Three leather fire buckets at Cawdor Castle

Leather fire buckets, Cawdor Castle

Three leather firebuckets at the top of the main stairs in Cawdor Castle, dating to the eighteenth century, later emblazoned with the lst Earl Cawdor’s coronet and monogram. Construction is riveted throughout and virtually identical to those at Cotehele House in Cornwall, HMS Victory and any number of other sites (including this).  The top band and handle loops are metal, these buckets have a particularly fine paint job.


Here’s some more photos of the same buckets.

Cawdor Monogrammed fire buckets. Picture taken from Highland Living: Landscape, Style, and Traditions of Scotland By Franck Ferrand


Tudor thread bobbins

I’m afraid this is another one of those posts where I show off while pretending that it’s really all to do with Tudor leather work. It was my turn on the lathe last Sunday afternoon, so I whipped up some copies of bobbins from the Mary Rose out of an off-cut piece of silky oak that was destined for the bin.

Mary Rose bobbins

One’s pretty much a copy of 81A1433, complete with hollow inside for storing needles, the other is similar but solid due to a borer hole that comes out the side.

Mary Rose bobbins

These are for my Stuart period leather worker’s tool box. See – it was relevant after all! As well as storing thread, the bobins can be used to maintain a tension on a thread when doing things like whipping rope.

They are just slightly under diameter because of the size of the timber I was using. 81A1433 apparently has some traces of paint so of course, I couldn’t control myself. The paint is artist’s oils because I wasn’t confident that ground pigment wouldn’t come off on the thread. Pigments are all ones in common use and the arrangement of colour is from seventeenth century painted furniture.

Mary Rose bobbins

Post script: even commercially prepared oil paints don’t stop lamp black from rubbing off over everything. Maybe I should use and iron or ivory black next time. I ended up putting a thin coat of varnish over the black to seal it and then waxed.

After the rain…

That didn’t take long! The situation I was trying to simulate is one where the painted leather is kept wet for a period of time. I had this happen at Easter 2009 where we hosted a 17th century tavern that ran for four days. By the end, all the leather drinkware was soaked and the paint was just starting to bleed.

After the rain
As before, oil at the top, then gouache, then acrylic. Modern dye to the left, iron black to the right

I must admit, early Summer rain in Sydney is somewhat akin to being shot-blasted, but it has accelerated the testing nicely. The oil on modern dye, which had already started to chip, suffered quite badly from this treatment. The gouache on iron black mostly washed off, on the modern dye it stood up a little better and could have been rescued by bring it in earlier and gently drying it. As you would expect, the acrylics are largely unaffected, as is the oil paint on iron black.

Remember, all samples are from the same piece of hide, and all have a coat of varnish and a heavy coat of beeswax over the paint.

Once they’ve dried out, I’ll simulate washing up.

Remember these?

Paint tests 2
From top down, oil paint, gouache, acrylic, left samples are modern dyes, right are iron black.

I’ve had the samples sitting for about six months, just to make sure the paints were really dry. They were dusted off and given a light coat of beeswax to finish sealing them, as I do with the painted drinkware. So far, they’ve had an easy life.

As expected, the acrylic stuck to both samples. What I wasn’t ready for was the way the oil paint seemed to be just sitting on the surface on the modern dyed piece. It smudged when I hit it with the wax. The gouache is having some problems the other way around. In that case, the modern one is fine but the iron black sample seems to have thinned the coating somehow. Possibly it’s reacting with the paint.

I’ll keep on with the tests as planned. Tomorrow might be a good time to leave them out in the rain.

Paint tests, part 2

A wise woman told me to junk the acrylic paints I was using and to get some real ones. So I grabbed the Games Workshop paints Andrew and I use for figure painting. Say hello to Skull White and Blood Red.

Acrylic paints

This acrylic went on like a real paint, flowed fairly well, and most importantly, covered properly. The oil was magnificent, as it always is. I love using it, but that may be because I understand they way it works best. Here’s the result.

Paint samples

Oil is on the left column, gouache is in the middle and acrylic to the right. Iron dye is the top row and modern to the bottom.

I was expecting the red oil paint to lift the white, but found it happening with the gouache instead. I’ll let them dry for a week and varnish appropriately, then finish with wax and start the torture tests. Stay tuned for the excitement

Paint tests, part 1

Late last year I discussed painting leather and promised to do some testing to see if oils or gouaches weathered better. The implication was that the originals could have been done with either, again mainly me trying to justify not waiting a week for each coat of paint to dry.

I’ve just started painting and  have my answer already.

I’ll briefly recap first. Six samples of the same 4mm harness butt were stamped and dyed, three with a modern water based black dye and the other three with a home made iron-based dye. One modern and one traditional sample were then painted with each of oil paint, gouache and acrylic. The stamped area was used to see if there’s a difference between compressed areas and paint on top of the leather. The number “1” was used as it had a  number of sharp points where failure could occur.

Paint tests

The samples and paints. The gum arabic is for diluting the gouache, the gum turpentine (out of frame) for the oil.

The gouache flowed beautifully on the modern dye, as did the oil on both samples. The acrylics had a really hard time covering the black base on both samples. The acrylic will need a minimum of two, and possibly three coats to cover as well as the others. The problem with both the water based paints is that the iron dye makes the leather hydrophobic. The water-based paints bead on this surface, leading to rough edges and poor adhesion.

Paint tests

First coat finished, I’ll tidy the edges on the next coat. From the top down are acrylic, gouache and oil, the iron dye is on the left. The beading can clearly be seen on the 1 in the centre left sample.

The moral of the story is that if you are using an iron dye, you have to use oil based paints.

Testing plans

Sorry things have been a bit quite here, real life has a habit of getting in the way. However I now have a haircut, a new job, just about everything destroyed by the lightning strike have been replaced or scheduled for repair and we now appear to have a fight with a state government about sword ownership building in the wings.

I’ve decided on the testing plan and how I’ll make the test pieces. All will be from the same part of the same hide, dyed, painted both on the surface as I do on my jacks and flooding a stamped area as I’ve done on the quivers just in case compressing the leather changes the paint retention properties. Each sample will have one coat of varnish and then be waxed front and back. The first sample will be tempera over modern black dye as a control, the second will be tempera over a traditional iron black dye, third will be oil paint on modern waterbased dye and fourth will be oil paint on traditional black.

The oil paints will be synthetic versions of flake white and vermilion with the temperas as close as I can get to those pigments. I’m using the substitutes because I’m highly sensitive to heavy metals. Two coats of each colour will be applied.

The dye I’m making is steel wool in cider vinegar, the recipe came from William De Wyk’s blog. It reacts with the tannin in the leather and forms ferric tannate, not unlike the oak gall ink used in the medieval and early modern period.

I’ll put some photos up once I get going properly.