Canadian Woodworking

Swords and Helmets

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June 2011
Swords and Helmets
Swords and Helmets

By the time you read this column, it is quite likely that Easter will have passed. Probably by a couple of months. But in my defense, I do have a good explanation for being so late … I forgot!

Normally speaking, Easter isn’t a time of year that brings to mind thoughts of carpentry and woodworking, which is rather odd considering the occupation of the man whose life and death the holiday memorializes (that would be Jesus! He was a carpenter!) But this is an Easter story as well as a woodworking story so it all ties together in some strange, vaguely coherent way.


The year my emergency-back-up-daughter was seven, she came home from Sunday School and informed me that she needed a helmet and a sword. I knew she had been having problems with a bully in her class but even I thought that stabbing him was a little drastic. Besides, if I gave her a sword then I’d be an accessory and I don’t do well in jail. Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved to hear she had been cast as a Roman centurion in the church play.

Considering she was less than half the size and more than twice as cute as anyone else in her class, a truly great sword was needed to ensure she was obeyed. And a good helmet, just in case she wasn’t.

I’m sure you’ve all seen or made swords and helmets for either yourself or your children, so you know how easy they are to make. Get a long piece of wood, make a pointy end and nail a short piece of wood to it at right angles to form a handle. Some of you might have even wrapped it in tin foil in a miserable attempt to make it look sort of like metal. Helmets are more tinfoil formed into a vaguely Roman-looking shape over a hockey helmet, but usually just end up looking like a hockey helmet covered in tinfoil.

None of that would be good enough for my daughter though. Only an exact, scaled-down replica of a Roman centurion sword and helmet, circa AD 1, would be good enough for my daughter. This was my idea. She didn’t give a rip!

The sword was easy, of course. I found a piece of birch in my storeroom about 30″ long and drew a line down the center. Using a drawknife, and some other appropriate type tools, I shaved the wood down until I had a perfect bevel from center to edge, running the length of the blade. I carved a handle and guard and mortised them to the blade. Then I sharpened it on the belt sander. After bandaging my fingers, I used the sander to dull the edges a bit. The sword truly is mightier than the flesh.

Now for the helmet. Even I couldn’t hurt myself making a helmet. I searched through the burl bin and discovered a large spruce burl. Perfect! I carefully chucked it on the lathe and quickly hollowed it out to an approximate size and shape of what I imagined my daughter’s head to be. Foam rubber glued inside would account for any lumps or bumps she might have. After reversing the burl I carefully shaped the outside of the helmet, complete with a little pointy thingy on top. No idea what that’s called.

I raided my wife’s closet and discovered a pleated suede skirt that I’m fairly sure she seldom wore. Back in my shop I cut it down and stapled parts to the back of the helmet as a neck shield. No idea what that’s called either. I’m a woodworker, not an armoursmith.

Finally, after four and a half days of hard, painstaking and meticulous work, my daughter’s outfit was complete. I proudly carried it into the house to present to her.

My wife’s note read:

Gone to the play. I made her a sword out of a piece of wood I found and covered it with tinfoil. She used your bike helmet too. Wish you were here!

P.S. Where’s my suede skirt?

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