Rome was an empire founded on bloodshed. In addition, its soldiers, the legionaries, were distinguished by their way of fighting, in which they used a formidable selection of weapons and tools, including the scutum or tower shield. These colossal shields were designed to cover almost the entire body of the soldier and were crafted by master craftsmen from the strongest materials available. Fortunately, if you're interested in creating your own tower shield for an RPG or display, all you'll need is scraps of wood, a handle, and an idea of how you'd like to decorate it.
Part 1 of 3: Making a Simple Cardboard Shield
Step 1. Determine the shape of the shield
Choose a shape for the shield using images of Roman shields for inspiration. The most iconic scutums were rectangular with rounded edges, although circular and oval shields were also used. The basic rectangular shield is probably the best starting point. Keep in mind that it will be more difficult to cut complex shapes and curved edges.
Step 2. Find a large piece of cardboard
You will need a single large sheet of cardboard to cut out the body of the shield. Ideally, the cardboard should be flat, so that the shield does not have any bent sections of the cardboard box, and is large enough to cut into a single piece. It is recommended that you use cardboard boxes for unused or artifact shipments. Another alternative that you can sometimes use are individual sheets of cardboard and measures that you can find in craft stores.
- If you are having trouble finding a large enough piece of cardboard, contact a few local businesses to see if they have any pieces of cardboard that they can give you as gifts. Generally, post offices and supermarkets will be happy to dispose of surplus boxes.
- A refrigerator box can be an ideal base for a rectangular, body-length Roman shield.
Step 3. Sketch the outline of the shield on the cardboard
Sketch the desired shape of the shield on the cardboard using a pencil. Make the outline slightly larger than the actual size you want the shield to be if you want to fold and secure the edges later to give them a neater, rounder finish. Run a dark marker over the outline to make it more visible when you start cutting.
- If you prefer, you can first sketch the outline of the shield on a separate piece of construction paper or a piece of newspaper. Then cut it out and use it to outline the cardboard more precisely.
- For the folded edges of the shield, draw two concentric contours on the cardboard, one about 2 inches (5.1 cm) larger around the smaller contour. You will cut the shield on the outer contour and fold it on the inside.
Step 4. Cut the shield carefully
Use a precision razor, utility knife, or other straight cutting tool to cut out the outline of the shield. Go slowly and try to make the edges as precise as possible. Make sure to spread the cardboard out on a safe cutting surface, such as a craft table.
- Be very careful when holding the cutting tool. Straight cutters are designed to be very sharp and accidents can happen if you are not careful. Always cut in short, smooth strokes and move slowly.
- You can use scissors if you have no other choice, although the blades are not that sharp. In addition, the pressure of them against the cardboard can cause them to break and make irregular cuts.
Step 5. Cut and fold the corners to round off the shield
Once you've cut out the basic shape of the shield, make another small cut about 2 inches (5.1 cm) in each corner or at 1/2 foot (15 cm) intervals if you are creating a circular shield. Making these cuts will create flaps that you can fold and glue to the back of the shield later, giving it a thicker, more rounded appearance.
Remember to cut the outline of the shield several inches longer if you decide to fold the edges of the cardboard
Step 6. Cut out the handle and attach it to the shield
Cut a thin rectangular section using the excess cardboard as a handle on the back of the shield. This piece should be 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) long and 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) to make sure it is strong enough to stay in place. Fold the rectangular strip so that the handle is square, with a short tab on both sides to glue it against the shield. Use tape or other strong adhesive to adhere the handle to the shield.
If you want, you can cut another strip of cardboard to use as a forearm strap, which will reinforce the shield against the forearm and allow you to control it better
Part 2 of 3: Making a Wooden Shield
Step 1. Find a wide, flat piece of wood
To make the body of the wooden shield, you will need a single large wooden board. The size and type of wood you use will depend on your preference, although the standard size of a Roman shield was about 1 foot (30 cm) shorter than the person holding it and a few inches wider on each side. You can generally cut the wood to your specifications at home improvement stores. Plywood is a cheaper option and will come in handy if you want to pad your shield for use in role-playing activities.
- If you don't want to spend a lot of money having a piece of wood cut specifically for the shield, you can visit a lumber yard or recycling center to salvage unused wood scraps for little or no cost.
- If you can't find a plank of wood large enough, get a plank of the right size by using smaller individual pieces and joining them together, such as wooden deck planks.
Step 2. Get a handle to serve as a shield handle
Find a handle so you can hold the back of the shield. A basic door handle, like the ones used on screen doors, is probably the least expensive, out-of-the-box option available. You can also use a thick leather strap, in addition to the handle, to make a forearm strap. Make sure you have a set of wood screws and a basic screwdriver to attach the handle to the escutcheon.
- A simple metal handle will look best based on the appearance of the shield.
- You can buy leather scraps at craft stores or online. Cut the leather to the exact size you want the strap to be.
- You will only need two wood screws, unless you also decide to attach a leather forearm strap, in which case you will need four.
Step 3. Check that the wood is smooth and even
Before you begin assembling the individual shield components, quickly inspect the wood plank you are using for any imperfections. Chips, cracks and uneven areas can compromise the integrity of the shield, and left untreated can leave it looking rustic and unappealing. Take all the necessary steps to ensure that the wood is smooth and symmetrical.
You can seal cracks and breaks in the wood using epoxy resin
Step 4. Center the handle on the back of the shield
Place it where you want it to go on the side of the shield. Centering the handle will give the shield the best balance and movement advantage. However, you can go slightly to one side or the other if you wish. Use a pencil to mark where you will put the screws on the handle.
- Leave room for a strap. If you want to add a leather strap in addition to the handle, note that in the sketch on the back of the shield. Measure the distance from the thickest part of the forearm to the palm. If you are right-handed (which means you will carry the shield in your left hand), place the strap and handle at the appropriate distance from each other in the center of the shield with the handle on the right. If you are left-handed, reverse this setting.
- To center the handle and strap together, measure the overall width of the shield and subtract the measurement from the forearm to the hand. Then divide that number in half to find out how much space you should have on each side of the strap and handle once they are attached.
Step 5. Screw the handle into the wood
Line up the handle with the marks you made for the screw locations on the back of the escutcheon. Keep the handle still (or tape it down if necessary) while you insert a wood screw into the top hole in the handle and screw it into place. Do the same for the bottom hole by tightening both screws and making sure they are both straight and secure.
- If you are driving bolts into the wood, use a trowel bit to drill about 1/2 inch (2.5 cm) into the wood. Then drill out the rest and insert the bolt. Tighten the bolt with a socket head bit.
- Plywood and other lightweight pieces of wood are probably too thin to be bolted successfully.
Part 3 of 3: Decorate the shield
Step 1. Paint the design
Use craft paint (or acrylic paint if you are making a wooden shield) to paint an authentic Roman design on the shield with a brush. Research the military history of Rome online or in reference books for inspiration on emblems and ornaments. Some popular design elements are wings, taps, and leaf-shaped designs.
- Print a template online and turn it into a guide to a template that you can use to spray paint your design to give it a clean finish.
- Create your own original design with the same style of traditional Roman weapons to make the shield look personalized.
- Use masking tape so you can paint precise lines and edges.
Step 2. Brush some protective lacquer over wooden shields
Once you've assembled and painted your shield, apply a thin coat of clear lacquer to the front side of the shield. This will prevent wood and paint from smearing, cracking, and peeling as a result of use or water damage, as well as giving you a clean, shiny finish. If you're making a padded shield, skip the lacquer and finish with a coat of clear acrylic primer.
When applying hairspray or any chemical gloss, be sure to do so in an open, well-ventilated area, and wear a mask if possible
Step 3. Add a protective layer of foam
Generally, in role-playing activities, weapons and armor will need to be approved to determine their safe use. In this scenario, you will need to apply a layer of foam padding to the shield so that the wood surface is not exposed. Cut 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide strips of foam and glue them in a net pattern based on the length and height of the shield. Then glue a solid sheet of foam on top. Draw the shield design directly onto the foam using acrylic paint.
To make the shield more secure when used recreationally, add a few strips of foam around the inner edge of the shield (the side you'll be on while holding it) to fill it against your own body
Step 4. Prepare the shield for display
You finished! At that point, you will have a solid, handcrafted Roman shield that you can wear to a costume party or display with pride. To put the shield on display, attach a short piece of framing wire to the back of the shield and hang the shield with a pair of wall mounting hooks. Use the shield to adorn an uncluttered section of your home wall, or bring a padded shield to a live role-playing event.