Don't Buy Leather Armor

corby's picture

I've worn leather armor almost exclusively for 18 years. Aside from metal helmets and heavily padded aketons that didn't need kidney belts, all my visible gear is and always has been leather. I've made my own stuff, often using only borrowed tools, a needle and a razor knife back in the poor days. I was apprenticed to Sir Tojenearum, a leather working laurel/knight whose helm was leather. I preface this with those thoughts with that so you know where I'm coming from.

I have rarely, if perhaps ever, seen leather armor that I thought was worth the cost from a professional leather worker. This is due to a variety of issues, which I'll try to put in order from biggest to smallest:

  • Leather is expensive as a raw material compared to metal or plastic. So the finished product will be expensive if you pay someone for their time. Many novice (and not so novice) leather armorers look at the stuff on the metal armorer's table and say to themselves "I can make that!" But leather is not steel, nor is it aluminum. It does not lend itself to articulations, attachment to metal strips, or gothic breastplates. Not if you want it to function as armor, rather than a costume.
  • Leather is considerably easier than metal to make work, but not to make well. The "entry cost" for tools to start doing leather armor is low. So people who really just don't know the proper techniques for working leather get into the business. To my continued shock, I almost never find a leather armorer who even knows how to correctly attach straps, a technique they could learn by flipping through basic leathercrafting books in the rack at Tandy. Or the library.
  • Once you put the work into it, a reasonable hourly cost makes it more expensive than steel or aluminum, which is less expensive as raw material. The difference between competitively priced profitable leather armor and unprofitable leather armor is probably the difference between improperly constructed gear and properly constructed gear. For example, in most leather armor for sale, almost everything is held together with "speed" rivets--those round headed brass colored dots. That's not the way to do it for any join that takes stress. At the least, copper or brass rivets and burrs should be used, but stitching is the way to go for real durability. But hand stitching is very time consuming, and an industrial leather sewing machine like a Landis can run thousands of dollars. So leather gear sellers don't, as a rule have them.

So here's what I suggest if you want leather armor:

Talk to those around you who have leather gear and ask them if they like it. If they do, ask where they got it. If they made it themselves, ask if they could help you make some. Find a book on making things with heavy leather and read it! It will make a huge difference in your finished gear. Even if you're going to have someone else make it, read that book so that you know what to ask for. Do not purchase leather armor patterned after metal pieces. Don't make or purchase a suit of leather plate armor or any of its parts. No articulations, no elbow cops with wings, no pieces that move relative to another piece while being attached to that piece, with the possible exception of a knee cop. Arms should be full, one piece vambraces, for example. If you can find knowledgeable help, consider making it yourself.

If you have more money than you can ever use, then please feel free to ignore all this advice. Instead, take me out to dinner and I'll teach you what to look for so that you can get your money's worth out of the gear you buy.

Feel free to ask questions of me by email as well.

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