Costuming 101: Creating Wearable Body Armor / Upper Leg Protection

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Creating DIY wearable Stormtrooper costume armor using 55-gallon plastic chemical barrels; Halloween, events, etc. Part III of the How-to make HDPE armor tutorials...

Halloween is Coming! Stormtrooper Costumes to the Ready!

There is nothing more fun than going out on Halloween dressed in costume. Whether you buy or make your own, everyone wants something unique, something that nobody else has. You can make your own wearable costumes, specifically wearable body armor, from discarded 55-gallon chemical barrels.

In Costuming 101: Stormtrooper/Fantasy Armor Created from Recycled Plastic Chemical Barrels we learned some basic of how to create poster-board templates that 'fit' the intended wearer. Traced upon a smooth-sided 55-gallon HDPE plastic chemical barrel and cut-out using an electric jig saw, we were left with the front and the back of the chest armor.

In the second installment ./Assembling the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Armor we learned how to attach the front and back section using all stainless steel pop-rivets. We also learned how to 'dress' the armor to make the head-hole and arm-hole accessible. More on this aspect of the armor is in the works, but what about the rest of the body armor? Can other body armor parts be created for the legs? Yes!

Create a Template for the Upper Leg

upper leg covers for the plastic body armor

This is an approximation of the shape of the desired upper leg template. Traced onto white poster-board, it must be several inches taller than the distance between the intended wearer's outer knee and the height of the belt at their outer hip. Note the rounded 'crown' at the top. This part is important to create for this part shall be at the wearer's sides, at approximately the top inseam of their jeans or pants.

(Image "A") Your template will likely be wider than this graphic image, which is for demonstration purposes only. Wrapping around your leg with several inches of overlap is an absolute necessity.

Be sure that the template is symmetrical. If folded in half lengthwise it must be the same. Otherwise you will have to consider making a FRONT and a REVERSE pattern and cutting the plastic out that way. This is because the 'pebbly' surface of a 55-gallon barrel is on the exterior, which is the surface what we want, you must all your cut-out carapaces the have the same 'exterior' surface.

The interior of any chemical barrel is far smoother than the exterior surface, almost glass-like. While this might be desirable for some armor costumes, generally this texture detracts from the whole.

Not to mention that long-term contact of the inside of the barrel with whatever chemicals were present will very much affect how well this 'interior surface' will accept any spray paint. Often the chemicals these barrels were originally used for will cause most spray paints to 'bubble up' and peel. The exterior sides does not do this.

Heat and Roll the Upper Leg Carapace into a Megaphone Tube

(Image "B") Using the propane torch heating and bath-tub cooling methods we learned in the first tutorial, we have created one rolled cone that is sized for the intended wearer.

Before riveting (note the RED dots: these are suggested rivet points) it may be advantageous to test-fit this cone onto the wearer BEFORE drilling and installing the rivets.

Be Aware of the Knee

  • Be especially mindful of the narrow end of this Upper Leg Cover: It MUST be able to easily slide over the clothed knee with little or no squeezing, pulling or yanking. You should be able to freely insert the fingers of your hand up the narrow end armor from the bottom while wearing it, else it is going to be too tight and can cause chaffing and pinching.

By gently squeezing the cone around the wearer's leg and marking the straight-line position with a magic marker, you will have a guide-line to align to prior to riveting.

In an more advanced build, I created a fan-tail delta design and installed a draw-hasp to tightened/release this narrow end. This 'friction fitting' method worked quite well but it is an necessary extra. As with all things, subsequent builds become more complex as specific needs are identified and added detailing extras are desired.

This fit must be LOOSE. Test-fitting is only to assure that it will not be riveted too tight and not permit entry of the leg. When worn on the body, it will be hanging from a strap attached to the wearer's belt and thus, will be surprisingly secure and stable.

Make TWO of these upper leg covers using the FRONT and REVERSE pattern template

Make two of these carapaces for the upper leg covers, heat and roll and rivet each. The number of rivets used is up to you, but use enough to hold the pieces flat to each other.

A very big time-saver tip here is to use a several inches long DRYWALL SCREW to reach through both pieces as they overlap and draw them snugly together so you can effectively rivet them permanently. You may then place a rivet near the drywall screw. Then, extract the DRYWALL SCREW and using the resulting hole it created for the next pop-rivet. Repeat this process. The drywall-screw hole may require a sizing-ream with the 1/8th drill, but that is just a formality.

By leapfrogging the drywall screw several inches ahead of your intended pop-rivet sites you can speed the build and save yourself needless MUCH toil and grief!

I can only relay the facts of this drywall screw tip but not fully convey the spirit of this innovation; certain complex riveting connections that in the past used to take me over an HOUR to perform can be done in mere minutes using this drywall screw and riveting swap. This is one of the time-saving discoveries that I learned and why it took me nearly three years to create my first Serpent Guard Armor and just over one month to create the second one. To say that there was a learning curve involved is a gross understatement.

(Image "C") Upon riveting a straight line down what will be the inseam of the upper leg armor, you can snap a straight line and with the Dremel cut-off tool, trim any ragged surplus or non-straight protuberances. The sanding drum attachment on the Rotary Tool is a great aid to 'smooth-out' and sharp points and edges.

A few quick passes of the propane torch to 'round-out' the angular cut edges makes them very sleek and comfortable.

Standing the two pieces side-by-side you should now have two Upper Leg Covers similar to what is shown in the image here. These are expected to be taller than necessary, so that they can be custom cut-to-fit in later steps when sized.

Attach Anchor Points for Adjustable Pet Collar Straps

Attach two flat HDPE 'garbage can lid handle' strap several inches down the inside of the highest point of the two leg covers. These are the anchor points for the straps that hold the leg armor to the belt of the wearer

Using a inch wide by several inches long strip of HDPE plastic that is formed to be like a garbage can lid handle, pop-rivet these horizontally and on the inside of each leg cover below the highest point.

These are the anchor to which you will attach an adjustable pet collar. These pet collars are typically woven nylon construction with a plastic snap-hasp for quick un-hooking. Each strap is looped through the wearer's belt and its function is for holding the upper leg cover in place.

The reason the attach point is several inches down on the inside is to allow the 'high point' of the upper leg cover to rest a few inches away from the wearer's hip at the inseam. This looks very 'classic' armor, -and it also serves a purpose. It allows the wearer the ability to unhook the armor themselves if necessary, and there is some (albeit limited) access to the pants pockets. The wearer just may be able to access a room key, pocket watch or a few coins of the realm for the purchase of cold drink while still remaining 'in character.'

How It Is Worn: The Pet Collar Straps are Adjustable, and the Wearer's Belt is Flexible

How the Upper Leg Covers are attached to the leather belt of the wearer using adjustable nylon pet collars.

(Image "E")

With sneakers or shoes off, the wearer slides the Upper Leg Covers upon onto each leg (left and right to wearer facing forward) with the respective pet collar straps (in red) facing outward.

The nylon straps (depicted in red) are looped through the wearer's belt at the outer inseam at the hips, and latched. Because the attach point to the upper leg cover is several inches down on the inside of this megaphone tube, the armor itself is carried tipping slightly outward at the top (as shown in the diagram.) This allows for comfort and surprisingly enough, some limited access to the hip pockets!

This accessibility of the hip pocket can be very handy for carrying a room key, a timepiece or procuring some coins to buy a cold beverage while still remaining completely in character and not removing your costume.

A 'hinged cage' that covers the wearer's waist, hips and groin area will be our next build. Created in conjunction with these upper leg covers, neither interferes severely with the other and the wearer can even comfortably sit down in this armor!

And brutal honesty here; considerations for the ease of use of toilet facilities was thought of and built into the functionality of this armor.

Building the Waist-Cage section will have to be in the next installment of How to Create Wearable Armor: Waist Cover Armor by author...

(all images and graphics by author)

Update: Images of the actual Upper Leg Covers and close-up detail of the nylon pet collar straps used to attach to wearer's belt.

close-up view of the completed upper leg cover and attach points for the nylon straps (inexpensive dog collars)


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