Making a Roman helmet from scratch
A rough guide to making a budget Roman helmet
A number of potential Roman re-enactors on a budget have contacted us asking for instructions for making roman helmets. This page is made for their convenience. Though decent replicas may be bought from various sources, a good reproduction is indeed the hardest and most costly piece of equipment to come by.
Our helmets are made from old Swedish military helmets (M 41's), 1 ½ mm sheet steel and some forged parts. It is all put together using iron rivets. The Romans would have used bronze or brass rivets, but these are a bit expensive. If Swedish surpluses are scarce, old WW2-style American or even Russian post-war helmets will probably do just as good. All you really need is a bowl-shaped piece of steel roughly fitting the head. In order to convert them to Roman helmets, do the following:
Strip out the padding. In the Swedish helmets this is made from three "pillows" filled with horsehair, which we reused for the finished helmets. Original Roman padding was presumably made from thick felt.
Taking out the tempering by heating them to 700º C (~1300 º Fahrenheit) for some 5 hours. We then polished off the painting with a car paint stripping pad mounted on a drill.
Cutting away the exes steel with a angel-grinder. If ear-guards are unavailable, one may opt for the "earless" Coolus-pattern (see the two helmets to the right in the picture below. Needless to say, this step is a bit on the noisy side and require earmuffs and protective glasses.
Preparing the various pars of the helmet is the fun part. Our parts are strictly unadorned for the sake of economy, but adding brass trimming will help hide the parts where one has cheated and make the helmet look more authentic.
Our ear-guards and brow-guards was forged for us by a smith. If a smith is not available, a brow-guard may be cut from 3 mm sheet iron. Some groups make the ear-guards from two separate steel pieces welded together, or from soldering two brass pieces.
Cut cheek-pieces and neck-guards from the sheet steel. We strongly recommend making your own pattern. Use cardboard (old pizza-boxes are excellent) and an archæological specimen for reference to get a good fit before cutting the steel. The raised patterns were obtained by carefully hammering a bent iron bar on to the pieces from the backside.
We made hoops for the leather tong by making three triangular or half circle "rings" from 2 mm steel thread fastened by a small piece of steel. One was riveted on the underside of the neck-guard near the rim at the back, the others on the inside of the cheek-pieces at the terminal end. The lower rivet seen on the pictures of the cheek-piece is the fastening for the hoop
The cheek-pieces was padded with a small pillow of suede leather stuffed with fleece. The two rivets halfway down the pieces are the fastenings for the pillow. Hinges are made from the same sheet steel, using a stout iron nail for bar. The hinges on the pieces themselves are made from the upper part of the pieces, as is visible on the pictures.
Now comes the tricky part: Putting it all together. This requires a punch for marking holes, a good, sturdy drill for metal, and a hammer with a spherical head and a bit of patience. Before assembly, putt the whole thing together using duct-tape to make sure it all fits well. In the best tradition of Roman practicality, a bit of bending, grinding and cutting is recommended to get a good fit.
- Fit all pieces together, marking where all holes should go. We used the existing holes as far as possible, and tried to reduce the number of rivets by fastening padding and the various guards with the same rivets.
- Start by adding brow-guard, using the picture of the assembled helmet at the top as a guide. The guard rides a bit up on the forehead. Make sure the fit is tight, or the guard will start to flop when running.
- Proceed with the ear-guards (if any), neck-guards and cheek-pieces in that order. Padding must be added along with the various pieces, if the original is to be used. If a Roman style felt padding is added, simply blind off any excess holes with rivets.
- Cut a 70 cm (~ 2 ft.) of leather thong, fasten the middle at the hoop at back and run the ends through the cheek-hoops. Varying the padding of the chin and crown, you will get a tight fit by tying the thongs tightly under your chin.
- Run to nearest mirror and look in amazement at the proud and hansom Defender of IMPEIVM·ROMANVM in front of you.