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Armor : Metalworking Overview

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: Metalworking Overview
« on: May 14, 2018, 06:32 PM »
Metalworking Overview
Lead Author: Slade Kel
Contributing Author: Havelock
Edited by: MMCC Education Team

This guide will hopefully give you all the information you need to start putting together a mandalorian kit with metal.


Some of this information was included in the UM to OM Guide (include link), but we’ll start with a re-cap.
  • Tin snips rated for the thickness metal you are working with (this info will be noted on the packaging or in the description online.)

  • Ball peen hammer, 12, 14 or 16 ounces

  • Dishing stump:
    There are numerous ways to create a dishing stump, or modify something to use for dishing.

    In a pinch, a shirtsleeve filled with sand or birdshot will suffice for dishing

  • Planishing item:
    This can be any smooth, curved metal surface. Cheap options include half-football automotive dolly or a ball trailer hitch ground and sanded smooth.

  • Sandpaper

Optional tools for metal working include:
  • Dremel Rotary tool
  • Cutting discs, grinding bits and sanding bits
  • Electric metal shear

  • Anvil(s)

  • Additional ball peen hammers
  • Rubber mallet

  • Metal files

  • Electric mouse or rotary sander

Safety equipment

  • Safety goggles - Even with safety rated glasses, it is still possible to get metal shards in your eyes, especially when using a dremel. Exercise appropriate caution.

  • Work gloves - The best choices are heavy leather work gloves. We recommend getting a size smaller than you normally would, so that they fit snugly and allow as much tactile precision as possible.  If full leather gloves are not available, ‘mechanic’s’ work gloves with leather palms and fingers are also acceptable.

  • Respirator – Also commonly called breath masks or dust masks, these are essential pieces of your Personal Protective Equipment, ensuring that you’re not breathing in metal dust and poisoning yourself.

And while this is not really about specific equipment, it’s important to remember that when using a dremel or electric shear, make sure you’re in a safe location. The dremel will throw sparks, and both of them will leave metal shards lying about. Make sure you’re wearing proper footwear and that you clean up your workspace thoroughly afterward. Metal splinters are not fun.

Choices of Metal
  • Steel, gauges 16, 18, 20, 22 or 26
    • 16 is very heavy, and 26 is the absolute thinnest useable.
    • If you obtain panels from scrapped cars, the metal is typically 20-22 gauge and occasional 16-18 for heavy duty vehicles like trucks.

  • Aluminum, gauges 14, 16 or 18
    • Aluminum is much lighter, comparable to sintra, but is much harder to work. It is more difficult to get complex curves and angles, and much less forgiving of mistakes. Most mistakes in steel can be hammered back out and fixed, but because of the softer nature of aluminum mistakes are often permanent.
    • Street signs, like Stop signs and One-Way signs are 14 gauge aluminum.

General guidelines

There are some great video tutorials about making metal armor available on the internet. When you’ve got some time, search for one on your favorite search engine.  Videos aside, we’ll endeavor to give you a brief walkthrough.

Step one is, of course, cutting out the metal. You can obtain metal snips, which look much like oversized scissors, for any gauge of metal. Keep in mind that even for the thinner gauges, this is very tiring, so do not try to cut out an entire suit of armor in one sitting. Take it in stages and make sure you do not injure yourself. Whether using snips or electric shears, we recommend using the dremel for tight, precision areas such as the diamond cut-outs on the chest plates. If you do not have access to a dremel, you can cut these areas roughly with snips and use files and sandpaper to clean up the areas.

After that, it is on to the dishing stage. If you have obtained a dishing stump, the process is a bit easier. This ‘stump’ can be any piece of wood that you can drill/carve a shallow dish shape into. You want your dish shape to be approximately 2-4 inches deep and 3-4 inches across. There are commercially available dishing stumps that are undoubtedly very aesthetically pleasing, but a dishing stump made from an actual stump will get the job done.  Ensure that, whatever you use for a dishing stump, it is securely held. You will be hitting metal against it with a hammer, and the dishing stump shifting can not only cause you to make mistakes on the armor, but also could cause injury if the metal slips along it. Be careful to take your time with the hammering process, as it uses muscle combinations unlike just about anything else you may do. No matter how fit or strong you may be, there is nothing else like hammering metal for hours at a time. If you start getting fatigued, take a break; trying to rush will simply cause you to make mistakes that have to be fixed later.

You want to start from the edges of the plate to be dished and work your way inward, hammering it essentially in circles. Use the edge of the dish to brace the metal as you hammer it with the ball-shaped (peen) side of the hammer. The goal here is to hammer the basic shape of the plate, forming a shallow dish in the metal. There will be scores of small hammer marks from this that will be dealt with in the planishing stage. As you get to the outside edge of the plate the edges may begin to fold like an accordian or pleats. If this happens, stop and hammer the metal flat using the beveled, flat head of the hammer against a sturdy surface. You want to keep the edges as straight as possible during this process.

Using a shot bag (bag or sleeve of sand or bird-shot) is a little trickier, as it is more malleable. If you go this route, make sure the bag is stuffed relatively tight so that it does not shift much while you hammer against it. You can perform the same basic technique as with a stump, but you do not have an edge to brace against. It will take a bit longer to get the shape you want.

Once you have achieved the basic curvature in the metal, you need to flip it over and use your planishing tool. Resting the side you were previously hammering against the planishing item, strike with the flat head of the hammer. The goal is to hammer all of the small peen marks as flat as possible; you will be covering virtually every millimeter of the plate. You want to ensure that the part you are hammering is flat against the planishing tool underneath, and will hear a more ringing sound from the metal if you have it such. If it is not striking properly, you will dent the metal inward rather than just knocking in the high points from the dishing. You do not need to strike the piece hard to do this; essentially you want just a bit more force than simply dropping the hammer to bounce off the metal would produce.

This stage requires considerable care, as an off-center strike will leave small ‘fingernail’ shapes in the metal that are hard to work out. If you do get a few fingernails in it, you can work them out by flipping the piece again and hammering against a flat surface. Remaining fingernail marks can be sanded, ground or filed out to a degree, and in a pinch can be filled in with bondo or other body filler. Your goal for this stage is to end up with a plate that is worked into the final shape you need, with a surface that is mostly smoothed.

Depending on the gauge of metal you are using, your own arm strength and other factors, you can use heavier or lighter hammers. Find the hammer that is most comfortable for you to use, and again, stop when you start getting tired. Fatigued muscles lead to more mistakes, which leads to more work and harder cleanup.

After planishing, you need to sand the entire plate smooth, starting with a rougher grit and moving to lighter. This is where a mouse sander or other powered sander comes in handy. For your final surface, you want it to be as smooth as possible. You may find after sanding that there are imperfections from the hammering that require more planishing and even a little more dishing. Work on those problem areas, and then repeat the sanding process. Additional cleanup work includes sanding/grinding/filing all of the edges to make sure they are smooth. If you are using a thinner gauge metal, like 22 or 26, you will also want to ensure that you did not hammer the edges too thin, as it can get sharp. Grinding these edges flat will keep the metal from damaging your soft parts or skin.

At this point you might be wondering why an optional tool is a rubber hammer.  You can get large, sweeping shapes using the rubber mallet rather than the peen side of the ball peen hammer. By using the rubber mallet to dish, you leave less cleanup work in the planishing stage, though you do not get as dramatic a shape change as with the ball peen. You can also use the harder plastic side of the mallet shown in the reference images for dishing and even some planishing. The mallet also comes in handy for large, sweeping curves such as those in a back plate. After using the mallet to get the rough, overall shape, you can then go in with the ball peen and put more precise shapes into it.

There are other, more advanced tools that you can obtain to make armor work easier, but they are by no means required to make a good, solid suit of beskar’gam. Such tools include belt sanders and pneumatic planishing hammers. If you have the cash and a compressor, or enough cash to buy an auto hammer and compressor, this will save you many hours of hammering. A plasma cutter is also quite useful, as it can slice through metal with ease and even get complex shapes. Even if you have the money for these, do not just go out and buy them and go to town; make sure you receive proper instruction in how to use them safely.

In summary

Take your time and take it easy. Rushing will not get you a quality suit. Exercise proper safety precautions; injuring yourself will only slow down your armor building process. Proper care for your workspace is important; stepping on metal shards is unpleasant. Take care operating power tools and hammering, especially near small children or pets. Do not expect to pick up a hammer and make master-level armor overnight. Learning to make armor is a skill like any other; anyone with the will and drive can learn to make top quality metal armor, but it takes time and patience just as developing any skill does.

--MMCC Education Team--

« Last Edit: Jul 23, 2019, 09:50 AM by Raestin Ke'Varek » Logged
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