Plastic for Armor

dennis grace amazing at
Sat Oct 12 13:23:05 PDT 1996

Greetings, Mistress Gunnora and anyone else interested.

Sir Lyonel here.  As a fairly small fighter from a northern clime where
everyone wears much armor (which means they all hit pretty hard, too), I
have been a long time practitioner of the not-quite-forbidden art of plastic
armor.  It provides full coverage without adding much weight.  

>        I have a quick question:  after following a lot of interesting
>commentary on the Rialto about how horrible and awful plastic armor is or is
>not, I wonder,
>What kind of plastic is being used for armor?  Where do you get it?  Is it
>being heat shaped?  

The plastics of choice for armor are ABS and Kydex.  Kydex is stronger but
costs almost twice as much as ABS and is dangerous to work.  (I saw some
other plastics mentioned in the Rialto archives, but I know nothing about
them.)  You can get either of these from nearly any plastics shop.  A-1 and
Regal, here in Austin, carry both varieties.  1/8" sheets of ABS run $48 per
4X8' sheet at A-1; I think the Kydex was about $78 per sheet.  Both
varieties also come in 3/16" sheets--highly recommended for leg armor--and
the price increase tends to be directly proportional to the increase in
material (i.e.--50% more than 1/8" sheets).
>I have a set of knees and elbows made of some dark black plastic that are
>really sturdy, and which I suspect were heat-shaped.  I have some really
>nifty A&S ideas that would involve using this type of plastic as molds and
>frameworks and stuff.  I'd really appreciate any information I can find
>about this type of plastic.

The plastic is most easily cut on a jigsaw, but I'ev usually used a set of
beverly shears for the big cuts and a dremel tool for cleanup.

You are no doubt correct about the heat shaping.  It can be accomplished in
at least three ways within my ken.  My method of preference is an oven on a
clean cookie sheet at 250F.  After about five to ten minutes, the plastic
softens to a consistency similar to that of supple leather.  Handle the
plastic only with heavy oven mitts or welder's gloves (tongs will scar the
plastic).  You'll have about five minutes to form the plastic.  Remember, I
was using ABS.  Kydex takes (I think--check with your supplier) a 300F oven,
and Kydex puts out cyanide gas if it gets too hot.

You can also heat the plastic with an industrial hot air gun (blow dryer's
don't generate enough heat), but this process is tedious and uneven.  On of
the Rialto archives also suggests a barbecue, which would avoid filling your
home with that warm plastic smell.

As for forming, I've primarily relied upon custom fitting.  You place a wet
towel over the appendage to be armored, and have your two helpers in oven
mitts wrap the plastic over the appendage and hold/smooth it into place
while you grow increasingly uncomfortable.  With the 3/16" ABS, we always
had to stop before the process was complete and change the towel.  Otherwise
the armored individual would suffer some rather large first-degree burns.
You can use a similar method to form the plastic on molds that don't have
too deep a curveor too many complex angles.

You can also dish the leather-heard ABS into a stump concavity in much the
same manner as steel.  Instead of a ball-pean hammer, use a rubber mallet.
You'll want to dish the plastic quickly and then quench it.  The result is
harder than the original.

Sir Gaston (the knight who did helped ESPN cover Estrella War a few years
back) runs a special effects shop in Hollywood, and he makes most of his
very fancy armour of ABS covered in colorful suede or velvet (I have photos,
if you're interested).  He uses a vacuum mold to make smooth round things.
He tells me you don't need a fancy shop to do this, just make your molds of
thick plaster or concrete, forming the mold with a 1/4" length of poly
tubing (aquarium airline would do) pushed through before it dries (or
carefully placed and poured around).  To apply vacuum just attach a standard
vacuum cleaner hose to the poly tube with (what else) massive amounts of
duct tape.

I hope some of this has been of assistance to you, Mistress.  Come on out to
Bryn Gwlad Fighter practice, and I'll show you my armor.  Feel free to call
or write if I can answer any further questions on this matter.  You might
also want to check those Rialto archive files.

Yours in Sturdy Lightweight Service

Sir Lyonel Oliver Grace
Dennis G. Grace
Assistant Instructor
Postmodern Medievalist
Division of Rhetoric and Composition
University of Texas

Baro, metetz en guatge                    |  Lords, pawn your castles,
Chastels e vilas e ciutatz                |  your towns and cities.
Enanz qu'usquecs no'us guerreiatz         |  Before you're beat to the draw,
                                                    draw your swords.

                   -- Bertran de Born (a really fun Viscount)

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