|How to Make a Medieval Belt|
|Written by Mephiston||Thursday, 02 September 2010 14:09|
There is no evidence that the Ring Belts in common use amongst medieval reenactors are historically correct or were ever in use by the people whom they portray. What the evidence does show, either in painting or archeology, is that buckled belts were the norm even throughout the Roman Empire. What this article is to show is how to make your own medieval buckles to help complete your garb. While there are many techniques available that can be used to create a buckle, it is also the intent of this article on how to create one with the minimum amount of metalsmithing experience and minimal amount of tools.
There may require some creativity on obtaining the tools necessary to complete this project. As I am a metalsmith and have, generally, all the tools required for this project, which I will list, though this is not to imply that these are the only tools that can be used. What will be needed is this:
As far as material choice, there are many possibilities for you to choose from, such as Iron, Silver, Gold, Pewter, Copper, Bronze and Brass. Additionally, as there are many different material choices and methods for creating buckle fittings, I will limit this article solely to brass as the medium of choice. What will be needed, then, is one brass ring, brass rod and some sheet brass. Brass rings and brass rods are easily purchased from many hardware stores. You also must be sure that you purchase a ring that is sufficiently large enough to accommodate the belt. A good rule of thumb would be to purchase a ring that has at least the same diameter as width of the belt, though a little more will give you more ‘wiggle room’ when forming it. The brass rod is for creating a tongue, and should be of sufficient thickness to be structurally capable, 1/8” to 3/16” should be sufficient. As the amount of brass sheet needed is fairly limited, purchasing some from a local hobby store should not be much of an issue either. However, make sure that the width of the sheet is at least as wide as the belt you are wishing to make it for. Hence a 1” wide belt will need sheet at least 1” wide, and so on. Finally, you will need a length of leather that is sufficient in length to wrap around the waist as well as be able to hang down in the front, as it will be wrapped in the same manner as a ring belt, though this is optional.
Before discussion begins on how to shape, cut and form the material for the buckle fittings, it is important to first discuss the annealing process. Brass has a nasty habit of work hardening very quickly and thus cracking, splitting and coming completely apart when you are not wanting it to. The process of annealing changes the molecular structure of the brass to make it more pliable. As stated, brass hardens quickly while working it, thus make sure you anneal early and often. To anneal brass, or any non-ferrous metal, simply heat the metal until it begins to glow and quench it quickly in water. You will notice that the metal becomes black. This is simply copper oxide that can be cleaned off with steel wool, sand paper or a bath in metal pickle. Remember: Anneal Early, Anneal Often!
Forming of the brass ring is the first step in creating a buckle. The goal is to form the ring into a D shape. It is the flat part of the D that will be used to hold the Buckle Tongue as well as secure the buckle to the leather. The length of the flattened portion of the ring needs to be just over the width of the belt you are wishing to make. Place the ring over a flat forming stake, something that can be easily inserted into the ring itself. Using a hammer pound the ring flat on one side. This will create your D shape. It will take some further hammering to refine the ring into the desired shape, which in most cases will take some practice and patience. Next, forge the rounded portion of the ring flat. The amount to be flattened is a matter of personal choice, but it is not necessary to flatten the entirety of the ring.
Next is forming the buckle tongue. The length that you will need is dictated by the size of the buckle, from the flattened portion to the opposite end. You will also need an extra amount of length to wrap around the flat portion of the D ring. While it is possible to bend the rod around the ring without any further work, it will be more advantageous to do some preliminary forging of the rod. Using a hammer and anvil (a solid metal block will also suffice), flatten one end of the rod. This flattened portion will be used to wrap around the ring. Complete the forging prior to cutting the rod to length, as it is much easier to forge metal that is over length to ensure a firm grim of the material. All forging of the brass can be done cold, though remember to Anneal Early and Anneal Often. Unless you are experienced with forging brass, do not attempt to complete the forging with only one annealing. Once the flatting is completed, form the flattened portion around the flat portion of the D ring. This can be hammer formed round the ring, or simply use a pair of pliers to accomplish this task. Once the tongue is secured to the ring, then cut the tongue to length, to either the middle or just beyond the length of the buckle.
While many belts stop here, simply wrapping the leather around the flattened portion of the D ring, sticking the tongue out through a hole punched in the leather; there are many extant examples of medieval belts that simply do not stop there. Taking your brass sheet, cut a length of material that is enough to overlap both the top and bottom of the leather as well as accommodate the brass ring. The amount of material used is also a matter of personal choice, but the more material used also gives more opportunity for decoration of the metal itself. For example, if I want 2” of brass plate shown for the buckle, then I would need 4” of length plus the circumferential amount of the ring itself. To determine circumference, calculate the Diameter of the ring and multiply it by pie (P), thus a ring that is 3/16” diameter is calculated at .1875 * 3.14 resulting in .58878. This number can be rounded up to the nearest fractional 1/8” equivalent giving me somewhere around 5/8”. Additionally, the tongue must be taken into account, which is determined by the circumference of the ring plus 2 times the thickness of the tongue used to wrap around the ring. For example, a tongue forge down to 1/8” results in a length of 5/8” + (2 * 1/8”) resulting in 7/8”. This results in needing 4 7/8” of material for the buckle. Once the material length is determined, a square hole must be cut in its center. The width of the hole must be sufficient to allow the tongue to move freely within the brass sheet when it is wrapped around the buckle, its length is same amount of material calculated to accommodate the ring and tongue, in this case 7/8”. In this case, I pierced the material with a metal punch and then used a jewelers saw to cut the hole. However, you may simply drill several holes into the area to be removed and use a file to complete the square opening. Once the brass sheet has been prepared, simply wrap the brass sheet around the flat portion of the ring, remembering to poke the tongue through the prepared hole.
To secure the buckle to the leather, the buckle must be riveted to the leather. In this case, I will describe a method that is historically correct rather than using leather rapid rivets or leather copper rivets. As there is brass on both sides of the leather, the necessity of using those kinds of rivets are eliminated as the brass sheet also acts as a washer ensuring that the rivet does not pull through the leather. Taking the remainder of the rod that you purchased for the tongue, cut lengths that are long enough to poke through the brass and leather. There must be sufficient amount of brass rod exposed on both sides of the belt so as to ensure a good securing of the rivet. Drill or punch a series of holes through the brass and the leather and insert the pin (rivet) through the hole. Placing the rivet on the anvil, peen one side and then the other to secure the buckle to the leather belt. It may take some practice to get this portion right. When you begin the process of peening the rivet, ensure that there is equal amount of exposure of the rivet on both sides of the belt; generally, you will have to hold the belt portion itself above the anvil’s surface. Using the rounded portion of a ball peen hammer, work the edges of the pin causing it to mushroom out. It is good practice to not complete the peen on one side at a time, rather work one side a bit and then turn it over and work the other side alternating until you have a firm connection. Also make sure that you do not over peen your rivet causing deformation in the brass plate itself. Note: in the case of the example included with this tutorial, instead of using brass rod, I used brass rivets that were purchased from R.J. Leahy Co.
While you may stop here in making a belt, there are many other options that you may take to add more decorative flair to the belt. There are many examples of historic belts that had additional plates of material fastened to the belt. One such item is a belt tip. This can be as simple as riveting a piece of sheet to the end of the belt, attached in the same manner as the buckle. The same can be done with decorative plates that are applied to the length of the belt as well. Furthermore, decoration of the plates can be fairly simple, yet can take a plain belt and make it more visually striking.
During this tutorial, you may have noticed that the brass plates I used have been decorated. The simplest, and historic, method that may be used is to chase or incise designs into the metal. A blunted chisel is the simplest tool that may be used to make these markings. You may create chasing tools out of masonry nails, as these are made out of tool steel. Simply grind, sand and otherwise shape the tips of the nails to give you a variety of shapes. Prior to riveting and forming of the brass, take your chasing tools and gently hammer them into the metal. Check out Making Inexpensive Jewelers Tools for more information about chasing tools.
For more images on extant examples of Medieval Belts and Fittings, take a look at the Extant Gallery found on the Metalart Website.
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