Making a Shield

Adrian Wink (Peronis)
John Nash (Madoc)

© July 2002. The Vicus Auxillia shield design is copyright to the above designers


(also look at this article on shield making)

Below follows an article on how to make a shield that would be useful for both Roman auxilia and Britons.

The standard auxilia shield is based on the Danum (doncaster) shield. There are differences between the original and our reenactment examples through necessity of materials and usage.
Please read through the enclosed materials on the Danum shield and then note the construction variations from the original:
  • Our shields are 1.25" slightly smaller in length and width so that they will fit onto a standard sheet of plywood
  • You can substitute cotton or linen for the original leather covering
  • edging can be hide or leather but must be sewn on
  • brass fittings are optional
  • iron grip can be replaced with a wooden one, the length of this bar is 80cm long
  • the boss is offset from the centre of the shield by 1"
  • bracing is not required
.Here are the original shield pictures and specifications:

Overview of the shield
Picture of the reconstruction
Picture of the attached fittings
Picture of the shield rear

Here are the constructions specifications:

overview of the construction
Template construction

Shield template

Click on the shield pattern (left) for a larger version

The shield colours of the shield design are taken from the Dulux colour guide (available free in any DIY store) and can be obtained in matchpots for ease and cheapness of application:

Rich Red for the star itself
Wild Forest for the background
Sunkissed yellow for the lining

What I am going to describe is a construction technique using modern materials and power tools. Despite using modern materials, the idea is produce a shield that looks and functions like it should. 


  • Saw (jigsaw)
  • Drill with a bit the same diameter as the coach bolts
  • Ball peen hammer
  • Rivet block
  • Hacksaw
  • Vice
  • Plywood (6mm or 9mm)
  • String and nails
  • Coach bolts (not the crosshead type!!)
  • Sheet metal for washers
  • Leather or rawhide edging
  • Enough Linen and/or leather to cover the front and/or back
  • Wood beading (@10mm thick/20-30mm wide)
  • Wood glue
  • PVA glue
  • Shield boss
  • Linen thread
  • Possible leather strap for carrying.
What the ‘board’ is made of 
Plywood, you will find, comes in thicknesses of 3mm (i.e. 3mm, 6mm, 9mm, 12mm). While the chances were that auxiliary shields were thicker in the middle than at the edge, we’ll just use the wood as it comes from the woodyard. Make sure you use exterior grade plywood. If you want to spend the bucks, then birch or marine plywood is even better. 
9mm plywood will take heavy re-enactment use for a couple of years but in the quieter environment of the Roman Empire it should last well beyond that. It has the advantage that it won’t need bracing – although you could apply some anyway.
6mm plywood probably won’t last quite as long (unless you leather face it – see later) and the longer ovals will require bracing to take out any flexibility. It will also be lighter to carry about, which may be important to you. 

The basic Shape 
Auxiliary shields could be various sizes of oval, hexagonal or even rectangular. Our standard auxilia shield is the Danum copy and the shape is preset (see above). British shields, however, can a be a variety of shapes. 
Cut the plywood into a rectangle that is slightly larger than the size shield you want. Measure the length and width and make an obvious mark for where the center is. You will need to know this for the shield boss hole and also for drawing the oval final shape. 
Hexagonal shields and extended ovals (a rectangular shield with curved ends) are quite easily marked out with but true ovals take a little explanation. 

You can draw an oval yourself by following these steps:

  • Pound two small nails into the board.
  • Tie a piece of string into a loop and place it over the nails.
  • With a pencil, draw the string up tightly so that it makes a triangle.
  • Keeping the string tight, move the pencil around the shield.

Your unit may well have a set size of oval. In this case, you will either need the template or be able to calculate the distances of the string and nails from the width and length measurements. 
To make an ellipse with specific length and width, i.e., with specific values of M and m in the figure below, we take advantage of a curious relation between these lengths and the distance between the nails. 
In terms of the symbols defined below, this relation is written as C2=M2 - m2. 
So if you want to make an ellipse for which M=2 and m=1, then you must separate the nails by 2c where c2=22 - 12=3 or c=v3=1.72 inches.

You would drive your nails in 2(1.72)=3.44 inches apart. To get the proper length string, just try different lengths until you find one that allows you to make the shaded triangle in the figure below one inch high (m=1). With these instructions, supplemented perhaps by a little patience and a table of square roots, you can make any size ellipse you want. 

Cut out the board using a jigsaw, or by hand, and sandpaper any rough edges down 

Cutting the hole for the boss 

Take you shield boss and measure it’s internal diameter, i.e. the width of the hole. Halve it to get the radius and use a piece of string that length, together with a nail and pencil to draw the hole it will sit over. Hammer the nail into the center mark, tie one end of the string to the nail and one to the pencil and draw. 

There are a couple of types of hole cut into the back:
  • Semi circular hole on one side of an integral grip with a trapezoid on the other (see picture). Found on a later period shields.
  • Round hole with integral grip. This grip can be by itself or have an added strip.
  • Straightforward hole. The handgrip is entirely separate.

At present, there is a bit of debate as to the orientation of the grip. Horizontal, i.e. across the shield or vertical which is up and down the shield 
Once you have made your choice, then drill a hole in the waste part of wood in order to get your jigsaw blade in. Cut out the waste and sand down the edges. 
The Auxilia danum shield always has a vertical grip !

Facing the shield with cloth or leather. 
Only a few shields have ever been found, but on balance it would appear that most were covered with either fabric, leather or hide. In later periods, a facing of leather was intrinsic to the shields construction. However, a covering of wool/felt glued on, (as per the roman example) makes a very strong facing 

Once you have you shield blank all cut out, then decide whether you wish to cover it, with what and whether it will be front or front and back. 

Thin leather is a very good choice and will prolong the life of your shield. The ‘grunt and bash’ groups find that leather covered shields can go 5 years and more, so ours should go far, far longer. 
Linen is another good choice, especially if the weave is nice and tight. Canvas will do as a substitute for linen as it will be undetectable under a couple of coats of paint. Felt or wool (maybe more accurate) is actually very good as well.

I use evostick impact adhesive (the nice smelling stuff) to glue down my leather. 
I use a PVA glue for cloth. Once you have stuck the cloth down with it, you can mix some with water and then paint the cloth all over to seal it. 

The covering should go right to the edges of the board as the rim covering an boss will help to hold it down.

Ensure that whatever covering you apply is stuck down ALL OVER. There is no point in just putting spots of glue on, spread it thickly and evenly. Ensure that the glue goes right to the edges (both the rim and boss hole) and that you smooth all creases out of the covering. 

There is a school of thought that says you can apply a fabric backing to your shield OVER your bracing as opposed to under it. 

TIP: Disguise the modern plywood appearance completely by lapping your covering over the boss hole edges, thus covering the only bit of plywood you’ll see 

Bracing and handle. 

It is supposed that the thinner scutum was braced with wood strips to stop them from flexing. Although no auxiliary shield has been found, it is likely that the same is true for them although Celtic shields are not with bracing. The Danum shield has a single bar on the back which adequately braces the shield. 

The layout of bracing is speculative but here some ideas based on shields already made
As explained earlier, a 9mm thick board will not need bracing but a thinner 6mm one will. However you can brace a thicker shield for the visual appeal. 

You can use quite thin wood for bracing. 10mm thick is ample and between 20 and 30mm wide. An 8 foot strip of pine will set you back perhaps a couple of quid ! 

You must attach the bracing firmly, otherwise the first time someone thumps your shield it will fall off. 
The firmest method is by gluing into place and then riveting it through the shield board in strategic places (like the ends and middle of each strip). You can use copper nails and make up some washers (as described in the fitting the shield boss section) for that purpose

If you feel brave, then you could dowel the bracing on. Simply glue the bracing on and then drill a hole though both the bracing and into the board (don’t drill through your facing) that is the same width as the dowel you want to fit. Fill the hole the glue and hammer the dowel in. Once it is dry then you can cut it level and sand smooth. If you want to drill all the way through the shield board when fitting the dowel, then you should cover it afterwards.

Never simply nail or (god forbid) screw on your bracing as it looks crap and people will laugh at you. 

You can extend the middle bracing strip across the boss hole to form the grip. It will not be strong enough by itself, so you may need to double it up. If it's across a grip that is cut into the shield board, then it will be fine. Spend a few minutes sanding this comfortable, although you may want to add cloth or leather around it to make it better. Do it now before you put the boss on !!!

Fitting the shield boss.

Bosses can be held by a variable number of rivets, although some can have quite a few. 

Rivets can be quite hard to come by nowadays but coach bolts (plain heads without the maker’s mark or cross head on it) make a viable alternative. 

Mark the points on the bosses flange where you want to mount the rivets, usually arranged symmetrically, and drill through. 

TIP: I always punch the points where I want to drill to stop the bit from skittering off.

While you have the drill handy, then make some washers by drilling the same number of holes in a piece of metal plate (brass or bronze or steel) leaving space around each. Snip the washers; you don’t have to be accurate triangular or any shape is fine as long there is enough metal to rivet on 

NEVER use penny washers from the shop, They look like what they are ! 

Place the drilled boss on the shield blank and ensure it is sitting square on. Drill through the wood. 

TIP: I drill the first hole only and then push the coach bolt through and use a nut to hold it there. I do this for each one in turn to ensure that the shield boss doesn’t slip off. In addition, some coach bolts have a square section just behind the head, which causes them not to sit flat onto the boss; if you tighten the nut up then it will force this square section into the boss making it very snug. 


Riveting takes practice and a little thought. You will need a ball peen hammer, the smaller the better, and a flat metal block to rivet against, although you can use concrete.

Take the nut off of one of the coach bolts and mark it just above the washer you made. About 2mm is about right, although you will get away with 3mm or 1mm. Cut the rest of the thread away – which will require a hacksaw and vice.. 

TIP: If you cut too much off then you may find that there isn’t enough coach bolt there to rivet over and the washer will keep bouncing off. If you cut too little off then you’ll never rivet it right and it will bend rather than rivet. 

Push the cut coach bolt through the boss and board and flip it the whole thing over the head of the rivet is on your metal surface. Push the washer on, hopefully leaving just enough coach bolt showing. Using the round end of your hammer start to thump the end. You’ll find that it won’t take much to hammer it flat. 
Once you’ve done one, then unbolt the next one and do the same again. Keep going until all the boss is fixed by rivets. 


We’ll consider that you will use either leather or rawhide for the edging. 
Rawhide is available from pet shops in the form of dog chew (seriously). An average shield will take 3 medium sized ones. Rawhide needs to be soaked in a bucket of hot water for at least an hour, if not more. Don’t leave it overnight or for days as it goes a little funny. Once it starts to soften you can untangle the knots it comes in and get a rectangle out of it that you can cut. 
Rawhide works best wet, if you leave it standing somewhere (especially somewhere warm) then it will start to harden and, more importantly, shrink. 

TIP: dogs love rawhide. My older dog will take any opportunity to walk off with it. Be warned! 

Before you start, establish how wide the edging needs to be. Somewhere between 10-15mm overlap on EACH side is okay. That could mean that a 9mm shield with leather facing could have strips 45mm wide or more! Once you’ve sorted this out, then cut your rawhide or leather into the longest strips you can 

The fastest way to sew the edging on is by pre-drilling all the holes you need through both the edging and the board. Leather can be glued on to hold it while you drill (I use evostick impact adhesive again) but the rawhide must be nailed on (as you need to give it a bit of a stretch). 

Take one end of the rawhide and nail it through the board properly (i.e overlapped on both sides). Take the other end and put where it would end if you followed the edge of the shield. Now, remembering where that place, flip it off the edge and go across the board to a point a few inches further along (i) and nail it there. Now push it gently up onto the edge of the shield and you’ll find that it stretches nicely into position

.Glue or attach all the edging on. 

Using a smaller drill bit, the size of the needle you will use, start to drill through the edging and board creating hundreds of tiny holes. I use a dremel to do this as it’s easier to wield but a drill will do the job. 
This will take 30 minutes or more. 

Make sure that you aren’t drilling to close to the edge of the board or your stitching will pull out and not hold. Vice versa, avoid drilling too close to the edge of the leather. It’s hard but try and keep the holes evenly spaced. 

Sewing on

I use the smooth linen warping thread from Fibrecrafts for all my leatherwork. A huge roll is about a tenner and it lasts for years. It is raw linen coloured and the genuine stuff. I also use plenty of beeswax to make sewing easy and to prolong the life of the thread. 
If you made the holes correctly, then you should find that the needle and thread slip through with the minimum of fuss. 

Beeswax is available from my good friend Mary Fisher:

Linen warping thread from Fibrecrafts. Old Portsmouth Road, Peasmarsh, Guildford, Surrey, GU3 1LZTel 0(+44) 1483 565800, fax 0(+44) 1483 565807 e-mail 

A carrying strap 
The Danum shield has little clips that concievably could be for a carrying strap (see pics above) .You can invent some fancy brass or bronze device or you simply rivet a length of leather along the vertical length of the shield (don’t go horizontally – there isn’t enough space). Mine are 30cm’s from the boss on either side. Rather than having to fit a buckle, you can cut the strap to the length for you. Make sure that when it’s slung it clears your legs!