Civil Defense Helmet Refinishing

Discussion in 'WWII' started by KilroyCD, May 11, 2009.

  1. KilroyCD

    KilroyCD One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,966
    Location:
    Lancaster County, PA
    I've had a number of enquiries about refinishing Civilian Defense helmets over the past year. Most people have asked "How much to refinish my helmet?", and some have asked for pointers on how to refinish theirs. As a result, I've decided to post a step-by-step tutorial on how to refinish a CD helmet.
    First, let me show you an Air Raid Warden's helmet:
    [​IMG]
    This isn't entirely a typical helmet, as the two white triangles indicate a Chief Air Raid Warden , but everything else is typical. Notice that the white paint is not stark (or "appliance") white. It's more of an antique white or eggshell white. That is the colour one will need to use when spray painting the helmet itself.
    For this excercise, we're going to assume that the typical helmet in need of refinishing will have some surface rust and the paint will be in bad shape. Remove the surface rust using a Scotchbrite pad, steel wool or fine sandpaper (depending on the severity of the rust). If there is an insignia or the remains of an insignia on the helmet, do what you can to protect it. Original insignia will add value to helmets, or if the remains are just vestigial the remains can serve as a guide when recreating the insignia.
    The helmet to be refinished belongs to fellow Lounger Mr.K.L. Bowers, and Kim had already sprayed the helmet in antique white before bringing it to me.
    [​IMG]
    His helmet is the earlier M-1917 or "Kelly" helmet. Many of these were used by CD before the later (deeper) ones specifically made for CD came into the pipeline.
    With the Kelly helmet, the suspension is (usually) removable which facilitates painting the underside. The suspension of the later helmet is riveted into place and cannot be removed for painting, so one has to do their best to mask it off and work around it. Here's a shot of the later helmet's suspension:
    [​IMG]
    Now, as mentioned earlier, the correct colour to paint the helmet is eggshell or antique white. For the insignia, I chose Model Master acrylic paints because they are fast drying and clean up with water. For the red I use "Guards Red", and for the navy blue I use "Blue Angel Navy Blue". These colours match the original decal (on my Chief ARW helmet) almost exactly. As there were several manufacturers of decals, colours can and will vary slightly. Keep in mind that many people painted the insignia on their helmet during the war. A painted insigia on a CD helmet is indeed 100% historically accurate. I have several helmets with original hand-painted insignia, and like the decals these could vary greatly in size from the standard 2" or 2.25" helmet decal size to the 4" size. Four-inch insignia were meant originally for vehicles, but many of these decals found their way onto helmets as well. For this helmet, I'm going to recreate the Air Raid Warden's insignia in the 2" size.
    Since the halmet was already repainted in eggshell white, I only needed to take care of the insignia.
    Materials needed to replicate the insgnia are a sharp pencil (or a mechanical pencil), a fine tip paint brush, paints, a straight edge, a ruler (or tape measure) and either a compass or a round object that matches the size insignia you wish to paint. I was fortunate to have found a cap from a medicine jar that is two inches in diameter. I used that as my template and using a mechanical pencil drew a two inch circle on the front of the helmet:
    [​IMG]
    Using my tape measure, I measured across the flat side of the triangle of an original insignia and found that for a 2' diameter insignia, each side of the triangle needs to be 1 11/16". I measured out my triangle on the circle, and using a straight edge, drew the triangle:
    [​IMG]
    I used an envelope as a straight edge in order to keep the edge against the helmet. The curvature of the helmet makes it more difficult to use a ruler for this process, so something flexible works best. Hence the envelope.
    I measured the width of the stripes (four red, three white) and using the tape measure marked off where they intersected the sides of the triangle. Using the envelope I then drew in the lines for the stripes. The insignia is now ready to be painted:
    [​IMG]
    I started with the red first. I've discovered through trial and error (mainly error) that it's easier to start at the center and work outwards than it is to start at the outside and try to keep one's fingers from smearing wet paint.
    I painted the red stripes, then gave them a few minutes to dry to the touch:
    [​IMG]
    Once the stripes were dry, I started painting the three navy blue sections outside the triangle. Just keep a steady hand and keep some water handy (to quickly correct any mistakes), and the insignia should take shape in short order.
    [​IMG]
    The total elapsed time (including to take photos) to scribe the design and paint was a little more than one hour. Here is the refinished ARW helmet next to the original:
    [​IMG]

    Kim, your helmet is ready!
     
  2. AtomicEraTom

    AtomicEraTom

    Messages:
    10,885
    Location:
    Portage, Wis.
    I think Civil Defense helmets are so cool! And such an interesting part of American History. My grandpa was in Civil Defense and has a helmet like these.
     
  3. dhermann1

    dhermann1 I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    9,158
    Location:
    Da Bronx, NY, USA
    Here's me, with grim visage, in my old CD helmet. I got it at a stoop sale in Brooklyn, maybe 15 years ago for $5. My wife thought I was crazy. I love it. It would appear that the emblem is askew. It has loads of rust, and the webbing inside has seen better days, but still holds up. It's cool to wear because when you talk, it echoes like a tunnel. I don't do reenacting, so I'm perfectly content to leave it just as it is. I kind of prefer it with its ancient battle scarred livery.

    [​IMG]
     
  4. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    Messages:
    771
    Location:
    Eastern Shore, MD
    I like the logo askew. I haven't seen that particular angle before. I do have an ARW helmet where the logo (I think it was a decal applied) has the stripes horizontal. So it looks more like a pyramid :eek:

    To add to Chris's tutorial. Not all helmets had insignia applied. Many were just plain white. Others used letters "ARW" or "POLICE" instead of insignia. Some locations used different color helmets such as NY,NY Auxiliary Fire used the same helmet but painted red and with the appropriate logo. But what Chris showed was the most common.

    Chris has told me before how he does the logos. I still give him my helmets to do. No way I can do that good of work! Chris and I also have reproductions of the rarest of all CD helmets:D An insignia so rare it does not appear in any photographs or listings of CD unit types. And would be very appropriate on a forum like this:D

    Matt
     
  5. KilroyCD

    KilroyCD One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,966
    Location:
    Lancaster County, PA
    Matt, thanks for the kind words about my work. I try to do my best. At first I was wondering about this rarest of the rare helmets, then it hit me!
    Let's see if anyone can guess what this insignia stands for:
    [​IMG]
     
  6. WOW! Nice Work! I can’t wait to see it.
    I should have taken before photos of the helmet before I cleaned and painted it. That was an actual WW I helmet I started with. I am fortunate in that I have access to a sand blaster booth. I turned the pressure down, so as not to blast a hole through the helmet. I applied two coats of Krylon primer and finished it with a coat of Dupli-color Wimbledon White Auto paint
     
  7. green papaya

    green papaya One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,243
    Location:
    California, usa
    the local antique store has a CD helmet that looks like a WWI M1917 Doughboys helmet and the inside says Property of the City of San Francisco Civil Defense.

    maybe I should buy it? it's not expensive
     
  8. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    Messages:
    771
    Location:
    Eastern Shore, MD
    Might not be a bad idea. Prices are steady going up on those.

    Matt
     
  9. green papaya

    green papaya One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,243
    Location:
    California, usa
    is this a CIVIL DEFENSE helmet?

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I found this helmet for $9.99 it is painted a flat army green and was Mfg by B.F. McDonald co. , Los Angeles

    is this helmet WWII era? would the civil defense use a helmet like this? I heard this might also be a vintage hard hat used by Golden Gate Bridge construction crews and heavy equipment operators.
     
  10. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    Messages:
    771
    Location:
    Eastern Shore, MD
    I would say the answer to all your questions is potentially... YES. That looks to be a civilian manufactured hard hat/helmet with no US Military contract. It may have been purchased by the local Civil Defense Council in great quantity if Army surplus helmets were not available from the Federal Government. Therefore the same type of helmet may have been used buiding the Golden Gate Bridge too. I have a Cold-War era CD helmet that was made by the brand "Hard Boiled" It came out of a government building in Washington. So not all CD helmets were the "Property of OCD" nor left-over ww1 helmets. Just most. Real nice paint on it. A lot of times no markings were applied. You could use it AS IS for doing CD reenacting.

    Matt
     
  11. KilroyCD

    KilroyCD One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,966
    Location:
    Lancaster County, PA
    It was a good buy, but I don't think it was a CD Helmet. Though it is of the same shape, the suspension is held in by a different method. McDonald was one of the manufacturers of the official OCD helmet, and to OCD spec the suspension system is riveted in place on those helmets. This appears to be a commercial hard hat from that era. You may be right about the Golden Gate Bridge crews.
    But that hardly rules out being used as a CD helmet, as early on in the war some defense councils used what they could get their hands on.
     
  12. DutchIndo

    DutchIndo A-List Customer

    Messages:
    484
    Location:
    Little Saigon formerly GG Ca
    Since were talking about CD what's the story on the Gas Masks. I have 2 or 3 I forget that I bought years ago. I used one for Re-enacting the early war scenario. They differed slighty from the Army "Training Model". What is the rarity factor on them.
     
  13. green papaya

    green papaya One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,243
    Location:
    California, usa
    early SEABEES?

    I think the SEABEES may have also worn a helmet like this ? also workers aboard MERCHANT MARINE LIBERTY SHIPS while operating heavy equipment or loading cargo, etc.

    The earliest Seabees were recruited from the civilian construction trades and were placed under the leadership of the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps. Because of the emphasis on experience and skill rather than physical standards, the average age of Seabees during the early days of the war was 37
     
  14. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    Messages:
    771
    Location:
    Eastern Shore, MD
    Chris said it better then I. It's very likely that it could have been used by the Civilian Defense. But it is not CD itself.

    Matt
     
  15. JRB

    JRB New in Town

    Messages:
    26
    Location:
    Gilbertsville, PA
    Green Papaya, I have one of those and in Ken Lewis's book, "Doughboy To G.I.", it's shown on page 11. It says it's a helmet for Civilian Workers. So, you're correct. I also contacted Chris Arnold, author of "Steel Pots", and he said the Merchant Marines wore them, as you mentioned. The metal isn't very thick on those, so not much protection is given. You have a nice helmet there and a very good price.

    Jack
     
  16. green papaya

    green papaya One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,243
    Location:
    California, usa
    Merchant Marine

    Thanks for researching the helmet JRB :) Im glad to hear this type of helmet was used by the Merchant Marine because I like the history and I have been on a WWII Liberty Ship in San Francisco many times called the USS JEREMIAH O'BRIAN.

    it will look good in my WWII displays
     
  17. KilroyCD

    KilroyCD One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,966
    Location:
    Lancaster County, PA
    These are rather common in the medium size, less so in large and small, and not common at all in the size used for small children. Depending on condition, I've paid as little as $5 for one complete with the bag.
     
  18. green papaya

    green papaya One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,243
    Location:
    California, usa
    -------------------
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.