|The Making of Wisby Plate
By Rick Steeves (SKA Corwyn Sinister)
Copyright 1993 (rev. 1996, 1997)
Introduction and Notes
These instructions should enable you to construct a suit of Wisby plates,
named from the archeological dig in 1928-1931 at the site of the Battle of
Wisby, fought near Visby, Gotland, Sweden in 1361 against the Danes. The
battle itself lasted the course of several days, during which time the dead
were left in the summer sun. By the time these soldiers were buried, the
armor must have no longer been in any shape to be worn again, as many were
buried in full suits of armor. A large number of relatively intact suits
were unearthed from several mass graves. Wisby plate is primarily
constructed from overlapping plates riveted to the inside of a coat of
heavy fabric or leather.
Plastic plates and upholstery fabric are used here as an alternative to
waxed/boiled leather, steel, or aluminum plates, for price and weight
Some people, instead of using rivets to hold the plates in place, sew
overlapping cloth pockets/pouches on the inside of the material (using
vertical seams) and place the plates into them. For those w/o access to
rivets (or those that love to sew), this is a viable alternative. The
pouches allow the plates to be removed for replacement and for washing of
Pauldrons should be added for shoulder protection, placed after the armor
is constructed. I also strongly advise riveting either plastic or leather
to the inside of the material in the shoulder/neck region as well.
Being graphically impaired, there are no associated illustrations. However,
there's several really good diagrams in the Known Worlde Handbook, a
publication produced by the SCA Corporate Office for a reasonable price. It
has a set of instructions as well, but are less detailed than mine.
However, it also has 2-3 pages on a wide range of SCA activities.
* Approx. 50 SMALL Jiffy/Speed rivets(Med. if thicker plastic)
* Approx. 100 MEDIUM Jiffy/Speed rivets
* 1½ - 2½ yds tight weave (non-see through) upholstery fabric
* 1 yd. heavy material (denim)
* 3½ 5 gal. plastic buckets
* 4' close cell foam (or alternatively a padded gambeson)
* Approx. 3' strap leather (3/4")
* 3 3/4" buckles
* small can contact cement
* 2 5 gal. plastic buckets (only 1 if also making body)
* 1 ½ yds. upholstery fabric (or scraps from body armor)
* 2 ½ ft. close cell foam
* 8 Chicago screws (rivets will do in a pinch)
* Thread lock (to prevent screws from coming undone)
* 4' strap leather (3/4") (for thigh)
* 4 3/4" buckles (for thigh)
* 2½'x 1" 10 oz+ leather (for belt straps)
* 5" x 6" (x2) 10 oz+ leather (to attach knee to plastic)
* 2 metal knees
* Utility knife
* Sabre or Jigsaw
* 9/16" drill bit
* leather punch (slightly smaller than rivets)
* fine tip magic marker
* Anvil or other undentable surface (for setting rivets)
* Sewing machine (or needle and thread)
* Flank plates - around the kidneys region
* Stomach plates - covering stomach and lower chest region
* Chest plates - over the chest/neck region
* Length - a plate in its longest axis
* Width - a plate on its shortest axis
I. Cutting the Plates
Tailoring the Plates
There are three types of plates: 1) flank plates, 2) stomach plates, and 3)
chest plates (left, right, middle). People that vary significantly from my
own height and weight (5'10", 150 lbs.) might want to consider tailoring
the plates. Standard plates DO cover quite a bit of deviation though.
Flank Plates (12±2):
Length. Flank plates should be the distance from just above the point of
the hip to approx. 2" below the arm pit (where the arm intersects the
body). The idea is to get the maximum length that will still not bind arm
movement or cut into the waist when the body bends.
Width. In period designs, the number of flank plates varied, ranging from
four to fourteen plates (7" to 3" wide respectively). Here we are using 14,
although the number used is strictly up to the individual. More plates
makes the armor looks prettier (because it has more shiny rivets on the
outside), and provides somewhat better protection. However, this
(obviously) means more plates to cut and more rivets to set.
Stomach Plates (5):
Width: 3" wide, slightly wider if you have a long torso. The bottom plate
may be made wider to provide more protection for the lower body.
Length: These plates should almost, but not quite, reach the points of the
Chest Plates (3):
Chest plates should be approx. 8" x 3", with slight bulges extending from
the bottom of of the left and right plates for additional breast
Trace out the plates. If making plastic leg armor as well, legs should be
traced first to maximize plastic use. On a bucket, the flank plates should
be traced vertically and the stomach plates horizontally, so that the curve
of the bucket matches the curve of the plate on the body.
By current Atlantean rules, plastic kidney protection must be 1/8" thick.
Therefore, flank plates must be either doubled up or cut from a thicker
source of plastic, such as a plastic 50 gallon drum. When using 1/16"
plastic (5 gal. plastic bucket), cut enough flank (kidney protection)
plates to be able to double them.
Cut out the plates using a jig/sabre saw. Trim the fuzz and round the
corners using a utility knife.
Drill three holes down the center of the length of one flank plate - one in
the center, and one in each end about 1" from the edge. This plate will be
your template for cutting out the holes in the rest of the flank plates.
Using the template, drill holes in the rest of the flank plates.
Drill 5 evenly spaced holes down the length of one stomach plate, about ½"
from the edge the long way. Using this as a template, drill holes in the
rest of the stomach plates.
Drill three evenly-spaced holes down the center of the length of each of
the chest plates.
II. Cutting the Fabric (all measurements without seam allowance)
You will need to cut the upholstery fabric into a "T", or sew together 2
separate strips for the same effect. A hole is cut in the vertical bar of
the "T" for your head (see Figs. 1 & 2). Length EF should be: 16" or
from points of shoulders + 2" wide). Length GC should be: (point of hip to
1" below armpit+ 2") wide and length DG should be 43" or (circum. of chest
+ approx. 8"). Ideally, length DG should be left as long as possible until
the flank plates are set in.
The positioning of the hole is the tricky part. Cutting the fabric in 2
separate pieces enables a more accurate positioning.
Optionally (but recommended), sew a layer of denim or other heavy material
to the back of the upholstery fabric for additional support. I recommend
folding the material onto itself for added strength against tears, but some
machines won't sew through 2 layers of denim and 2 layers of upholstery
III. Attaching the Plates to the Fabric
Lay out the fabric with the outside facing down. Lay out the plates on the
fabric (overlapping) as shown in Figure 1. The flank plates should overlap
the stomach plates however. Mark all the holes. All of the stomach plates
overlapped should equal approximately the length of the flank plates. The
flank plates should be placed such that they run from slightly above the
point of the hip to just below the armpit.
To make sure everything lines up correctly (before attaching over a hundred
rivets) punch out holes in the fabric for ONLY the bottom stomach plate and
the first flank plate on either side. Affix the plates with a minimum
number of rivets. I sometimes use small screws and bolts to increase the
ease of removing them if necessary.
Note: When attaching plates, either a) punch holes in fabric for each
individual plate, and then rivet it, or b) punch all the holes first, and
then affix all the plates. The more conservative solution is (a), since if
you've screwed up, you have fewer holes punched in the wrong place, but it
IS somewhat annoying to keep flipping the armor over to punch the next set
of holes. Remember, each flank plate needs to be made two plates thick if
using conventional 1/16" plastic buckets in order to comply with current
Atlantean armor regulations.
Attach the rest of the stomach plates, working from bottom to top.
Attach the flank plates, working from the stomach plates. Once 75% of the
flank plates are attached, put the armor on for a more accurate estimate of
how many plates will be needed. Plates can be added as needed. Remember
that between the armor and your skin will be a layer of foam or a gambeson,
so you will need more plates than it looks like initially.
Once all flank plates are riveted, put on the armor. While having it held
closed in the back, place the chest plates on the chest to figure exact
positioning. The bulges should not impede arm movement, keeping in mind
that they will flex slightly with the armor. Mark the holes, remove the
armor, punch out the holes, and attach the chest plates (left, right, and
Buckles are necessary to attach the two sides of the flank plates in back,
and to attach that to the back flap of the armor, so that the weight of the
front plates doesn't pull the front of the armor down.
Place buckles at the top and bottom of the flank plates on one side, and
the tongues on the other.
One buckle should be placed in the back with the other buckles, but facing
so that it attaches to the back flap (the one with the neck hole in it). It
takes an additional person to place the third buckle.
Cut a strip of foam slightly wider than the length of a flank plates and as
long as the length of the plates wrapped around the body. This length needs
to be measured in the curve as the armor would be wrapped around the body,
not laid out flat on the floor - the two lengths are different.
Next, coat the top center stomach plate and the two end (farthest from
stomach plate) flank plates with contact cement. Coat also the
corresponding spots on the close cell foam. Let dry according to
instructions on cement. Cement the foam to the inside of the armor.
1. Some people prefer at this point to sandwich the plates and foam with
yet another layer of material, but it is not necessary.
2. Instead of (or in addition to) foam, a heavily padded gambeson can be
The Making of Plastic Leg Armor
First, cut bottom out of the 5 gal. plastic bucket.
Place the leg pattern against your leg. Stand in stance and see if it will
bind. Adjust the pattern for binding and/or gaps.
Next, trace out pattern on plastic, preferably inside the bucket (due to a
size difference caused by the curving). There is a right and a left leg; be
careful. If also making body armor, trace those plates at the same time.
Cut out legs/plates. Trim and round edges using utility knife.
Place the plastic leg against your leg. Stand in stance and check again to
see if it binds. Trim any (un)necessary plastic. (Check from your knees as
Drill holes (inset about ½") aound the perimeter every 3" and at each
If you desire a decorative rivet pattern (such as a Celtic cross or just
lines) in the plastic, mark and drill out those holes.
Mark and drill holes for the thigh straps.
Again, place the plastic leg on your own leg and stand in stance. Mark one
hole 1" from the edge of the center top of the leg. Next mark another hole
1" straight down (as if you were using a plum bob). This should make the
leg fit more comfortably and ride better on the belt. Drill out these holes
as well. Note: This makes these left and right strap angle different.
Cover the outside of the plastic with upholstery fabric, giving approx. 2"
overlap (with plastic curved as on the leg). After folding fabric over the
edge, mark and punch through the two layers of fabric, and then rivet it.
(The idea being to sandwich the plastic between two layers of fabric.) On
the opposite side of the leg, repeat procedure, streching the cloth to
prevent wrinkling. Work around the edges until all rivets are set.
Punch the holes in the cloth and set rivets for decorative design.
Punch the holes in the cloth and rivet the thigh buckles and tongues to the
plastic (on the outside).
Punch the holes in the cloth and attach the leg harness straps (on the
outside). These should be made to loop around a belt.
Attach knees. If using simple (unarticulated) knees, I recommend one solid
square of 12 oz.+ leather on the inside of the leg and knee. Attach leather
to knee with 2 Chicago screws. Attach other side to plastic with two more
screws. Remember to apply Thread lock to screws so they don't come undone.
Cut out foam the same size/shape as the inside of the plastic leg. Remember
to measure this with the plastic curved as if it is worn on the leg.
Coat the inside of foam and the inside of the plastic with contact cement.
Let dry. Attach the foam to the plastic.
APPENDIX A: Setting Jiffy/Speed Rivets
Place the base (male half) of the rivet though the layers of things you
want to connect, so that the tip is on the outside (side you want people to
see). Next, place base of rivet on a rigid striking surface, making sure
you don't have too much or too little of the tip showing. Next, place the
cap (female half) of the rivet over the tip. Take hammer and strike cap
firmly several times until it looked flattened. Be careful to strike it
evenly, or you will get dents in your rivet. Next, try to pull the two
surfaces apart, to check that the rivet holds. Discard flattened or bent
rivet. Do NOT try to reuse rivets, esp. caps after they've been hit.
A bolt can reach a rivet in a hard to reach place, such a a curved surface
(i.e. the inside of a metal knee). Place the head of the bolt on the cap of
the rivet, and then strike the other end of the bolt to mash the rivet
For attaching one or two layers of upholstery fabric to one layer of
plastic, use SMALL rivets.
For attaching fabric to either a layer of plastic and a layer of leather,
or two layers of plastic, use MEDIUM rivets.
Note: You might need to buy small rivets AND larger rivets, just to get the
larger caps. Small caps, although (marginally) acceptable against leather
or plastic, pull out when used on fabric.