Those following the blog will know that the older boy’s current school topic is the Romans, and in particular the Roman invasion of Britain – which I am very much enjoying (see What did the Romans ever do for me?). This week, his homework was to produce an account of what it was like for the poor resident Celts here in good old Britannia, when the Romans so rudely burst onto the scene in the first century AD (or CE, whatever your preference). He and his classmates were invited to present their accounts in a variety of suggested ways – models, scrolls, diaries – and one of the options among them was Roman wax tablets. “Writing the Roman way,” I thought, “I love it already!” So it was a happy outcome to discover that he’d already got his heart set on Roman wax tablets, and even better, that there is a very simple YouTube tutorial for making them.
So this weekend, that’s what we did – but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as YouTube suggested.
Cut out two sheets of cardboard, one as the back board, and one which forms a 2cm wide border, creating a frame effect.
Actual Step 1: find cardboard that isn’t covered in Amazon logos, tape and address stickers. Good luck with that.
Stick frame to back board, and decorate to look like wood.
Actual Step 2: Search the house for the felt tip pens first, to discover they’ve all been put tidily away by you, in a pencil case you’d forgotten about, at the back of a drawer. Accept that you’ll not get that half an hour of the weekend back again.
Melt three tablespoons of beeswax pellets, and one tablespoon of coconut oil, together in a bowl in simmering water, over a low heat.
Actual Step 3: ransack the kitchen for a bowl you are prepared to sacrifice in the name of school projects. Because you know you won’t get round to cleaning that wax until it’s solidified to rock.
Pour melted mixture into cardboard frames and allow to set.
Actual Step 4: fend off all requests from child to ‘help’ with pouring the molten, oily, waxy liquid, and stop them from poking their fingers about in it as it sets. You’d think they’d only do that once, but no.
When solid, tie tablets together by making holes in each board and fixing with string.
Actual Step 5: try to ignore the crushing disappointment of comments like “it’s lumpy”, “but it’s cracking”, “this one’s good but that one’s not as good” – then give up, and repeat Steps 3 and 4 when you realise one of the precious tablets probably won’t survive being put into the school bag, never mind the trip to school, given the large crack that has, in fact, developed down the middle.
Sit back and admire your authentic Roman tablets. Why not enjoy copying some classic Ovid quips, or some pompous sentiments from Cicero onto the untouched surface?
Actual Step 6: This is actually the fun bit; have you ever known the satisfaction of writing on a banana skin? This is ten times better! And while I would once have relished inscribing some of my Latin favourites onto the finished article, it was much more satisfying to watch our little boy pore over our creation, and put his heart and soul into making it his own.
Apparently they were quite a hit at school, too – and lots of his friends had a go at scoring their own pictures of Celtic houses into a patch of wax on the tablets. So in spite of the chaos and the mess and the starting-all-over-again, I’d say making Roman wax tablets was totally worth it.
Per ardua ad astra.
Here’s the YouTube link, in case you’re tempted by that fabulous sataisfaction that wax etching can give! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-lnCoEHuXs