How to make your own kit - Weapons!
Spears were carried by all Celts. and it is
strongly recommended that all members have at least one. lt is the
cheapest and easiest weapon to aquire, so it is a good one to start
with. Battle spears must be extremely blunt and used with great
care. Blows must never be aimed at the head, but at the shield or
body well below the chest with light force. Jabbing at the body is
discouraged, instead try sideways blows. Sharpened spears may be
kept for static display purposes during living history displays, but
must never be used in practise or stage fighting. Spears may never
be thrown in combat, but may be thrown against inanimate targets for
display purposes in a secure area, or at a willing idiot as a
demonstration of the spearfeat.
Javelins are similar to spears, only shorter
(about 1 to 1.5m long). The points are smaller, and there is not
usually a butt-spike. They are normally sharp, since they are never
used in combat and only for target practise and display. A real Celt
would carry about three into battle, in his shield hand, and throw
them at the enemy just before going in hand-to-hand.
Slings were a common weapon, made in leather. They
may not be used during stage fighting, but with suitable warning may
be fired in volleys before battle for demonstration purposes, if
aimed well away from the opponents or public. They may also be
demonstrated in living history displays, or just worn for show. I
spent months learning to use mine, its a lost art.
Bows were used for hunting by the Celts, but
curiously were seldom used in battle. if you want to carry one for
show or demonstration, you will have to show provenance. A modern
short bow isn't good enough. Long bows are completely wrong.
There are several suitable designs, all graceful,
some decorated. Many weapon-smiths make suitable spear heads for
anything between £15 and £40, and butt-spikes for about a tenner.
Then all you have to do is add a wooden shaft between the two. Do
this by planing, filing or power-filing the wood to fit the spear
head or butt-spike snugly, then glue it in with lots of PVA
adhesive. Drill small holes through the metal and knock in nails or
rivets for extra strength. Round off the heads with a ball-peen
hammer to remove sharp points for safety . The whoIe spear shouId be
abou t 2 to 2l~m Iong , or whatever will fit in your car.
After a season you may want to move up to the
classic weapon of the nobility, the sword. Swords were carried by
nobles and chieftains. These were one-handed broadswords of a
distinct design. No Dark Age or Viking sword will do. Handles were
small with almost no guard at all: the sword was seldom used for
parrying, that was what the shield was for. Blades must be made of
hardened steel, such as spring steel, EN45 or EN47. MiId steeI
becomes serrated too quickIy. making sharp edges that can be
dangerous in combat.
The blades must have parallel edges,
not tapered, of oval or diamond cross-sectien: no furrow. The end
must be rounded for combat. Any blade size is acceptable. between
4cm wide by 60cm long up to 5cm wide by 90cm Iong , not incIuding
the tang for the handle. Battle swords must be blunt and their edges
de-burred. Sharpened swords may only be used for living history
static display purposes. Typically suitable handle designs are the
anthropomorphic, Embleton, Thorpe. Hod Hill, Marne Valley and
Kirkburn. You can buy complete swords for between £80 and £200,
depending on quality.
Very few smiths know Iron-Age
designs, so make absolutely sure the one you are dealing with can
supplv an appropriate blade and hilt, such as Ivor Lawton or Ulfric.
Alternatlvely you can buy just a sword blade for about f40, and add
your own handle.
This is tricky. Pine wood is useless,
you need something really hard such as 30 year old seasoned oak,
fruit wood or mahogany. Or you can use antler or bone, or go the
whole hog and have one cast onto the hilt in bronze. Some Celtic
swords actually had iron handles built directly onto the blade.
Scabbards are the thing to carry a
sword in, unless you want to carry it in your hand all day (never
stick it in the ground: it makes the blade rust and increases the
chances of giving someone tetanus). These were made in several ways,
out of leather, wood, bronze sheet and iron. You can make them
yourself, or pay a smith. My iron scabbard cost £80, but you can
get cheaper. Leather is the easiest, cut and stitched to carry the
sword snugly. Vegetable tanned cowhide is best. Glue, stitch and
rivet a bronze plate around the top. This is for show, and to attach
the belt fastening. You can also add a chape at the bottom, either
made yourself, or Hightower crafts do a useable one.
If you feel really flash you can
decorate the scabbard in repousse. Research this yourself, I've
never done it. At the top at the back of the bronze wrap-around
plate rivet on a fastening loop. \ Wood is easy as well. The
scabbard is basically a wooden box open at the smallest face into
which the sword slides. We have learned that lining the scabbard in
sheepskin with the fur inwards makes it grip the sword securely, and
the lanolin in the wool oils the blade. Paint, carve or add bronze
repousse plates for decoration. The scabbard is hung off the widest
part of the hip using a cunning arangement consisting of three
leather straps (about 8", 18" and 48" long
respectively) , three metalrings about 1 to 1.5in diameter , a hook
buckle and a leather thong. Scabbards had a unique decorative art
form associated with them, so choose any decoration carefully.
Fighting sword-on-sword is fun and reminds us all of
"Highlander", but is probably not very authentic and
claims a heavy toll in wear and tear on the sword. It is best to
fight with a shield. It is even better to fight with your own
shield, since they wear out eventually as they are steadily hacked
to pieces, and it is not fair to expect someone else to go to all
the effort of building a shield, .iust so you can borrow it and get
Shields are a lot of work to build.
To be fully authentic we should fight on the field with long
infantry shields, but this is exhausting unless you are Arnold
Schwarzeneggar, so many choose to make smaller, lighter,
easier-to-make round shields (such as normally used by cavalry). Cut
a circle in 9mm (or l3mm if you think you're strong) ply, about 60
an in diameter. This is reasonably close to the laminated strips of
oak the Celts used to glue together to make a kind of ply wood.
Cut out two 'D' shapes at the centre
to leave a handle. Make sure this is big enough to get your gloved
hand in, but not too big to be covered by the boss. Take a raw-hide
dog-chew "bone" and soak it in water for a few hours until
it becomes soft. Undo all the knots, and lay out in lengths. Cut
each length in half length-ways. From now on the magic ingredient is
PVA adhesive (excellent for shields, useless for sniffing), and lots
of it. With a brush spread liberally around the rim of the shield
and on the dog-chew, then with a staple gun (or using small tacks)
fix the dog-chew round the entire rim of the shield. Leave overnight
to dry; the dog-chew will dry hard and perfectly take up the shape
of the shield, held securely in place by the staples and the PVA.
Next, find some old cloth (anything,
old curtains, tea towels, whatever). Put plenty of PVA on the front
of the shield in sections, and lay on the cloth, brushing more PVA
on top. Allow the cloth to overlap the edge of the shield by
2", covering the dog-chew and staples, and glue to the back.
Add more layers of cloth, always using plenty of PVA, not
necessarily waiting for the previous layer to dry. A total of 3
layers will do, 4 or 5 is best. Leave to dry
Paint the front of the shield with 2
or 3 coats of white emulsion, not gloss. We are fairly sure that the
Celts never invented gloss paint in the Iron-Age. Now paint it
whatever colour you like, and add on whatever Iron-Age Celtic
patterns you fancy, again using matt paints.
Cut away the cloth over the 'D'
shapes. With wood glue and screws, fix a rounded piece of wood to
the handle, if necessary extending it past the grip so that the
coach bolts secure it as well as the boss. Finally sand it smooth
for a comfortable grip. Fix the boss to the shield, using coach
bolts with the lettering filed off so that they look like rivets
from the front. Cut all the bolts to length with a hacksaw so that
they stick out at the back as little as possible, and try to
countersink the nuts at the back into the wood slightly to hide
Finish off with a single layer of
cloth glued on the back to cover the nuts, and paint.
If you get serious and decide to try
for a long shield, then this is a lot more work. Again using 9mm ply
cut a lm long oval, lozenge or "horned" shape (the last is
a peculiarly British design). Make a long, graceful boss out of
wood, preferably a hardwood such as oak, mahogany or fruitwood. Make
a hollow in the back large enough to take your gloved hand
comfortably. Screw and glue this to the front of the shield, and
fashion the handle as before.
Edge the shield in dog-chew as
before, and again cover it in layers of cloth. Alternatively you can
use leather, which is more expensive, heavier, much harder to make
but much more long lasting.
If you decide to splash-out and use
leather, use vegetable tanned cowhide. Cut it to shape, allowing
2" extra at the edge to be beaten round, plus a
difficult-to-judge bulge at each side to allow for the leather that
will cover up the bulge of the spine at its deepest point at the
middle. Soak the leather for 12 hours at least, then let it dry for
6 hours or overnight. With a drill and a small drill-bit, carpet
thread or gut or similar and a leather needle, and a ball-peen
hammer, stitch, pull, stretch, beat, pummel and intimidate the
leather into snugly covering the front of the shield, including the
boss, and overlapping the edges by at least an inch. This is
incredibly difficult, but it is possible and I know it is possible
because I have done it. Let the leather dry completely, and it will
be formed hard around the shield, and close to indestructible. Paint
the shield however you want.
As a finaI touch add a metal boss
across the front of the long shield over the spine, made from
bronze, brass or steel plate, and rivet it on with copper rivets and
a ball-peen hammer.
Daggers are made like swords, only
much smaller. These are sometimes large and blunt, and used for
fighting, or small and sharp, and used for display or as a tool,
eating utensil or whatever.
Real Celts spurned armour, and
frequently fought naked except for their torcs, woad and limewash.
Rich Celts wore it to show their wealth and status. If you've been
doing re-enactment for a few years and think you've got some status,
you might decide to make the hardest piece of kit of all. Chainmail
can be knitted easily with about 20,000 zinc galvanised split steel
washers (worth about £100) , two pairs of pliers and 400 hours of
your time. Or you can commission a set off a smith for between £400
and £700. The Celts invented chainmail in the West, and there are a
couple of distinctive Iron-Age Celtic patterns known.
This is the kind
of look you should be looking for.Helmets look deceptively
like Roman issue, but they are not. The resemblance is there
because the Romans copied our design. The Agen/Port type were
of a bowler hat type construction in iron, with neck and cheek
guards. These are possible to make at home with a lot of
effort and ingenuity, or you can commission one off a smith
for about £120. Ivor Lawton has a suitable one in his
catalogue, but choose the design carefully.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: MEMBERS OF THE
PUBLIC MAY NEVER USE A WEAPON. THEY MAY ONLY HOLD AND INSPECT
your own kit - clothing - click here