Recently my Sophomore World History class has been studying the Middle Ages. Every year as part of this I usually break out some wooden swords and bring them up to the school. I have several swords from Hollow Earth Sword Works that I let the kids spar with under strict supervision. It's an opportunity to learn about the different types of swords, their parts, techniques for use, etc. It also serves as an opportunity for the students to learn first hand just what a workout swinging a sword around can be. Most of them are quite surprised that they are panting after only a few minutes of play fighting. My hope is that by injecting a little fun into the subject that the kids might be a bit more interested in knowing more about the time period. In other words, I'm trying to show that history is more than just reading textbooks, doing worksheets, and aliens on the History Channel.
This year I decided to add a little project into the mix. I had a moment of inspiration when deciding what to do with some large cardboard packaging that was left over from a recent delivery of new whiteboards. I was hating the idea of simply tossing 4 huge sheets of cardboard - I just knew that they could be put to some use (yes, this is why my garage tends to accumulate junk). At the time, we were covering Ancient Greece and the thought came to me that we could make hoplons (large greek round shields). However, it was too short of notice to pull everything together and incorporate this into my lessons. Then I realized that very soon we would be covering the middle ages and that we could easily construct Viking round shields.
I chose Viking round shields for a few reasons:
1. I like Vikings
2. They are a simple design
3. Vikings are cool
After a little brainstorming and mentally working out construction methods, I began to gather the needed supplies.
The supplies needed:
1. A circular template. I was able to use a 25" diameter livestock feed bucket. Other options might include trash can lids, water heater drip pans, etc. I would recommend making a cardboard template - it's easy to work with if you are making several shields.
2. 3-5 sheets of cardboard per shield (the number used depends on how thick you want your shields to be). Keep your template size in mind when gathering your cardboard. Possible sources for large sheets of cardboard: home improvement stores, appliance retailers, etc.
3. A utility knife. Make sure it has a fresh, sharp blade.
4. A Sharpie or other good marker.
5. Elmer's Glue. Simple white glue gets the job done.
6. Cloth strips - 2 per shield. Approximately 1-1.5" wide by 18-24" long. I used an old worn pair of jeans and cut the legs into rings of cloth. Then I just opened it up by clipping out one of the seams.
7. Duct tape. The universal fixer.
8. Spray Primer. Just about any white spray primer will do (grey or black, if you anticipate dark colors or metallics). I got some Rust-Oleum primer that they had on clearance for $3 at the hardware store. You could also use a brush on primer.
9. Paint. I used oil based gloss paint, such as Rust-Oleum. You could use just about any paint you wanted. Acrylics have the obvious advantage of faster drying and water cleanup.
10. Foam paint brushes. Cheap and you can usually buy them in a bulk package. Plus you can just toss them when you're done. Any brushes will do though.
11. Drop clothes or newspapers. This is to protect other surfaces against that inevitable drip or spill when painting.
12. Heavy books or other weights. Anything that can be laid on top of the shield while the glue cures.
STEP 1: (Cue "A-Team" theme music)
Using your template and Sharpie trace all the shield pieces you will need onto your cardboard. If you are doing several shields, then take a moment to plan out how to most efficiently get the most out of your cardboard. I was able to get 24 shield pieces out of 4 sheets of cardboard that were just over 4'x6'.
STEP 2: Using the utility knife, cut out all the shield pieces. Be careful.
STEP 3: Have whomever will be using the shield lay their shield arm (usually the left) in the center of a shield piece. Then use the sharpie to make marks on either side of their open hand and either side of their forearm. Make the marks about the same width as your cloth strips.
STEP 4: Use the utility knife to cut out slots where you made each of the four marks.
STEP 5: Time to make the shield handles. Take the cloth strips and pull them through the slots. You should have one strip at the hand and one at the forearm. Each strip should be pulled through so that you have about even length coming out from the slots. Try to have the strips coming out of the side of the cardboard that is the cleanest (no packaging graphics, marks, etc.), as this will be the back of the completed shield. This saves you from having to worry about painting the backside, while still maintaining a relatively aesthetically pleasing appearance. Once you have the cloth strips positioned, put a little glue on the backside to help secure them. Make sure they lay as flat as possible.
STEP 6: Once you have the handles in place, it is time to begin the layers of the shield. Place a generous amount of glue on the back of the shield piece with the handles. Then take another shield piece and firmly press it into place on top of the layer with the glue. Continue adding layers of shield pieces in this manner until you reach your desired thickness. The shield should be at least 3 layers thick, but you might want to make it as thick as 5 layers for extra shock absorption.
STEP 7: Take the freshly glued shield and place it front first onto a flat surface (such as the floor). Then place several heavy weights on top. I used text books evenly spaced around the shield. Be sure that none of your layers have slid out of alignment during this process. Let the shield sit in this manner overnight.
STEP 8: After letting the glue cure for at least a day, coat the shield with a few layers of primer. Then let this dry overnight.
STEP 9: Once the primer is dry, then paint the shield. You can paint the shields anyway you wish. If you want some historical guidelines then a simple online search of "Viking shield designs" will provide numerous examples. Let the paint dry overnight.
STEP 10: Once the paint is dry, it's time to add a "metal" rim to the shield. This serves two purposes: 1. It looks better 2. It protects people from potentially nasty paper cuts from the shield edges. Take a piece of duct tape approximately 3-5 inches long and apply it roughly parallel to the shield edge. You should have it overlap the front edge of the shield approximately 1/4 to 1/2 and inch. Then wrap it smoothly and tightly over the shield edge and back. Then take another similarly sized piece of tape and apply it slightly overlapping the end of the last piece. Repeat this process until you have fully edged the shield in duct tape.
STEP 11: Stand back and admire your completed shield! Now go have some fun with it. My students and I found that they had pretty good shock absorption with 3 layers. Also, they could take a pretty good beating. The swords we were using are made of hickory and are pretty stout.
Avid gamer, historian, teacher, organizer of the MAG Con gaming convention, and owner of Ettin Games and Hobbies.