How long have you been doing armor,
for fun or professionally?
I started making armour as a hobby in
1980. I always wanted to have my own armour,
but at that time, there was no one that I knew of that was making armour professionally,
so I couldnt buy any reproduction armour, and I didnt have the financial
resources to purchase authentic armour (I was still in college). So I figured that the only way I was going to have
any armour of my own, was to make it myself. In 1994, I started Medieval Reproductions,
and began making armour for a living.
Do you have an area or period of
historical armor you specialize in creating?
No; I make armour from Roman to
Renaissance; lorica to lobster-tail. As the
song says, Im very versatile.
Do you have a particular favorite
piece or harness that you most enjoy constructing or working on?
I dont have a specific piece that I
enjoy working on, but I do prefer working on armour from the Early and High Medieval
Period, say, from Hastings to Agincourt. This
was the Period of Chivalry, which really appeals to me.
Once you get into the Renaissance, youre into the age of mercenaries,
and I begin to lose interest. I know that the
fifteenth century is the armourers finest hour, but to me, armour is a
physical representation of the age it hails from, and being a big fan of chivalry, the
earlier stuff appeals to me more.
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?
When I was four years old, a salesman came
to our door selling Ajax laundry detergent. Back
in the early sixties, Ajax ran a series of television commercials where a white knight
would joust with the clothesline to get your laundry clean. Well, this salesman was dressed in a suit of
armour painted white. As he gave my mother
his sales pitch (I can still hear his muffled voice; he never raised the visor of his
helmet as he spoke), I stood there, mesmerized. I
had never seen anything like that in real life before (which was no big surprise, since I
was only four). I spent the rest of the
morning with my nose pressed against the front window, watching this guy walk up and down
the street. From that moment on, I was
hooked! (I can remember talking to [arms
& armor authority] Claude Blair several years ago, and he asked me how I became
interested in armour. I told him this story,
and he smiled hugely, and said, It always starts very young
). To answer the second half of the question, I
realized I had an aptitude for making armour when I completed my second great helm. The first piece of armour I made was a great helm,
complete with a crest. It was somewhat
primitive, as was the first full armour I made. But
my third project was a Pembridge helm, which came together very nicely. It was then that I realized, Hey, I can do
Can you identify any major
breakthrough that transformed your own study of armor making?
When I first started making armour, I had
no sources to draw from for reference. I had
some kids books I had acquired as a child, but no serious texts on arms and armour. So I went down to the Glenbow Museum [in Calgary],
and sat in the armour gallery, sketching everything I could. I had read somewhere that museums didnt
allow cameras in the galleries, but I took a chance the next time I went to the museum,
and asked the person at the front desk if they would let me take some photos of the
armour. They called the Curator of Military
History and asked him if it was all right, and he said yes, and then asked if I would like
to see the armour in storage. I made an
appointment with him, and got my first opportunity to handle the armour in the collection. This also initiated a relationship with the
Curator, Barry Agnew, and was the beginning of a twenty-one year friendship. I ended up working for Barry in the Military
History Department for six years, and during that time, I was in charge of the armour
collection. This allowed me to examine the
armour in intimate detail anytime I wanted. As
a result, I gained invaluable information about armour construction and function. I would examine the armour during the day, and go
home at night and try to copy what I had seen. This
allowed me to give my armour the same look and feel as the real thing.
What was one of the hardest skills to
learn in armoring?
It was all difficult, since I had never
done any metal work before I started making armour, and I couldnt go to anyone for
advice. There was no Armour-making
School I could attend, and books like Brian Prices for instance didnt
exist back then. I had to teach myself how to
do everything through trial and error. I also had to make a lot of my own tools (which I
still have to do). My grandfather taught
metallurgical analysis during the Second World War, but he had no interest in helping me. I finally got him to explain to me how to dish and
planish a piece of sheet metal, which took him all of five minutes. I then took that tidbit of information, and
started from there. The only techniques I
learned from someone else are how to raise, which Brian Price taught me, and how to chase,
which Jeff Deboer taught me. Everything else
I learned on my own.
What is your favorite historical
period to wear?
I like full mail, and I like late
fourteenth century full plate.
Is there a piece of work you are most
I would probably have to say the Beowulf
helmet I made (it went together very nicely), and the Churburg harness I made for Hank
Is there some major accomplishment in
armoring you still hope to achieve?
I have some ideas that Im
fomenting, but they are not developed enough for me to discuss yet. Perhaps in a future interview.
10. Do you have a particular favorite
style of harness or helmet of your own that you most favor?
I have a late fourteenth century style
harness (which I call hounskull armour).
Its similar to the armour of the Black Prince, as seen on his effigy
in Canterbury Cathedral. Its full
plate, but its still the Age of Chivalry, which, as Ive said, appeals to me.
11. If so, what makes it a favorite?
I like the fact that it is full plate, but
it is simple. It retains all of the
functionality of later plate armour, but it is not hampered by a lot of the
busy-ness of later armours. Theres
a beauty in simplicity that I find appealing.
12. How active are you in training or
practicing in your armors?
Im a founding member of the Medieval
Arms Society of Calgary. We started the group
five years ago, and we try to practice weekly. I
fight, for the most part, in full mail, c. 1200 - 1250.
However, I have suited up in later period stuff from time to time.
13. How would you say todays custom
armor industry compares to that of say 10 or 15 years ago?
Ive been pretty isolated up here in
Calgary, so I really dont have a clear idea of what the industry was like ten or
fifteen years ago. When I was growing up, I
thought I was the only kid in the world that was interested in knights and armour; none of
my friends had the least bit of interest in it at all.
I was never involved in the SCA, and Ive only just gotten involved in
re-enactment in the last five years. So I
cant really comment on the Industry.
14. Where do you see the custom armor
industry in 10 years? What developments do
you anticipate, or would you like to see?
When I started making armour for a living
in 1994, the interest in armour and the Medieval Period in general was on the rise. I figured I would have five or six good years, and
then the market would begin to wane, people would lose interest, and go on to the next
fad. However, to my surprise, the interest
has continued to grow, and shows no sign of slowing down.
When I started, I was mostly making quality armour for museums. Then I started getting orders from collectors, and
then re-enactors. Now Im getting orders
from jousters, while still filling orders from all of the previous groups, and Im
busier than Ive ever been!
One of the biggest problems I see right now is a lack of good custom armourers. The waiting list (as everyone knows) is
debilitating; you can wait years to get a good custom harness made, and those of us who
are making the good quality armour are running the risk of getting burned out because of
the overwhelming demand. This is due to the
fact that there are too few good armourers out there, and the demand far exceeds the
supply. What I would like to see in the
future, is a marked increase in the number of good custom armourers. However, for this to happen there needs to be some
changes in the industry that will precipitate this.
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?
As I said, my major clients are museums,
collectors, re-enactors, and now Im starting to produce for jousters. Ive done some work for the film industry (a
production company once rented every piece of armour I had for the film, The
Mighty, with Sharon Stone and Kieran Caulkin), but they are more interested in
artistic expression than historical accuracy. Because
of this, Ive stopped doing any work for film or television.
16. How many expert armorers of top notch
artistry and accuracy would you say there are in North America or Europe at present?
As I said, Ive been isolated up
here, so Im not really in the loop as far as whos out there, and whos
doing what. I am only aware of a few really
good armourers in North America, and I havent a clue who is working in the U.K. or
Europe, of course, with the exception of Bill Radford, who is arguably the best armourer
in the world right now.
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-makers individualized work?
Not everybody can afford high
quality, custom-made armour. As a result,
companies like Museum Replicas have been mass-producing armour of a lesser quality for a
lower price. I see no problem with this,
since it allows a greater number of people the opportunity to own armour, and fulfill the
dream that I had when I first started making armour back in 1980.
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 theyre looking for?
Movies have a certain influence on the
armour industry. When Braveheart came out,
it seemed like everybody wanted Mel Gibsons coat-of-plates. However, that influence was slight, and
didnt really change the industry significantly.
Most of the clients I deal with are discerning collectors, or serious re-enactors. As a result, they have usually done their
homework, and they know what they want. They
will ask me questions about construction, or whether some particular element is
appropriate to the period they want to portray, but they have a good general knowledge of
the armour they want. Every once in a while
I get somebody who doesnt really know what they want, and I have to work with them
to find out what that is, but you find those people in a lot of artistic disciplines.
19. Do you think historically accuracy is
becoming more appreciated among those looking for reproduction armor?
Amongst the re-enactors and collectors,
yes. They want it to look right, and be
period-appropriate. However, theres
still the odd one that thinks they can improve the wheel, and want changes to design and
construction, etc. I end up telling them that
they dont want historical armour; they are looking for fantasy armour, which I
dont do (with one notable exception; the Shao-Khan helmet for T.V.s Mortal
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?
Yeah; theyre fighting in it. When I first started making armour, as I said,
most of my clients were museums or collectors. The
museums needed the armour for hands-on educational programs (you cant let school
kids try on authentic armour!), and the collectors wanted armour to place in a display
case beside the authentic armour they had collected.
Nowadays, a large percentage of my clients are fighting in their armour. How the armour stands up to modern re-enactment
combat is the true test of its quality.
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 wearers fighting method?
All field harness was designed to be fully
functional, and not impede the movement of the wearer.
Milanese had larger, more encompassing pauldrons than the German Gothic
armour, but when you examine contemporary artwork, it doesnt appear to be a problem. The sallet and bevor allows for a reasonable
amount of air to breathe, but the armet, especially with a wrapper, would quickly become
impossible to breathe in. Ive noticed
in contemporary artwork that the visor on the armet remains up until the very last moment,
so perhaps this was their solution. Ive
never fought in either style of armour, so I cant really comment first-hand.
You have to remember as well, that knights fought primarily on horseback, at least
90% of the time. When you are not using the
large muscles in your legs (the horse provides your motive power), youre consuming a
lot less oxygen. Having trained on horseback
to fight at the Hastings 2000 event in Britain last year, and having fought on foot for
five years, I can say with some authority that there is a BIG difference. Full armour was [not really] designed for foot
combat; it was designed for mounted fighting, where your legs are stationary. The only movement your legs would make, would be
in getting on and off the horse.
The knight distinguished himself from everyone else on the battlefield by the fact
that he was a mounted warrior. It was a symbol of his class, and he set it aside
only temporarily, and only under extreme circumstances. If you look closely at
the armour depicted in the fighting manuals, you will find that it is essentially cavalry
armour. However, there are occasions when the mounted knight was required to fight on foot
(i.e., the English at Agincourt), but this was the exception, not the rule. And
battlefield armour was always cavalry armour. The tonnelet armours which were for
foot combat in the tournament, which was a secondary form of fighting, and by no means the
main event. Even these were designed with detachable pieces at the front and back,
so that the wearer could mount a horse. Keep in mind, that the tonnelet and foot
combat armours are all 16th century. Before then, there was very little specialized
armour for the tournament. And in the High Middle Ages, there was none at all.
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?
As I previously stated, I fight mostly in
mail. Ive discovered that the
combination of quilted gambeson under mail is surprisingly protective. We fight with live steel as opposed to
wooden wasters, and even though we pull our blows, every once in a while a strong blow
gets landed. However, the worst injury
Ive sustained was a bruise. Last year,
seven members of MASC went to England to participate in the Hastings 2000 battle
re-enactment. It was a live steel event, and
all we had was hauberks and nasal helmets. There
was a certain degree of apprehension, since our faces and legs were unprotected. However, for an event involving 1300 infantry and
100 cavalry, the injuries were insignificant. One
of our fellows got a split lip when someone hooked his shield with their axe and he pulled
back a little too hard. We received numerous
blows on the mail, but we hardly noticed them.
Swords were ineffective against plate armour.
That is why a full range of other weapons were designed and used, such as axes,
maces, and hammers. The only kind of sword
that could be used against plate armour was a thrusting sword, and then only when stabbing
at the joints, or chinks in the armour. But
trying to successfully hit one of these points in a fight, when both combatants are moving
around, would be extremely difficult, even for an experienced swordsman. Therefore, the image of two knights in full
armour, fighting with longswords, is a bit of a misnomer.
Neither one could seriously injure the other.
23. What advice do you have to offer the
young fledging novice hoping to begin learning the craft of historical armor reproduction
A number of things. First, take metal shop in high school. This will give you some practical experience in
working with metal. Next, read every book
you can get your hands on about arms and armour. Then
read them again. Then read them again. Then get a copy of Brian Prices book, Techniques
of Medieval Armour Reproduction, and memorize it.
Next, buy a copy of Grays Anatomy, and memorize it. Then take a life drawing class, even if you
cant draw. If you want to be able to
cover the human body in steel, you have to have a good understanding of its shape
(and shapes). While youre doing all of
this, find somebody that already makes armour, and become their friend. Then spend time watching them make armour, and ask
every question you can think of (without becoming a pest!).
Then start making some simple pieces. The
only way to REALLY learn, is by doing. And
most importantly, dont get frustrated because your fist piece is not as good as you
expected. Keep at it; youll improve the
more you do.
24. What special projects do you have on
Im trying to get caught up with the
projects I already have, namely six full armours, each of which will take me three to four
months. I also have a dozen or so helmets to
make, not to mention various and assorted other component pieces. As a result, I cant really think too far
into the future.
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 first acquire, how much should they expect to spend, and how long should they
anticipate in getting a harness)?
The first thing is to begin training;
armour is not necessary for this. Get used to
handling a sword before worrying about getting into armour.
Once youve developed the basic skills of sword fighting, then begin
wearing increasing amounts of armour. Start
with a gambeson, and then a shirt of mail. One
of the more difficult things to get used to, is wearing a helmet that covers your face,
visored or not. It takes a lot of practice
getting used to fighting, seeing, and breathing, in a great helm or close helmet.
With regards to purchasing armour, you can
pretty-well spend whatever you want; the price range is wide open. But, caveat emptor; you get what you pay for. If you think you can buy a full armour for a
$1,500, then be prepared to replace it on a regular basis; it wont hold up to
re-enactment combat. Good armour is
hand-crafted, and therefore expensive. So is
a good sword. This whole discipline is not
for the tight-fisted. If you want to play,
expect to pay.
As far as a time frame for getting a
harness, it varies depending on who you go to. Some
armourers have as much as a five-year waiting list.
I think the average is about two to three years. Unfortunately, this is the current reality of
And please, dont order some armour, and then phone the armourer and tell him
you have an event coming up! All that does is
get him frustrated and stressed. Be patient;
were all doing the best we can to get you your armour as soon as possible
the Article Iron Tailors by Peter at www.medievalrepro.com/Irntalrs.htm