Planked shields

Modern re-enactment shields are typically cut from sheets of exterior grade ply as it is strong, durable, and widely available.  Throughout the medieval period and beyond sheets of wood had to be constructed from planks of wood glued together, as the width of wood available was dictated by the size of the tree.

Unlike a modern re-enactment shield, early medieval shields were disposable, and designed to catch weapons rather than to withstand repeated blows across multiple battles. As a result of this, a professional warrior would have taken several shields to battle.

With this project, my aim was to produce a shield I could use for re-enactment combat using traditional techniques and materials. Historical shields were typically made from solid planks between 5mm and 10mm thick, but in order to withstand extended use, I needed to produce a more strongly constructed shield from ply-ed wood. Although there are no early medieval finds of ply-ed shields, a Northern French manuscript from the period describes shields constructed of ply-ed wood, and it was this technique which I used.

Planked, leather-faced round shield

The shield shown above is 30 inches in diameter, which is at the top end of sizes from the archaeological record. It is based on a 2008 Danish find of an incomplete shield. The shield is covered with 2mm thick leather, again as per archaeological finds and written records.

The shield is constructed from three cross-laminated layers of seven poplar planks. I used poplar because it is the most common wood used in current finds. The planks are glued together using a casein-based glue (cheese glue).

Unlike the majority of re-enactment shields, the grip and boss are attached using clench nails rather than rivets and the grip is attached separately to the boss. This technique is based on archaeological finds.

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