Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How to make a Viking Shield

True to the Scandanavian laws of the 10th century. (mostly)

Viking shields were made from light woods but sturdy. Alot of people use plywood to make shields but because we are making ours the authentic way we will be butting planks together.

Choose 4 or five planks roughly 20cm wide by 1 cm thick. Pine planks will do, however for a truly authentic shield you should use linden, or basswood. This can usually be picked up pretty cheap at your local hardware store. lay these out on the ground butted together. To find out how round your shield should be it is generally the length of your forearm (from your wrist to your elbow) double that and then add on 5cms for good measure. This is the diameter of your shield.

Now you have figured out the diameter, mark your circle on the planks, Now make a smaller circle that is roughly 4cms in diameter wider than your fist.

Cut the lines with a jigsaw (or whatever you have at hand that is relatively accurate).

Now that you have your markings cut your shield should be starting to take shape. Once again lay the planks out on the ground making sure that the circle is perfectly aligned. 

Use 2 long, thin strips of timber (no more than 1cm thick, by 3cm wide) attach these along the sides of the shield to hold them together. To stay authentic use flat headed nails from the face of the shield and then bend whatever is sticking out back over into the strip using pliers or a hammer.

Once you have finished doing that it is time to face your shield. using canvas or thin leather, (I used canvas) glue the facing onto the front of your shield making sure you cover the whole thing. It dosent matter if you go over the edges a bit because they will be covered later. use any sort of glue you want but just a basic PVA style glue should work fine. make sure you dont get any ripples in the material or they will be there for the rest of your shields life. Wait for the glue to dry.

Now that the facing is on you have to attatch your boss. (The metal bit in the middle) you can make one of these yourself or simply purchase one from one of these sites. (Ill show you how to make one in a later post)


If you are buying your shield boss you should probably get some rivets while you are there. Otherwise you can simply use round headed nails like i did and clench them over at the back, the same way you did with the wooden strips earlier.

Drill some holes in your boss, 4 or 6 is standard but you can have up to 8 without looking weird. (I used 6) drill holes in your timber as well that align with the ones you drilled in your boss. Attach your boss with either your rivets or your nails, whichever method you prefer.

Time to attach the handle. Find another strip of wood roughly the same with as your other strips (3cm or so) but have it a bit thicker. (anywhere between 5 and 10 cm depending on how big your hands are.) shape it in the middle so that it sits comfortably in your hand and then attach it on the back of your shield running parallel with your strips. Use 6 dome headed nails (or rivets) and attach it from the front of your shield so that the nail heads are visible. 
Now that your handle is attached you can paint your design on the face of your shield. I recommend going for a fairly basic design because if you are going to be using this shield for reenactment you are going to go through them fairly regularly. 

Once you have painted your shield and it has dried it is time for the final step. Putting on the rim. 
Use leather, or if that is not an option for you get some rawhide (dog chew type stuff) to use. 
Cut this into strips roughly 5cm wide to go all the way around your rim. Soak your leather in warm (not hot) water until it gets fairly soft, wrap it around the edges of your shield and attach with very small nails. I prefer upholstery tacks because they look more authentic. But whatever you can get will be fine. 

Once the rim is complete and dry, your shield is finished! I recommend oiling the raw timber on the back of your shield with a light oil or painting it so that moisture dosent get it. Because otherwise if it gets wet it will bet REALLY heavy and be unusable.

(Any steps you didnt understand i hope you will be able to figure out from the pictures of mine.)
Enjoy your shield!


  1. If you stretch the canvas and pin it then put primer or a combination of 1 part water 1 part glue. this will make the canvas stretch nicely with out wrinkles but over all its a nice tutorial.

  2. Curious about the diameter quoted. For me that's make the diameter about 18.5 inches. This seems small for some reason.

    1. if you feel the measurements don't suit. adjust them to fit yourself better. its a guide not a rulebook :)
      the main purpose is that when you are holding the handle with your arm flat against your side, you want the rim to sit roughly two thirds the way up your bicep. thats the optimal size.

      any larger and it gets too hard to control, and much smaller and its not defending you properly.

      if you have any more queries id be happy to help

    2. my one in the picture is 22 inches if that helps put it in perspective for you.

    3. Thx for the reply and the tutorial. Are you gonna do any more of these?

    4. Great little rule of thumb on diameter. Much better than trial and error. Hahaha.

    5. great information here..depending on your height..and arm length..as well as stength.. their are ..a few different types..mine is 28 inches wide..more like a buckler style but made of heavy cherry.. weighs about 13 pounds..am working on a bigger one now..shield wall style..

    6. for comparison my shield would be roughly 26" and i will state im a larger guy at 6'0" before adding the 5cm's of additional width so im looking at 29-30" shield which is a respectable size and really close to where the shields were historically

    7. i should point out that this is a 1 handed shield with no arm strap so bigger is not necessarily better you still have to be able to use it effectively

  3. When is the boss tutorial coming? i realy want to make it my self

  4. I would be interested in the Boss tutorial too.

  5. That shield is way way way too small!
    Look how much leg and head you have visible.

    Viking shields were normally 30-36", so yours is somewhere around 10" too small!

    Other than that not bad.

    1. No offense but if your torso is 10" then you are pretty short. And the type of shield I'm sure your thinking about was a kite styled shield. Which was not introduced to the nord/Viking area a.k.a Scandinavia or to be more proper the countries of Sweden,Norway,and Finland as well a possibly Greenland

    2. Jacob Foster,

      I don't see where Marc typed that his torso is 10". Please go back and re-read what he typed. Viking shields were anywhere from 30"-37" in diameter, depending on the person, and anywhere from 1/4" - 1 1/4" thick, again, depending on the person.

      "Viking shields were normally 30-36", so yours is somewhere around 10" too small!" - Marc Durose

      I quoted what you misread for an easier reference.

    3. Jacob Foster,

      Hello again! I forgot to explain what Marc was trying to point out. If i'm wrong, then Marc can correct me, but i'm pretty sure he was pointing out the fact that Dr. McGlainco made his shield 10" too short to be functional.

    4. All in all, it's a nice shield. I'm going to be making two with my son this weekend so we can each have one. I don't remember what brought me to this page, but i'm happy I clicked on the link. This will be our first time making shields :). I think we will probably purchase a boss for each of our shields though. They aren't that expensive, and since we are making them ourselves, we are saving around US$160, and we are making ours out of sheets of oak.

      Good luck to everyone!

    5. its called a buckler..and depending on the person..male or female..they were individually made for said person..height weight.. strength does factor.. remember back when our ancestors weild these they were alot taller and stouter then now..just saying