A Shield is a small, portable barrier carried into combat for protection. Beyond that, shields vary greatly in style and handling. Most shields were carried in the left hand, strapped to the left arm, or both. For much of period shields were an essential part of the soldier's equipment, and only stopped being used when armour construction allowed for full plate covering, thus reducing the necessity of a shield.
Since they were large, flattish surfaces, shields were almost always decorated, and by the middle of the medieval era an elaborate system of rules around this decoration had developed, known as heraldry.
The shield itself could be large or small, but the primary requirement for European shields was that it be extremely sturdy and light enough to be handled nimbly.
There are a large number of shield styles, and most are appropriate for SCA combat. Shield styles were often impacted by technological considerations, as well as regional preferences. It should be noted that specific cultures and periods would have a specific style, and using a style not suitable for your persona is a little twee.
- Bunny round
- Centre boss round
- Heater shield
- Judicial duelling shield
- Kite shield
- Rapier shield
- Roman shield
- Round shield
- Square shield
- Tower shield
Shield Construction (Period)
A great deal of effort went into period shield construction. While differences in local style and technological levels did occur, there are some basic points that apply to most shields.
Medieval shields could have been made of a sort of plywood, that is, of a series of laminated strips made of thin wood, layered together and glued with the wood-grain of each layer perpendicular to the layers above and below, adding strength. Planked shields are very common throughout history. Linden-wood along with other woods such as willow and poplar were all used for shields. Woods were chosen based on varying amounts of strength, lightness and resistance to splitting.
The face of the shield could have been covered in rawhide and were often cover with leather to add tensile strength to the shield. These materials could have been glued to the surface (and several glue recipes survive from the period, including one made from cheese) and fastened down by the edging of the shield and the centre-boss (if any). Some shields included a layer of grass between wood and facing.
The shield would have been edged in either rawhide (early period shields) or iron (mid- to late period shields), or a mixture of the two; this would adding a stiffening factor to the shield's strength and providing protection for the edges of the wood-grain, thus preventing splitting. Since the edge of the shield would take a large number of blows (as the enemy tried to get around it), strong edging may have been very important.
Some late period shields (especially jousting shields) would have been faced in sheet steel, making them extremely durable. Steel was expensive and heavy, however, and not typically used for combat shields. Regardless of the style of the shield, it could be flat or curved. Curved shields were much more difficult to make, but superior in strength, since they added structural strength to the existing strength of the wood and rawhide. A warrior would have bought the very best shield he could afford, since it was his life on the line.
Shield Construction (SCA)
Construction standards for SCA shields are little more lax than in period, but there are safety standards in place. SCA shields are normally made of plywood of 3/8 to 1/2 an inch thickness. This is the absolute minimum -- chipboard and particle board are not sufficient. Many SCA shields are made of metal (aircraft aluminum is popular) with minimum thickness of 16-gauge. Other SCA shields are made from plastic, of the same type that makes as plastic-barrel armour (puck-board is also popular), but these are ugly and look very "plasticky", so effort should be made to disguise them. For safety reasons, all shields are required to be edged, usually with plastic hose or closed-cell foam.
Another required safety feature is protection for the fingers on the shield-hand, as the shield only protects the back of the hand leaving the fingers exposed to sword blows, shield hooks or even being against one's own armor, possibly resulting in broken fingers. Centre-boss shields provide adequate protection as the fingers are protected inside the boss itself; a full gauntlet worn on the hand likewise provides enough protection. However, if a fighter is using a demi-gauntlet and an open grip, the shield grip must be covered with a protective enclosure. While not historically accurate, "cages" are a very common sight on SCA shields owing to the rules of the list.
There is great debate on shield style and weight in the SCA. A shield must be sturdy enough to absorb the impact of blows from weapons, but beyond that there is considerable variation. Some people believe the shield should be as heavy as you can handle so it has more resistance to your opponents' blows, although some may find this less maneuverable. Others say it should be as light as you can get away with, although this means your shield can be more easily moved by your opponent, and that it will break more quickly. Shield shape, strapping, and handling are all topics of rousing debate in any gathering of stickjocks.
Few SCA shields are curved owing to the difficulty of construction, but those heavy fighters who use them are often quite enthusiastic about them.
Shield Construction (Other Re-enactment Groups)
Shields for other re-enactment groups (i.e. live steel) combat tend to hold more emphasis on strict historical accuracy than their SCA equivalents. Ideally, re-enactment shields are shaped according to available evidence and will match the time frame chosen for the individual group, although there is variety as individual research and commitment can result in differing ideas.
Generally, for re-enactment combat, shields are constructed of plywood with thicknesses varying between 9mm and 12mm on average. They will generally have a canvas covering to add a level of extra resilience to the face and thus reduce splintering. Compared to the SCA, material substitutions are more limited in re-enactment and tends to be restricted to substituting a variation of the same material for another (i.e. one type of wood for another).
Edging of shields (where appropriate) is generally done in leather or rawhide as metal burrs under the impact of the steel weapons producing an edge that may cut exposed skin if it hits an opponent (although this was obviously not a concern for real warfare).
Shields and Heraldry (SCA)
A shield is a good place to show off your device. One can either paint it directly onto the shield, or cover the shield in canvas and then paint it (this has the advantage of protecting your wood, but it'll weigh down your shield a lot). Another idea is that you can make a slip that goes over your shield (think of your ironing board cover. That sort of thing.) You can paint your device, your household's device, your barony's device, or whoever you're fighting for.