Crafting: Children’s Viking Shield

I made my fourth or so kid’s shield today, and as far as efficiency and quality, I think it was my best yet. I figured I’d share how I did it.

Note: historical viking shields for adults were maybe 28-36″ in diameter, but were ridiculously lightweight, at 6-8 lbs. Maybe 7mm of wood on the core near the boss, tapering to maybe 2.5mm of wood on the rim, maybe give or take a mm or so. Added on top of that was 1mm of parchment-thick skin, and the edge was wrapped with similar material. So under the boss, where it fastens to the shield, it was maybe 8mm thick. At the rim, you’ve got 4.5 to 5.5mm of material, roughly half of which was wood. The shield clamps found in archaeological sites back this up – these things were very, very thin and light. Measurements of shields that are closer to 1″ thick tend to include the handle, according to my instructors.

Thus, what you won’t find here is advice to take a piece of plywood of any thickness (though if you were going to do it, use 1/4″ stuff) and then fix a boss to it. That’ll cost you about $7 for the wood, and then a few bucks more for the handle and boss. It’ll weigh about 2.75 lbs when you’re done for a kid-sized version. The ones I make are closer to historical methods and materials, ’cause that’s how we do it in the school I train at. If I wanted to go full-on historical, I’d have to be much more selective in the woods I use, and make the transition to hide glue. Plus get and stretch parchment.

So what I’m doing is a bit of a half-way shield. Not even close to full-historical (and those can be had from old-growth lumber with 100% as good as we know how to do for $600-1000 if you want the true real thing), but better than “cut it out of plywood.” There are reasons for that having to do with training with sharps where the grain orientation matters. And since most kid-training had best be done with blunt weapons, you want something more robust.

Still, I digress.

What You Need

I’m going to go with materials sufficient to make four shields, mostly because some of the bits really can be spread among several.

Wood: 2′ long, 1/4″ thick basswood. Plank width can be 3-6″, and 8 3″ wide x 24″ long basswood planks can be had for about $55 for four shields worth ($13.60 per shield). The grip is (for kids) also made from basswood, but you can use just about anything. I recommend 1/2″ x 1″ x 24″ pieces, found here, but you can find them other places too. $8.00 ($2.00 per shield)

Fasteners: I use 1.5″ copper nails, because they are soft and will “clinch” better. I even do this on my adult shields, though annealed wrought iron (well, faux wrought iron, ’cause real ones are very, very expensive) looks better. The annealed (heated very hot for a while to make them less hard) is important for the iron, and is why I used copper, since I don’t have an annealing furnace on hand). $20 for about 60 nails. (you might shop around; you’ll want one nail per board, more or less, and so might be able to get these cheaper). $3.50 per shield.

More fasteners: Brass split pins. The 1/4″ wood and the particular boss used won’t stand up to a properly clinched copper nail very well; these split pins, glued in place on the back side, make a nice alternative. $2.50 per 100.

Shield boss: Heh. Stainless steel salad bowl, baby. Scuff it up with sandpaper and paint it. Winco MXB-75Q 3/4 quart bowl. $5.30 each at amazon, but I swear I found ’em for 4 for $10, and restaurant supply stores have them for under a buck, but I’m not sure if you need to order 100 of them. I’m going to call this $5 each, but PLEASE shop around, because it really looks like you can do rather well here.

Spray paint: I really, *really* like the Krylon black hammered finish paint for the boss. Other colors are up to you, but I’m going to recommend two additional colors. I use burgandy and dark bronze hammered finish for my shields because it’s our school colors (red and grey), but they can be anything. Michaels sells this for about $11 per can; again, shop around. Call it $30 in spray paint, but you can assuredly do better.

Carpenter’s glue: $3

Bar clamps: I recommend 36″ clamps x 3, because you might want to make adult shields one day. $7 each if you shop around. These are durable. Call it $25, and you want some like I’ve linked that will lay flat, on their sides.

Total cost: $160 for four shields; $40 each, and you will have nails and spray paint left over, plus glue and your permanent bar clamps.

You will also very much want a jigsaw or thin-bladed wood saw, a compass of some sort (you can do this with a piece of string and a pencil), and I use a hand-held belt sander and cordless drill to make my life easier.

Making the blanks

The first step is the most tedious, which is making the 24″ x 24″ square “blanks” out of which you’ll make shields.

Take 8 boards (assuming 3″; you can do this with four 6″ boards, six 4″ boards, etc). Set two aside and line up the other six so the 1/4″ side is up.

Lay out two clamps on their sides, so that the outside edges are maybe 22″ apart. The third will be ready. Put a piece of waxed paper on each bar, which will prevent glue from bonding to the clamps.

Put glue on one 1/4″ side of two of the boards. These are your end pieces. Lay them flat on either side of your clamp base. But glue on both sides of the other six boards. Lay those into the base so you make a 24″ square, with no glue touching your clamps, and glue-to-glue bonding everywhere else. I always, always spread the glue with my finger. I can feel the tackiness of it that way. Personal preference.

Do a light tighten of both clamps so that the boards are compressed together, but don’t yet go nuts. Take the third clamp and lay it in the middle of the other two, and again, put a piece of waxed paper between wood and bar clamp. You’ll thank me. Light-tighten this too. The top bar pressing on the boards will prevent them from buckling upwards.

Then tighten each of the clamps a bit at a time. Don’t tighten so much you ruin your wood, of course. Just a nice, firm compression.

What I do is let it stand for an hour under clamps (minimum is about 30min), then take the board out and let it lean on something, grain oriented vertically, for the next day. Then I will make all my blanks at once, so I can just start with pre-glued 2′ x 2′ boards.

Cutting the Round

First, you’ll take the waxed paper off the boards if they’re stuck, and you’ll note the glue drips from the joins. My favorite tool for this is what’s called a curved scorp. But a sharp chisel can work, or a hand plane. In a pinch, you can sand it off; just use very coarse paper to blast it away. This will also serve to smooth any non-planarities in the joints.

Then you’ll mark the center. Just take a long ruler or T-square (or a piece of string) and go from corner to corner, marking where the string or ruler crosses the line between the middle boards (that kind of divides the blank in half, right?) for both corners. That’s the middle of your blank.

Draw a circle using a compass or string-and-marker (use a thumbtack to secure the line to the middle) to make a circle defining the outside of the shield.

Then measure the INSIDE diameter of the bowl. INSIDE. Can I say that again? INSIDE. Back off maybe 1/8 or 1/4″ from this just to be sure, and draw your inner circle from the same center point. For the bowls I’ve been using and the 24″ blank, my outer circle is usually just shy of 24″ (good for a child up to about 4-4.5 feet tall, more or less), and my inner circle is usually 2.5″ in radius, or 5″ in diameter. Way better to cut it small and then widen if you choose than cut it big and . . . oh, crap.

You’ve got your circles. Cut ’em out. The outer circle is easy. Inner one, just use a drill to make a hole, then finish it up. Try not to cut up your workbench.

This will give you a flat annulus; basically a circle with a hole cut out. A thin donut. Whatever. If you wanted to go nuts, you could plane down the shield from full thickness in the center to taper to quite thin on the edge, but for a child’s costume or training shield, I’d not do it. It’s very, very likely that they’ll be working exclusively with blunts, and for that, you want a more robust edge.

From there, you will want to carve your handle into a D-shape. I have experimented with many different styles of grip; the D-curve (flat towards the boss, curved away from the shield) is what has been found on period shields, and our ancestors knew what they were doing. Lots of ways to round it down; I use a draw knife and a belt sander. You could also use a router to round the edges. When you’ve got the D-shape on the entire back, in the 6″ that will be the center of the grip, smooth the corners a bit, and maybe make a gentle rounding where the hand will go. Sharp edges will make it no fun for small, young hands to grab.

Now take your mixing bowl, and use a hammer to pound the edge/rim flat if you like, to make a more-true flange. Don’t hit your fingers. It sucks.

Then remove the price tag, and scuff it up with sandpaper. Then paint it whatever color you want – I think the hammered black is gorgeous. But any metal – shiny or dull – would work. You needn’t even paint it. Scuffed steel is just fine.

Punch four holes in it 90-degrees apart with nails; I use roughly 1/8″ nails, but the hole needs to be big enough to push the split-pins through.

Almost done. Put the grip on the back of the shield-torus, so that it’s perpendicular to the direction the boards go. Use carpenter’s tape or something to fix the handle in place just enough that it’s not sliding around. Drill a hole slightly smaller than the copper nail through each board (so 8 boards is 8 holes; you’ll note I used only six boards in the shield pictured below, but used 10 nails. Too few nails might have issues if the top of the shield gets hooked with an axe; it might pull apart along the grain. Too many gets silly.).

Then push nails through the shield into the handle, so the nail head is on the shield face. Clinch the nails by pounding them over and ensuring you strike firmly enough to embed the sharp nail tip just into the wood, so no one gets scratched. Do this on a very flat, very hard surface, like a concrete floor. That will also serve to sink the nail heads into the shield face as you do it. Handy.

That basically fixes the handle to the shield.

Now paint the shield. You can find common patterns online, some are more historical than others. Our school’s symbol is the Ansuz rune (A), Odin’s rune (the school’s name is Asfolk, As, the ancestral people, the same As from Asgard, I believe), and that appears on every shield. The other side is more free-form. I used a dragon done in nordic/celtic knotwork. My eldest daughter got a reclining norse cat. My youngest daughter wanted a cat too, but I’d thrown away the stencil I used, so I made a new one, and then used that same stencil on the example shield.

Now set the boss so that it completely covers the hole, centered on the middle of the opening. I put my holes 45 degrees from the handle, so they’re well away from everything. Drill holes through the pre-punched holes in the boss right through the shield face.

Push the split-pins through the boss and face, then open them up on the back side. Pull them as hard as you can; I secure them in place after opening them up with hot glue. If you’re a costumer and you don’t have a hot-glue gun lying around, you are clearly a freaking wizard, because I hot glue everything, so it seems.

And that’s it. While doing the square shield blank takes a day, I did all of the steps above in about an hour, including painting, for the shield below. This example was 955 grams (2.1 lbs).

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