Writing tablets have been used for thousands of years, long before paper was readily available. In ancient Greece and Rome, wax tablets were very popular. These were small, book sized wooden tablets that were hollowed out on one side and covered with a thin layer of wax. You could write on the wax with a stylus – a pointy tool made of metal, wood or bone. If you wanted to change your message you could either smooth the wax out again or heat it up to melt it. Two tablets were often tied together so they could be open and shut like a book, protecting your writing.
The pictures above were found on walls in Pompeii. Real wax tablets have been found in many places and were used for lots of different things including lessons, letters, lists and birth certificates. A few were found in Vindolanda, a Roman fort on Hadrian’s wall.
Here is how to make one of your own.
You will need:
- black and brown poster paint
- wax – melt some old candle stubs, or buy some wax from a craft shop
- saucepan and an old bowl or tin
Note: If you do not want to use wax I’m sure some non-drying modelling clay would also work well.
First cut out four pieces of cardboard – you could use a paperback book for a template. Using a ruler draw a line 2cm in from the edge of two of the pieces. Cut out the centre from these two pieces. Stick them on to the rectangles.
Paint the cardboard with a mixture of the brown and black paints to make it look like wood.
Make some holes on the edges so you can tie some string through the two tablets. You will have to be careful – get an adult to help.
Once the paint has dried you can prepare your wax. You will need an adult to do this part. It needs to be melted in a double boiler – put the wax in the bowl or tin, and place it in the saucepan quarter filled with hot water. The pan can now be gently placed on the stove and the wax will slowly melt.
Once it is all melted, brush or pour a thin layer into the space in your tablets. Don’t pour in too much or it will just leak out. Once that has set you can pour another layer on top.
Leave the wax to cool down and harden before trying it out.