Friday, April 02, 2010

A Replica Viking Round Shield

In a burst of experimental archaeology energy, I built a replica Viking shield in February.

Okay, it isn't 100% accurate to the methods used in the 10th Century for shield construction, but it gave me a taste of how it was done, what the product was like, and I learned a few new skills.
The main body of the shield is plywood. Obviously, modern plywood was not available in the Viking Age, but the laminated construction method they used produced a similar result. The shape was easily cut with a jigsaw.
I faced the shield with heavy canvas. There is mixed evidence about real shield facing. Some surviving exemplars are bare. Others appear to have been faced with leather. Although I did find a leather supplier, I caved at the price. Many latter shields had a cloth facing, but I didn't see any reference for the Viking era. Obviously they would've had sail cloth, but I suspect any cloth would've been too valuable to be sacrificed for a shield, generally.

Anyway, the canvas was glued down with a wash of diluted white glue. When it was dry, I used artist's gesso to stiffen and prep the surface. The design was chosen from an Osprey book for some reasonable authenticity. Geometric shapes appear to have been common, but there is some debate about how elaborately they decorated their shields. I used ordinary artist's acrylics to paint.

I purchased a steel shield boss and six rivets online from the aptly named Viking Shield. They were incredibly helpful and not only sold me the parts, but answered all my questions. I asked some very basic ones too. I'm sure they were surprised I didn't hurt myself trying to make this.
The shield was sandwiched between the boss and the handle and clamped together. I then drilled guide holes for the rivets. Luckily, when I test fit the rivets, nothing had shifted and it all fit together. The two long rivets went through the handle first. These were still too long, and I cut about 3/4 of an inch off of them.
Following the advice I'd gleaned from several sources, I gently peened back all the rivet heads with a ball peen hammer. Riveting required some kind of anvil surface, something I hadn't countered on when I started construction. I procured a length of cut-down locomotive rail to use as an anvil. I have a knife-making friend of mine to thank for that. It was a little more awkward than a true anvil, but worked fine.

The final stage was nailing down the rawhide around the rim. The rawhide was reclaimed from dogchews soaked for about 30 minutes in lukewarm water. I used upholstery nails to tack it down on both sides.
I didn't time the project, but I'd guess there's 6 to 8 hours of work. You couldn't possibly do it all at once, because the glue and the paint has to dry, but it could probably all be done in a long weekend. The finished shield is about 10 pounds. Believe it or not, I think that's on the heavy side for a real shield.
Plans can be found by googling "How to make a Viking/round shield."
If you're interested, I found the websites for the re-enactment groups the Vikings and Regia Angolorum to be very informative about 10th Century crafts. There's something raw and honest about Viking Era arts and crafts, especially when you've been around computers all day.

No comments: