TUTORIAL: THORIN OAKENSHIELD BRACERS
GOTHAMCITYRD: I went into this project to build the leather accents for my Thorin bracers and belt. After building the belt buckle from scratch, I thought I could knock the rest of it out if I could figure out the basics. For a while I had just the fingerless gloves, but I’ve always put importance on the little details when I build something, and I enjoy the challenge of learning something new.
Part 1: Supplies, materials, and where to find them
Local craft shops usually sell small strips of leather, but that can get expensive really quickly. Instead, I went to a local charity shop looking for parts I needed for the look. Specifically for my project I was looking for buckles and long presewn strips. I have no real training in sewing except for a few Boy Scout summer camp sessions, so the less I actually had to sew the better.
In addition to the leather, I needed to get other supplies. Fabric glue just doesn’t work well for heavy duty builds, so I went to a local craft store and picked up what I thought were the essentials. Waxed thread, needles, and a leather punch. This is where I learned about the pricing of craft leather, so I had to come up with a Plan B…
For Thorin’s bracers I bought a pair of women’s shoes and a small purse. The shoes had decorative buckles on strips that wrapped around ankle area. Each shoe had two buckles, giving me four – perfect for the bracers. At the same shop as the shoes was a purse with the same leather color and texture. The purse’s shoulder strap was the same width as the straps on the shoes, and the flaps for the general body were the length of my forearm. This was going to work out, as long as I thought this build through carefully. I wasn’t going to have a lot of room for error.
Part 2: Underlayer and straps
I punched holes after aligning the straps with the edges of the large panels. Originally I glued the straps with the fabric glue in place. This isn’t for any kind of permanent hold. The glue was to keep them in place long enough for me to punch straight through both parts and keep the holes aligned.
I looped the thread around in a simple crossover pattern. I felt the evenness of the design helped with the general straight edges of the entire suit. In other words, somehow I made it look semi-professional by pure luck.
After cutting all the parts down, some of the threading became loose (I did cut apart all the sewn panels, after all). I used simple fabric glue to reinforce some unimportant folds and such to keep the edges looking alright. It’s not a critical area as far as I’m aware, so I just wanted it to look nice.
The long edge will be seen along my forearms, which is why I was more worried about those sides. Along the short ends (top and bottom) there will be larger parts hanging over the edges, so they won’t matter as much.
Generally speaking, this is the majority of the work for the base of the bracers. I could also probably call it the easy step. The rest is a lot of preparation and faking.
Part 3 – Fake Leather Armor
Before I even started working on the foam I traced my forearm. This is to make a scratch built template for everything I will be cutting out. Important when you’re working with something with so many symmetrical lines. To make sure it was even, I folded the paper in half, and drew half only. Afterwards, I taped the whole thing in place while it was still folded in half and cut the details out with an x-acto knife.
For this first attempt, I’m starting out with two different thicknesses of EVA foam. This is the same general craft foam you can pick up at any craft store fairly cheaply. One is a quarter inch thickness, the other is 1/16th inch thickness. Though the base is black, I grabbed green for the thinner foam. Hopefully, by the end the color will not matter…
To try to give the foam a sense of texture, While using my heat gun I pressed a well used sanding pad into the foam.
While it may have seemed like a good idea in my head, ultimately it didn’t work out. While I continued to us the heat gun, the heat softened the foam back out and the texture began to vanish. I won’t know how successful it was until much later on, when I end up painting everything. This may work for more simple “leatherworking,” but not for this project.
I lined up where the hand pad overlaps the forearm wrap, and punched holes through both. My theory is I will sew them into place after gluing them. The tightness will help set the glue, and in case the glue ever fails from movement, the thread will hold it in place. I have no idea if it will work in the long run, but being extra careful. It’s a piece of the armor that stands out from the rest of the armor and will be knocked around a lot, especially if I wear it at a convention.
Later on, I began to hot glue the two parts of armor together. A little stretching was needed for these parts, since the curve added a little more surface area. A careful amount of spot gluing and manipulation worked great at this stage.
My “secret” to working with foam, at least the little I’ve worked with it…is to seal the whole thing with PVA glue. This is where my texture plans fell apart. The glue fills in a lot of the smaller details, but it unifies the two layers of foam, so they look like they were cut from the same piece.
Part 4: Painting
This is the important step, because while black and green may look nice it does not look leathery. For starters, I have a dark brown outdoor paint. It’s a semi waterproof acrylic paint, so it helps add a little protection in case I’m ever caught in the rain or something spills it will be moderately safe. Large amounts of water will dissolve the paint like normal acrylic, so it’s not foolproof (that’s how you clean the brushes, after all).
It takes several coats to make it look reasonably well as the edges to not take the paint easily. Also, to prevent too much shine, I continued to rub the paint as it dried on each layer to rough up the texture. Otherwise, the paint will settle to a semigloss finish due to whatever additives are in this paint and the glue surface under it.
After I felt like I had enough layers of brown I went back over each piece with a thin black wash. This was more of an experiment for me, to see how well it would work. I’ve painted a lot of miniatures over the years, and this is one of the most basic techniques. In small scale it looks great, but wasn’t sure about full scale. In the end, I think it worked out.
Afterwards, I brushed the dark brown back onto the raised sections. The minor color shift helps give some depth at a distance, depending on how the light hits it.
Part 5: Assembling everything
Finally, with everything painted I started to sew and glue all the parts together. The back of the hand sections were sewn and superglued. With all the potential flexing, I planned ahead to have the thread act like a backup to hold the foam in place if it ever had a glue failure. Time will tell if that works, or if the foam just breaks off where I weakened it with holes.
The back of the hands needed to go on first, since they are sewn on, and the arm sections will be glued on top of the area where the holes were punched.
In the end it’s not 100% real looking when you study the construction up close, but it looks good from 5 feet away.