Medieval adventures

Making a Spangenhelm

Spangenhelm’s are characterized by the metal bands that hold them together. These are very tough helmets, and my favourite style to make. I will walk you through the general technique to make one.

The hardest part of making armour is getting it to fit properly. The first helm I made was HUGE when I finished it. I couldn’t even wear it! One way to overcome this is to make the padding for the helmet before you do anything else. I like to use blue sleeping mat foam and usually double it up. This gives me a solid inch of protection. You usually start with a band around your brow, and then the bands over your head. The rest you just piece in with tape and foam. It is good to make it 1-inch thick so that if you need to remove some foam later, you still meet the padding requirements of the SCA. Using this method then build a pattern around the foam cap, and have an excellent chance that your helmet will fit properly when you are done.
Next you need to make a pattern with cardboard. Made a band around the brow of the foam padding. Next make the bands that go across the top. I like making the m 1-1/4-inch wide.
While wearing the foam, you can then add the back of the helmet and cheek plates. The picture shown here was that huge helm I couldn’t wear. The bands were way too wide and I hadn’t started with a foam cap.
This was a cardboard pattern made using a foam cap that worked out well.
Making the back of the helm from several bands will give you a better fitting helmet in the end. It also allows some ventilation. You can make the back from a single piece, but you may find yourself fighting with getting it to fit properly. You will also find it hard to lean your head back.
Next, you need to cut out the brow and headbands. You can use a jigsaw with metal blades, or shear of some sort. If you are using 14ga steel you will find that tin-snips are not strong enough to cut. I really like using a throat-less shear. Make the bands 1 or 2 inches longer than you need.
If you want to have a shiny helm, this is the time to puff up the steel while the pieces are still flat. A hand grinder and flap discs ranging from 60 to 120 grit will do a nice job.
You can bring the metal up to a mirror-like finish if you want to spend the time and effort doing that with water-paper, buffers and compounds.
Bend the browband on an anvil or over the edge of a workbench. You don’t need tools to do this, just use your hands and body weight. Once you get the band to fit on the foam cap, you can trim any excess length. I like to have the bands overlap by the same amount as the width (1-1/4 inch). I usually want the overlap at the back of the helmet.
I clamp the band in place with vice grips and drill two holes of whatever size rivets you have selected. I like 3/16 rivets. The trick at this point is to have the brow lay perfectly flat. Don’t rivet it yet! Get some nuts and bolts that are the same diameter as your rivets and fasten it that way.
Next work on the head bands. Pay attention to whether you want them on the inside or outside of the helmet. Make sure that they are dead centre on the front and back and sides. This is a common mistake and will make a wonky looking helmet. To find the centre take a piece of string and wrap it around the brow. You can then divide that length in half and that will give you the opposite centre. You can quarter it and that will give you the sides and front and back.
Once you get the bands fitting the foam padding you can clamp and drill holes.
One thing to note with the top bands is that they initially go to the bottom of the brow. Drill four holes at each overlap and used nuts to hold it all together. After you get the dome pieces riveted in place, you will cut the bands with a angle grinder so they only go the middle of the brow. The front overlap does not have to be cut this way. Once you get to this stage you never dismantle what you have bolted together.
The dome pieces are next. The way to size to size those triangles is to hold a piece of paper over the triangle on the outside of the helm. You can then trace the triangle on the inside. Make the triangles 3/4-inch bigger than what you traced. The idea is that the domes, in the end, will meet in the centre of the headbands.
Do not pre-drill holes in the pieces. The helmet is constantly changing shape as you work on it. I guarantee pre-drilled holes will not line up when you start riveting.
To curve the triangles you will need a dishing stump of some sort. You can sand out dishes with an angle grinder and 4 grid flap discs. You will a dishing hammer of some sort or a metal mushroom. The surface needs to be rounded so you don’t scar the metal. You can also use a ball-peen hammer.
Using a mushroom dolly as a hammer on the dishing stump makes this job very easy.
The side and back bands need to be cut to only be half of the browband so the back and cheek plates can be attached. Remember that the dome pieces are only one half of the brow width.
The domes take awhile to dish into shape and must be as identical as you can make them. Do all four and then buff them up. Now you can start riveting. Start at the top, remove one bolt and rivet the corner of the dome into place. Rivet the other four corners, removing only one bolt at a time. Next rivet the middle of the dome base. You will need to drill a new hole. The bolt for that dome will need to be removed at the brow intersections. replace the bolts after that middle rivet is put in place. Do the same for all four domes, removing as few bolts at a time as possible.
Now you can start riveting the domes in place. I like to rivet the brow sections first. Start at that middle rivet and rivet to either side of it. Don’t drill all the holes at once- this never works. Drill a hole, rivet, drill a hole, rivet and so on. Rivet all four domes to the brow like this. Then start at the top and rivet down to the brow in layers. If you add two rivets to one dome, do that to the other three, and then work your way down to the next layer/row.
If you do this, you will end up with a symmetrical helmet cap that doesn’t bulge out anywhere.
Riveting is best done with short, rapid strokes of a ball-peen hammer. This heats up the rivet and makes the process easier. If you use round head rivets drill a hole in a metal plate to accommodate the round head of the rivet.
You are ready for cheek plates. These take some faffing around to get them to bend the way you want. A common mistake is to have the plats go straight down at the chin. This will make a big gap between your throat and the helmet. That won’t pass inspection.
Be sure to bend the cheek plates so they tuck under your chin. It is a good idea to wear your body armour and gorget when doing this part so you can see if everything works together.
The back is fashioned from several 1-1/4 inch plates. Start with cardboard as a template. Work from the centre to the sides. Angle the back out so that it doesn’t cut into your back but rather lays on it.
I use 1/4″ to 5/16″bar for the face guards.I double rivet the sides using 1/8 inch rivets. The gap between must be less than an inch so I use 7/8.
Notice how the chin of the helm curves in.
You can also weld up fancy guards as we did with Sibylla’s helmet.