MY "BOOK ORC" URUK-HAI IMPRESSION                                            Last updated 6/3/04

       First time in the full rig, at Balticon 2004.  The various parts are described below.  Obviously this is a Mordor orc, not one of Saruman's Uruk-hai, but at the moment the only real differences would be the shield and helmet.  I took the crescent moon off the helmet and went with the Cirith Ungol shield.  The short stabbing sword is "peace bonded" into the scabbard according to the con's weapon policy.  Brown camouflage paint stick does a quick and dirty make-up job.  No idea why the mail is still so gleamy, I even left it outside in the wet grass overnight and it STILL isn't rusted!  Guess I didn't get all the galvanization off...

       Got lots of compliments!  Photo by Judy Mitchell.

       Here is what Tolkien says about the Uruk-hai of Isengard:

-- "They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs; and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men.  Upon their shields they bore a strange device: a small white hand in the centre of a black field; on the front of their iron helms was set an S-rune, wrought of some white metal." (The Two Towers, chapter 1)

-- "...a torn black cloak, a heavy iron-nailed shoe broken on the stones."

-- "...with great bows and short broad-bladed swords."

-- The last orc that Gimli kills at Helm's Deep was wearing an iron collar.

       Now, I had always envisioned orcs as using round shields, and spangenhelm-type helmets built of iron strips with panels of metal or leather.  But Tolkien doesn't say that!  (Though his writing was heavily influenced by early Saxon/Germanic and Norse mythology.)  It finally dawned on me that after 20 years of only doing things the way they were done in the past, I could MAKE STUFF UP!!   Wow, is this fun or what?

       Here's what I've been making:
   The "book" versions of my Uruk-hai shield and helmet.  The helmet is described below.

   The shield is made of four mismatched pine planks, glued edge-to-edge.  There are 2 ash strips across the back as reinforcements, and 2 corresponding steel strips on the front.  Around the edge is copper weather strip, tacked on with copper nails.  Two leather straps are riveted onto the back as armband and grip, the former with a buckle.  There is a pad for the arm.  I used my own hand to paint the emblem, inspired by the face prints in the movie.

   The shape was somewhat of a dilemma at first.  Round seemed boring, rectangular is too much like Roman.  Nice impractical fantasy shields often have some kind of spiky projections, so I settled on this.

   My helmet began as the bottom half of a freon can, cut in half and riveted back together as a 12th century pot helmet.  But it got little use as such, and spent several years rusting before being converted to orc gear.  The brim and nasal are made of 18-gauge steel.  The "S" rune is "some white metal", in this case aluminum.  (I'm rather smug about that, since I would NEVER use aluminum for historical gear!)

   Tolkien's orcs obviously had a sense of fashion, since different types were equipped in notably different ways.  But I don't think they should be as uniform as in the movie, and it would be nice if the gear was simpler overall.

  A patchwork tunic of leather scraps.  The body is just a rectangle, with a keyhole neck, just like the undershirt below.   The short sleeves are laced on and open underneath.  It is all garment leather, the body pieces sewn by machine.  It was quite a puzzle! 
  The undershirt.  After years of wearing historical clothing that either exposes or emphasizes my pasty and skinny limbs,  I can now PAD myself up to a respectable physique!  The inner layer is brown cotton; over that is an old sweater, and a layer of cotton batting on each sleeve.  The outer layer is made from mismatched brown and black cotton--you can even see that the front and back halves of the left sleeve don't quite match.  The sleeves are tapered but otherwise straight and unshaped.   The collar is the same leather as the tunic sleeves.  The right forearm is armored by strips of bone, below.
  Vambrace made of pieces of bone.  It is simply a large dog-chew bone cut up with a hacksaw.  (Wear a dust mask!  Bone dust is BAD to breath!)  Drilled a couple holes at each end and tied them to the sleeve with leather thongs.
   My trousers.  I realized that I didn't have to make a pair of ragged trousers when I already HAD some--old olive drab demin slacks with a hole in the knee, chopped off above the ankles.  I dyed them with brown and black dye to get this wonderful "dark ick" color.  Over that, a large scrap of black cloth is wrapped, sort of forming two short legs that are open at the inner side.  It is sewn to the waistband of the slacks with a couple pleats where needed.  The fly area is left unsewn but overlaps, and I tore slits over each pocket.  All the convenience of modern trousers, while still using layers to pad my shape.
   No elf-booties, here!  These shoes  are quite solid, nailed together like Roman caligae, and based on a Roman carbatina pattern.  I added the wide tongue to make them more enclosed, and a low heel.  There are two 8-oz sole layers on the bottom, plus the three heel layers, and one sole layer on top of the uppers.  The hobnails (I use "decorative wrought-head nails") are driven through while the pieces are lying on an anvil, so that the nail points clench over as they hit it.  Another layer of insole will cover the bent-over points inside.  Since the rear seam is laced shut with a thong, no stitching is needed and the shoe is very quick to assemble.  The leather will be much darker when it has been dyed and oiled.
  There are several references to "mail".  Well, I've made enough mail in my time, so I put this shirt together from leftover pieces and scraps!  Very orcish, eh?  Still have to fill in a couple gaps.  This is all made from steel wire of various thicknesses and ring sizes.  Another option, used in the movie itself, is making the rings from slices of plastic PVC pipe, as described on this page.

  Under the mail is the leather tunic before its sleeves were added.

  My feeling is that orcs would wear more leather clothing than fabric, simple tunics, trousers or breechclouts, etc.  Fabric (such as for cloaks) makes more sense for Isengard and Mordor than for the average "mountain" orc, since they are organized states with large human populations to produce what is needed.

   "Short, broad-bladed sword", definitely a head-lopper!   The blade is just mild steel 1/8" thick,  22" long by 2-1/2" wide, and the total weight is just over 2 pounds.   The knuckle guard (18 gauge steel) with skull motif keeps it from looking too much like a Roman gladius.  Here's a close-up of the guard.  The tang is sandwiched with 2 pieces of wood and wrapped with leather.   The scabbard is 2 pieces of 1/8" plywood with narrow strips of the same between the edges, glued together to create a "box".  I was pondering how to cover it with as few pieces of leather as possible, when I remembered that it was not SUPPOSED to look neat!  The buckle is crudely forged from 1/4" steel bar stock.

       You can see that my stuff is on the plain and simple side, especially compared to what's in the movie.  I may add a little more of the spiky/ragged/extraneous-stuff look as I go along, but it's not going to get TOO busy.  But don't feel constrained by MY imagination!   There is a ton of artwork out there by many different artists which can serve as inspiration, though Tolkien himself doesn't seem to have drawn any orcs, at least not large enough to see.  In the end, this is fantasy, and you should make it YOUR fantasy.



   Tolkien describes the orcs of Mordor thusly:

-- "There were long hairy breeches of some unclean beast-fell, and a tunic of dirty leather... a coat of stout ring-mail, short for a full-sized orc, too long for Frodo and heavy.  About it he clasped a belt, at which there hung a short sheath holding a broad-bladed stabbing sword."
-- "...a black cap with iron rim, and iron hoops covered with leather upon which the evil Eye was painted in red above the beaklike nose-guard."
-- "...a large black cloak..."

-- "Two liveries Sam noticed, one marked by the Red Eye, the other by a Moon disfigured by a ghastly face of death..."
-- " 'The Morgul-stuff, Gorbag's gear, was a better fit and better made,' said Sam..."  --Now, THAT'S interesting!  Presumably a better fit for hobbits, implying that the Morgul orcs were smaller on average than the Cirith Ungol garrison.  But "better made"?  Is quality control better in Minas Morgul, or are they getting man-made equipment?

-- Grishnakh's troops "had a red eye painted on their shields."

   Cirith Ungol helmet and shield.  The scrap leather for the helmet covering is c. 4 to 5-ounce thickness.  Once they were all laced together I soaked the whole thing and stretched it over the frame, then riveted it in place when dry.  Dyed the leather black and painted the eye.  The lining is a very simple wide band of soft leather with  a drawstring at the top edge.  The shield is 3 planks that overlap at the edges, made to resemble the Tower of Cirith Ungol itself.  35" tall by 15" wide.  It has a vertical handgrip, shown here.
   Helmet in progress.  The rusty brown parts were intended to be the frame for a medieval spangenhelm.   Got it from a friend, cheap, added the 3 narrow steel hoops, and hammered out the nasal into a beakier shape. 
   Shield made from an aluminum saucer sled.  About 25" in diameter.  I folded the edges over around the areas that got cut away, then mashed the nice rolled rim around the rest of the edge flat to match better.  Riveted on a strap and buckle for the arm and a bent piece of steel for the handle.  It feels too light to be realistic, but heck, it's a costume piece, right?   The paint job is too neat...

   Minas Morgul helmet is 18 and 20-gauge steel, with a neckguard of leather scales.  The crescent moon and the top plate are both brass, the latter with a screw-in iron spike.  The right eye is decorated with a copper Eye of Sauron motif.  When my wife saw this helmet, she said, "That looks really awful."  No higher compliment!

   Shield with Minas Morgul livery, 3/8" plywood, 21" in diameter.   The rim is a narrow strip of steel held on by brass upholstery tacks, with steel reinforcing on the smaller "spike".  Both armband and grip have buckles so that the shield can be strapped firmly to the arm, freeing the left hand for 2-handed weapon use.  The emblem is adapted from Tolkien's own cover art for The Two Towers.

   Backs of 3 shields.  The two wooden ones have pads nailed to the back, the metal one has fur glued on for padding.  I left the two canvas loop handles in place on the Mordor shield, so in an emergency it can still be used as a sled!
   This is my idea of the sword Frodo acquires at Cirith Ungol, "...a short sheath holding a broad-bladed stabbing sword."  A close-up of the hilt is here.  The blade is 1/8"-thick scrap steel, 16" long and just over 3" wide at the hilt.  The guard is a dished oval of 16-gauge steel; the grip is a stack of 1" leather discs with slots punched to fit over the tang; and the pommel is some sort of steel pulley wheel that's been in my junk box for many years.  The tang is split at the end and bent over to secure the hilt.  The scabbard is garment leather over a carboard core!

   Some orcs carry knives or daggers, with blades described as "black" (or "red", with blood?), "long", "jagged", "saw-edged", etc.  This one was a cheap Malaysian Kris dagger with a 10" blade.  I removed the horn hilt and built a new one, two pieces of 1/8" thick steel stock for the guard and pommel, and a piece of copper pipe stuffed with wood shims for the grip.  Darkened the blade by heating and quenching.  The scabbard is what came with the knife, leather-covered wood, very worn after years of kicking around in closets.  I nailed a piece of leather on the back for a belt loop, and pulled off the brass tip.