Late last year I was tasked to dispose of an old, rickety pine shelving unit that had followed my wife to our house from her college years. As I dismantled it, I noticed that the wood itself was in good condition, and I became inspired.
The urge to craft something, to have a hobby project and actually put careful time and effort into it, has been gnawing at me for some time. Being something of a fantasy geek (and welcome, by the way, to d20horizons, if you are visiting for the first time) and owning a long-sword (an amazing Groomsman gift from good friend A.T.) I had an interest in building a shield. There’s no sword-and-board without a board, right ?
Seeing these pine planks, an idea took hold.
I consulted online and found this really cool and helpful site, Hurstwic.org, from which I drew my inspiration. Besides pictures and insights, Hurstwic.org also provided historical guidelines. I wanted a round, “plank” style shield; and with boards roughly 32″ (81cm) long and 3.75″ (9cm) wide it was a matter of finding a practical diameter.
Given the average length of board and the uniform board width of 3.75″ (9cm), a “stack” of nine boards formed a decent square for the diameter I wanted. Knowing that the “top” #1 board and the “bottom” #9 board would be significantly carved out by the shield’s curvature, I needed to make sure that the diameter left me enough of #1 and #9 to work with.
Now, the center “shield boss”. Hunting online brought me to a company based in London, Ontario – www.reliks.com . They had this offering, a 7.5″ shield boss. Great price too ($20.99) – just hurt that the shipping cost an additional $15, plus $4.30 in tax. Not their fault, and I would definitely order from them again.
Breaking with Hurstwic’s construction of replicas, I decided not to nail or screw together the components. Fair to say I fell in love with nut-and-bolt construction when I built a speed-bag platform for the garage. Nut-and-bolt was the direction I went with this. The six nut/bolt pairs were not included with the shield boss (which I knew when buying it). I got those from Home Depot :
6 of these, with nuts.
26 of these bolts, with nuts.
These are all the Nickel-plated variety, at 28- or 30-cents each; the Galvanized versions are cheaper but look crude. And the 18/08 or 18/10 Stainless Steel ones are about $1.50 each piece…waaay too expensive. The 2919-code bolts have a mushroom-cap top and a square piece below; hammered in when set in place, they will not twist or slip when the nut is tightened.
Now, drawing the circumference :
A slow and critical task; an uneven diameter will make for an oval shield. At best.
Here, the outline is drawn. The curve on boards #1 and #9 fits nicely. The 10th board at the bottom of the pic is bracing to keep the others in place. The shield boss is not yet set in place; its inside radius will be the measure of the boss cut-hole radius out from the center nail.
Had some Home Depot gift cards from Christmas and my birthday, so I picked up a Black & Decker jigsaw (hey, it’ll come in handy for other stuff around the house, too).
Made the cuts, sanded edges :
Not satisfied with how the center hole turned out. Evidently didn’t follow my lines or trace them well enough because I ended up with this :
Made some corrective cuts, and now this :
Not perfectly round, but I’m okay with it looking “family crest” -ish. Also I have drilled the 1/4″ bolt holes. Inside hole corrected, and bolt-holes drilled, here’s how it looked so far :
Support-struts and central strut and handle :
Marking the support bolt-holes, and drilling :
Drilling the holes for the struts and the planks was the most nerve-wracking task up to this point. I marked approximately where on the planks the holes should go; translated those marks to the struts; drilled the struts; marked through those drill holes in the struts onto the planks; then drilled the planks. Knowing, of course, that any misalignment between the (hole in strut) and (hole in plank) would mean gaps between the planks when the bolts were eventually inserted.
Looking good so far :
Next up was to fill some defects in the wood. These would be natural cracks, knot holes, screw-holes left over from the boards’ former life as shelves, and especially “exit wounds” from the drilling. I drilled outward (from “back” to “front” of the shield) by necessity of measurements and orientation during construction; and knowing that the mushroom-cap bolt-heads would cover some sins.
Elmer’s “Carpenter’s Wood Filler, interior/exterior”
Nice, Poly-Filla-like paste material, in an inoffensive taupe color. Easy to work with, sands nicely, and as it turns out, takes to stain just like the wood does and doesn’t stick out.
For the staining of the wood – got MINWAX PolyShades Mission Oak, Gloss finish. Did a test on some scrap board, seeing how it would cover pencil, wood-filler, discoloration of the boards. Test turned out well. Gave all the boards a single coat, set them to dry for 3 days.
Next – wrapping the handle :
Stain is dry. Quite a difference ! Chose to cut the hand-grip in a gentle ‘hourglass’ shape, as it felt best versus a full, squared-off thickness.
Originally planned to wrap the grip with rawhide. Couldn’t find any at hardware stores, figured the cost would be prohibitive anyways. Went with 5mm braided cotton rope from the Dollar Store – $1.50 for ~50 ft.
On the “inside” face of the strut, stapled the starting end of the rope.
Put a squiggle of carpenter-grade wood glue on all four faces of the grip.
Winding from the top down, and keeping tension the whole way, I wrapped the rope around the grip area.
Couple more staples, again on the “hidden, inside” face of the strut, to finish off the grip. Cut off the excess rope, and let dry for about two days.
Decision day has come ! The assembly process. The next and final nerve-wracking step, where the rubber meets road and the true-ness of the drilling proves bang or bust. Here’s how the wood looks, after staining (with a scrap piece in to show contrast) :
I chose to set all the 2.5″ bolts first :
Now, the 2.5″ bolts had that square piece under the mushroom-cap ends, so a bit of hammering (with a balsa-wood paint-stirrer stick between metal hammer and metal bolt to avoid scratches) set them all flush with the planks.
On to the assembly – after considerable thinking and scheming :
I thought it best to start by bolting the bottom, or #9, piece onto the two side struts and the center strut-handle. Then a layer of carpenter’s glue on the inside edge, and bring the three struts and their holes “down” onto the three bolts sticking up from the #8 piece. When each plank was set flush against the struts and the plank preceding it, I tightened up the nuts. Keeping care to make sure that the three struts were parallel to each other; that the shield’s circumference edge was lining up from plank to plank; and that the three struts were not all “leaning” off to the left or the right.
As more planks were added, the ability of the struts to “wander” from true, diminished.
The two “floater” middle pieces (row 5, aka #5 Left and #5 Right) were a challenge; they would only be truly secured at the end, when the shield boss and its six bolts were placed.
I did need to slightly re-drill two of the shield boss’s six bolt holes. The shield boss, bolted in place :
Stepping back and looking at the finished product, at long last and 4-6 weeks after starting the project :
The finished shield’s diameter is 77 cm (30.5″). Hurstwic’s historical estimates give “…Typical Viking shields were 80-90cm (32-36 inches) in diameter. Some were larger, such as the Gokstad shields, which were 94cm (37in) across. Based on surviving remnants, some shields appear to have been as small as 70cm (28in) in diameter.” (source)
The finished shield’s thickness is approximately 18mm (3/4″). Hurstwic : “The Gokstad shields were approximately 7mm (1/4in) thick near the center and were chamfered so they were thinner at the edges. Most surviving shields are in the range between 6mm (1/4in) and 12mm (1/2in) thick, although shields thicker than 30mm (1-1/8in) have been found.” (source)
The finished shield’s weight is exactly 5.44 kg (12.0 lbs). Hurstwic, again : “…The thin, unfaced reproduction shields shown in the photographs on this page weigh about 5kg (11lbs), while the thicker, leather covered shields weigh more than 7kg (15lbs) when dry.” (source)
Just to be a dork, the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 3.5 Edition Player’s Handbook, Chapter 7 : Equipment, Page 123, lists a “Heavy Wooden Shield” as 10 lbs and a “Heavy Steel Shield” as 15 lbs.
While my shield feels heavy and large, evidence suggests it is within “factory specs” for diameter and weight, and on the high side for thickness (not a disadvantage!!)
What didn’t turn out as hoped : The shield needs a bit of glue to fill in some gaps between planks, and unfortunately the set lengths of commercially-available bolts means that the 26 bolts stick out roughly 1.5cm (1/2″) from the struts, toward the wielder of the shield. The center hole around the grip is a bit narrow, and has a distinct edge against the back of one’s un-gloved hand. There is room for glove or gauntlet to grip, and that (plus presumed armor) would reduce or eliminate discomfort from the around the grip *and* the protruding bolts.
What turned out better than expected : The precision of construction; the color of the wood stain; the grip; the look and feel of the shield. All told, feels like a success. I’m happy with how it turned out…!