So it turns out that I’m going to Dragon*Con this year. I wasn’t planning to, but it seems that I have some deliveries to make. Friend of the blog and musical genius, Marian Call, and fellow blogger and costumer extraordinaire, Seelix asked if I was capable of making replica Silver Gauntlets from Ocarina of Time.
Having never played through Ocarina of Time, I had no idea what they looked like or if they were even physically possible (which is a common problem for video game armor) so naturally I said “of course I can”. Since I’ve been asked more than a few times how to make armour, I thought I’d share the process. What follows is a rough guide to making your own pair of Silver Gauntlets.
Step 1: Reference Material
So the good new is that they’re physically possible and actually pretty easy to make. It’s not even a gauntlet, it’s a vambrace with an extention to cover the back of the hand. They just strap on over Link’s normal gloves.
The bad news is that they’re rather badly designed. I blame wizards. They’re big on aesthetics and don’t worry much about functionality since they can just make things work using magic. Little known fact: Merlin coined the phrase “We’ll fix it in post.”
The three plates (or lames) that cover the forearms should very clearly be one. The forearm does not bend, the reason for lames is to add flexibility. This design adds structural weakness with no mechanical benefit. Also the back of the hand should be butted against the last of the vambrace lames with some soft leather to act as a hinge with another lame on top to protect the joint. Why is this important? Because as it is designed, you can only really hinge it to move in one direction. It will bind up if you try to have it bend backwards.
Step 3: Casting Crystals
The crystals on these gauntlets proved to be a bit of a pain. They have a very distinct and uncommon shape. I tried to find commercial ones, but ended up just making them myself in this many step process that could be a blog post all itself.
1: Make a model out of polymer clay
2: Make a latex mold of the model
3: Cast the crystals out of polyester resin
4: Sand the Crystals flat and polish them to a mirror finish
Step 4: Layout and Cutting
I laid the components out as best I could in magic marker. If I was doing something more precise, I would have used a scribe, but for most costume pieces that don’t have really tight tolerances, sharpies work fine and are much easier to see in dim basement lighting.
You may also notice that there are only enough parts here to make three gauntlets. That’s because I made one prototype first to check my design.
You can also see that I didn’t butt edges against each other. This makes more waste, but it makes it easier to get a clean and precise edge.
Cutting is one of the harder parts of armour making. You can do it with a pair of handheld metal shears, but it’s hard to get a clean edge and it takes a lot of strength. I had the good fortune of having access to a set of bench mounted Beverly shears which made my life considerably easier.
Step 5: Rolling Edges
I wouldn’t normally roll edges before shaping the metal. The dishing and raising processes that are used to give armour its third dimension can change the shape of an edge and waiting until the shaping is done to clean up and roll edges is a good way to hide those changes. However in these vambraces, the shaping is minimal and much of it has to do with accentuating the roll, so I did it first.
The method I used for rolling the edges starts with beating a small dent along the inside of the line that will be the finished edge using a rounded cold chisel and then using a similar stake in a vice and a rawhide hammer to fold the edge around that stake.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work just to make a nice edge, it is. There are machines that can make very nice rolls, I just don’t have one and they’re very expensive for armour grade metals.
Step 6: Dishing
This is what most people might imagine when they’re thinking of making
armour. It’s the process of turning something flat into a bowl-like shape. Together with raising and flaring, you can get most of the shapes you want in armour. The disappointing part is that this doesn’t take very long. It’s possibly the fastest part of the whole process.
All you need to dish out something is a round faced hammer and a sturdy chunk of wood with a slightly concave section. You can see the rawhide hammer that I used to put the slight dish and curve into these that I wanted. You can use a metal hammer but you will end up with lots of dents that you have to planish and/or grind out later. A rawhide hammer saves a lot of time on clean-up. Unfortunately, for tight curves, you need to use a ball-peen hammer and that will leave marks.
Step 7: Polishing
Polishing is often the most time consuming part of armouring. It can take as long as the rest of the steps combined. Usually one needs to start with some pretty aggressive grinding to get out any deep scars or dents and then work through finer and finer grinding media until you finally buff it to a mirror finish on a cloth wheel.
I didn’t do that. I cheated. I was careful not to scar or dent the metal and I decided that nobody really needed to be able to do their hair in the reflection on them, so I just hit them with a fairly coarse polishing wheel to get them bright and shiny.
Step 8: Holes
Locating holes is often the most careful work in armouring. When connecting metal to metal, as I am mostly doing on these, you have to be very precise. Every hole needs to be marked and centre punched and double checked. Trust me. Drilling out rivets sucks and trying to move a hole a 16th of an inch to the left is a massive pain and rarely ends up looking pretty.
Also, try to avoid drilling holed in sheet metal. Use a punch if you can. Drills tend to grab as they cut through thin sheet and it bends the metal and makes uneven holes.
Step 9: Fiddly Bits
I spent a long time debating how to attach the plastic crystals to the metal. I considered a variety of glues and screws through the back, but a bubble in the glue or a screw would be visible from the front. Also, I wanted to be sure that the crystals would survive the bumps and fidgeting of normal use. Glue can pull away from metal and screws can strip.
My solution in, the end, were little brass corners to with which to rivet the crystals down. Here are four of them. Not shown in the picture are the half-dozen rejects. Tiny bits are really easy to ruin.
Step Last: Assembly
Clearly the best part of a good project is seeing it all come together at the end. This can also be the worst part, when you notice something terribly wrong that you overlooked earlier in the process.
I got lucky. It worked out fine. I cut some leather staps and riveted it all together.
Aren’t they beautiful?