Ceallach mac Donal - His Musings

Making Rapier Armor in Ansteorra

(Or What, Where & Why with links to How)

If you're more interested in buying armor, read Getting Started in SCA Rapier (AKA Basic Kit)

The Requirements


As per Ansteorra's "The Complete Participant's Handbook" and the SCA's "CORPORATE RULES FOR RAPIER COMBAT" there are two types of coverage involved in the portion of the armor you make:  "Puncture Resistant" &"Abrasion Resistant". "Rigid Material" is required for other sections of the body (See the rules) but that is generally purchased (ie. fencing mask / helm, gorget, “Personal” armor for men).

See the Ansteorran Rapier website for the current Ansteorran rules.
See the SCA website's Rapier page for the current Organizational rules.

The coverage requirements for "Puncture Resistant" are as follows:

The entire torso (the chest, back, abdomen, groin, and sides up to and including the armpits) must be covered with puncture-resistant material.

Acceptable minimum armpit coverage is provided by a triangle extending from the armpit seam, covering the lower half of the sleeve at the seam, and extending down the inner/under arm, one third the distance to the fighters elbow.  Of course this only applies for a fairly fitted sleeve and if your physical armpit is not covered for a handspan out from your body then you will fail at inspection.

Any portion of the head and neck not covered by the fencing mask / helmet and gorget must also be covered by "Puncture Resistant" material.

How is this generally accomplished? (Follow links for pictures and examples)

  • A doublet/jerkin combined with a fencing shirt that has underarm protection such that either the doublet OR the doublet and shirt together are Puncture Resistant.
  • A doublet with short or full length sleeves that contain the requisite underarm protection and a shirt such that either the doublet OR the doublet and shirt together are Puncture Resistant.
  • A Puncture Resistant doublet with a "normal" shirt and added underarm protection in the form of inserts or shoulder holster type under armor.  This is the combination worn by those who don't want to have to worry about permanantly pairing a specific shirt to a specific doublet or having special “fencing” shirts with underarm protection built-in.
  • An "Elizabethan Waist Coat" or period/place similar garment.  Tudor, late period German and late period Italian all have vaguely similar garments that can be made as armor.  
  • Under armor.  Basically a slightly long T-shirt shape and cut that one wears underneath one's period outfit.  This works well for cooler weather or for those whose garb is comprised of the poet shirt with belt and a pair of pants
  • Armored T-Tunic.  Simple and easy.  You can find T-Tunic patterns all over the net, or ask locally for how-to pointers.
  • Other options: Landsknecht wear, Cotehardie, more realistic time & place tunics, the possibilities are endless

 Head and neck coverage is most often accomplished with a hood of Puncture Resistant material often with a very wide collar to ensure that there is adequate overlap to cover any gapping around the neck.  Others have smaller hoods (sometimes permanently attached to the fencing mask) and a collar that covers completely up to under the gorget.

It is recommended that closures be very secure (ie. hidden zipper or strong Velcro (and Velcro holds up to heavy usage MUCH better than zippers)) or have a large placket to ensure no blade will accidentally get through. A 3 inch overlap is recommended.

The coverage requirements for "Abrasion Resistant" are as follows:

Any portion of the body that is not covered by Punture Resistant material must be covered by Abrasion Resistant material. This includes close toed shoes and gloves.


Puncture Resistant material:

Puncture Resistant material is generally comprised of multi-layer material that has passed the Society rapier punch test. This involves constructing (or borrowing one from your local Rapier Marshal who should have one) and using a drop tester as per the directions provided in the SCA Rapier Handbook (appendices 3 & 4 to be precise).

Natural materials are highly recommended due to the climate here in Ansteorra.  Synthetics in general, including blends, tend not to breathe as well as one would like when one is fully covered and performing aerobic martial acts.

Cotton: works well.  Not ideal for warmer and/or humid areas as cotton swells when wet, sealing the weave and making it more waterproof and, therefore, much less breathable. Do NOT mix cotton with untreated wool as the wool will cause the cotton to degrade QUICKLY.

100% Linen:  Great, breathes wonderfully, heavy fabrics can possibly pass at only two layers.  The wider weave on heavy linens also breathes even better.  Also wrinkles when breathed upon and that wonderfully breathable summer outfit is not quite so comfortable in cool weather. Very period for almost all times and places the SCA covers.

Cotton/Linen blends: Some of both of the above.  Also harder to find in heavy weaves.

Synthetics, synthetic blends:  well ... they rarely breathe, they rarely look period, and if you run into an open flame they melt into your skin ...

Trigger AKA Heavy poplin:  usually something like 35% cotton, 65% polyester.  Cheap and easy to find.  Breathes horribly.  Doesn't look very period.

Poly/Cotton blends:  See above, anything lighter isn't worth the bother.

Heavy Denim:  You can find it, but it usually takes at least two layers and do you really want to wear the equivalent of two jean jackets on a warm day?

Suede / Leather:  Works well, you can use only one layer generally, very tough.  On the other hand it doesn't breathe at all and is difficult to clean.

Silk: Dupioni works nicely and is very strong and durable.  Just remember that skiers often wear single layer silk long johns because it works as such a good insulator.

Wool: I’m told tropical weight wool is very strong, very durable and actually breathes quite well. Very period for almost all times and places the SCA covers.

Abrasion Resistant material:

Abrasion Resistant material is any material that will withstand normal combat stresses (such as being snagged by an unbroken blade) without tearing. Nylon pantyhose or cotton gauze shirting are examples of unacceptable materials.

Again, natural fabrics are recommended.  Actually I would recommend 100% linen from the skin out for 80% of the year for the breathability but "Your Milage May Vary".  That selfsame breathability may be a drawback during the colder portion of the year but we generally have fewer tourneys at that time of year here in Ansteorra.


The thickness required to pass the drop test varies significantly from material to material by fiber content, weight, weave & color.  The content of the material will also affect the testing, short linen fibres will not hold up as well as long linen fibers. Darker colors involve stronger and longer exposure to various chemicals which tend to weaken the fibers, the same may apply to fabrics that have been bleached to bright white. That being said, trigger will usually pass at four layers.  Linen from 5.5 oz to 6.5 oz will usually pass from 3 to 4 layers.  Heavier weight linen may pass at 2.  You may mix and match different weaves/weights/content to create a thickness that passes the drop test.  I like to use two layers of heavy (7.8 oz) linen (my doublet) with an extra layer of medium weight linen for backup (my linen shirt).  Whatever you use, test it in that combination before sewing, if it fails afterwards all that work will have been for naught.  If your layers are in separate parts of your outfit please ensure that you always wear all of the layers involved or you will be on the field illegally.

Again, if the material for your armor has not been tested in that particular combination of materials it is not legal. This applies even if you are making new armor using material that passed with 2 heavy layers and one medium layer and you only changed the color of the medium layer. This applies even if you are using the same material but it is a new order off of a different bolt of material.

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