composite armour

The word “linothorax” is greek and describes a type of body armour worn around 300 b.C. in the northern mediterranean area. According to prevalent - but not undisputed- opinion it was made of layers of glued linen. An army wearing these “linothorakes” back then conquered half the world.
Until today (2016) not even one of them has been found, so even serious reconstructions can only take the form of an “educated guess”.

Although no original linothorakes have survived (the material whatever it was seems to have been bio-degradable) we quite well know what they looked like; besides the famous “Alexander- mosaic” from Pompeii mostly from greek vases which obviously tend to survive long periods of time better than other storage media- a data integrity of 2300 years is something todayīs dvds will hardly be up to. When I want to preserve my valuable data Iīd rather see them stored on a greek vase than a magnetic harddisk.

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above: depictions of linothorakes on greek vases in the british museum

The armour on the left only covers the warriorīs chest, the one on the right reaches down to the navel and ends in hanging stripes called “pteruges”.
The vase on the right by the way dates from 470 b.C. and shows a guy called Menelaos (yep, the one and only; fall of troy about 1.200 b.C.; even that long ago there were stories about supermen, -weapons and -horses. And of course monsters...).

On the left the pteruges hang from a belt and cover the thighs almost to the knee, on the right they start at the navel and end above the legs. Neither warrior wears a sword- belt around the hips but the pterugesī attachments seem to be similar; perhaps rivets.

If only we knew what material the armours were made of... I very much like the theory of the glued layers of cloth- whatever kind of cloth or glue it may have been: the ancients were exactly as intelligent as we are today, they had the ingredients and the principle works. So why not?

Be it as it may: the “kevlar of the ancient times” is easy to manufacture and our efforts produce a composite material of extreme toughness, well suited to make armour capable of withstanding real blades and arrows. It can consist of single flat or convex plates attached to clothing, take the shape of a classic 2D “tube- and- yoke” armour or as shown below be manufactured in the form of relatively complicated 3D- constructions of curved parts.

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The “linothorax”- topic on this website meanwhile is quite huge (as befits the materialīs versatility). So in order to keep the scroll wheel of your mouse from bursting into flames, here are shortcuts to the project- documentations (click picture or underlined text):

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description of the operating principles of my armour; link: Linothorax

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the building of the helmet; link: Lino Helmet

the building of the harness; link: Lino Harness

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the building of the add- ons;
armoured belt, arm- and leg plates
link: Lino Add-Ons

second suit of armour for very warm weather; link: lino-collar

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mask with detailed surface; link: linothorax mask

egyptian equipment (aegis- collars and helmets); link: Ibis- Armour

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sword- sheaths; link: sword-sheath

covers for boots; link: boot-cover (in the works)

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sealing of soft foam; link: foam-sealing

linothorax test; real low-tech weapons applied to a target made of cloth/ glue- composite. Yes, it works.
Link: linothorax test

But letīs stay with the classic shape for a moment longer: Iīve neither invented nor rediscovered the material- other people have been working with it for years now and Iīd like to show such a “traditional” linothorax here. And I know where to look for them:

The game I built my armour for is the “Epic Empires” https://www.epic-empires.de/ where “culture clash” is written with a capital “C” indeed: the participants represent different cultures from early-period- celts to 30-year war- firearms- technology, orks and elves included. Everything on the highest standard of equipment Iīve seen so far and Iīve been in the business for quite a long time now. If you like take a short detour to the officíal gallery of 2014s convention:
https://plus.google.com/photos/115176330386466566806/albums/6054546714813473665?banner=pwa

Anyway, there (among others) is the “camp of the ancient world” and I didnīt have to look further than the gate to meet exactly the right person: HP from Duisburg (big town in the middle of Germany) not only built his own linothorax single- handed several years ago but also in real life devotes himself to the research of Germanyīs “antique” past (the romans have been around for quite a long period of time influencing most parts of europe).

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Above: HPīs tailormade armour was built in 2008, since when it has seen a lot of action and took the abuse very well. It is worn over a linen shirt (tunic) and the only padding is (after roman example) a neckcloth. Pictures can be enlarged with rightclick “show graphic”.

Although it “only” consists of waterproof glue from a DIY-store and layers of linen or similar cloth this linothorax is capable of stopping real blades and arrows. The look and feel is totally different from leather: barely flexible but harder than a modern bulletproof vest. One feels secure and trusts the material on first touch. No comparison to many leather “suits of armour” that I know.

The “pteruges” and in this case are made of strips of bronze 0,5 mm strong wrapped with 6 layers of glued linen. I personally like this solution more than letting the armourīs body reach farther down and cut it in strips to the waistline which is where the harness has to reach: further low the armour would interfere with the body- movements.

The sword is not worn on a belt but on a shoulder strap. There is a light belt made of cloth but it only serves to stabilize the main strap.

Picture below: The pattern (on the left; in the middle the front, on the right the backside) is ingeniously simple and consists of only 2 main parts; for every piece of equipment that gets hit with sharp or blunt implements the maxime “less is more” is crucial and as it seems this was well understood over 2000 years ago.

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The armour is closed with leather lacing on the left side: a sensible deviation from the originals who were closed only in two places: up and low of the opening. Nobody knows why but the images are clear on that point- although I read about complaints about modern versions who adapted this closing that the trunk tends to gap in the middle if one employs it.

He who builds a linothorax counts layers of cloth. The shoulders of this armour for example have over 20 of them.
The components were built lying flat, layer after layer, one per day. HP recommends dearating them with a rolling pin before letting them dry; good idea: air pockets are an evil that cannot be ignored (happened to me too while building mine).

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The edges were trimmed with a sharp knife when the armour was finished. The warmer the room, the easier it is.
With this linothorax all edges were additionally girded with cloth to hide small irregularities- a stiff job but worthwhile; the suit is strongly enhanced by this.

Colours are Plaka (a german manufacturer, wikipedia said they are “kasein- colours”) and clear varnish.

Again in short how it was done with new insights included:
One would first tailor the components from cardboard, carpet or PVC, transfer them to cloth adding about 5% to the size (that later gets trimmed away again to make good edges) and glue the layers while the elements are lying flat. Dearate each layer before leaving it to dry- one layer per day. Trim the parts with a sharp knife in a warm environment.

The armour is stored closed, lying flat.

Before proceeding to talk about my version of a linothorax which deviates quite a lot from the classical one Iīd like to say “Thanks a wholebig lot” to HP who unpredjudiced talked to a conspicious stranger (yours truly) and allowed me to photograph and show his armour here.
And Iīd like to link Sylvias “Archeotec”- Blog: itīs about how cloth was made in earlier times and although itīs in german one can imagine from the pictures how precious and hard- to get cloth is when you just canīt buy as much as you need round the next corner:  http://archaeotechnik-crumbach.blogspot.de/

 

And what is it good for besides building antique armour?

Cloth/ glue- composite is incredibly versatile: besides armour that can withstand real weapons (cutting and impact weapons of course, not modern firearms) equipment like the egyptianīs collar and helmet below left can be built that would be very complicated and expensive were it made from metal or leather. Foam would of course be possible, but composite has a much more “authentic” feel.

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Above: a  mask carved out of soft, open- pored foam was covered with a layer of very thin fabric and glue, rendering the surface tearproof and paintable with all details staying intact.

Below: Sword sheaths.
Individually made with  little effort they not only improve any outfit but also serve to protect the foam weapons stored in them.

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Linothorax composite can be painted or embellished, metal can be riveted onto it or laminated in. If you like, cover- materials like leather or cloth can be added.

Below left: Zoom onto the surfaces of the sheaths above: in this case a jacquard cloth was used as top layer and glued over. The structure stays intact an can later be emphasized by a coat of drybrush.

Below right: window- colour- contour. Originally a separator for the colored areas of window- pictures, here it becomes embossed script and patterns on the surface. The ornaments have to be fixed in place by a coating of one part acrylic colour and 3 parts glue which also serves as gounding for the paint- job.
Flaws like the badly drawn line on top can be revised by lifting off the substance again and redraw the part- even after drying but preferably before fixating it.

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material knowledge “linothorax”

Linothorax or “lino” (the term is establishing itself around here for the material itself) basically consists of only two components: cloth and glue. The layers of cloth get inseparably cemented by the glue, regardless of whether the fabricīs fibres are soaked with the glue or just get encompassed by it; so almost any kind of cloth is suited (some works better though; I prefer cotton linen of medium thickness; all numbers of layers given refer to that kind of cloth).

One uses as many layers of cloth as necessary for the intended purpose:
3 layers turn into flexible, tearproof straps, 4 are good for sword-sheaths, from 5 on things get interesting stability-wise, from 10 on the material is cutproof and 10+ are as impact- and stab- resistant as steel- armour, which means “dependant on the way it is built”.
Thus the materialīs thickness in one and the same workpiece can be varied much easier as with leather or metal, in a way that a component can consist of flexible areas as well as unyielding ones.

Flexibility... lino, no matter how thick, will always stay at least slightly flexible. Itīll never reach the “hard” reststance value of a metal part. This doesnīt have to be a disadvantage- chainmail for example is highly flexible but if employed the right way (in this case with sufficient padding) it will provide effective protection.

For my projects though I like to refrain from heavy padding because cushioning also means temperature rise which I would (as did the original lino- builders) like to avoid.
I therefore build “crumple zones”:  multiple layers of armour, each not too thick to handle and built with slight spacing in case of an impact event lay on top of each other, thus eating up energy and collectively forming an impenetrable plating. Afterwards they bulge out again or I help them along.
Did that make any sense to you? Have a look at the pictures below:

Below: Double- walled suit of armour and shoulder- parts with flexible crumple- zones. There is  only very light padding around the neck and on top of the shoulders and upper arms. The rest of the armour keeps its distance from the body, thus facilitating ventilation.

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Ok. We had “what is it”, “what can be done with it” and heard a lot of blazing abroad the almost grail- like characteristics of this marvellous substance.

Could we now perhaps have some details about how to process the stuff?
Pronto.

 

materials science: what kind of cloth do I use?

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Above left: thin polyester fabric. One can see through quite well. I used it for the first few layers of some parts because I thought the thin fabric would be better for defining details (meaning it would better fit into recesses). That was wrong. The stuff doesnīt build enough “height” per layer, you work endlessly and the working piece just doesnīt get thicker. This material is unsuitable.

Above middle: cotton linen for about 5,- € per meter (price in Germany 2015). One can only barely see through.
This thickness is what I want: it nestlesnuggles into recesses just fine but builds enough height and mass per layer. 10 - 12 layers (plus a few overlappings at strategic points) are cut- and stabproof but the edges can still be barely cut with plate shears. Xactly what I need! The blue armour above ate up almost 30 meters of the fabric (including sword-sheaths and the new vambraces and cuisses).

I use black cloth because thatīs the colour I like the component to have under the paint. When in the line of duty paint comes off (which will definitely happen) only black ground will show through which is the least noticeable.

Above right: Prepare a lot of these pieces in advance and you donīt have to interrupt glueing all the time to arrange supplies. The size of the pieces shown allows for almost waste-free working; there are scarcely any leftovers.

Principally though the individual patches should be as big as possible to minimize overlappings for a better surface- more of that below.

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Above left: because I never know how much glue Iīll need for a project I buy the stuff in 500-gr- bottles; a handfull at a time. One of them costs slightly under 5,- € here (2015), makes 10,- € per kg. In the internet you can find glue for 8,- € per kilogramm. For the bulk of the armour I used about 16 kg which would have saved me 30,- €. That doesnīt grieve me a lot- Iīll keep on working with bottles, not buckets.

The glue is transparent drying, waterproof wood glue called D3 around here. For handling apprpriate portions a “painter`s pot” (above left) is the perfect vessel from which dried remains can without problems be dislodged. I apply the undiluted glue with a brush. When a session is over the usused leftovers go back into the bottle and the brush is protected with clingfilm against desiccation to be reused later. The whole armour was built using only two brushes- the one depicted and a broader one for the add- ons.

Above right: consumables for linothorax- projects: tape, glue, window- color- contour, Pattex and acrylic colours. Not in the shot are aluminium foil and cardboard for form- building.

Erm... Pattex? Yep. For bonding composite- parts with other materials. Pattex has the big advantage of quick- drying without parts having to be fixed in place during the process- just press them together and work on.
Keep in mind that Pattex will not bond with glue- covered surfaces, but if the last layer of cloth is not glued over but left with its textile face, Pattex will adhere well.

How are cloth/ glue- composite- components built?

Cloth and glue cannot be built sculptural like leather, metal or foam because as long as the glue hasnīt dried there is no stability.
So one coats a subsurface (on which glue doesnīt adhere!) and lets the work piece dry on it.
This can be an even area on which even plates are produced, for example the parts you need to build a tube- and- yoke- armour.

Such even plates though must not be bend too strong because then their inner sides will wrinkle; flexing shortens the underside which cannot compensate that and corrugates. The component will also keep trying to unbend again, thus always staying tense.

So for permanently bent parts, or if for more stability arched components are needed, appropriate forms must be built on which then the layers of cloth are glued; see some examples below.

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Above: flat cardboard form covered with tape (silver). Cloth was glued on layer by layer. The glue will not bond with the tape and the workpiece (black because black cloth was used) can easily be separated from the form. Only then it was trimmed.

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Above right: 6 curved forms made from taped cardboard get glued with layers of cloth: glue, cloth, glue // let dry // glue, cloth, glue, and so on.
After 3 layers of cloth I detach the workpiece (which is still very flexible) from the form so that it can dry from below also, although it stays on the form for the whole manufacturing process.

The component is built a little bigger than necessary in order to get clean edges when cutting it to its final shape. Every 3 or 4 layers the edges get cut for that way the final trimming is easier.

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Above left: sloppily built, taped cardboard- form for an oversized egyptian collar. Notice the sharp bends and the wrinkles in the tape: all these flaws will mercilessly show in the objekt built on it.

The better the form, the better the working piece.

Above right: two permanently curved plates (black) and the forms (cardboard with tape). Building up the composite on arched subsurfaces causes the plates to keep their shape after detaching them from the form. They cannot be straightened out.

Uncomplicated forms like these shouldnīt be covered with small cloth-pieces because overlappings produce uneven surfaces (each overlapping is one more layer). If a form can be covered with only one piece of cloth without wrinkling, thatīs the choice.

The less overlappings, the more even the surface of the component

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Above:
sword- sheath- building

The form was built onto the original weapon and is kept in the air by a vice so that glue can be applied all round. The building documentation is here: sword-sheath.

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Above right: forms for freestanding add- ons; in this case shoulder guards for a superbroad egyptian collar. Taped cardboard- forms are berely held in place by tape  with minimal overlap on the completely dry shoulder-collar (which again stays on itīs own form until all is finished). The shoulder-guards hold on the collar will be generated through laminating not only the forms but covering the collarīs skirt right to the edge as well.
The collarīs building documentation is here: linothorax-collar.

How waterproof is linothorax?

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Letīs see.... test assembly:
Above left: a piece of completely dried composite is halfway immersed in water for an hour- which is something you really shouldnīt do to your leather armour. The material is not painted- it only seems to be black because black cloth and transparent-drying glue were used.

The next picture shows the area that had contact with water has turned whitish. This phenomenon also occured last year on the unpainted inside of my harness where it had contact with the damp undergarment. When the armour was aired after the missions the discoloration vanished again.
But neither the harness nor this test-piece here became “soft” or even “dissolved” in a way that the layers of cloth could be separated again. It only became slightly more flexible.

Third picture: After anothe hour the piece has dried and the whitish coloration has vanished.

Above right: Two hours later it can neither in colour nor flexibility be distinguished from its undoused friends.

But of course we donīt want such a discoloration.
Therefore- next round with pieces of thoroughly dried composite, embellished with window- colour- contour  and sealed with a mixture of 3 parts glue and 1 part acrylics, then painted with undiluted acrylic colours.

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Left: 2 pieces are immersed: one is only painted with a mixture of 3 parts glue and 1 part acrylic, the golden one is embellished, fixated and painted (drybrush gold, wash black).

Above: after one hour dunking as far as the last “t” in “test”:
slight increase of flexibility, no colour change whatsoever.
Below: after another hour drying: both pieces have returned to their original condition.

Conclusion: sealed and painted cloth/ glue- composite is not recommended for boat-building but tolerates moisture much better than leather.

For my projects I use D3- glue (“for short exposure to water”). Thereīs D4 also but I get along very fine with D3.

 

linothorax, glue and summer heat

It indeed so happens that lino-parts temperature-dependently sometimes are more or less flexible; and very deliberately I do not use the term “becoming soft” here- for they donīt.

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Above left: composite parts -each on itīs respective form- dry outside on a warm summerīs afternoon. On such a hot  day I do three layers cloth: one in the morning, one midday and one in the evening.

On such a hot day with barely below 30 degrees Celsius (~ 86 degr F)  I laid the harness on its back in the sun and waited what would happen:
After about 25 minutes it had collapsed “front onto back” and the material had assumed the consistency of very thick leather. For dressing it could without problems be bend apart again. Nothing dissolved or became “softer” or “sticky”; only more “flexible”.
This is what lino- owners mean when they say: “the warm armour fits itself when warm”. Mine doesnīt though because it has no large contact areas to my body.

When the armour was dressed and in motion it cooled very quickly and became firmer again. The armourīs protective qualities didnīt lessen: hits dented the upper tier a little more but the inner layer wasnīt even touched. This increased tendency to dent can be counteracted through material thickness or special constructional features.

And: would I have been happier with steel armour in this baking heat? Certainly not! Padded steel armour would of course have stopped impacts as always but its benefit would have been doubtful because at such high temperatures one can neither move nor fight well in it.

During the convention august 2014 with 20+ degrees Celsius (warm middle- european temperatures) no “softening” did occur at all, and the superhot summer 2015 had no effect whatsoever on the collar with the shoulder guards (which was especially built for these temperatures).

Insofar a linothorax in the complete  temperature range from “cold” to “normal to warm” to “hot” or from “dry” to “wet” combines the best of all worlds.

 

So whereīs the catch? Thereīs always a fly in the ointment!

Nope, there is none. But if weīre looking for disadvantages, here are a few:

Long processing time. One builds two layers of cloth per day: one in the morning befors work and one in the evening. Every 5 or 6 layers the working pirce wnts to dry a few extra days.
That means a complete suit of armour with harness, shoulders, helmet, belt, side-plates, arms and legs (most of them two- layered) plus sword sheath(s) eats up quite a lot of building time.

Surfaces (if you like them even and nice...): smooth surfaces are difficult to achieve with complicated or arched parts because these cannot be covered with a single piece of cloth: it is necessary to use patches whose overlappings makes slubs.

The materialīs flexibility. For equipment it is not obstructive and even increases the wearing comfort but if you evolve the ambition to build armour that really protects, one has to come up with somethig. Original greek swords are ultra-light and donīt pose a threat for the material, but japanese or european middle-age-swords play in anothe league.

 

Are there specific problems when building linothorax- parts?

Oh yes! and I hate them all.

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Above: The aforementioned uneven surfaces. The complicated form of this beaked helmet has to be covered with single patches. Their overlappings are positioned at places where they strengthen the helmetīs stability but the surfae is somehow uneven.
An ornamental pattern made of window- color- contour or a cover material will mask the effect.

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Above: air pockets. They come up time and again- you actually have to observe the working piece for a while after glueing it if (no, “until”) they appear. Stab īem with a pin, squeeze out the air, and put another layer of cloth on top. Dried air pockets have to be cut off, and in the final layer of cloth the annoying things just should be avoided.

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Left: tears.
Come only up after a short time also. The more steep the surface, the bigger is the possibillity of them appearing. They have to go because they will be visible through all other layers.
Take them off with a craft knife (pay attention to leave no “crater”), if necessary smooth the spot with sanding paper and repair the area with some glue.

Or glue another layer cloth on top.

Right: wrinkles.
They develop when parts of a big piece of cloth get dislocated on the underlying layer of glue through brushstrokes.

To get rid of them brush lenghtwise of the waves to flatten them, pull the cloth if possible crosswise while brushing or in the worst case lift up the cloth again until you reach the wrinkled area, underglue it anew and put the cloth back on- this time tense enough.

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Letīs look at it that way: the problems are easier to solve than a mis- cut but expensive piece of leather or a broken metal part youīve been working on for some time.

 

Ok, so much for the theory. The building documentations in the vicinity of this page show various practical applications of this truly versatile material.

 

And last not least: how can anybody talk about linothorax without mentioning him?

Whoever researches “linothorax” in the www will sooner or later come across the professor- Aldrete- project.
The gentlemen Aldrete and Bartell (the first a professor at the university of Wisconsin, the latter an ex- student and now member of staff) are -among other things- experimental archeologists and have  from 2005- 2013 investigated the linothorax- armour. Theyīve built a couple of them exclusively with materials and methods available in those days and have published the results in a book.

The experiment culminates in Aldrete from a few meters distance shooting an arrow into one of these selfmade armours while Bartell wears it! Everybodyīs lucky: the professor hits where he has aimed, the other guy holds still and the armour does its job.
Despite of (ok, including) this irresponsible recklessness the project is highly interesting.

Hereīs the link: http://www.uwgb.edu/aldreteg/Linothorax.html

Have fun reading- but (and this is no joke):
Donīt even think of “testing” your armour with somebody in it!

If you want to read on the next page would be the description of my armour;
link: Linothorax

November 2016: Meanwhile Iīve conducted my own test with the “modern” composite described on this website: linothorax test

last edit Oct 2016, nov 2016

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