33633Re: period archery bracer article
- Jun 24, 2013An interesting article. If I may share many years of experience with hardening leather. Leather undergoes a process called elastomerization when brought to a temperature of about 90 - 120 degrees. This can be achieved any number of ways, boiling in water or wax or in an oven. The process one uses simply heats the leather and holds it at temperature for a while. In the article the author said he tried the wet leather in the oven technique and it failed miserably. I would suggest it failed because he left the leather in the oven too long, i.e. he said until it was dry. This is a highly controllable method for hardening leather, if done correctly. Pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees, then turn it off. Wet the leather then place it in the oven for about 5 - 10 minutes depending upon the size of the piece. When you take it out it will be very warm, maybe even hot to touch but still wet and flexible. Shape it as you want then allow it to dry OUT OF THE OVEN. When dry it will be very hard.
Boiling leather in wax or water achieves the same effect but is much harder to control. Plus, as mentioned in the article, the leather shrinks. Thus any beautiful carving or tooling you may have done on the piece will generally disappear! Plus, if you used wax, you now have a gooie mess to strap on your arm! Boiling leather for 5 - 10 minutes will turn it black and make if very brittle, i.e. strike it with a hammer and it shatters like cheap plastic.
Leather also hardens with salt. Remember that old pair of leather work shoes? Remember how after getting wet and/or sweat in several times they started getting hard? Yup. It works. You can also harden leather by soaking it in urea. You got it! Pee on your leather and it gets hard. I don't want you shooting with me though!!! :-) I think there is a very good possibility that the same bracer from the Mary Rose could be so hard simply because it soaked in salt water for so many years. An archer's bracer does not have to be hardened to protect the bow arm, still yes, but not hard.
In short, if you make a bracer and wear it it will, over time, begin to harden on its own due to your body moisture and salts being absorbed by the leather. True the piece will not be as hard as these other techniques produce.
I also found it interesting that the author mentioned the size of his leather by measurement of thickness. Leather is not sold that way. It is sold by ounce wherein 1/32 inch thickness equals 1 ounce. But leather is a natural product so a piece will never be the exact same thickness throughout. But 1/8 inch leather would work out to about 4 - 5 ounce leather. To me, that seems a bit light for a bracer but that depends upon how much string slap you get. I typically prefer 5 - 6. 7 - 8 gets a bit heavy duty.
I would also recommend using full grain leather over split grain, which is often mis-called suede. Full grain leather has a natural smooth side. This was the outside of it's original owner. Full grain leather tends to not stretch as much as split grain. Split grain leather is actually "left over" leather from the process of skiving down the leather as it comes off the animal after tanned to get the desired thickness of full grain leather. For projects such as this you also want veg tanned cow hide. Deer and elk, while very nice to the hand simply do not have the stiffness required for a bracer. You could line the inside of you cow hide bracer with deer for the plush/comfort effect. If you put it on the outside, due to the nature of the hide, deer or elk, the string will grab it and wear the piece out much faster. Plus if not backed, provide virtually no protection from string slap.
As for string slap wiping out the carving, not really. It will tend to flatten it out some but it will not cause increased wear on the string. Now I have seen folks on the range with spikes and spots (buttons) on their bracers. That's kinda like having a chain saw on your bow arm, so I say DUH! Same thing with buckles and buttons on the inside of the bracer. But I think the author's point is well taken. Why go to all the effort to do beautiful carving/tooling only to have it flattened out from use.
I'm not really a leather snob, it's just that there are so many misconceptions and beliefs about leather and leather hardening. It's been a media I've been fascinated with and worked with for over 17 years now.
Sorry for the long post and though it seems not true, I really did enjoy the posted article.
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