Kievan Rus-Inspired Penannular Brooch

Artisan: Baron Snorri skyti Bjarnarson m.k.a. David A. Haldenwang

Artisan’s Piece

  • Copper alloy construction
  • Rolled terminals
  • Large size, circular
  • Stamped decorations
  • Rolled attachment of pin
  • Filework decorations

Historical Pieces

  • Copper alloy construction (all)
  • Rolled terminals (#16)
  • Large sizes, circular (all)
  • Stamped decorations (#22)
  • Rolled attachment of pin (#16, 18)
  • FIlework decorations (#21)

Historical Justifications & Documentation:

Fig.1: Artist’s finished piece

In the fall of 2022, I was asked to contribute to a Royal Garb Project for TRMs Arnthor and Cierech. Among the various accessories I was tasked with creating was a “Rus Cloak Brooch”.

I wasn’t sure what that actually meant, so I reached out to one of the coordinators of the project, Lady Aurelie of the State College, Pennsylvania shire. She provided me with some reference pictures:

Fig.2: Illumination of Kievan Rus male nobility from the manuscript “Izbornik Svyatoslav” (1073). The cloak-korzno was a draped garment of the Byzantine type, which was worn only by the feudal princely elite. Note the extra-large brooches holding the korzno closed at the neck – this is what I was aiming to evoke.

Fig.3: Illustrations of Kievan Rus cloak pins from Rybakov, 1997.

Looking carefully, you can spot all the physical elements (except the gemstones, which are addressed herein later) I incorporated into my piece on this page:

1. Geometric stamping                                          

2. Rolled terminals

3. Pin end rolled around the brooch body

There was a bit of back-and-forth amongst the Garb Project participants as to whether or not I should mount gemstones on the finished product. While Scandinavian Viking jewelry is almost completely devoid of mounted stones (they almost exclusively fashioned gemstones into beads) the Kievan Rus labored under no such aesthetic restrictions. Kievan Rus jewelry exhibits mounted stones in cabochon style on many items owned by high-status individuals, largely due to the strong influence of Byzantine culture.  This “barma”, or necklace, is a representative example of such:

Fig.4: Necklace (barma) from the Ryazan treasure, 12th century. Gold, pearls, precious stones; filigree, granulation. State Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve “Moscow Kremlin”. 

As is this tsata, a piece of religious jewelry:

Fig.5: Tsata with three pendants, Russia. Late 14th – early 15th century Gold, sapphires, emeralds, tourmalines, almandines, mother-of-pearl. State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin.

Additionally, Rybakov’s book shows several illustrations of different pieces of jewelry with gemstones:

Fig.6: Ring with cabochon-cut gemstone, Rybakov pp.284

Fig.7: Christian pendants with cabochons mounted around the edges, Rybakov pp.291

Fig.8: Additional finger rings with cabochon-cut gemstones, Rybakov pp.305

In the end, it was decided that this was a piece for a king, and as such, rated gemstones, so I added them. 

Tools & Materials:

The following materials were used in the construction of this piece:

14 gauge red brass sheet

4x commercially-made copper bezel cups

4x 10mm semi-precious gemstones: moonstone, tigerseye, carnelian, amethyst

6” section of ⅛” square red brass wire

Silver solder: medium (used for joining metal)

Liquid flux (flux is a chemical to make solder flow evenly)

The following tools were used:

  • Bench vise with 1 ¼” steel pipe section
  • Bench-mounted Beverly shear
  • Dykes (used for convenience rather than a cold chisel and mallet)
  • MAPP gas torch (I lack a forge)
  • Oxy-MAPP torch (I still lack a forge)
  • Firebricks (used as a work surface to prevent tabletop fires)
  • Ceramic soldering tile (fireproof surface to solder on)
  • 15 pound anvil
  • Assorted hammers: planishing, flat-faced, and drawing
  • Assorted mallets: rawhide, poly, and rubber
  • Jeweler’s stone setting tools
  • Polishing buffer and polishing compounds (I have no information on period polishing techniques or materials)
  • Various jeweler’s files: flat, half-round, round, and square
  • Decorative triangle-dot, Byzantine cross, and bar stamps of my own construction (stamp construction detailed on my blog)
  • Containers of water and mineral spirits (water for quenching after annealing, mineral spirits for cleanup after polishing)
  • Assorted non-marring jeweler’s pliers (would have been small blacksmith’s tongs in period)

We know that files, decorative stamps, hammers, chisels, and blacksmith’s tongs are period tools due to their inclusion in the Mastermyr find (Arwidsson et al, 1999). 

Fig. 9: The author’s own hand tools

Fig. 10: Hammers, saw, tongs, and files from the Mastermyr tools

Construction Methods:

To start, I annealed a sheet of 14 gauge red brass with a Mapp gas torch to make it more malleable, and cut off a half-inch strip using the Beverly shear. This naturally gave the piece the correct curvature to start with, which is convenient.

Fig. 11: The initial cut off the annealed sheet 

I then clamped a piece of steel pipe in my bench vice, to give me a curved working surface to form the brooch’s circular shape on. In this period, this would have been done over the horn of a large anvil; I do not have such a large anvil, so a pipe suffices. I annealed the piece again, and began forming it into a circle, using heavy blows from a rawhide mallet (using a steel hammer would mar the edges of the piece too much).

Fig. 12: Beginning to curve it more

Between each round of forming, the piece is annealed again. Copper-alloy metals quickly work-harden, and must be softened by annealing or they will crack. 

Fig. 13: Continuing to make the circle shape 

After several rounds of forming on the pipe, the circular shape is close enough to done that I’m ready to move on to the ends prior to a final true-up of the form. 

Fig. 14: Curve done for now 

Again, it’s annealed, then I draw out and flatten the ends thinner, using a convex-faced hammer clamped in my bench vice as a small anvil, and another convex-faced hammer to strike glancing blows. This gives much the same effect as a rolling mill, albeit at the expense of much more work. Then, I clamped one of my decorative stamps in the vice and used a smaller hammer to roll the ends over it, into something like the shape shown in #16, Figure 3. The sides were cleaned up with a large, aggressive file, then with smaller jeweler’s files after they were rolled.

Fig. 15: Flattened and rolled the ends

After forming the rolled ends, the large pipe was replaced in the bench vice as an anvil, and the final round form was shaped with a rawhide mallet.

Fig. 16: Finished the circular forming 

When the forming of the terminals is done, I anneal again, then mark the piece with a pencil into quadrants. I do a little decorative filework on the outer edges, similar to the shapes shown in #21-24, Figure 3.

Fig. 17: Simple decorative edge filework

Now that I’ve marked the piece into quadrants, the next step is to mount the bezel cups for the gemstones. I move them around until I’m happy with where they look.

Fig. 17: Figuring out gemstone placement

Then I solder them into place. The area to be soldered is first lightly cleaned up with an abrasive, some flux is brushed on the bottom of the bezel and the place it is going to be placed at, brass-colored medium silver solder is laid in between the bezel cup and the piece, and heat is very precisely applied to the underside of the piece (applying heat directly to the bezel cup will cause it to melt before the body reaches the temperature at which solder will flow) with an extremely fine oxygen-MAPP gas jeweler’s torch until the solder flows.

Fig. 17: Post-solder

Once the piece is quenched to cool it, I lay the stones in the bezels to test the fit and overall aesthetic – it’s possible one of the bezel cups got malformed in the heat, but everything fits well.

It is at this point that I am starting to think this might not be a total waste of time and materials; this might actually result in a usable piece that does not look terrible.

Fig. 18: Test-fit of gemstones

Because the piece was just heated for soldering, and the bezel cups are now in place, this is an ideal time to do the decorative stamping. I choose stamps from my collection that seem plausible for a Kievan Rus piece: a simple bar, the ubiquitous triangle-dot, and a small Orthodox cross stamp. I will only use the cross stamp once, at the top of the circle of the brooch.

I set the piece flat on my 15 pound anvil and strike the stamps very sharply with a 2-pound hammer. This results in good, clear, deep imprints.

Fig. 19: Decorative stamping done

With the stamping done, the next step is polishing. Polishing is accomplished by using polishing compounds with a buffer machine. Very little effort is made to give this piece a perfect mirror polish; this could not have been accomplished in this period. I feel the piece has a more authentic look with an imperfect polish.

Cleaning the insides of bezel cups that are dirty with forge scale from being soldered is a truly miserable and tedious task, but necessary for mounting translucent gemstones such as moonstone and amethyst.

Fig. 20: Polished piece

At this point I also add my maker’s mark, then do a final cleanup with mineral spirits, which remove the residue of the polishing compound.

Fig. 21: Author’s maker’s mark, a septagram with a Sowilo (S) rune inside, for Snorri

Time now to mount the stones. A small drop of super-glue is placed in the bottom of each bezel cup, then the cabochon is placed in the cup and tapped gently snug with a small rubber hammer. Special jeweler’s stone-setting tools are then used to gently press the edges of the bezel cup up and around the edges of each stone. The resulting mount is quite secure.

Finally, I cut off a section of square brass wire and anneal it. One end is flattened, then clamped in the bench vice. The wire is then twisted to give it some sparkle and visual interest, then sharpened on the end by hammering, then filing. The pin is then polished, and the flattened end wrapped around the brooch body, taking care to leave the loop large enough to clear all the gemstones.

The final product looks like this:

Fig. 22: The author’s finished piece

My methods vary from period methods solely due to my lack of skill and tools, primarily my lack of a forge, which necessitates the careful use of torches to anneal and join metal. I used vise-grips to twist the pin, as I do not own blacksmith’s tongs. Period metal polishing is thought to be quite similar to modern methods, using abrasives in a semi-fluid medium such as wax (similar to today’s jeweler’s rouge), probably applied with cloth strips and vigorously rubbed. For the sake of expediency, I used modern motorized buffers and polishers for that. Finally, I occasionally use a modern tool as a shortcut for efficiency; this accounts for my use of dykes to snip wire, rather than a cold chisel and hammer, and so forth.

However, most of the use of hand-tools is similar or identical to how they would have been used in period: the hammer-forging of the terminals, the decorative stamping, the shaping with mallets and mandrels, the polishing, filework, etc. all mimic closely period practices. The similarity to period pieces of my piece is an indicator that I am using the same tools in the same ways.

Future improvements could be:

  • Hammering the body from an ingot
  • Closer examination of period stone-setting methods and materials, so as to stop using commercial bezel cups
  • Shaping my own stones
  • Cleaner hammerwork
  • Attempting period polishing techniques
  • Acquisition of more period tools, such as swapping my 15 pound anvil for more period anvils, such as those found in the Mastermyr find
  • Acquisition of a forge to attempt hot-joining instead of soldering

Appendix A: Silver Soldering

Silver solder material is made of silver, alloyed with various other metals to affect the melting point of the silver, including copper, zinc, and tin. It is sold in four grades: hard, medium, easy (sometimes called soft), and extra-easy (sometimes called easy) (Stice, 2019).

Table 1: Silver Solder Alloys

Extra Easy56%22%17%5%

Operations that take multiple soldering jobs can then be accomplished by starting with hard solder, doing some work, then next medium solder, doing more work, and so forth. With careful application of heat, it is possible to make a lower grade solder flow without making the higher grade solder in the same location re-melt. This is a vital skill for a jeweler who, for example, wants to solder a ring shut, then solder a mount for a gemstone onto the ring.

Table 2: Silver Solder Melt & Flow Temperatures

TYPEMelt (F)Flow (F)
Extra Easy1145°1205°

Finally, care must be taken that the melting point of your raw materials is not lower than the melting point of your solder. Table 3 shows some common alloys and their melting points (EngineeringToolbox, 2005, and Smith & Glover).

Table 3: Melting Temperatures of Various Metals

Brass, Red1832°
Brass, Yellow1706°
Gold, 24k1945°
Iron, various2061° – 2899°
Pewter247° – 290°
Silver, coin (90%)1614°
Silver, pure (99.9%)1762°
Silver, sterling (92.5%)1639°
Steel, carbon2597° – 2804°
Steel, stainless2750°


Arwidsson, Greta, and Berg Gösta. The Mästermyr Find: A Viking Age Tool Chest from Gotland. Larson Pub. Co., 1999. Print. 

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2023, February 2). gemstone. Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Costume of Kievan and North-Eastern Russia X-XIV centuries. (2004). Retrieved March 20, 2023, from

Horbach, O. (1989). Izbornik of Sviatoslav (1073). Retrieved March 21, 2023, from 

Metals and alloys – melting temperatures. Engineering ToolBox. (2005). Retrieved March 21, 2023, from  

Rybakov, B. A. (1997). Early Rus Life and Culture (Vol. 16). Electronic copy available via Baron Snorri upon request.

Smith, & Glover. (n.d.). What is lead free pewter ? What is Lead Free Pewter ? Retrieved March 21, 2023, from  

Stice, E. (2019, January 8). Types of silver solder used in jewelry. Halstead. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from 

Williamson, R. (2003, March 31). Non-ferrous metal working. Regia Anglorum – Anglo-Saxon and Viking Crafts – Non-ferrous Metalworking. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from  

Yavtushenko, I. G. (1982). Museums in Kiev: An overview. Museum International, 34(3), 140–149.   Electronic copy available via Baron Snorri upon request.


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Award Medallions, Viking-style

I learned a few years ago how to make acid-etched, resin-enameled medallions from Master Artemius in Delftwood. They’re awesome, but also very modern-looking. (I keep having this problem; as my knowledge of period arts and crafts increases, I get a corresponding decrease in my tolerance for non-period “stuff”, be that shoes or medallions or arrows or pouches or whatever. I try and keep a handle on it when in public.)

I wanted to see if I could use my knowledge of stamping and hammer-forging silver to make more period-looking medallions. So far, I’ve made a Keystone (Æthelmearc’s Order of Merit for Service) for Lady Vedis Aradottir (my pocket scribe):

and a Gage (Æthelmearc’s Order of High Merit for Heavy Fighting) for my buddy THL Bjarki:

I needed to do a Master Bowman medallion for Lord Godzimir the Golden, another good buddy from down in the Pittsburgh area. These are rank medallions, not strictly speaking awards, as they’re earned, not given, but those of us who are serious archers prize them pretty highly.

I ended up casting a flat round slug from about an ounce of silver, hammering it out a bit more to make it more coin-like, stamping all the details on, riveting on a bale, and finally hitting the indentations with a little liver of sulfur to blacken them. Hung it on a silver chain I had on-hand, rather than constructing one this time. Ended up looking like this:

The actual badge is supposed to be yellow and red (you can see it in the title image of my blog’s front page), but I just can’t get behind that modern-looking aesthetic for us early-period personas. We’ll have to wink and nod and pretend we know it’s there.

I think these are pretty neat, but they’re only okay for a pretty specific subset of personas. Fortunately, everyone and their uncle wants to be some kinda Viking these days in the SCA.

Tell me how you feel about these in the comments! Would you like to get one of these? Are they too rough-and-rustic?


Attempting Skaldic Verse

Saturday, I went to Crown Tournament in Æthelmearc again. This one was waaaaay down in the Barony of Blackstone Mountain in BY GAWD West Virginia. We were just there two weeks ago for Blackstone Raid – same site even! – but my friend Bjarki is on the Beat Everyone’s Ass Tour of Æthelmearc this year, so I’m going along – actually a bunch of us went down to support him and help out – to help him in his quest for a crown by heralding him into the lysts.

I’ve done a good bit of this over the last few years, and I am not known for any one particular thing (other than being loud and enunciating clearly). This is probably because I don’t like to do the same thing twice. I have bragged couples into court before the Crown in German and Pig Latin, sung in Gregorian chant and Irish traditional filk, bragged in just the consort, only mentioning the combatant as a parenthetical footnote, and a bunch of other stuff. I try and make every time special for the combatant and their consort; typically all I ask them is, “Serious or comedic?” and go from there. They have no idea what I’m going to do until I start.

This time, though, my man Bjarki is a Viking, and Vikings mean skaldic verse. This was new territory for me. I wrote some lines down and called my lifeline: Master Magnus hvalmagi, an East Kingdom Laurel for, conveniently, Norse poetry. You can read his stuff (and his brewing adventures) here:

I shot him my first attempt, and he confirmed that it was, in fact, absolute garbage. A dildo filled with syphilis. A poopy bowl of rotten chocolate custard. Just bad.

But, him being the stand-up guy he is, he attempted to assist me, and after a longer time than I’d like to admit, messing with syllable counts and beats-per-line and weird rhymes, I ended up with this. Anything that’s good here is due to him, and all mistakes are my own (and published despite his sage advice and teaching).

Lordly, comes from Coppertree
To Blackstone for Winter’s throne
Bearing honor, not belt-wearing
Lyst-vying, light-stepping, foes dying

Mighty, comes from Coppertree
Red-brand swings in skillful hand
A bear, to be Sylvan heir
Patriarch of Æthelmearc

This isn’t great, hell it’s not even correct or good, but it gets across what I wanted to say and sounds vaguely like it’s in some kind of Norse meter and structure. I guess I’d say it’s vaguely a Drottkvaett, if I had to pick something, but the rhyme scheme isn’t right. It was enjoyed and complimented at crown, so I guess that’s a win. Maybe I’d bust this out again at a drunken bardic circle.

Anyways, if you want to know more, don’t talk to me, I’m bad at this. Here’s a short document from Master Magnus about skaldic verse, read this then go ask him:

PS. Bjarki was dead last in the Order of March, and made the semifinals. He’ll get the next one.

Photo by Alaxandair

Making a Mjolnir

At Gulf Wars this year, my good friend Bjarki impressed King Gareth and Queen Juliana so much at the Viking deed of arms that they gave him a silver ingot. He wasn’t sure what to do with it, so came to me. I told him we oughtta make something out of it. My first thought was a belt tip, but turns out that my research shows those were usually cast, not forged, and I’m straight garbage at casting. We didn’t really make any decisions, and he stuck the ingot into my jewelry bag for safekeeping.

We both promptly forgot about it for a couple weeks.

Then he decided he wanted to fight in Crown Tournament. His current girlfriend is lovely, but not super-interested in the SCA, so he’s been fighting for a Pelican from the other end of the kingdom – she’s great and it’s a good arrangement (bumps him up high enough on the roster for crown that he doesn’t have to challenge in). He wanted to give her a gift, and we remembered the ingot. We talked a bit, and he decided that giving her a Mjolnir was what he wanted.

I thought first that I’d see if I could cast one. Let’s see how that went first:

I carved a Thor’s Hammer into some soapstone for a mold, and heated up a bunch of scrap silver in my crucible with a MAPP gas torch.

Starting the pour. This never works for me.

Already a mess and I can tell this is a fail.


Not much to do but keep pouring at this point.


Big stupid muffinhammer.

Straight garbage. See that little ingot of silver on the anvil to my right? Gonna start over with that, because that’s actually Bjarki’s ingot. I had so little faith that this casting try would work I didn’t melt that one in with the scrap silver I had.

Anyways, yeah, total fail. I honestly just need to put more effort into learning the right way to cast silver – it’s a lot different than casting pewter, which I have a pretty good handle on. So anyways, I snatch up that little ingot of Bjarki’s and start hammerin’.

As usual, I use a hammer with one face rounded and polished clamped in my vise as an anvil, and use another hammer with a rounded and polished face to draw the ingot out, but striking glancing blows. This makes the hammers act like a rolling mill.

After each pass with the hammer, the ingot has to be annealed to soften it again. Silver work-hardens; you can only hit it once or twice before it becomes too hard and you run the risk of it cracking.

Still drawing it out. I’m pretty sure I’m not smart enough to forge the whole hammer, so I’m going to cheat a bit.
My high-tech quenching tank, with red-hot silver being dunked after annealing. It makes a fun hissing noise. Silver, unlike ferrous metals, doesn’t harden when heated and quenched.

That’s enough flattening. I sketched a long-handled Mjolnir onto it with a pencil – you can sorta see it there.

Then I got out the jeweler’s saw and started trimming. This is very tedious but very precise.

I’ve lopped off the end, now sawing up the handle. The Vikings would never have sawn silver – you’re wasting it. Everything they did was cast or hammer forged from cast ingots. I’m in a hurry though.
Still sawing my way up the long handle of the hammer.

Bunch more sawing and I end up with this. I gave it a final anneal, then a rough cleanup with a 220 grit sanding sponge.
I used some small files to round off all the edges and clean up some saw marks. I don’t feel bad about this like I do the sawing- files are period, they found some in the Mastermyr tool chest.

I sanded the faces with a 220 grit sanding sponge before I took it to the buffer for a quick initial polish.

Using handmade Viking-style stamps to decorate the face. You only get one chance to make a first impression…

Switched over to a tiny circle-dot stamp I made tonight for this project.

More cheating – I used a Whitney punch to make a hole in the end of the handle.

Had some silver wire, used a small hammer to draw the ends out a little for a more authentic look. If I was hardcore I’d have drawn this wire by hand myself. Tonight I ain’t about that life though.

Annealed the wire then wound the ends around itself. There are lots of historical finds with this kind of terminus.

Used a tiny buffing wheel to shine it up after annealing.

Finished with the hammer – but it’s got to be worn!

Once it was done, naturally I had to decide it needed more. I had a bit of fine silver rolo chain in my stash. “Rolo” chain describes a fairly archaic and simple type of chain where the links are all simple round or oval links. I cut 24″ of it, hung the Mjolnir on that, and fashioned a closure of silver wire to join the ends of the chain.
The clasp is a simple piece of silver wire that I melted one end of to get it ball-shaped, then threaded the chain onto it, then melted the other end.

No documentation because this is a gift, but it’s loosely based on this one found in Denmark:

The original archeological find from Rømersdal, Bornholm, Denmark. Dated to 790-1100 CE. Picture retrieved on 4/16/2022 from the Danish National Museum site:

I can’t see the backside of it, so I don’t know if there’s a pierced hole or a forged curl back there. The ring goes the wrong way for it to lay flat anyways, so I like my version better.

Further reading on Viking stamped jewelry and decorations can be had here:

and here:

Plausibly Period Arrows Project

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a little bit of a purist (some would say a snob – and maybe, sometimes, justly) about shooting period bows and arrows in the SCA. Not to completely get up on my soapbox about it here, because this is supposed to be about arrows, but I feel the need to justify why I’m writing this, so here it is:

I feel that people doing archery in a medieval recreation society should be actually trying to do medieval archery.

That’s it.

So, to practice what I preach, I only shoot “period” bows, and I only shoot “period” arrows.

Aside: I’m putting “period” in quotes because what I’m doing, and virtually everyone else shooting in the period divisions of the SCA are doing, isn’t really shooting actual period equipment. The function and form is largely correct, but:

  • We aren’t at medieval draw weights. Most experienced SCA shooters are shooting between 40 and 50 pound draw weights at 28 inches. That’s a half to a third, at best, of what a medieval archer pulled.
  • We’re almost all shooting bows made with modern glues and epoxies.
  • Virtually every shooter of an Asiatic “horsebow” in the SCA is shooting a bow with fiberglass in it.
  • Medieval arrows weren’t made from perfect dowels.
  • Most longbow shooters are shooting laminated bows, made from two to four layers of different woods (including bamboo).

and so on and so forth.

Conveniently, the Society already defines what’s a “period” bow and arrows, right here, on page 13:

The broad strokes are that you need to be shooting off your hand, which means no cut-out rest in the riser (handle) of the bow – the arrow rests on your hand alone – and you need to be shooting arrows with self-nocks, that is, the nock of the arrow is cut into the shaft of the arrow, rather than being a glued-on commercially-made plastic nock. All SCA archers have to shoot wooden shafts with feather fletchings, at least, so there’s that, right?

That’s all. That doesn’t seem so hard, right?

And yet, the vast majority of archers in the SCA can’t seem to get there; they are still shooting what’s generally referred to as “traditional” archery equipment. In the before-time, pre-internet, it could be difficult to get a bow that met the period archery requirements. No one really made them outside of hobbyists, and the traditional archery scene in the USA is huge, so those types of bows are readily available – often at garage sales and secondhand shops for a near-pittance. But now that we have the internet, bows of a much more medieval form are available from a bunch of different places. Both horsebows and longbows that meet the SCA’s definition of “period”, as I discussed above, can be had for around $100, and a dozen appropriate arrows can be had for as little as $40.

Now, certainly that’s not “let’s go try out archery” money for most people. For a beginner, telling them to fork out $150 to try out archery would most likely kill their interest immediately. But I’m not trying to make the case that a beginning archer in the SCA should be shooting period gear – just like no one’s telling a fledgling fighter that they should be buying a $500 helmet before they can fight. But, just like with fighting, where when a fighter reaches a certain threshold of skill and time-in-grade, it’s time for them to surrender the ancient bascinet from the loaner pile and start looking at something that fits their own head and persona, when archers reach a certain skill and dedication level, I feel like they ought to be looking to set down their Samick Sage or their 1978 Bear recurve, and start looking to move to a period longbow or horsebow.

Why they do not, I cannot wrap my head around. (If you have an idea why, please reach out and tell me!) My current working theory is, again, availability of equipment. Availability of bows is largely a moot point now that vendors such as AliBow, Flagella Dei, Ringing Rocks Archery, and many others are selling longbows and horsebows that meet the SCA’s period requirements for very reasonable prices. However, availability of arrows may be an issue. Many, many archers in the SCA either make their own arrows, or personally know a person who is making their arrows for them, and if this is you, then you’re my target audience for this next section.

Now we get to the meat of this blog post: I’m going to show you (you being a lightly experienced fletcher, let’s say, someone who has made at least a dozen dozen arrows) how to make a simple, cheap, and plausibly period arrow from readily available, commercial components.

There are really just four parts to an arrow: shaft, nock, point, and fletchings. Let’s talk about how to make these plausibly period for each one.

The Shaft

The vast, vast majority of SCAdian arrows are made of a wood called Port Orford cedar (POC), Chamaecyparis lawsoniana: This is a miracle wood for archery: it’s light, has a very straight grain, and is reasonably strong for it’s weight.

It’s also from Port Orford, Oregon, USA. That makes it, to me, NOT a period wood for anyone doing a European, Asian, or African persona in the SCA’s time period.

Fortunately, there are other options. While ash would be a wonderful option, ash arrow shafting isn’t really available anywhere. We do have three fine choices though: bamboo, German Spruce, and Larch (Tamarack). I’ve shot all three, and while none of them are the miracle wood POC is, they’re all straight and shootable woods. German spruce is very light, almost as light as POC. Larch is a heavier wood, but extremely tough. Every archer has had the experience of hitting something hard, like a stone or a metal fencepost holding a target, and having the point of their POC arrow snap off cleanly right at the tip. Larch just bounces off. Bamboo is light, cheap, and strong, but often needs straightening, and cutting self-nocks into hollow bamboo takes practice.

The shaft should not be striped, colored, painted, or otherwise tarted up. Avoid a super-shiny modern polyurethane coating. A simple wipe with boiled linseed oil, tung oil, or a similar natural wood finish works great. If those aren’t available, you can use poly; try the wipe-on kind in a satin finish, and don’t do more than two coats.

The Nock

In traditional archery, the nocks of arrows are made of plastic and glued onto the wood shaft. They’re cheap, clip onto the string nicely, and are perfectly consistent. They do absolutely provide a significant advantage over a medieval self-nock. But plastic nocks are definitely not period (although glue-on nocks ARE period; particularly in Turkish and middle-eastern archery both horn and wood nocks were fashioned separately from the shaft, and glued on. If you can find these – and there are some domestic distributors of them – by all means go nuts and use them). Most medieval arrows were of what we call the “self nock” variety, that is, the nock is cut directly into the shaft of the arrow. There are lots of ways to do this, and as bows got stronger and stronger, different types of reinforcements were necessary to prevent the power of the bow from instantly splitting the wood shaft upon release. Cord wraps and horn inserts were the most common in European medieval archery.

However, as I said above, most SCAdians are only shooting a 40-50 pound bow. At those weights, not much actual reinforcement is needed. The important things are to make SURE you are sawing the nock against the grain of the arrow, and put a simple cord wrap just below the nock. When I say, “saw against the grain”, I mean that if you look at the round ends of your arrow shafts, you will see parallel lines running across them. That’s the grain. You want to saw across those lines, perpendicular to them. If you saw your nocks parallel to those grain lines, your arrows are going to split on release. I promise you, arrow go boom. It’s quite scary and a bit dangerous. Best thing to do is, once you’ve located those grain lines, just use a pencil or a marker and draw a line across them, then saw the nock there.

You do have to actually saw in the nocks; usually about 1/2″ deep is how far to go. The best tool (non-motorized tool, that is) for doing this that I’ve found is three hacksaw blades taped together, with the middle blade’s teeth facing the opposite direction from the two outside blades. You can tape one end of the blades, then tape from the middle all the way to the other end and use that part as a handle.

You have to hold the shaft while doing this; for this I recommend a table vise with padded jaws. Some scrap leather will pad them fine, or you can buy magnetic nylon jaw covers for your vise online that have a V on one side that holds round shafts wonderfully. It should only take a few pulls of the saw to make the nock once you’ve got the hang of it.

You can do a LOT of shaping and futzing about with your self nocks if you want to. Some people use a round file to make the canyon rounded to fit the string better, others use a belt sander or sanding blocks to round off the ends of the dowel. I like to taper them a bit roughly on my belt sander (a $35 tool from Harbor Freight) then use a drywall sanding sponge to smooth them out.

For the wrap, you want it right below the bottom of the nock. You can use artificial sinew or thick nylon thread from a leatherworking shop, silk thread for a later period look, or (what I use) some very thin linen string I bought a big spool of.

You only need to do about 3/8″ of a wrap, then tie it off. I like to cheat here a bit with some modern materials, and use a very thin superglue to coat my wrap, and let a little of it sink into my nock as well. Makes it immeasurably stronger with little effort, and it’s almost invisible.

The Fletchings

The default feather for fletching arrows, worldwide, is now the turkey feather. It’s much like Port Orford cedar for arrow shafts; they’re miracle feathers for arrows. They’re large, long, robust, easily dyed, and readily available as a byproduct of the poultry industry.

I looked long and hard, far and wide, for an alternative to turkey feathers for fletchings, because the turkey, being a New World bird, is totally inappropriate for a “period” arrow.

You simply can’t do it. Not if you’re looking, as I am, for a readily available commercial source. Let’s go over what I tried:

  • Domestic chickens and ducks have been bred for hundreds of years to have smaller flight pinions. No good.
  • Raptor feathers, those of eagles, hawks, etc. are all prohibited from ownership, and all raptors are protected species. These feathers are made of unobtanium unless you are a member of a First Nation – and they’re not fletching arrows with them, they’re sacred objects used for ceremonial purposes.
  • Seagulls are a protected migratory bird (yes, really) and you can’t possess any part of those.
  • Ditto for Canadian geese. Never mind that you can go find a field where a thousand Canadian geese rested overnight while flying North or South and glean dozens of suitable feathers from the ground, you can’t possess those.
  • Crows would work – but I’d have to hunt them myself. No one I found is selling crow feathers in any bulk. Besides, I like crows – I have a whole murder I feed peanuts to year-round in my backyard.

At that point I threw in the towel. It was turkey feathers or nothing. I had to live with it.

However, I could at least make them look more period. Pre-cut arrow fletchings these days come mostly in two shapes, “shield cut” and “parabolic”:

The middle arrow is fletched with “parabolic” fletchings, the bottom with “shield cut” fletchings. The top arrow is a flu-flu, fletched for short range shooting – the big feathers create lots of drag – and not suitable for SCA target archery, so ignore it.

Neither of those is particularly medieval-looking. Most medieval fletchings are either cut straight down perpendicular to the shaft at the back, or have a trailing rear point. Fortunately, there’s a type of feather shape from the early days of traditional archery that, while also not readily available, at least it’s popular enough that you can buy templates to cut your own. It’s called Pope & Young (after two famous traditional archers):

Most European medieval arrows end up being one of the triangular shapes above, while Asiatic arrows tend to be fletched with a more rounded profile, more like the “Hog’s Back” fletching shown above. I find the Pope & Young shape to be a nice midpoint between the two; it has a bit of a curve on the long side, but retains the trailing rear point that’s so common. That said, I have also fletched period arrows in the 90 degree triangular shape and the “natural line” shape. They all work fine. At the ranges and skill levels most SCA archers are shooting at, we won’t see a real difference between any of the above shapes.

But, we were talking about commercially-available stuff. None of the above shapes are. Commercially available, I mean. Fear not, it’s pretty easy to cut your own, and actually cheaper as well. Here’s what you need, in addition to a bag of full-length turkey fletchings:

  1. Template
  2. Rotary cutter
  3. Squeeze clamp
  4. Cutting board
  5. Utility knife

You clamp the template over the feather, keeping the quill in the cut-out channel on the backside, clip off the back of the quill with the utility knife, then use the rotary cutter to cut the shape.

Take off your clamp, lift up your template, and you have a fletching. Do that 35 more times and you can fletch a dozen arrows.

When fletching, I use the same modern glues and materials I use when making traditional arrows (a lengthy pictorial primer on how I do that can be fond here: ). Again, looking for readily available. Using fish or hide glue here, and tying on the fletchings all the way down, is like a modern seamstress hand-sewing interior seams on a period garment. No one’s going to know but her, so why do it?

A final note on colors: medieval folks didn’t have blue, or yellow, or purple, or red, or green feathers. They had the colors that come on birds: white, black, brown, and gray. Please try and stick to those. Also please avoid the “barred” feathers. Not only do they cost more (because the barring is artificial) they’re meant to look like turkey feathers, and the turkey’s the bird we’re trying to pretend we’re NOT using the feathers of here. I know the temptation for SCAdians to try and bling up ALL THE THINGS is nearly irresistible, and fletching your arrows with the colors of your arms, household, or kingdom seems like a great idea… but it’s wrong.

The Point

Not much to say here. Almost any medieval point you can think of will be disallowed at an SCA archery range (and most club ranges, too) for doing to much damage to the target butts. Personally, for me, I think the standard field point is just fine for SCA use at any event.

However, if you want to go the extra mile, there are a number of modified bodkin points, or “modkins”, commercially available.

Personally, I use the TopHat screw-on modkins. They’re universally acceptable because the largest diameter of the point is no larger than the shaft of the arrow, there’s just a small hip on them for aesthetics.

As you can see here, the shaft is not tapered, as with a glue-on tip, the shaft itself is threaded with a special thread-cutting die in a tool from TopHat, and the points are screwed on. It’s a wonderful system and I recommend it.

Another very medieval-looking option is conical pin points:

These are also made by TopHat and are screw-on points, but similar glue-on options are available.

So just install whatever points you like, and you have yourself a “plausibly period” arrow, as I have taken to calling them.

And that’s plausibly period arrows. I’ve been shooting these arrows ONLY, made from larch or German spruce, since the beginning of 2018. I am a Master Bowman with period equipment in both the recurve and crossbow categories, and I’m knocking at the door with longbow (currently shooting mid-70’s with period longbow, but ran out of daylight for practices this year). If I can do it, you can do it.

Would I probably put up higher scores shooting off the rest of a traditional recurve bow, with plastic nocks, and perfect factory-cut fletchings? Almost certainly. But I’d also put up better scores shooting an Olympic recurve, carbon fiber arrows, or a compound bow. Did you just recoil in horror at the idea of that?

Then why are you still shooting trad equipment?


Voice Heralding Class Outline

This post is a work in progress – when I finalize the class material I’ll remove this disclaimer. If you read this post and the disclaimer’s still up, that means I’m not happy yet, and I’d welcome any suggestions anyone has.

-Snorri, Jewel Herald of Æthelmearc for the reign of Timothy & Gabrielle IV

Voice Heralding 101

From“Voice heralds” are used for “crying out announcements, announcing the fighters entering the list field, and acting as the voice of the nobility in court, reading the scrolls that accompany the awards being given out.”

“Book heralds” – helping members of the SCA to research period names and design devices (armory), and registering them with the SCA College of Heralds.

“Protocol heralds” – recording the awards and honors that are given in court, drafting period-style ceremonies for use in court, and determining the precedence of award holders and other legal niceties in all sorts of situations.

In Æthelmearc, a billeted Voice Herald (Baronial Heralds, Jewel Herald) usually acts as the Protocol Herald as well.

This class deals with Voice Heralds.

In two primary places:

  1. At tournaments
  2. In court
    but also:
    • at events, making announcements
    • on the list field, announcing competitors and results and calling fighters to the lists
    • at feasts, announcing courses, introducing entertainment, even making toasts

Be these things:

  1. Loud
  2. Articulate, clear, and easily understood
  3. Correct

In Court:

The Court Herald is the Voice of the Crown, and also the Master of Ceremonies

  1. Pronounce all the names correctly
  2. Read the scroll correctly
  3. Acknowledge scribes
  4. Vivats
    • You are like a music conductor – the crowd MUST know when you are going to start these – use your arm and show them!

At Tournaments:

  1. Be complimentary
  2. Be cleverly or personally complimentary
  3. Be cleverly/personally complimentary and funny
  4. Be artistically or historically complimentary

Speaking “Forsoothly”

  1. Avoid contractions – say “Do not”, rather than “Don’t”
  2. Avoid modern slang. Speak “properly”.

++ Breathing
++ Posture, projection
++ Timbre/pitch – lower will carry better, but do not strain
++ Non-restrictive clothing

++ Grooming. Shave, haircut, hairstyling, makeup, etc. Treat it like you’re at a professional job, because you ARE. You are the emcee of an awards ceremony for an international 501.c.3 non profit corporation.

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