Friday, 12 April 2013

Making Medieval Shlied Press - Forming a wooded shield

I found the plans for a shield press online and, after some modifications, built the press you see pictured below. What follows is a step-by-step process for making a curved shield, minus the instructions for building the press itself. I've made several shields and I offer them for sale to members of the MMCG at near cost and to others for a small profit. My shield blanks are as good as anything anyone else offers and I'll sell them less than what I've seen elsewhere. Contact me if you're interested in purchasing one.

The pictures for this article were taken over the course of making several different shields, so you'll see some variation but they progress in the proper order for making a shield of any shape.


1/4" plywood
wood glue (a lot)
natural cotton quilt lining
leather strapping
rivets & burrs
#6 x 1/2" cut tacks (carpet tacks)
shield press (instructions not included)
tack hammer
ball peen hammer
rotary fabric cutter (optional)
jig saw

The first step is to obtain your plywood and other materials. While most of the materials are self-explanitory, the plywood needs some explaination. You want to buy the most cost-effective plywood you can and that means pine. A sheet of 1/4" pine plywood will run you about (since I first wrote this the cost of plywood has risen, I'm removing any reference to cost) and, if you think about how to cut it carefully, you can get 4 small heaters, 3 large heater shields or 2 kite shields or scutums out of one sheet. You can either cut the plywood yourself or have them do it at the lumber yard--which I think is the best method, because most of us don't have panel saws in our garages.

The glue is another factor that can use some explaination. You don't need anything fancy, but you do need a lot of it. I buy it buy the gallon and just grab whichever wood glue is cheapest.

Once you've got your plywood cut, having it cut into four equal pieces works well, and you've gathered up all your other materials, it's time to press it to shape. place one peice of plywood, face down, on the shield press and spread glue evenly across the entire back side--I use a plastic spreader I found in the paint section.

Glue poured onto the back of the plywood.
Spreading the glue
Try and get a nice even coat

Then you'll take another piece of plywood and place it, face up, on top of the glued piece. After aligning the plywood properly, we place it in the press. Some glue should come out along the edges so that you know it's coated teh entire surface, but not a lot--this would indicate that you used too much glue.

Plywood in the press

Leave it in the press overnight to dry and when you take it out, it will hold its shape, like this:

When the glue dries, the two sheets of plywood become one and hold the curved shape.

Now that you've got your plywood curved, it's time to decide on your shape. If you plan on making several shields you can make a template, as I have here, in whatever shape you desire. Otherwise, draw out your shape on the plywood and cut it out with a jigsaw.

I made a handy template out of posterboard. 

Here I am cutting out the blank with my jigsaw.

Nicely cut out shield blank. (Save your scrap, cut it up and use it for firewood at Mercwars)

The next step is to sand the roughness off the edges and round over the corners just a little bit. Following that, you can move on to streching your shield with canvas. Be sure and purchase canvas that is several incches longer than the length of your shield as you need to wrap the front and it will shrink up a bit.

Do the concave side first, half the width of the fabric should be plenty. Thin out your glue -- three parts glue to 1 part water -- and spread it across the canvas with a cheap paintbrush. Apply your fabric and smooth and press with your hands; let it dry and trim off any excess from the edges (you may need to secure some spots around the edge that did not adhere well). After that, get the rest of your fabric and do the same thing on the front.

Spreading the glue on the front of the shield.

Smoothing the canvas with my hands.

You want to do this next step before the front dries and shrinks, otherwise you'll have some ugly looking raised areas around the edge on the front (see the loaner shield pic at the bottom of the page). Turn the shield over and stretch the extra fabric tight and tack it down near the edge. TIP: Clip the corners at an angle and apply some thinned glue to act as a binder to keep it from fraying. When working around curves, pull firmly towards the center of the shiled so that the fabric remains smooth on the front, we'll deal with the raised fabric between tacks in a second.

Tacking down the front canvas to the back side.

Next, cut off the excess fabric nice and cleanly, I like to use a rotary cutter for this step. In addition, clip the middle of the raised fabric around the curves and press it down flat, then take some glue and apply it liberally to the entire edge, smoothing out the fabric and securing it to the back side as well. You could make a shiled without stretching it with fabric, but your shield will not be as durable and the fabric is a better surface for painting.

That rotary cutter sure makes a nice clean edge!

Now it's time to get out the gesso! A house painting brush works best to spread an even layer of the gesso to the surface of the shield.

Applying gesso to my kite shield. Nice and crisp white.

While you're waiting for the gesso to dry (and it does take a while to dry) you can work on your arm pad. Take your batting and fold it in half, and then in half again, and then in half again -- eight layers thick -- and cut it to length (approximately the length of your forearm). Then take some of your scrap canvas and wrap it up like a present. FIgure out the angle at which you want it attached and tack it on and gesso it as well.

Figure out where you want to place the pad and mark it lightly with a pencil.

Keep the tacks close together and as close to the edge as you can.

Now, get out your strapping leather and measure out a length that's long enough to go over your hand for a grip. I made a criss-cross grip, but you could do a simple single strap. Punch holes in the leather and drill corresponding holes in the shiled for the rivets and get out your ball peen hammer.

Riveting on the grip. Cut the rivets to length with your nippers and peen it over nicely.

You are now finished with the actual construction of the shield. Now it's time to make it look nice.

Straps all done.

Sketch out your design in pencil; don't worry about mistakes, you'll paint over the lines and cover them up.

Sketched on design. It's my lion in an early Anglo-Saxon/Celtic style.

Paint it up! Now you've got a shield that is as authentically made as you can get without making your own plywood. Everyone you meet will be envyous of your great work. Here's some I've done:

My finished kite shield. Boy that looks good!

Making a Medieval Shield Kite Shield and Heater Shield Click Here


  1. knowing how to make the press would be nice.

    1. Here it is - Link:

  2. Excellent article. I would add one thing, however.

    If you are building your shield to use in SCA combat, it may be worth your while to use the best grade of Scandinavian birch you can find (it won't be at Lowe's or Home Depot). Your shield will be lighter and stronger than pine, and last much longer.


  3. Very much creative and unique DIY for making medieval shield.I had tried many times but not able to make like you did.