We were fortunate enough to have a very large shed that I converted into a very rudimentary workshop and I began to make armour for friends in the group.

These were naive times and it soon became evident that the manufacture of quality museum standard pieces of armour was a little out of reach of this lone armourer in his shed so I began to explore training avenues; attending local colleges for their Blacksmith weekend experiences and pay the occasional metal worker for a day or two’s experience with them. Undoubtedly this helped but was not the answer.

I was put in touch with Master Armourer David Hewitt of White Rose Armouries as he had expressed an interest in training new armourers in the field and we started to work together. However, as a new armourer, with no reputation and limited skills I was struggling to pay my way at home and away and the training started to fall into jeopardy.

Writing to the Heritage Craft Association I asked whether or not they knew of any funding routes that might be able to support my training at White Rose Armouries and they immediately put me in touch with QEST.

The application process for QEST was very simple, filling out and mailing a six page application, the emphasis at that time being principally on the heritage, craft and its benefits to me and wider society. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the second stage interviews at London before the Trustees. A little nervous, I attended the meeting and was soon put at my ease by all present and we chatted about armour, my work to date and how continued training by White Rose Armouries would assist me. Sometime later I was contacted saying that the application had been accepted and I was to be taken on as a QEST Scholar.

Initially my intent had been to train myself as an armourer, trade and build a reputation all by myself. Whilst, there are no doubt, people able to do this, I have become a proponent of the more traditional apprentice based learning at the hands of someone who has many successful years experience in excess of the student. Through the efforts and support of HCA, QEST, Master Armour David Hewitt and an understanding family I have been able train as an armourer and I would encourage anyone thinking of taking up a heritage craft to consider the sterling support of HCA and QEST as they move forwards.

Posted in general musings

Product Review – Swarfega Duck Oil

On all steel products shipped from the workshop for customers I will regularly use Swarfega Duck Oil as the last coating before being packaged and sent out.

Duck Oil is essentially Swarfega’s brand of 3-1, which works just as well. I switched to duck oil when I found out that WD40 was in fact hygroscopic. Hygroscopic substances can have the ability to attract and hold onto water from the surrounding atmosphere or environments – for armour and steel this is not a good idea. WD40 can be used to help remove light rusting but should always be cleaned off afterwards and proper oil applied to the again bare surface. Should it be left on for a protracted period it can in fact accelerate rusting and problems with dirt. WD40 can also cause damage to leather work.

I have found over the years that Duck Oil has a nice viscosity to it that lends itself well to holding onto a steel surface and acting as a barrier to rust. Metal cleaning products such as autosol, brasso, silvo &c. remove it from the surface material with a little bit of elbow grease. I have not noticed it cause any damage to leather.

The only downside of Duck Oil I have found to date is that it can give the illusion of a matt steel finish to mirrored or bright finish. This is easily regained with the cleaning products mentioned above, but will again leave the surface of the armour bare to the elements. Using a light coat of the duck oil on a rag can help to keep out moisture and retain 90% of the mirrored finish.

All in all a very versatile product that protects, cleans a lubricates metal surfaces well.

Posted in Product Review

Product Review – 1mm Slitting Disk

In the past I used 3-5mm cutting disks in my grinder for cutting sheet and bar stock; however since running across the 1mm slitting or cutting disk I can’t remember ever using the older, thicker ones at all.

xt10__48876_zoomThe 1mm disks allow for a much finer, controlled cut that can be especially useful when trimming along the edges of a vambrace, greave or other straight edge. Held edge on brushed past rivet heads they are great for the fine control required for rivet removal.

There are a lot of cheap versions out there, but having tried them I would always recommend getting the superior (and often more expensive) versions that are out there – at about 50p to £1 each.

Beware though, you cannot be as aggressive with the slitting disk as you can the larger cutting disks and it is true that they do not last as long as their thicker more sturdy cousins but the speed that they can cut and the finer control they offer, in my opinion, by far out weighs this point.

Normally I would expect to buy them in tins of ten from most decent hardware and DIY stores.

I use the Rhodius slitting disks simply because the local hardware store (Elliots) supplies them and I have found them to be great value. I bought some cheaper ones from a car boot sale and managed to cut about 12 inches of 16g mild steel before the disk was used up.

Keep the older, worn out disks as they allow you to cut tighter corners.


Posted in Product Review, workshop

Product Review: Makita Metal Shears

The Makita Metal Shears get almost daily use in the workshop. For the most part against 14/16/18g Mild and Carbon steels;  have not tested them as far as the JS3200 specifications claim:

Makita part no. JS3200Makita JS3200 metal shears

Max cut in mild steel 3.2 mm
Max cut in stainless steel 2.5 mm
Max in aluminium 4.0 mm
Min Cutting Radius 50 mm
Input Wattage 710 w
No Load Speed 1,600 rpm
Vibration K factor 1.5 m/sec²
Vibration: Cutting Metal 17 m/sec²
Net weight 3.4 kg

However during their daily use they have never struggled with the materials. Only occasionally requiring a little extra assistance through the metals normally due to the tight bend I have been trying to cut.

They are frequently confused by visitors to the workshop as a nibbler. The JS3200 are shears and as such do not leave small half moon crescent wastage across the workshop bench and floor, but cannot make as tight circles as the nibble equivalents can.

The cutting edges of the JS3200 has four faces enabling you to change them through rotation rather than ordering seperate replacement parts.

If there is a downside to the product it would have to be its weight. Vibration and noise are next to minimal, but at 3.2kgs it can feel a little heavy in the hand after a while. However, in the past when I have used lighter power shears they have only lasted about a year before being worn out and needing major work or binning. I have owned my JS3200 for three years and even the weight is reassuring to their quality.

I would have no hesitation in recommending these to anyone.

Posted in Product Review, workshop