Viking Shield – Part 3 (handle and assembly)

I finished thinning down the shield in Viking Shield, part 2, and then it was time to see if I could get the handle carved and attached.

I had started with a basic design intent – a tapered handle that would lift up a bit to accommodate my hand, and be slightly offset from the center so that the shield would rotate around my wrist rather than the center of the grip. My instructor provided me with a 2″ x 2″ x 36″ piece of basswood (which I cannot for the life of me find online or elsewhere; I think he conjured it), and started fiddling with concepts, and then just took the plunge and attacked it with a jigsaw.

I tapered the thing from left to right, making the roughly trapezoidal top-down look. Then I again cut a tapered profile from end to middle.

For the handle, I decided that I wanted to try something: I would leave the spine centered on the thickest part of the circle, but offset the handle by a bit by carving. It wouldn’t be quite as offset as above, but it would give maximum reinforcement of the shield while accommodating the grip.

Then, I designed an ergonomic handgrip that would be friendly to grasp, and be symmetric so that when the shield gets reversed in my hand (which happens constantly), it would still be a friendly grip. It’s got a large radius where it fits into my palm, and a short one where my fingers wrap around it, and then it’s mirrored on the other side.

At my instructor’s suggestion, I carved this into a piece of scrap first. It felt great. So, mission accomplished there, and it was time to finish up the handle. I used a hand-held drawknife for the rough shaping, and an orbital sander for finish.

I don’t have any work-in-progress pictures; the thing came together too fast for that. But with maybe an hour of work, all of a sudden I was looking at a finished, smoothed handle that felt really, really good.

From there, it was time to attach it. I used oxide-coated wrought-head finish traditional nails, and put one through each board. I drilled a pilot hole and then pounded the nails through, then folded each one over.

Alas, I drilled the pilot holes too small, and the handle split. I caught this after I was about halfway done, and expanded the diameter of the holes; this worked and prevented further damage.


Lessons Learned

So, the project was dominated by three mistakes and one “in the future,” all of which will be easily corrected on additional builds.

  1. The use of too-thick starting board stock. I used 1/2 stock, and 3/8″ would be better. Also, 4″ boards x 9 wide would be a better choice rather than 6″ boards x 6 wide. It’s maybe 15% less expensive as well as being more historical, based on the number of boards found in actual artifacts. 3″ boards might be good as well, and would allow better tuning of the width of the piece.
  2. Rookie mistake cutting out the center hole in the finished product. Next time, I’ll use a piece of paper or other template to transfer the desired opening for the handle to the shield. Either that or just use the boss itself, and draw and cut concentric circles. The paper will be easier to center, but no matter what, it’s super-easy to correct going forward
  3. Larger pilot holes for the wrought nails. There’s a lot of wedge splitting force being applied anyway, and it’s bending the nails over that provides the majority of the holding force
  4. I did stock removal and chamfer with a router; next time I’ll likely use a scorp knife or curved draw shaver and just do it by hand. It will likely be less work and more historical

As it is, the shape is probably (almost certainly) ahistoric, but it’s very ergonomic. A fairly hard slice off the grip where the palm sits (bottom left on the blue drawing) to accommodate the shape of the hand. about a 1/4″ to 3/8″ radius to allow the fingers to wrap around. Plenty of flat spots for my fingers and thumb. And if it rotates in my hand due to a shield bind, the grip is symmetric, so it presents itself with the same feeling. Real shields apparently had a D-shaped grip . . . and while I suppose I need to try one to see how it works, I really like the feel of the one I carved by hand.

On the handle itself, the pattern allows a slight offset from the center of the boss while still allowing the spine to be exactly down the middle of the shield. The slightly oval grip allows a grip very similar to a weapon grip, which is as it should be.

Overall, while the mistakes are disappointing, I’m very pleased with this first effort. I can see how my next shield will be made: a jig with silicone, waxed paper, or a similar coating over guide-boards to keep the clamped pieces flat. Once glued, again the jigsaw to round it. Then the draw-shaver to chamfer it, followed by a good sanding to take off any rough edges. Carve out the handle more or less the same way I did this time. Drill larger pilot holes. Cut the proper diameter boss-opening. If all the pieces are on hand from the start, there’s no reason that it would take more than two days to build:

  1. Set up jig and glue boards. Leave clamped for 24 hours if using carpentry glue. 24 hours with hide glue.
  2. While boards are drying under clamps, carve handle.
  3. Next day: remove clamps and cut circular patterns (outer and inner).
  4. Chamfer. This will only remove about 1/8″ from center to edge, so use a light touch.
  5. Drill large pilot holes (just smaller than the widest part of the nail) and nail handle to shield
  6. Drill large pilot holes and attach boss to shield as well. One could theoretically use two of the boss-holes to take the place of two of the handle-nails.

That’s it for basic function.

Shield Covering

A commenter on G+ asked about my intent to face the shield, and mentioned canvas in particular. I thought it was worth discussing.

My understanding is that while the historical record is of course complicated by things like leather, linen, and canvas being rather profoundly perishable over 1,000 years:

  1. If I were to face the shield with something, leather or parchment would be the top choice, bonded to the boards with hide glue for maximum historicity.
  2. Not all shields were faced; some were painted.
  3. Leather/rawhide strips around the shield edge has very strong support in both written records and implied evidence at least for historical finds.
  4. Linen would be closer to a period cloth covering, but in the time period I’m trying to model (700-1000AD in the Viking lands) it wasn’t used, or at least hasn’t been found.
  5. I’ve not heard of canvas being used for this style shield. Can anyone provide a source? I’d be interested to look into it.

In general, my “investment” in this particular shield will be somewhat scant, as it was designed as a learning vehicle. I will mount a boss to it through trickery to make the boss fit (’cause I made a mistake in the hole sizing), and use it as a disposable shield for training until it dies. I will be making more for my whole family (’cause I enjoy this sort of thing) and I may embellish those more.

I will probably use parchment-thickness hide to face future shields, and perhaps edge the rim. Not required, but doable. Painting it would be fun too; I’d love to use some of my Dragon Heresy “heraldry” that Michael and Rob created for me, but that’s not appropriate for use in class. I will need to make one for going out and about in costume as opposed to using it for training.

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