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A well-suited hobby
Monroe High School junior John Keizer wears a suit of armor he made. Keizer said he doesn't employ the same techniques used in medieval times but the end product is similar. To order either of these photos, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - For a junior at Monroe High School, John Keizer has an unusual hobby. In his spare time, Keizer builds suits of medieval plate armor.

For the past year-and-a-half, the student has used metalworking equipment to manufacture pieces of armor that he says are as accurately constructed as possible.

Keizer said he uses materials as accurate to the period as possible - for example, horse blankets can make the outer layer of a gambeson, while canvas is the fabric used for a coat of plates. Keizer said most of his armor is based on that from between 1350 and 1360.

"It was a sort of transitional period between people using chain mail and suits of full plate armor," Keizer explained.

Keizer's interest in creating armor was probably sparked when he and his father, Al, constructed a working trebuchet years ago, he said. Since then, Keizer and his friends attempted to manufacture their own replicas of medieval swords and daggers, but soon realized they didn't have the proper equipment to do so.

Instead, Keizer said, they learned they could make pieces of armor.

"I started with tin cans," Keizer said. "It was really pathetic."

Since then, Keizer has used sources on the Internet and copies of period manuscripts to ensure his armor is as accurate as possible. Many of his earlier creations were dismantled to provide materials for better pieces.

The hobby is time-consuming. A simple bowl-shaped helmet took about two weeks to create, Keizer said.

Keizer currently has few opportunities to showcase his creations.

"I mostly just put it on to make sure it fits," he said.

Keizer said he could use the armor at reenactments or for live-action role-playing - "if I ever wanted to get into that," Keizer said - but his only real chance to showcase his works is at New Glarus' annual Renaissance Faire in October.

At last year's fair, Keizer said, he wore his armor and opened a booth where he offered attendees free sword-fighting lessons.

Keizer said he owns translated manuals of 15th Century German longsword techniques, which he studies in his spare time.

"Usually I just practice on my friends," he said.