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A knight in shining armor, here in Hastings, Joe Marsello has learned about the history, the making, the chemistry of the forging of the armor, and more. He hopes to put the knowledge to good use someday as, perhaps, someone who designs prosthetics.

A homemade suit of armor

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Hastings, 55033
Hastings Star Gazette
651-437-5911 customer support
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

Joe Marsello, a junior at Hastings High School, has what some might call an unusual hobby - or two. He collects reproduction medieval and Japanese swords (and knives). He has also made his own suit of armor.

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Having the items is one part of his collecting. Learning about them is another, big part of his collecting.

Marsello is a hands-on person, a guy who wants to know, in detail, the history of the items he collects, how they're made, and why they work the way they do. Learning the techniques of the original owners might be another way of describing it.

His interest in swords started when he was a boy.

"I used to play with plastic swords as a kid. Then I got my first real sword, and I found out the real thing is much different.

"I started with unsharpened things, and I found I could sharpen them."

"Very industrious," was the way his dad described it.

He takes his collecting seriously, paying several hundred dollars for some of his swords. He has a Japanese officer's sword he got on EBay for $300. His most expensive sword, he said, was $400.

"That's why I need a job," Marsello said.

Part of learning about the swords and knives has been learning the techniques associated with them.

Like the Japanese who owned the swords before him, Marsello believes working with them develops balance, body strength and more.

There are places that teach various forms of Japanese swordsmanship. TC Budokon teaches various forms of Japanese swordsmanship.

"'Budokon' means warrior's way in Japanese," Marsello said. Iaido is one form; the correct form of drawing and cutting in one stroke. Tamashigiri is another.

"I am interested in the correct form for each sword - it's like an art," Marsello said. "A sword is a weapon, but it's also really a work of art."

All of which led to last week's accident.

Marsello was working with one of his throwing knives, one with a weighted blade. It's a knife you hold by the blade and throw, a "do not try this at home" kind of knife, Marsello said.

"I was throwing with my left hand, and I got my right hand in the way. Not one of the smartest things I've done," he said.

Imagine calling your boss and telling him you won't be into work because you've got 24 stitches in your right hand because you were practicing with your throwing knives.

It's not the first stitches Marsello has gotten because of his knives.

I had a friend of mine throwing pumpkins in the air," Marsello said. " I was cutting them with a Japanese sword (the Iaido technique).

Cutting the pumpkins cost him another six stitches in a hand.

"I'm not going to try for a third time," Marsello said.

Now Marsello is not a "I-like-to-play-with-knives" kind of guy. He doesn't throw in competitions, but the throwing just goes along with his hobby, he said.

"I have even learned some Japanese (because of the collection)," Marsello said.

Marsello said he'd been collecting since seventh grade.

"I've always been interested in Medieval things, Japanese Animé and the Samuri. I have a couple hundred DVDs dealing with them," he said.

Buried in the paragraph above, you'll find the word "medieval," which includes suits of armor.

Remember about Marsello wanting to know "in detail, the history of the items he collects, how they're made, and why they work the way they do?"

Marsello's curiosity, his wanting to know, led him to make his own suit of armor.

He read, he searched the Internet, he researched techniques. He worked by trial and error, to learn the techniques of those medieval artisans.

Then he went to work.

There is the padded jacket a knight would put on first. Marsello got his mom involved in that part of it. Together they designed a form-fitting, quilted jacket, with laces instead of buttons, and laces that help hold the suit of armor in place.

Over the padding of the jacket, knights wore a chain mail shirt, covering the arms to the elbow and the torso to mid-thigh. A chain mail shirt is made up of rings about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, linked together in a pattern. Marsello made each ring, winding wire around a mandril (think of winding string around a pencil), cutting each wrap to form a ring and putting them together. (Did you know there are several patterns for putting the rings together? Marsello has made patterns of many of them.)

"From the 1100s to the end of the middle ages, the knights used the padded jacket and chain mail shirt," Marsello said. "As soon as the bows became more effective, and they began to use the cross bow, the knights began to wear armor. They began to use thinner swords too, which could find there way through the chain mail."

Marsello adapted modern tools, made some of his own, and then began the task of forging (cold) the steel in the shapes of the period-correct patterns he also made.

He had to make forms to hammer the metal on (think about hammering a piece of steel into a wooden bowl to get a shape, called dishing).

He also knows the chemistry of the molecules and what is happening as he hammers the metal. We'll save that for another article. Suffice it to say, Marsello has learned a great deal with his hobby.

He wore the suit for Halloween, to his job at Coborn's, and to school. It weighs about 100 pounds. He couldn't get in the van, his mom said. Finally, she said, he just dove in.

He put it on for photos for the paper - the sabatons, the greaves, the cuisse, tassets - you get the idea. It took his mom, his dad, and a good friend, Jeremy Wick, to help him put it on (of course, his hand was still bandaged."

"I've got three squires," Marsello joked. "Most knights had just one."

The future - Marsello's going to make another suit of armor. The long-range goal: a profession in aerospace or robotic engineering, maybe designing prosthetics.

Deigning and making his own suit of armor may portend college choices, Marsello said.

"What I've learned might help me in the future."

Joe is the son of Steve and Helen Marsello.

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