Art in Solid Steel.

custom helmet for sword fighting
Custom Qing helmet
front view
I wanted a beautiful custom helmet for Chinese swordfighting. What sort do you want? That's the starting point - know what you want.

If you are planning your armour to match a certain culture and period in history, you'll need to do some research. The best reference material is from primary sources such as artifacts, pictures, documents or recordings made at the time you want to reference. There are plenty of these available for the Qing period of Chinese history, from which I chose my helmet design.

The helmet is based on the taller parade design and is decorated, such as an officer would wear. One difference is that the plume holder would be much higher for an officer's helmet.

The steel we used is thick enough for reenactment but this makes the helmet quite heavy. Early Qing helmets were made of thinner but stronger steel, or iron, such as the original Qing officer's helmet I have in my collection.

If your period is early and little exists, you may have to rely on secondary sources - material that discusses a primary source. If you cannot see and handle original artifacts, good secondary sources will give you most of the information you need to replicate period armour.

The red helmet was made that way. I've seen some real helmets since that

custom helmet for Chinese sword fighting
Custom Qing helmet
side view
time, but when it was being made, both the armourer and myself relied on pictures furnished by other people.

I'm proud of the end result. Handling real helmets first would've caused me to choose lighter steel or a lower design, but overall, this is the best of its type I've seen. I use it and I like it. No one else in the world has this exact design. Only one other person has a similar helmet, of different design, made by the same armourer.

That's the wonder of a custom helmet. It's a unique work of art.

Finding an armourer

It is best to try and find someone in your local area to make your custom helmet. They are very heavy items to post. Also, you will get a better fit if you appear in person for the armourer to measure you - perhaps more than once as the work progresses.

So where do you start looking for an armourer? I suggest checking out any reenactment groups that are in your area, as a good place to start. Look up the NVG or SCA on the internet. Email them about local groups or ask straight out about who might be willing to make a helmet. Another place to look is the local Renaissance Faire or similar medieval type event. I found my armourer at the Ironfest in Lithgow. I spoke to the blacksmiths and the reenactors who were there.

Reenactors know where
to find armourers.

You might find an armourer
at your local medieval event.

Once you have found an armourer to build your custom helmet, don't be impatient. He may have a long waiting list. He may have a day job or enjoy jousting or swordfighting, and he can't drop the rest of his life to make your helmet. It will be worth the wait. Once you do make it to the top of the list, there will be measurements, finding pictures, discussion of the details ....and it's expensive. A good quality custom helmet strong enough for swordfight with blunt steel blades, will cost you hundreds of dollars. The cost will depend on how many hours it takes to construct. My helmet pictured here today, needed brigandine plates. They take time to make. It needed a plume holder and a plume. Materials had to be sourced. The cutwork steel had to be carefully designed and made. Everything had to be shaped, cut and shaped again. Then we had to make a removeable grille that fit the helmet. It was a big job. No, I'm not going to tell you how much it cost, but that was two years ago and the price has surely gone up quite a bit since it was made.

How to measure for a custom helmet

For a good fit you need the following measurements:
  • Head circumference at eyebrows

  • Head length from crown to chin

  • Head length from eybrows to chin

  • Head width from ear to ear

Sword fighting helmet
Adjustable suspension system
inside a custom helmet.
If you are having a special lining inside the helmet, that also needs to be taken into consideration. I removed the inside of a horse riding helmet to make a perfect fit for my head. The custom helmet was built around it.

You will probably need someone to help you take the correct measurements. It's best if the armourer does it himself. He might even have a ruler with sliding horizontal bars, or something else especially made for the job.

Follow this link to look at Terry Tyndal's method. You will need to click the back arrow in your browser to return. That Guy's Measurement system.

How to adjust the fit

custom helmet adjustments
Helmet straps attached to the back
of the helmet in one place
and to the sides of chin straps.
When my helmet was finished, it flopped forward too much, despite all the measurements. it was tall and the grille placed extra weight on the front. I adjusted this with the help of a Reenactor friend. he made a set of straps from the back to just above the ears, that held it in position. This works beautifully. We set the riding helmet liner in place with lots of horizontal stick on velcro pieces, so that couldn't move either. I also put a little extra padding inside the liner, on top of my head to raise it for the best visibility. You won't really know how much adjustment is necessary until the helmet is finished and ready to wear.It is a good idea to have the armourer put a suspension system inside the helmet. This is adjustable for perfect fit.

Caring for your custom made helmet

Custom helmet by Adam McKay
Another custom helmet by
Adam Mckay of Sydney, Australia.
Don't let it go rusty .... I hate rust on swords and armour. If you are going to pay a lot of money for a good piece of equipment, you may as well look after it. The best thing for helmets is Renaissance Wax. It's also suitable for reenactment swords, but good cutting swords need special oil.

If your helmet gets rusty, clean off the the old wax, etc, with methylated spirits. Then sand off the rust with car detailing paper or sandpaper, and rewax it. I keep mine inside.

If it is on display where I can see it every day, I can very quickly tell if rust is developing. It hasn't yet. The Renaissance Wax is really good and I've only had to wax it three times in two years.

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