How make medieval wood shields

Wood Shields

I have made several shields using my shield press (go here to see the plans for the shield press). I thought I would show how I build mine. You can make pretty much any shape you wish (historic or not), but for the most part the construction is the same.

Keep in mind that these shields are more for looks, and light sparring. I have used mine for waster practice, and they take a beating pretty good. I have no ideas what the rules for any sparring group (SCA etc.) would be, so I have no idea if these even come close to fitting into any of the rules. Adjust your project accordingly.

Remember, that historically, a lot of shields didn't even make it through one battle!

Hopefully my plans and examples will give you enough information to try and build your own. They are not that difficult, and I really enjoy making them. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me (see "Contact Me" at the bottom of this page).

The above shield is a standard heater shield. I painted this shield to match my surcoat. Since this shield is mostly for my costume, I used bolts as they are much easier then riveting.

This is a pretty standard kite shield. I painted it as a templar shield. I tried to make this one a bit more historic, and the straps are attached using rivets. Also, I didn't use any buckles to adjust the straps. I will show details for this later.

These pictures just show some closeups.

Some more shots of a different heater type of shield. This is bit larger then my other heater. This one has just been primed, and is ready to be painted. I always paint the back before I apply the arm cushion and straps.. makes it much easier then trying to paint around them.

Constructing the Wood Shield Blank

The first thing you will want to do is to determine the size you wish to make your shield. These can vary a bit but lets assume we are going to make our heater shield 21 inches wide at the top. It is much easer to draw the shape of the shield before you bend it in the press.

I prefer my shields to have some curve in them, but they don't have to. I use 2 pieces of 1/4" plywood, and when they are glued together in the press, the shield ends up being 1/2" thick. If you wish to just make a flat shield then you can just use a piece of 1/2" plywood.

The standard heater is designed using the 3 to 1 method. Notice in the picture above that the shield is 3 units wide, the straight section on each side is 1 unit and the curve is created by using 3 units. So if the shield is going to be 21" wide then you divide this measurement by 3 and you get 7" (one unit).

The above picture shows the olde trick of drawing a large curve. I use a piece of 1/4" thick, by 1 1/2" wide board, but pretty much any board you have lying around will work. I make a mark on one end of the board (where the nail will go), and I drill a hole at some pre-determined distance on the opposite end where I drill a hole, just large enough for a pencil to fit through.

The distance between the mark for the nail and the hole for the pencil will 3 units, or for example, 21".

You will hammer in the nail at the end of the left hand line (which, in our example will be 7"). Don't hammer in the nail too much, just enough to hold the board a bit. You will next start at the end of the line on the right side and draw the curve. Repeat for the opposite side and your shield is ready to be pressed or cut. You always want to press the shield before cutting it out.

There are many examples of different type of shield presses, and I have the plans for mine here: Shield Press Project

After the shield has dried in the press (couple of days), you can remove it and cut it out using a jig saw or band saw.

After you cut out the shield you will want to sand the edges to make them smooth and fix any cutting irregularities. You will also want to sand the face and back of the shield a bit, just to smooth them up a bit. I also like rounding the edges just a bit, so the edges are not sharp.

Applying a Cover to the Shield

I like covering the front of the shields with some sort of material, as this gives them more of a historic look, adds strength and makes painting them easier. I prefer using canvas as it is inexpensive, easy to work with and you can get it at any fabric shop. You can also use linen but it is not as strong, harder to find and more expensive then canvas. You can also use leather, but this would work best for a shield where you are going to cover the edges with something like rawhide. The following instructions assume we are using canvas.

I start by cutting a piece of canvas a couple inches larger all away around than the size of the shield blank. I then use a wood glue to glue it on to the front. I take a cheapie bristle brush and cutting some length off of them until you are left with bristles about a 1/2" long or so. This makes a great brush to apply the wood glue to shield. I apply glue to front of the shield, doing about half of the shield at time. You don't need a lot of glue, a nice even coat holds very well. After you have the glue applied to the about half of the shield lay the canvas on the shield and with your hand flatten it down so that it makes contact with the glue. If you have glue coming out of the material and getting on your hands then you might have a put a little too much glue on.. doesn't really hurt anything. Repeat for the rest of the shield until the entire front is glued down. Don't worry about covering the edges of the shield yet. Wait for the glue to dry first.

After the glue has dried on the front (probably less then and hour) you are ready to wrap the cover around the edges. If you are using an edge wrap like rawhide you do not need to wrap the canvas around the edges.

The first thing you need to do is to mark the linen where it will need to be cut. You will want about an 1" of material to glue onto the back of the shield (see right picture above). To keep this as even as I can I use a compass (above picture left) to mark all around the canvas following the edge of the shield. Since the shield is 1/2" thick you want to make the total of this material about 1 1/2" wide.

If our shields were square it would be easy to just fold the canvas over and glue it to the edges and back, but since our shields have curves you will need to overlap the material occasionally to keep it neat.

The above pictures shows the overlaps. The amount and how many will be determined by how much the shield is curved in the area you are working with. Just experiment by folding the canvas over and cut the overlap so that it can curve around the edge neatly. Remember that we are more interested in the edge and front of the shield looking the best.

When you are gluing the canvas on be sure you apply glue to the edge and, of course to the back. If some of the glue spreads out from under the canvas on the back, don't worry. Just smooth it out with your finger (this job can get a bit messy :>). The paint will cover it when you paint the back of the shield. The wood glue is a bit sticky and will hold the canvas down even when wet, but as it dries you can go back over areas that might have pulled up and smooth them back down.

When you cut the canvas for the overlap do not cut all the way to the front, just to the back edge. Cut to the area shown by the line in the picture above.

The material will be bunched up a bit in the corners and point of the shield. I have no magic here, but just fold and cut until the canvas fits as best as it can. Use plenty of glue here to saturate the canvas. Again just smooth and wipe off any excess glue with your fingers. I then use a clamp on each of the corners to hold down the canvas until the glue dries. I then check over the canvas that I have glued on the back one more time, smoothing down any seams that might have come up a bit. You can also add a bit more glue and use this to smooth it down a bit.

The above instructions might sound a bit daunting, but not too worry. It is not really that bad, and after you start, it flows along pretty good.

You can now set the shield aside and let it dry.

Using leather to cover shield.

If you will be covering the front of the shield with leather you just simply need to cut the leather to fit the front of the shield and glue it on using wood glue. Keep in mind you will need to use rawhide or more leather to wrap around the edges. More on this further down.

If you feel brave you can attempt to bend the leather around the shield like you would the canvas. This is not easy, but can be done. You would need to have soaked the leather in water for a while so it will be easier to form around the shield.

Adding the Straps and Edging

The picture above shows some examples of how you would attach edging, the straps, and a padded arm rest.

Now would be a good time to prime and paint the back of the shield. The primer I use is just a standard latex wall primer. I put 2 coats on the front and the back. I picked up a small trim roller painting set and it works very well. You will probably want to go ahead and paint the back of the shield before putting on the straps and padded arm rest. The color is your choice! Again, I just used a standard latex wall paint. I used what is called an eggshell finish, which has just a rumor of a sheen, but again that will be up to you. Historically the paint was probably flat. The eggshell finish will be a bit tougher. I use this on the front and back of the shield. If you have covered the front of the shield with leather then you will want to use a paint that is compatible with leather, most acrylic paints are.

If you are adding a boss to your shield then you will need to do that now before you add the arm padding, or the straps. You may wish to paint the front of the shield before adding the boss depending on the design. Again, it is easier to paint with the boss off, though you may want to have already drilled the holes and test fitted it.

Padded Arm Rest

You are only limited to where to place the pad and straps by the size of the shield, the size of yourself, and just personal preference. To give you a reference I have included the above graphic which shows the measurements that I have used on my personal shields. The angle on my mine is roughly 30 degrees, but you may wish to have someone hold the shield while you move your arm around to get a comfortable angle. Keep in mind that all the dimensions are approximate, and may be changed to suit.

Next we will want to add the arm padding. I use suede for this as it is strong but flexible. You can use other materials, just make sure that it will be strong enough. You could probably use canvas, just make sure that you fold some the edge under before tacking it down so it doesn't unravel. I use a 3/4" heavy foam piece that I get from a fabric store. Just make sure that you get the stiffest foam you can (no not styrofoam :>). Your hand will thank you later.

I use small tacks to nail the suede to the back of the shield. Before nailing it on try and figure out where you like your arm to be on the shield. You can use my pictures as examples. When I have figured out where I want it I tack the entire top down, all away across. I use 3/8" tacks. You don't want them sticking out the front. After I have tacked the top down, I place my foam under the suede and then tack along the bottom. The foam is cut so that it is a little smaller then the piece of suede. I then tack up both sides.


The drawing above shows some different examples of straps that can be used. The first is a standard strap that uses a buckle for adjustment. The second strap are really two straps crossed. The crossed straps work best for the strap that you hold with your hand. If you notice my red and black heater shield (top of this page), this is the system that I used for it. It works very well.

The last strap, the laced strap, uses a series of holes and leather laces to make adjustments. This is used on my templar kite shield (also near the top of the page). This is not as easy to adjust as say a buckle, but I do like the looks of it.

For reference the straps on the heater shield are 3/4" wide and the on the templar shield they are 1".

For the straps you need to use a heavier grade of leather, and you can just purchase "belt" leather which comes in different widths. You could also use an old belt. Just make sure it is really leather, and try to avoid belt leather which two pieces are sewn together. You can pick up some pretty good belt bargains at goodwill.

Now that we have our straps we need a way to attach them to the shield. You can use bolts or rivets. Bolts are the easiest and make it easy to remove straps to another shield in the future. Rivets are more historic but take more skill in attaching them. I use 1/4" bolts or rivets.

In the drawing above I show how the bolt/rivets work. I am showing carriage bolts which can be picked up at any hardware store. Depending on how thick your leather and covering is 3/4" to a 1" should work fine. You always want to use a washer against the leather so it doesn't pull out. Most carriage bolts will have some sort of lettering on the head which wouldn't look too good on the outside of our shield, so make sure you file/grind them off.

I wanted to give my templar shield a more rustic look and took the carriage bolts and hammered the heads on my anvil which got rid of the lettering, and gave them a rustic hammered look. I then cut them to length and then peened them just like a rivet. Worked great. I even hammered the washers so they look old and worn also. (see picture on right).

I also made my own rivets for the boss on the templar kite shield. I used standard common nails. I hammered the heads to make them more rounded and not so wide. I then cut them to length and peened them from the back.

Painting the Shield

(See information above about what type of paint to use).

You can make your paint job as simple or as complex as you wish. If you mess up, you can just primer over it and start over. If you are trying to match a surcoat or other outfit take it with you to the paint store to assist in matching the colors. If you are really brave you could actually go in with your outfit on. Great conversation starter....

I paint the front and edges of my shield with my base color. As an example, I painted my templar shield first with the white base color. I then used a pencil and straight edge and lightly traced out the cross on the shield. Next I used a couple of different sized brushes to paint in the cross. I highly recommend that you do all of this by hand. To me a hand painted shield has the medieval look. If you are a horrible painter, maybe you could find someone to assist you with it.

If you are putting on an edging then you can continue on, if not then you are finished! Good job! There is something about holding a good shield in one hand and a sword in the other.... hard to explain.

Remember you can produce a shield that is simple or complex as you wish. Just make one. If you wish, a piece of plywood cut out to a shield shape, uncovered, with some straps still looks pretty good.


If you are adding edging it now that time to do so. Using rawhide or leather involves the same steps. Cut some strips about 2" wide. More then likely you will not have one piece large enough to go around the entire shield, (cows just come so big) so you will need to have several pieces to go all away round the edge of the shield. You will need to make some extra pieces of rawhide to cover these seams. See picture below.

2" strips should work fine, but you can adjust as needed. You will want to soak the rawhide or leather in water until it softens up. Then working with a strip at time bend the edging over the shield and tack down. Continue until you have all the edges covered. Now add the extra pieces to cover the seams, let dry and you are finished.

Dimensions for Kite Shield

Below are some dimensions for a standard kite shield. These are only suggestions and feel free to adjust to fit your needs.

My next shield projects will be a 12" buckler and a viking type of shield and I will have instructions and pictures available shortly.




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