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Making and Using a Shield Press

Quick and Durable Shield Edging

Putting Shields Together

Some Defense for Oblong Viking Shields

Shield Colors

An Adjustable Elliptical Shield Pattern

Simplified Physics of Spin for a Center Grip Shield

Making and Using a Shield Press

This shield press is made from four 3ft long sections of 2x12 pine, 8 18" lengths of large threaded rod, 16 large washers and nuts. We regularly make three shields at a time in our version of this press. Cross-drill the bolt holes (shown as dashed lines) BEFORE you cut the curves. Make four of the forms shown below; dimensions are in inches. Tairdelbach and Leif made this one for the local Barony. It's produced a lot of shields.

One "war shield" requires two 2'x4' sheets of quarter inch thick plywood and a surprising amount of glue. There's several types of plywood available. For long-lasting shields, buy exterior grade plywood. For a lighter but less durable shield try underlayment; locally available in the tile section of a large hardware store, it is the plywood with green Xs on it). Plywood has a grain, so it will bend easier along one axis than the other. It's a more work to bend it against the grain, but the shield will still press. At the time of this writing plywood costs $10 to $12 for one shield. We typically buy gallon jugs of the cheapest glue available and get about fourteen sheilds out of a gallon. Rain can loosen the glue, but around here the wood splinters first.

A 12inch drywall taping knife (or a large putty knife) helps keep you clean when you're spreading the glue. I've tried a two foot taping knife- hey, the shields are two feet wide, right?- and the smaller one worked better for me. Clamps (such as Quick-Grips), a large rubber mallet, nails or screws are useful for positioning the plywood while you're pressing them, particularly when there's six layers of wood sliding around in the press. For me the best system seems to be to run a pair of 1Ĺ" drywall screws through the layers, centered left to right but not too close to the top or bottom.

If you tighten the forms by running down the nuts, pressing several shields at a time is rough on the threaded rod. Either plan to replace the threaded rod eventually or use bar clamps to do the clamping work, then run the nuts down last. Let the glue dry overnight and cut them into whatever shape you prefer after they're curved. A decent jig or sabre saw will cut three layers of shields at once.

Quick and Durable Shield Edging

The best stuff we've found for edging SCA heavy combat shields is black underground sprinkler piping (sometimes called "Siloflex" or "Orangeburg water service pipe"). Since every war shield we make needs 8 to 10 feet of edging, we buy 100 foot rolls of the stuff when it comes on sale in the spring. It's tough- it always outlasts the wood shields- and very difficult to cut open by hand. We use a homemade fixture on a table saw with a 1/2" dado blade to cut a slot in it.

Here's a sketch of the fixture. We made it from a length of 4"x4" pine. It's simply a round hole about the same size as the piping, with a half inch slot for the dado blade. Clamp this fixture as tight as you possible can to your table saw with the slot centered on the blade. It works best with one person on either side of the saw- one feeding and the other pulling. In a few minutes you'll have a hundred feet of shield edging (and there will be little plastic shavings all over your workspace, inside your shirt, in your hair, etc- wear goggles!).


Putting Shields Together

After experimenting with several alternatives, it appears to me the best order of operations for assembling a war shield is:

  1. sand the wood as required
  2. bend
  3. shape
  4. paint or stain the back
  5. drill holes to hold edging
  6. paint the front
  7. add edging

 When several people are involved and the whole process takes days, it can be easy to forget what steps come next.

This season's crop of warboards...
not 1Ĺ" thick plywood shields- it's five bundles of three Ĺ" shields!
The Cynnabar Shield Mall
One stop Shopping for all your Cynnabar WarShield needs.

Some Defense for Oblong Viking Shields

For a good Viking re-enactor a round shield is the thing. If your standards are lower- like mine are, apparantly- then here's some support for use of oblong shields on norse personnae.

The Oseberg Tapestry shows somewhat oblong shields. Of course it is possible this is just bad embroidery, or a side effect of being buried for a thousand years.

The Bayeaux Tapestry has a lone bearded huscarl with an oblong shield slung on his back. Although the tapestry is too late for the Viking Age, in this case poor embroidery is less likely since this the only oblong shield alongside dozens of kite shaped shields.


The Byzantines were using oval shields with standard sizes for several of their warrior classes. Here's a view of the Victoria casket showing a 10th century skutatoi with his elliptical skutai. Through the ever-popular (popular with re-enactors, that is) Varangian Gaurd, the chances are good that at least some Scandinavians were exposed to alternative shield shapes- oblong or elliptical, in particular.


Shield Colors

Hazel Uzzell of the UK group Regia Anglorum wrote an excellent paper on defensible shield paints in period (meaning Regia's period) based on period sources and techniques and her own experiments. Here is her summary page scanned in 24 bit color:


Red Ochre

Iron Oxide

Red Lead

Yellow Iron Oxide

Yellow Ochre

Fish Bile

Green Earth



Egyptian Blue

Lapis Lazuli



An Adjustable Elliptical Shield Pattern

 Some of our notable Norse peers use an oblong rather than round shield.  For the SCA this atypical but defensible based on several period references.  First, the Oseberg Tapestry shows a shield-looking thing thatís definitely oblong, not round.  The Bayeaux Tapestry has a lone bearded huscarl using a clearly oblong shield slung on his back.  Finally, the Byzantine Prophylactos of the late 10th century were issued a standard sized oval shield.  Most human bodies are taller than they are wide, so Iíd expect a an oblong shape to be a better defense than a round shape for the same weight.

 Cutting out an oblong shape is fairly easy- I'll attempt to make it a little harder, but cooler.  Here's one way to make a cool looking elliptical shield by taking advantage of a definition of an ellipse: any point on an ellipse is a constant total distance from its two focal points (a circle is a special ellipse where the two focal points are the same).  You can sketch an ellipse with a piece of string, just like sketching a circle.  The difference is that instead of anchoring one end of the string and attaching a pencil to the other, you anchor both ends of the string and let the pencil travel around inside the tightly stretched loop of string.  Here's a sketch. 

That's the concept, here's the numbers.  Take half your shield height and call it L, and half the width and call it W.  Then you can locate the foci distance from the center along the top-bottom line by:  


Get yourself a peice of string thatís 2L long, anchor the ends on the foci, and trace a perfect ellipse!  For example, if you want a shield four feet high (so L = 2 feet) and two feet wide (so W = 1 foot), then the distance F between the foci is 


Simplified Physics of Spin for a Center Grip Shield

I hope to show several center grip round shield principles that will minimize its tendency to flip when struck off-center.  The idea works for any shield, but center grips are the main culprit since the grip offers little leverage.

First and foremost, blocking such that blow falls perpendicular to the edge of the shield will prevent the shield from flipping.  Unfortunately this is not always possible.

Second, the grip can be constructed to offer better leverage to return the shield to its proper defensive position.  It is unreasonable to expect that normal people have the grip strength to simply prevent a shield from flipping; however, a handle with an oblong cross section will give you better control than a round handle.

Third, the method of construction can reduce a shield's tendency to flip.  SCA shields are usually plywood, sheet metal, or roughly uniform plastic.  This generally means heavier shields wonít flip as easily as lighter ones- but just making your shield heavier is inefficient.  The real advantage of weight has to do with how itís distributed.

Imagine holding an iron rod horizontally in one hand.  It rolls down yourpalm pretty easily.  Now try to flip it end over end.  Itís harder to flip than roll, right?  This shows the effect of weight distribution around the axis of spin.  Mass on a smaller radius spins more easily.  Itís similar to ice skaters extending their arms to slow down their spin.  Ideally, the shield shouldnít spin at all.

Center grip round shields flip around their handle, so to keep spin down build your shield with its mass concentrated at the edge, well away from the grip.  This makes the radius of mass distribution bigger.  Letís say a local Duke hits two different center grip round shields that weigh the same...

same weight, but equal effort the left shield spins more than the right


The first shield is a flat piece of thick plywood.  The second weighs the same, but all the weight is in stacked layers at its edge.  If the Duke hits them equally, the edge-weighted shield accelerates one fourth as much as the flat shield!