If you are like most evil masterminds, your place has a portcullis or two out front, and you probably have not spent a lot of time thinking about how best to maintain what you have. If you are serious about what you do, your portcullis has probably been taking a beating over time, and it is just plain prudent to take measures now to avoid costly and embarrassing failures down the road at a time when you can ill afford them.
- Inspection. Sometimes it is obvious that something is not quite right with a portcullis as soon as you lower the thing and take a careful look at it. Gaps in the lattice, poor fit around the edges, sticky spots during its travel or a sudden tendency to fall down when you do not intend to lower it are clear even to the untrained eye. But if all looks right you should also check for hidden issues. Do the iron bars crumble when you beat on them with a mailed fist or with a set of hooves? Are the spikes at the bottom bent or blunt through misuse? Are the chains holding the portcullis ready to rot completely through? And is it just as easy to raise the portcullis after you are done, or is it a big affair to open it back up again, amounting to a great big iron deathtrap for you and your people? Also, if your needs have changed since the portcullis was originally installed, consider whether it is providing sufficient protection against your chief foes or whether it needs reinforcement or replacement.
- Weathering and wear. A portcullis which has been in service for a long time will have a toll taken on its appearance. A slight amount of ruggedness is generally considered menacing and attractive, but excessive rust and scaling should be removed with steel wool and a wire brush. Use a pick to clean any oil residue and blood accumulated in the crevices and degrease the surface. You can then paint the bars with exterior metal paint, then allow it to dry fully for at least 24 hours before raising the portcullis or having a siege.
- More than the usual number of holes. If the portcullis has a couple of broken bars, you can take it down and bend them back into place. Use a saw or an oxygen-acetylene torch (pictured) to cut away any ragged ends you do not need, then match up the ends and fill in the gaps with low carbon, low silicon steel bars so you can then use a heliarc welder to join them back up. Adjust the size of your welder's carbon dioxide gas nozzle to control the flow and use the largest electrodes practical for best results. Clamp your work securely, keep the tip steady, and slowly guide it along the steel maintaining a constant spacing. Piece together any wooden members which need to be attached and check your work for squareness.
- Smooth runnings. A portcullis should move easily in its track, particularly when going downward. If your minions find it difficult to raise the portcullis even with no obstructions in the side runners, there may be problems with the winch or you may just need more minions on task. Unlike a door, a sticking or creaky portcullis is unlikely to be caused by heat or humidity. In rare cases you might find a chunk of bone or other foreign matter causing it to stick, but most are self-cleaning. More likely the hangup is caused by a derangement at the edges due to hard use, by the fortress's settling over time, or simply by an enemy charm which must be lifted. Use a slip of paper to determine where the edges of the portcullis are contacting the stone and use a file or a grinder to take off a little bit of material until it moves smoothly once more. You may not need to remove much at all to loosen the tight spot and restore proper functioning. You may wish to use bear grease to lubricate the runners when you are done.
Strokes of genius
- Tooth cleaning. The points on the bottom of the portcullis are the most visible features when it is in its normal raised condition, so make sure these are in good shape. Protective coats of Rustoleum or equivalent weatherproof paint will help keep the rain and gore from corroding the sharp tips. If the portcullis has been dropped upon an unfortunate visitor, it is especially important to check to see if the spikes have sustained any damage and repair them as soon as possible.
- Advanced mechanisms. It is becoming more popular nowadays to replace the old human- or beast-powered winches with electrical or gas-powered motors with appropriate gearing.
Traps for mere fools
- The sudden drop. A portcullis which drops down when it is not supposed to is one hazard best avoided. If your winch has a ratchet and pawl mechanism which is only supposed to be released by a hammer blow, check to see whether this is worn or whether it has been tampered with.
- Freelance uses. The latticework of a portcullis is a temptation to many an amateur decorator when they need a place to tie a piñata for a birthday celebration or to suspend a prisoner. The thinking is that the likelihood that the trigger will be pulled is so minimal that such uses could do no harm, but there have been cases when this expectation turned out not to be, and the additions to the portcullis cause partial or complete failure of its vital function of containment. Instruct your minions and consort that the portcullises to your lair are not ornamental but vital components of the security system with which one must not tamper. Provide, if necessary, additional fixed gratings to provide for any other needs and the situation should never arise.
Precious and needful
- Hand-held rotary grinder.
- Welder's training. Be sure to check whether your portcullis technician is in good standing with the local union.
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- Image credit IMG_0032.JPG by Senor Adventure
- Image credit Portcullis shadow in B&W by StevieB
- Image credit Portcullis of Castle Bodiam by Canadacow