Not many senior projects require countless hours spent shaping steel with a hammer. And sandpaper and steel brushes aren’t often used to finish one of the most significant assignments in a student’s undergraduate career.
But Josh Davis’ project isn’t like most. For more than two years, Davis has spent the vast majority of his free time working to construct a full suit of armor. Based on armor of the late 1400s, Davis’ work is currently on display on the Link Level of Lindell Library.
On Thursday, Davis, a senior who will graduate with a degree in medieval studies, will don the suit and put on a demonstration on the green space between Lindell Library and Oren Gateway Center. The 3:30 p.m., presentation entitled “How to Arm a Knight” is part of the two days of Zyzzogeton, which celebrates the creativity and scholarships of undergraduate students.
“I want to clear up the myths about armor,” Davis said. “It’s not that restrictive. It’s not that heavy. I just want to clear up the misconceptions.”
Davis became interested in medieval studies after arriving at Augsburg. He secured a part-time job at Arms and Armor, a company located just north of Dinkytown which produces historically accurate items, and started making armor.
After making a half suit of armor, Davis began work on the recently completed suit. He began the project in the fall of 2007 and finally completed it in the past 10 days. To call it a labor intensive process would be an understatement. After originally keeping track of the time he spent on the project, Davis stopped when he reached 1,000 hours, a mark that is the equivalent of 25 weeks of 8-hour work days.
“Basically it was three years of my social life,” Davis said. “It was a lot of late nights, overnights, whenever I had time. But it was what I loved to do. It was a release, it was relaxing, trying to see a shape in your head and then make it.
The suit is made out of sheet steel of varying thickness. It includes 20 individual pieces that fit like a puzzle to form the complete armor. Many of those pieces, however, are made of a number of smaller pieces of steel that were riveted together. Each leg, for example, is made up of what had been 13 separate pieces of steel, many of which were place on top of each other to increase strength.
Building the suit required Davis to shape the steel with a hammer—pounding heated steel over or into a form to produce the required curves â€“ while using a pattern developed so it would still fit him. Davis also made each of the buckles and straps on the suit.
“The hardest part is finishing it,” Davis said. “I can rough out a form in an hour or two, but fine-tuning it, sanding out the hammer marks and making the hinges and buckles took a long time.”
In addition to historical texts, Davis based his suit on what he saw in England while studying abroad during the fall semester. After spending August in an international summer program on war and society in the middle ages, Davis spent the semester at Oxford. On weekends, he supplemented his knowledge through trips to museums and time spent with medieval enthusiasts.
That time helped Davis refine his armor and he said that he feels much better about the final product, especially the legs.
Davis said he hopes to make another set of armor for himself, this one out of spring steel, a metal that is more durable. In addition, he would like to find a way to make a career out of armor construction.
“I love to do this,” he said.