Reworking a Breast Plate

Orginally I raised this breastplate in 2010 shortly before an event where I was planning to wear it. I took only 35 hours to make it and I ended up rather unsatisfied with what I got.

A few sights of the first stage of the breast plate (photos Radosław Ciszewski)

This first version wasn't hand polished, and it had some more issues I had to deal with: The main problem was, that I had made it too big. The waist line was 2,5cm too low on the sides and about 3cm too low in the front, so when I put it on it was either too low or reaching too high under my chin. But then it was also too tight at the waist - I mean men at arms can eat quite a bit from time to time. The plan was to sell the breast plate after the end of season, so I looked for somebody who would fit. But time went by, autumn was soon over, the came winter came and one of those famous Polish winter events was approaching fast. As usually, I felt a bad about lacking a suitable armour to wear - the fact that I am an armourer makes this even worse. So I decided to do it the medieval way and to take this existing piece of armour, to reshape it a little bit and to give it a new feel and freshness.

This is the inner side of the breast plate with the sore spots marked (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

I decided the first problem I was going to solve was the tight waist. There is a breastplate in Zurich Landesmuseum in Switzerland, where somebody cut out a piece some time after the production - likely in order make it more suitable for a wearer with a bigger belly. So this extension method could have been a popular solution as early as the 1490s. So, before I considered any other options I went about cutting the thing ...

Almost immediately I realized, I had forgotten to lift the waistline. Well that sort of things happens when you're in hurry. Therefore I decided to take a more professional and less emotional approach from now on. I started research on Gothic infantry breastplates to find the most similar in shape to the one I already had. I didn't find much, there were only two that shared the basic shape. One of them was from Ingolstadt, Germany, and the other was just a picture somewhere from the web. Both were about 1480 from Southern Germany. The one in the German museum came with plain surface without any fluting with central ridge only, and the second one had elegant flutings but lacking the fauld skirt. I felt in love with the elegant look and delicate german gothic flutings of the munition breastplate from the web photo. Unfortunately I couldn't find any additional information about it.



There is the inner side of the breast plate with the sore spots marked (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

Now first things first, I took marker and marked areas to trim, where to reshape a bit and where to apply the flutings. I trimmed the marked areas and after I put the fire on the forge I started forging the new waist line. After the waistline pleased me I concentrated on raising the central area, to make the future central ridge more significant. When the raising was finished, the surface was rough and had lots of hammer marks, so it needed planishing. For that operation I used a hammer I had previously made especially for that purpose. When all deepest hammer marks were flattened I could continue to work on the flutings. The first to do was the main vertical fluting, that needed to be heavily raised, then the “ribs” on both sides of the lower plate and finally those around the armpits.

A tool to work on flutings (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

To do that I used a special designed tool, which I had found on some 13th century engravings of metalworkers, and a raising hammer.

After having finished the flutings there was hardly any additional planishing needed, as I work with the raising technique from the outer side of the piece, which leaves a rather plain surface. At that moment the shape and fluting were all done, so I could examine it and compare it to the photo of the original piece. The spaces between the single flutings were a bit increased since it was made for a bigger man, but the general look was satisfying.

All the flutings are now done (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

So I was ready to start the final part of the job. First I treated the planished surface with files, especially the spaces between the flutings and near the rolled edges. When I had finished that job, then there came machine grinding. Finally it was time to use sandpaper and muscle power in order to give it a final smoothness. If the material I used for this breastplate would contain at least a bit more carbon I could have hardened it. Unfortunately, it was simple mild steel, so the only thing I could do was to heat the breastplate in order to oxidize it from the inside with the help of linen seed oil to prevent it from rusting in the future and to normalize the steel structure a bit.

The only remaining taks were the final hand polish, riveting the plates together and adding straps with buckles.

Polishing with linseed oil and hardwood ashes (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

Natural leather on a wooden block helps with the polishing (photo Radosław Ciszewski) 

For the polishing I used linen seed oil and hardwood ashes treated with piece of natural leather on a rubber or wooden block.

When the effect was satisfying I would start making rivets.

The rivets were sculpted by hand (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

I had some doubts how I should do the rivets: Should I use a file or do it with a chisel? I started with various files but the resulting rivets looked poor so I felt like a chisel was the more appropriate tool for that purpose. That was a good decision, the rivets were done almost perfectly.

Finally, I riveted the plates together, added the straps and the buckles and I was ready to go.

The breastplate after the adjustments, the fauld skirt is not yet attached (photo Radosław Ciszewski)

So that's what I ended up with for that winter event and I did not regret the investment of time and energy.


By Radosław Ciszewski, Company recruit member and armourer.

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