Armored Thoughts
Interviews with Full-time Professional Master Armorers

Part I      Part II

 

Jeff Hedgecock – Historic Arms & Armor, California


1.  How long have you been doing armor, for fun or professionally?
I started making armour for fun 15 years ago in 1986. I began my career as a professional armourer just one year later in 1987.

2.  Do you have an area or period of historical armor you specialize in creating?
I have always been open to commissions for armour from any period or area of manufacture; I’ve done ancient Greek all the way to 19th century English royal horseguard armour. Generally speaking, people come to me for 15th century armour, though I have made a fair amount of 14th and 16th century pieces. I feel most comfortable with 15th century pieces because this is where I have concentrated my research.

3.  Do you have a particular favorite piece or harness that you most enjoy constructing or working on?
Sallets have always held my interest, as they are very complex sculpturally. There are many different types of sallets and are very challenging to interpret correctly. Leg harness for use on horse is also of special interest to me, being an avid mounted combatant.

4.  Where did you first acquire an interest in historical armor and when did you make the realization you had a real aptitude for doing it?
My interest originally began when I did a report on Arms and Armour in 7th grade. I never expected then that I would make my living as an armourer.  Producing armour is a constant learning experience, as is running a business. When you do this as your sole livelihood, the two skills are intertwined. Because of this, I believe there are two realizations that happen when you embark on an armouring career; one happens when you start producing sellable pieces, another when you reach a point where you believe you can make a viable living at it. I developed my critical eye for line and form while pursuing my art degree at UC San Diego, which I believe was the beginning of my aptitude development. I began making armour a year after graduation, but don’t really feel that I matured as an armourer until 7 or 8 years ago. I realized early on that I had an aptitude for armouring due to my art and creative background and education. I felt that even though my early efforts were very clumsy, if I persisted and always worked to better my skills I would certainly produce very competent work.

5.  Can you identify any major breakthrough that transformed your own study of armor making?
A light went on my head several years ago- “oh wow, you can smush steel around just like clay, it only takes longer and you can’t use your fingers.” From then on, my approach to shaping has been much more successful. Steel is a very plastic medium and should be treated as such; like clay only much harder. I’ve done a fair amount of clay sculpting work with the entertainment projects we’ve taken on, so it gives me an interesting view of sheet steel as sculptural media. This new approach combined with the use of hot work gave me a new perspective and taught me that the sculptural possibilities of my techniques are almost limitless.

6.  What was one of the hardest skills to learn in armoring?
Achieving an even finish with modern grinding and buffing machinery is always difficult. So much of what holds our eye to historical armour is the glowing steely shine, which we’ve come to expect after having seen so many pictures of museum pieces that have been lovingly conserved by hand, then carefully photographed to display their three-dimensionality on a two dimensional page. This is very difficult to achieve economically. I’m always experimenting and refining my techniques.

7.  What is your favorite historical period to wear?
Because of my involvement as founder of the reenactment group The Red Company-1471 it’s probably not a surprise that I’m a big fan of the 1460¹s and 1470¹s. The clothes are interesting, the armour quite sophisticated and beautiful, and the concept of the “knight in shining armour” was at its zenith. I also have a fascination with the Napoleonic Hussar. Their uniforms were striking and impressive and I hope to acquire one sometime soon. I have the horse already...

8.  Is there a piece of work you are most proud of?
There are several pieces I’ve made that I’m fond of and really didn’t want to let go to the client. What stands out in my mind are usually the recent pieces, one of which is a Bascinet based primarily on the Churburg #13. I raised the skull from flat, and raised the visor from a cone shape on which I forge welded the seam (I believe this could be a medieval technique). I studied the brass trim and hand engraved it as was done on the original. The client and I were both extremely happy with the piece. I’ve also recently made a gothic style chamfron for my horse. She looks quite smashing in it!

9.  Is there some major accomplishment in armoring you still hope to achieve?
I would very much like to produce a full harness for myself. It’s very difficult to find time in a demanding schedule to produce pieces for oneself. I designed a 1460¹s Milanese harness about 7 years ago which I planned to build all at once, but so far the only thing I’ve built are the arms. It would also be quite interesting to make a replica of Henry VIIIs silvered and engraved armour. I possess a very detailed monograph on the armour, which provides enough information to construct the piece, it’s just a matter of finding a client who would like to order the harness. Also, several years ago a client requested a quote for Robert Dudley’s armour, but did not end up ordering. Making that Earl of Leicester’s armour would indeed be an achievement for me.

10. Do you have a particular favorite style of harness or helmet of your own that you most favor?
I’ve always been interested in mid to late 15th century armour, what most people refer to as “gothic”. Stylistically I’m drawn to Italian armour, particularly export styles and those made by Italians working in Flanders and Burgundy. I’m very fond of Flemish style helmets of the mid to late 15th century.

11. If so, what makes it a favorite?
They have the sculptural qualities of Italian armour, but some of the detailing of the German armourers. Very pleasing.

12. How active are you in training or practicing in your armors?
Currently I practice mounted or unmounted combat about once a month on average. A few years ago, I was very active in foot combat in one of the clubs, but have since chosen to pursue primarily mounted combat endeavors, which that club does not practice. Mounted combat is problematic, in that you must implicitly trust the people you practice with which limits your possible participants. The horses must be very well trained and the whole endeavor is very complex, slow and time consuming. It is my belief that most “knights” were horsemen first and combatants second. In the late 15th century (my period of specialization) men did not go to battle or tournament every week, so I don’t believe they may have practiced as much as we might speculate. It seems likely that the 15th century knight may have spent more time training his horse and riding than practicing his swordsmanship. I follow this pattern. The few people who do un-choreographed mounted combat should confirm that.

13. How would you say today’s custom armor industry compares to that of say 10 or 15 years ago?
Thankfully, everyone is much more sophisticated now than then, armourers and clients alike. Clients who know historical armour expect it to look right and function properly. There has been a distinct divergence of concentration among armourers working today; some make “sporting” armour for the large combat organizations, with a very small minority focusing on true “replicas”. In general, quality has increased, even among the sporting armourers, and the days of spun top helmets are largely over. There will probably always be a need for “sporting” armour, but I am pleased that that field is rather separate from historical armouring now.

14. Where do you see the custom armor industry in 10 years?  What developments do you anticipate, or would you like to see?
I would like to see a trend develop that would enable armourers with existing shops to take on journeyman employees in an effort to handle the increasing demand for high quality product. As in any business, the most difficult challenge is finding good help and trained armourers are not plentiful. There is a huge demand for historical armour and simply not enough armourers to produce it. Most shops are only one armourer working by himself, and there is a distinct limit to how much one person can make. There is always a slew of enthusiastic newcomers out there who have stars in their eyes and think they can learn armouring in a few weeks. They say “teach me to make armour and I’ll help you in your shop”, and then they are disappointed that they’re not able to produce high Gothic plate within a month of starting. Armourers need to connect with people who will make the commitment to learn the craft as a career, not just a hobby. This hopefully will keep the craft alive and allow more clients to acquire the pieces they’re thirsty for.

15. Is there a major demographic that makes up your major customers?  That is, do you produce more items for private collections, the film industry, re-enactors, performers, costume ware?
Our steadiest business comes from reenactors and collectors. Entertainment industry contracts are very lucrative and creatively interesting, but deadlines are often unrealistic. Most entertainment clients expect you to work exclusively on their job during its duration, which is problematic where concurrent work is concerned.  We also provide an increasing number of items to historic sites around the world. The replica clothing work of my wife, Gwen Nowrick, combined with our other Historic Enterprises endeavors is really key here. With our diverse products offerings, historic sites are coming to us more and more.

16. How many expert armorers of top notch artistry and accuracy would you say there are in North America or Europe at present?
Probably less than half a dozen in North America, perhaps a similar number in Europe, though I am less familiar with that market.

17. What are some of your feelings about the recent growth of the mass off-shelf market in armor (aimed at the general public) as opposed to the professional custom-maker’s individualized work?
The two products are really quite different and care should be taken in any comparisons. There are specific limitations to what can be accomplished in a mass production situation. The same level of quality should not necessarily be expected and historic accuracy is often sacrificed because the manufacturers are not as educated as custom armourers. Of course production armour usually costs less and is more readily available. There are trade-offs with both types of armour –custom armour is usually better quality and more historically accurate, but more expensive and must be ordered, not purchased off the rack. Mass-produced armour is usually less expensive, more available, often thinner than is needed for combat, and often the manufacturers will make compromises in finish, detail and historical accuracy for ease of production.

18. What changes have you seen in interest in armor in recent years? Do you see more or less knowledge on their part of clients in what they’re looking for?
I feel clients are better at educating themselves and are in some cases more realistic in their expectations of armour performance. As more people realize that armour is not indestructible and wasn’t considered such by our ancestors, I think it will promote a more thorough and realistic understanding of what should be expected from armour replicas and the people who create them.

19. Do you think historically accuracy is becoming more appreciated among those looking for reproduction armor?
Definitely, though I’m not sure people really consciously understand the intricacies of what makes any given reproduction “historically accurate”. Many finer aspects of shaping or detailing are not fully recognized by people who want accurate replicas. They know when something is right, but they might not know specifically why. Let’s face it, most people who purchase armour are not as critical as the armourers themselves, so it’s up to the armourer to stretch his abilities and critical eye, to capture the qualities of the original piece and impart them to the replica.

20. What changes if any have you noted in what people are doing with their reproduction armor nowadays? Are they having it made for different reasons than in the recent years?
I’d say things have stayed pretty consistent. There is largely the same proportion of people who wear armour, fight in it, or just decorate their home with it.

21. Can you offer any thoughts on the main differences between Milanese and Gothic armors in terms of their how their design and fit could have historically affected the wearer’s fighting method?
To refer to “Milanese” and “Gothic” armour is to be perhaps a little too general. One should compare specific individual armours, as stylistic characteristics cross over between what we think of as “Milanese” or “Gothic”. In the very general sense, armours with larger pauldrons such as might be generally accepted as “Milanese” might affect the arm movement differently than armours thought of as “Gothic”, which seem to have predominantly smaller shoulder defenses. The best method to compare any two styles of armour would be to reconstruct both harnesses and have the same person perform the same actions in them. Only an evaluation of this type has real significant value.

22. Are there any observations you could offer on the effects real swords had on historical armor?  Any issues you would care to address on that matter?
It has long been my belief that swords are not an effective cutting weapon against armour. My practical experience in fighting in harness bears this out. It is possible to defeat an armoured opponent with a sword thrust, but this is a technique that is more difficult to learn, master and execute. Fiore de Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum is an excellent resource for information on what techniques are effective in sword versus full armour. There is a reason combatants used maces, warhammers and axes when fighting fully armoured opponents –swords were simply not very effective against plate armour. By the time full plate harness had fully developed, swords as field weapons had become largely fashion accessories or tools to use against less protected opponents. The best weapon to defeat a fully armoured combatant was designed to puncture, crush or shatter, not to cut. It is important to note that the type of steel used in armour makes a large difference in its effectiveness and durability against any weapon. Most replica armour today is of mild steel, while the historical counterparts were likely made of higher carbon, heat treated, “tougher” material. This also affects the wearer’s technique, as armour made of tougher steel can be thinner to achieve the same strength, thus lightening it.

23. What advice do you have to offer the young fledging novice hoping to begin learning the craft of historical armor reproduction for fun?
In for a penny, in for a pound. To truly learn the craft of “historical armour reproduction”, you must make a commitment to the art, and I’m not sure this can be done for “fun”. It is a lifelong learning process which seems best done in a career situation. It’s very difficult to learn enough about metal shaping when pursuing it as a hobby to produce accurate armour. It’s another matter entirely to learn about armour in its historical context and to be able to apply metalworking techniques to fabricating pieces of armour. If you’re going to do it, realize it’s not easy, fast or fun. Don’t try to “dabble”; you’ll only frustrate yourself.

briggorget.jpg (12753 bytes)24. What special projects do you have on the horizon?
I am currently producing armour for several Wars of the Roses reenactors on the east coast and have several full armours on the books for next year. Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego has awarded us a contract to produce arms, armour, clothing and accessories for the reinstallation of their museum exhibit in June 2002. This new exhibit will be on display for at least the next 30 years. We are also working on a line of helmets and armour pieces for production in the new year. We expect to have in-stock pieces for 15th century reenactors and the growing tournament company groups.

25. Finally, what advice can you offer for the beginning enthusiast wanting to get into Late Medieval armored combat training for the first time?  (what items are most important to acquire first, how much should they expect to spend, and how long should they anticipate in getting a harness)?
Prepare yourself to spend time and money. I encourage anyone to consider this activity like any other serious avocation. Appearance and safety are two primary concerns when practicing European martial arts, because not only is armour practical, but it’s aesthetic too. Anyone can strap tin cans on his body and be protected, but he won’t look like a man at arms. We have a responsibility when practicing European martial arts to do it as accurately as possible or the experience is not valid as historical re-creation. Part of this is having the right equipment, which unfortunately is not easily acquired or cheap. It wasn’t in the Middle Ages, so why should it be now?  I don’t like to sound clichéd, but as with most products today, “you get what you pay for”, and “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. Your body is worth protecting, you want to look good on the field, and that comes with a price. It is not really feasible to say what armour should cost, because there are so many different styles and makers.

Offhand, I’d estimate a helmet I’d feel comfortable in using would start at several hundred dollars and go up to a couple of thousand, perhaps more. I would be very suspicious of full amours priced less than $6000 US. The amount of work required for a quality full harness demands a certain minimum retail price, if it seems too cheap, you’re probably not getting “true” reproduction armour. Chances are shortcuts have been made through the use of fabrication machinery. I allow about 3-4 months to actually produce a full armour, plus the wait time till the order comes up in the schedule. I recommend planning for a wait of at least 6 months. Some more intricate works can take a couple of years. Every armourer is different and has his own schedule.

It’s always best to order an entire harness all at once. This is the best way to ensure fit and to make sure the pieces work properly together. It’s also a lot of cash to come up with all at once. If purchasing the full armour is not an option, I recommend purchasing a helmet and gauntlets first. Starting with these two pieces provides the most valuable and important protection (head and hands) to practice most European martial arts, while allowing the flexibility in purchasing the balance of a harness later. Limb and body armour should be ordered concurrently to assure proper fit and stylistic consistency.

 

 
 

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