linothorax test

This page belongs to the subject area “linothorax”. The beginning would be here: composite armour. The test only appears in the english section of the website.

Yes, I know, another one... as if the internet wasnīt full of “tests” of cloth- glue- composite artefacts already.
But I have to try for myself- especially how the 2-tier-construction of my harness performs if hit by the real stuff.

pLt24_arrows

A linothorax will not protect you against modern firearms but is very useful in every conflict that doesnīt involve gunpowder. So letīs first see what can happen in a low- tech- battle:

Hits, slashes and stabs

A hit here means that either an edged or dull object strikes in a way that the first third of the blade (or stick) is used (mono- uchi). An unprotected limb that is struck that way by a sharp blade might even be severed. Also a mace- hit or a strike with a stick where the blunt head of the weapon deliberately is used would fall into this category.

A slash would be a hit where only the point of an edged weapon strikes a kind of glancing blow, opening a wide, deep gash. This technique is very well suited for short swords or axes because it lessens the chance of a blade getting stuck- never a good thing in a fight.

And a stab is where a point (either that of a sword or dagger, spear or arrow, but also the end of a stick) makes contact, concentrating a lot of energy on a very small area, thus eventually piercing the target or causing blunt trauma.

For the test Iīve chosen cutlery capable of delivering all of these inconveniences and am really curious about the result.
Of course I use a target (not a person) for the experiments, and again I urge you not to test armour while somebody wears it.

In the pictures below the hardwareīs various attributes are discussed. Youīll also get subjected to a certain dose of equipment- talk (which is another one of my many bad habits), but I somehow feel that one shouldnīt just write: “... and then I hit it repeatedly with a damn big sword.”
Moreover youīll get “donīts” at every corner of this page so no overenthusiastic amateur (not you, dear reader, of course, but one never knows who else might next stumble in here...) ends up missing body- parts after being inspired into the wrong direction by this article. And although the precept below should be self-evident Iīll mention it nevertheless:

Working with weapons requires special safety precautions from “safe environment” to “adequate equipment”. Donīt study for yourselves but find a professional teacher.

This test took over a year to arrange and I canīt wait to start; besides, timeīs running out. But first of all: the target.

pLt25_target

A double- plated piece of armourgrade cloth/ glue- composite 42 cm x 34 cm, weighing 2,9 kg.
Each plate consists of 10 layers of cotton linen and D3 wood glue. The plates are not flat but slightly arched.

The bottom layer was built in may and  has been drying since then, the top layer was built onto it only in september  and thus is a little more flexible than the older one. The bottom plate is 6 mm thick, the one on top 7,5 mm which results from the upper plate not being completely dry. Space between them is about one and a half cm.

pLt27_target

Now however itīs the end of october and the time window for photographs closes:  autumn temperatureīs 15 °C / 59 °F and tomorrow itīs gonna rain. So- to arms!

pLt26_linothorax-test P_Linothorax(18)

above: The targetīs plates are laminated together at the bottom but open at the top like my armour (which is stabilized by its collar construction while the targetīs plates are held apart by the hooks). Hopefully some energy is eaten up when the impacts press the layers together. It was made of black cotton linen, then painted white to better show hit marks.
The target is placed in about breast- height in front of a foam matress (thatīll become a monster next year) which again is supported by an “a”-frame of wood, all held in place by a massive pole.

Time to find out what it can take; let me introduce the first candidate:

pLt1_2_handed_sword

left/ below: A two- handed sword.

Blade-length is 107 cm, grip is 50 cm, weight 2,9 kg (which is heavy, but some museum- “bidenhander” have up to 4 kg). The centre of gravity (the point where it balances) is just behind the crossguard on the blade. It is not as sharp as a knife but more like a dull axe.

This one is from the time when the czech sword- smiths at the medieval markets only knew one word in german: “Federstahl” (=spring steel; see below on the right).

pLt11_2_handed_sword

Despite of its impressive weight it is surprisingly fast and agile- and it cannot be “hard- blocked” by one- handed swords because of the momentum its strikes carry.

And is it “historically correct”?
I donīt really know, given its characteristics: Although the blade- length would qualify for a hand-and-a-half-sword as well as a “true” 2-hander, the overall size and the weight surpass even a scottish claymore and put it more in league with the swiss greatswords from between 1200 and 1550 (which were used against light- armoured pikemen. More often than not the pikemen won, by the way).
But this test is not about historical correctness. In our time either against light or heavy armoured opponents -and with enough room to wield it-  a greatsword still is a serious impact weapon. Have close- quarter assistance ready however- you might need it.

Hereīs the right place to incorporate another warning into the text:
If you hit anything that was purpose- built to repel your efforts (namely an armour- plate instead of a practice target) I really advise to protect eyes, face and hands.
You donīt necessarily have to wear camo, though.

pLt2_2_hand_schwert
pLt28_linothorax-test

left:
The sword temporarily dent the upper plate, but didnīt even remove paint.

To be honest- I didnīt think it would: these 2-handers work in another way:
If one of them strikes an arm, leg (especially the joints), side of the head or crook of the neck youīre most likely out of the game- armour or not.
But the compositeīs toughness together with the “crumple- zone- construction” of my armourīs front-, back- and shoulder- plates would have kept me well out of harmīs way.
For receipts against a greatsword Iīd suggest to attempt to be faster than the sword- wielder, protect your limbs- or hold your distance.

Ok, letīs try a sharp short sword next:

pLt7_short_sword

left: Cold Steelīs Gladius Machete. Blade- length is 48 cm, handle 20 cm, weight about 500 gr.
The name is misleading, though: what you get for your money is not a bushwhacker but a rugged, well- balanced, fast, two- edged short sword any ancient roman would be proud to own.
I strike the target with the edge, not the tip; first third of the blade.
Swords like this by the way derive from the same time and geographical region as the original “linothorax”- tube- and- yoke- suits of armour.

pLt15_gladius 1

A machete by contrast would be more top- heavy to better cut things that donīt bite back (like shrubbery). Yes, I know that thereīs a vast number of frighteningly effective machete fighting styles; but they result from the fact that the guys who invented them only wore one knife for lianas and enemies; a closer look at the blades from Siam or Burma reveals that they are tool/ weapon- hybrids like the krabong sword.

right:
The sword bit, but didnīt penetrate the first layer.

I anticipated this too. Itīs not the bladeīs quality, mind you- the armour just does what it was built for. But in practical use to efficiently protect against even the lighter blade some sort of padding (or crumple zones) would also be significant.

Meanwhile I got to like the ancient european swords more than the super- sharp japanese short- swords (“wakizhashi”) with their bothersome tendency to get irreparable nicks when you hit anything your opponent holds between himself and your sword (which is what people tend to do when attacked. I would recommend bicycles or chairs -legs first-  for this purpose).

Every edge will chip sooner or later when the bladeīs in use, but european steel swords can be repaired much better than the expensive japanese blades.

pLt29_linothorax-test

Next on the agenda would be a slash; a striking hit with the tip of a sharp blade. This time I donīt use a weapon but a tool:

pLt4_machete pLt14_machete

above: The “light machete” (cs97lm), also made by Cold Steel. Designed for putting maximum weight into a strike, a chopping knifeīs balance point -contrary to that of a sword- is not by the handle but almost in the middle of its total length.
Iīd call the peculiar shape of this one a “simplified parang”, and its top- heavy blade allows exactly the kind of devastating slash I intend to try on the target:

pLt30_machete

left and right:
The machete bit deeper into the first layer than the swordīs edge but didnīt penetrate it. Nevertheless the slashing technique so far caused the heaviest damage to the targetīs material.
On the right picture the target was bulged from the inside to better show the depth of the cuts.
The armourīs two- layer- construction though offers complete protection against this kind of impact.

pLt31_linothorax-test

Again: I expected this result. Let me stress once more that it is not the fault of the blades: their quality is such that I would trust them in a crisis- but a strike either with momentum, edge or sharp tip is not sufficient to overcome this type of armour, as already the ancient greek knew.

But composite is not invulnerable- there should be ways to punch a hole into the stuff. What about a good stab?

pLt5_knife
pLt16_knife

above: Gerberīs Mark II dagger is a true classic whose worth and applicability has been proven again and again over the last 40 years (more, to be honest, but letīs not split hairs). Allegedly its shape was inspired by roman swords...

And another one of the many warnings on this page:
If you stab things thereīs the possibillity that the object you intend to perforate refuses to yield- in which case the danger of you losing your grip on the handle and your fingers slipping on the blade arises- this resulting in irreparable damage to your strong hand. Big Ouch!
Always
expect this outcome and prepare for it: in this case the Mark II has a crossguard, my gloves are cutproof- and I know how to hold a dagger when executing stabbing- techniques.

pLt33_knife
pLt32_linothorax-testing

above: Well, I never said cloth/ glue- composite was undestroyable, did I? (checks rest of the websiteīs linothorax- area inconspiciously)...

The dagger penetrated the first layer about a centimeter without nicking the second tier. Not bad, but not dangerous also.

As an interim result I may postulate that my armour- concept has perfectly good resistance value against 90 per cent of the weapons one presumably will meet on a low- tech- battlefield.

But there should be more means of punching through armour...

For the next round weīll see how the target fares against a hatchet:

pLt10_crash_tool
pLt18_crash_tool

above: “Carnivore” by Böker (a well- known german manufacturer of quality cutlery) is not a weapon as such but a crash-tool for urban warfare; which translates as “a compact firemanīs axe for soldiers who now and then have to break into houses”.
It is about 36 cm long and weighs over 1 kg (which makes it one of the heaviest tactical tomahawks on the market) and it eats cars, doors and interior house walls. And I use the spike end on my poor target.

pLt34_linothorax-testing
pLt35_crash_tool pLt36_crash_tool

above: Hrm, I had hoped for more, considering this thing can skin a car roof like a sardine can (if for some inexplicable reasons you donīt want to smash a window to get in).
But the spike only got through the first layer with its tip.

During the last years so- called “tactical tomahawks” (whose shapes do more resemble naval boarding axes or firemenīs breaching tools than indian hatchets) have grown more and more popular.  Although the descendants of their inventors (northern american natives) are still around today, the hawkīs original use as a general utility tool/ weapon at hand has been forgottten (even if there ever was a “way of the tomahawk”). Nevertheless martial artists from all around the world have nowadays incorporated hatchets in their respective fighting styles and when you overcome your prejudices and find out what can be done with them youīll be surprised and in some cases shocked.

So how would a small fighting axe look today?
Like this, for example:

pLt9_tomahawk
pLt17_tomahawk

The hatchet shown above is sold under various names by different wholesellers. Here it is distributed by Magnum (= the budget line of Böker) and United Cutlery as “Black Ronin”. Its extraordinary spikiness proclaims its purpose as something much more than a camp axe: there are videos where it is thrown quite accurately, but when you compare it with historical throwing axes (“franzisca”), it becomes clear that the designer either had fantasy allusions or something else in mind. On this one the originally dull spike has been sharpened and the inadequate handle wrapping has been replaced with something more suitable.

Just under 40 cm long but weighing under 500 gr- that is light and fast. The spike (which is more a thorn) and the back- pointing tip of the beard together with the 4 other blunt spikes (no need to sharpen them, they work ok that way) make it perfect for striking, thrusting, blocking, hooking and slashing.

The only drawback of my “Ronin” is that it is made from “only” 420 stainless steel (thatīs ok, but there are better ones) and that itīs not made from one piece- it has a welding scar under the grip-wrapping.  These features make for its low price however in my opinion they render it unfit for continuous use. But letīs face it: if I get into a fight where I have to use this hatchet and I survive the experience and it stays intact Iīll gladly retire it and give it a place of honour above the mantelpiece, then buy a new one.

Ok Alex: calm down, quit the macho- talk and have a look at the real world:

DO NOT hold a hatchet like this ready for personal defense purposes.
Even if your life was in danger and your use of the axe was your only way to survive, a judge will later ask why you didnīt keep on hand something less lethal that neverthesame you can use to defend youself likewise efficiently with- something like a baton or a really big can of teargas or pepper spray.

And know what? The judge is right to ask you this. Nobody forbids you to defend yourself, but youīre not allowed to use more force than necessary to stop the aggression or punish an attacker like you see fit. This precept is called “civilized behaviour” and itīs what the good guys do. And if you think it through, it even makes sense- everybody wants to live in a civilized society, for there always is somebody who is stronger than you and youīd be very unhappy if that guy had the “right to private warfare”.

But leaving aside legal aspects; what did it do to the target?
It punched right through, though not very much either:

pLt37_linothorax-testing
pLt38_tomahawk

above: Left the hit mark of the Carnivore, on the right that of the Ronin. The paint line on the thornīs edge shows how deep it entered.
The marks also reveal that the crash- tool is about double as thick as the war hawk -

pLt39_tomahawk

which renders it practically unbendable but also twice as heavy. And while weīre at it letīs have a look at the different constructions of the hatchetīs spikes: Carnivoreīs massive triangular point has the edge to the front for easy levering the axe out of whatever it bit into by just pulling the handle. This “can-opener-principle” makes it almost impossible for the tool to get stuck.
The backward- pointing edge of Roninīs spike by contrast serves... other purposes, and the barbīs slim shape deliberately is designed for punching deep holes while being less easy to detach. It is meant to hold fast what it bites- so dontīt hammer it into a woodblock.

The thorn completely penetrated the targetīs both layers and stabbed about 3 cm into the padding. “Best” result so far! But in defense of my armour Iīm sure Ronin would punch a hole in metal, too. Iīll try that next year if I can somewhere aquire a cheap steel brestplate.
And although most parts of my suit of armour keep enough distance to my body that Iīd have survived the hit (even retaining my fighting ability) a headstrike would have taken me out.
So better do not let people hit you on the head (this Cro-Magnon wise saying derives from the middle palaeolithic age, which would make it about 20.000 years old)...

However, to get on with this:

What was feared by armoured warriors throughout the centuries were arrows.

In the battle of Crécy (in 1346) british archers successfully fended off the attacks of french knights on horseback. Warfare was changed after that and cavallery charges lost much of their menace.

A bowīs strength is measured in how much pounds (or lbs; 1 lb being 1,45 kg) the archer has to pull when drawing the bow. Wikipedia says that the average power of a longbow was about 80 pounds (36 kg, which is quite hard to draw), and everybody I talk to brags about knowing at least one guy owning a 100- pound- longbow (45 kg(!)- very hard to draw let alone aim true, which is the reason for the boasting). A modern sport bow draws “only” about 40 pounds, that would be 18 kg. Larp- bows around here have about 25 lbs (11 kg).
And then there are the compound bows of our time. Here the bowstring runs over a system of wheels that after a “peak” reduce the power you need to draw it up to one third.

below: This one for example draws 70 pounds (31 kg), which means the arrow is shot with... enough power to make a medieval longbowmen commander smile very broadly.

pLt13_compound_bow
pLt3_compound_bow
pLt20_linothorax-test

Bear archeryīs “Whitetail Hunter” compound bow is no less than a legend. It also is about 30 years old. Big “Thanks” to the guys from “Archery Direct” in Hamburg who without even a raised eyebrow supplied perfect service and furnished the bow with a custom made new string (which seemed an appropriate measure before conducting the test). Nevertheless shooting a bow that old requires face-, eye- and hand- protection.

The Whitetail has a special feature: its strength can be adjusted from 50 to 70+ pounds by aligning the wheeled levers over and under the handle. After trying a few shots with lesser power the bow performed flawlessly with the highest setting. Good work, Mr Bear.
Today the strength of most modern bows still doesnīt exceed 70 lbs- and after having shot a few flights with that much weight you very well know what youīve done!

Arrows nowadays have “target- heads”. I aquired some iron warheads (see picture above on the right) and fitted them onto my test arrows; the broader one to the bow because its blade resembles the one professor Aldrete uses for shooting his partner with https://www.uwgb.edu/aldreteg/Linothorax.html .
The more slender one below was mounted onto a crossbow- bolt.

The arrowheads have sharp blades; not like a knife, but they can cut. Shooting distance is 7,5 metres, which is way too near for a bow but makes sure I hit where I want- after all Iīm not Legolas (who by the way seems to specialize in shooting the poor orks point- blank...).

pLt40_linothorax-testing

above/ right: both arrows fully penetrated both layers but the heads protruded out of the lower one only a few millimetres.

pLt42_compound_bow
pLt41_compound_bow

Interesting: I would have easily survived these hits. And I remember paintings of japanese warriors whose armours just bristle with arrows- obviously thereīs some truth in it. But what about the dead knights at Crécy? The top- warriors of their time gave their best but died. Maybe one should look for other mechanics than sheer penetrating power... Mind you, there were vast quantities of arrows in the air that day- perhaps the men -or horses- were hit in places not covered by armour or the ancient bows indeed were a great deal stronger than mine. This however is speculation Iīm not qualified for. So back to topic:

Another weapon was renowned and feared for its power even more than a bow: the crossbow. Altough having lesser range, it packs more punch. The one below for example draws 175 lbs (= 79 kg).

Ever heard about the Barnett “Commando”?

pLt8_crossbow
pLt19_crossbow

You might have seen it on the movie poster of “For your eyes only” where Bond was threatened with it (although they didnīt get him of course). The movie is from 1981, which means this crossbow also is from the last millenium.
But no problem- when begging, lending and collecting together the hardware featured here I explicitely asked the respective owners for equipment that was well- known instead of specialities nobody has ever heard of. And most modern crossbows pack 120 to 150 lbs; 175 lbs still is premier league.

The Commando by the way has the highest “rate of fire” in this class of crossbows because of its unique cocking mechanism: the shoulder rest folds down making two angled hooks grab the string, thus effortlessly levering it back into the “ready”-position in 6 seconds.
Mr. Dixon from “Walking Dead” employs a crossbow where the string is drawn back by hand by placing a foot in a stirrup at the weaponīs front, then pulling with both hands. But believe me: with a crossbow as strong as the Barnett -even if you could- you donīt want to do that. Today one employs separate tools like a rope cocking device or a mobile crank- only both methods are as slow as in the middle ages.

Iīm just realising weīve had no warning notice for a while, so Iīll compensate that with pooling a few of them here:

- never ever “dry-fire” a bow or crossbow (i.e. donīt release the string without an arrow)
- never point a weapon in a direction you donīt intend to shoot
- especially never aim at people you donīt intend to shoot
- shoot only in secure areas where you can see your target and the whole shooting range
- never shoot an arrow “into the sky”
- and: notice my index finger not touching the release? This is called “trigger discipline”.
  Violating it can really ruin your day even if you donīt get caught by a superior.

pLt22_arrow-heads

left:

Above the crossbow bolts,
below the arrows for the compound bow: t
he warheads have been glued onto the respective target heads.

right:

The crossbow boltīs “target head” is a bit of a disappointment by being unable to even fully enter the target (although it does its job: in a contest you donīt want your arrows going into the target up to the feathers).

pLt43_crossbow
pLt44_crossbow
pLt47_crossbow

above and below: but the warhead punched through both layers, coming out in the padding about a centimetre, thus scoring second best result. The armourīs owner (i.e. me) although again would have survived the hit.
There were heads even more slender than this one almost looking like a nail- for punching holes in armour perhaps these would be most suitable. The “classic” warhead is triangular, though.

pLt46_crossbow
pLt45_crossbow

And thatīs it (for now). The budget hawk did best. Astonishing. And the armour works. What I had expected.

I know this experiment is far from scientific, but on the other hand so is the material: thereīs no standard for it and everybody has his own mixture.

This is also no study of historical theories or weapons- I just hit modern cloth/ glue- composite with tools and weapons available today to see if it will protect the wearer.

And there of course remains the question of “how hard can I hit?”

Well, I have no meaning of measuring that force except the performance characteristics given for the bow and the crossbow.

I strike the target with the same technique and power as I would an opponent in a fight (which has proven sufficient till now) but with the difference that I bring myself into an optimal striking position and take my time (yes, Iīve had ma-training to that effect).

pLt7_gladius

But to wrap this thing up:
Selfmade composite armour isnīt that bad, is it? So letīs talk about layers again, this time with hard facts in the background:

How many layers of cloth make functionable armour?

10 layers of cotton linen will protect against cuts and hits even with sharp blades (suitable construction and sufficient padding assumed), but slashes and stabs will not reliably be deflected.

20 layers is what Iīd call trustworthy, also against arrows; but avoid being hit by armour- piercing strike- tools at all cost (ok, if possible avoid being hit at all).

However 20 layers of the kind of cotton linen I use cannot be cut with plate shears any more (for trimming and carving out the desired shape), which is why I came up with the two- layer- construction (what construction? This construction: linothorax armour ).

And can a battle- damaged Linothorax be repaired?

Yes, even much more easily than metal armour. Just fill the cuts with glue and stick a patch of cloth over the “scar”.

 

So what was it again that this weapon- chitchat has to do with larp?

Itīs the material the target is composed of. Of course in larp there are neither real weapons nor  fighting- techniques, but the playerīs suits of armour have to be the genuine thing.

And the question is: does cloth/ glue- composite qualify as a suitable material for armour or does it only qualify for depicting armour like foam or thin sheet metal or normal leather?

Hopefully this was answered here to everybodyīs convenience:

Like everything selfmade... it depends.
If done properly, yes, if not... not.

But I like to know that it indeed is possible to manufacture functionable armour from nothing but cloth and glue. Which was well worth the effort.

Iīve been asked for this test for almost a year and am happy to be able to conduct it now- thanks to everybody who lent equipment and trusted me with the (in some cases expensive or irreplacable) pieces.

Normally one would now have to compare these results with the same tools used against metal and leather armour or reinforce the target with metal and try again... perhaps next year.

 

And now weīre really through here. If you build composite armour for yourself, Iīd like to hear from your experiences (mail to alex@larp-monsterbau.de).

Train hard with guys who are better than you- but donīt play with real weapons; somebody will get hurt if you do. There is no exception from this rule.

oct 2016, edited about 40 times. Thanks for your feedback and input, īpreciate it.

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