Shields 101

by Alex Quitzau
(Sydney, NSW, Australia)

QUESTION: I've always had an interest in swords - specifically European medieval types around the periods of the crusades. I have a few swords at home but the one part of my curiosity that hasn't yet been satisfied is on the topic of shields.


In the briefest of terms, I have no idea about how medieval shields were made and what they were made from, how heavy they were and how they were wielded.

I've tried to make one and it turned out 'alright' except that it's simply too hard to maneuver effectively.

I have found very little on the web and any light you could shed on the subject would be great, and I'm talking anything and everything.

Thanks for your time
Alex

ANSWER: Hi Alex,

Windlass Steelcrafts make some pretty decent replicas if you are in the market for off the shelf stuff. You can read some comments about their shields at the SBG Sword Forum (indeed, there are several threads about shield and armour in that category - and you can always ask specific questions to the SBG crew directly if you don't find the answer you are looking for).

Anyways, as to making one yourself - the best bet is to find and join your local SCA club. These guys make practical and very sturdy shields and someone there could help you make one, one on one...

Otherwise, as far as web resources go - there are quite a few homemade guides to help. Here's a few to get your started:

Basic Guide on how to make a shield

SCA based guide on shield making

Extremely simple 'Wikihow' on shield making

Have fun!

Kind Regards,

- Paul





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Feb 27, 2014
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jwooz99
by: jwooz99

I was wondering if anyone could give me a few pointers on working with leather!! I have not started yet but would love to be pushed in the right direction.

Dec 08, 2011
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Quick warning about wikihow!
by: Adam Pendragon

I just looked at the wikihow site, Alex, and every thing they say about shields in step 3 is DEAD WRONG!

I know you don't know me, and you have no reason to believe what I say, but please believe me when I say that I know what I'm talking about here. I am 53 years old and I have been a medieval historian for more than 30 of those years. I have researched medieval arms and armor extensively, and I have given more lectures on the subject than I can count.

With all due respect, you really dropped the ball on this one,Paul!

Dec 08, 2011
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Shields 101
by: Adam Pendragon

a couple of quick comments.

In a way, a medieval European sword is not a sword without a shield. At least it's not compleat. Many forget, and some just don't know, that one-handed medieval European swords were ment to be used in combination with shealds, not for fencing like in the movies. And in many of the old sagas the shield was often given more praise than was the sword!

The type of shield you're refering to, Alex, is the "kite" shield (this word wouldn't have been used back then of course), but I doubt it was the only type crusaders used.

Some people have the impression (again, thanks to movies) that shields were indestructible, and often made of metal; but neither is true. Unfortunately, this is what confuses many of us today.

Sadly, no shield from this period has survived; so in reality we are left with just bits of information and visual depictions. What we do know is that they were usually made of wood covered with leather on the outside, leather or some other type of fabric on the inside. However, when I say "leather" I don't mean tanned leather, but rawhide. This is something else which perplexes a lot of us. Rawhide is almost impervious to slashing strokes. The way this shield was held was by holding your fist and forearm up, like you're giving someone the finger. This way your forearm can take some of the impact, like a V spring. There would be a boss (metal bowl)where your fist goes to keep your knuckes from getting broken. And I said "usually" (above) because there are accounts of shields being made with "several layers of bullhide", presumably without the wood at all; and by bullhide I'm sure they meant rawhide. This may very well be true, because several layers of wet rawhide could be easily stretched over a barrel (say)to give it its curved shape, and once dry the layers could then be glued together. I know alot about rawhide and this would make an incredible shield. Unlike wood, it would eventually get bent up, but at least it wouldn't get broken to pieces. And like a sword, I'd rather have a bent one than a broken one.

Most of us these days make shields out of plywood covered with tanned leather; and before you say "they didn't have plywood, back then", they did have a "type" of plywood. It seems some shields were made by laminating (glueing) two or more layers of thin wood slats one atop the other. One can surmise this meant one layer running horizontally, the next vertically, and so on.

Also, these shields were rather curved or bowed,as I'm sure you know, and not flat. An easy way to do this is to find a piece of plywood that's curved (warped)to begin with.

As far as the SCA goes, they can definitely help. They make their shields to take a beating!

Lastly, as far as weight goes, again, sadly, no one knows. Many, however, seemed to have been made of Poplar, because it was hard but light.

Hope this helps, but the best thing you can do is crack open the books. And good call on the SCA advice, Paul

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