Leather Rapier Helm Build

August 2, 2022

Inspired by the Gallowglass helms in period

Project Completed February, 2014

Quite simply, I needed to make myself new armor for the rapier field.  I’ve been fighting rapier for 20 years now, and making things from leather for longer than that.  I figured it might be time to use gear that wasn’t either second hand or modern looking in order to try and represent myself better on the field.  So I started to research armor of the time and discovered the Gallowglass, a group of warriors that were of both Scot and Norse decent.  Given that most of their armor was metal, and I wanted to build in leather, I tried keeping the spirit of the style despite the different medium.

The biggest part of what I noticed in the helm of the Gallowglass was the pronounced fin on the top of the helm itself. I also noticed the baseball cap style visor that was attached.  The helms that I was able to find sketches of also looked like the side flaps and back of the helms were articulated plates, so I knew that I wanted to emulate that aspect as well in order to keep functional form intact for the field itself.  In the build, I have a standard fencing mask top comply with combat standards, but I’ve fitted it with a leather molded face mask façade as well, in order to cover the mesh with a more human form.

For the facial form, I fitted a piece of wet leather over a mannequin head and pushed it into the recesses repeatedly until I had a brow and nose formed.  I exaggerated both pieces of the form in order to get more visible definition from a distance.  I then stitched in the mask to the mesh of the fencing mask in order to secure it, and make sure that a blade would not slip in behind the cover up.  I cut the holes to fit the ocular cavity as well, to increase visibility.  It gives me a pretty good range of vision, despite covering so much of the mask.  I then also stitched the cover-up to the mask itself to secure it.

For the helm itself, I started off with some very stout leather and cut it to form a mocked up version that I’d made from card stock.  I left the bill over-sized so that I could tailor it a bit after construction was complete, but stitched on the brim to the top of the helm after cutting out holes to fit my screws through.  I then stitched the fin/trim together from two separate pieces to keep the grain side equaled out, turned the fin right-side out and hammered it down flat before attaching it with Chicago screws along the top and sides.  Once the trim piece was on, I attached the ear flaps and stitched the face onto the helmet using the seam on the bill and a secondary hidden piece of leather framing the sides of the mask.

Once the piece was all assembled and antiqued (to give it a beaten up look), I used a combination of water, pressure and wax hardening in order to get the piece more rigid (to keep with the rapier rules). 

I was pretty pleased with the finished result, even though it’s a bit hard to breathe through the bottom end of the face cover-up.  I’m still working with it a bit at a time to better fine tune it, but overall I think it’s a pretty good first attempt at real armoring.  It works out pretty nicely with a gorget that I freehanded as well.