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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Jan, 2021 12:57 pm    Post subject: Modern shield design project         Reply with quote

It is often said that, no matter what kind of innovations are popular when it comes to knives, plain carbon steel remains the best choice for swords. I generally agree with that assessment.

But I think that because of material innovations the last decades, there is a lot of improvement possible with shields.

So I have the plan to design and ultimately make a shield which makes use of these innovations.

The goal is to make a shield which could be useful on e.g. a medieval battlefield. The goal is not to make it resistant to firearms. It should give sufficient protection against swords and spears but minor damages would be acceptable.

Nowadays the biggest modern practical shield user is the riot police. They generally use polycarbonate or similar clear plastic shields, which I think are fine for "cheap"-ish mass production, but they can be much more weight efficient. With that I mean that there are materials which are much stronger for it's weight, meaning you get either a stronger shield or a lighter one.

There are a couple of options, like:
1) Solid HPPE composite plate / planks (same construction as a wooden planked shield)
2) Hand lay up Dyneema or Kevlar over foam core

Option 1 is probably stronger ballistically speaking (but ballistic protection is not the goal) but option 2 is probably lighter.

Now, my question to those who are more experienced with shield fighting than I am: can a shield be too light? What should be a good weight to aim for?

And, what kind of shape would you go for? Round with centre grip? Round with straps? Heater? Kite? Other?
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Edward Lee




Location: New York
Joined: 05 Jul 2013

Posts: 371

PostPosted: Mon 11 Jan, 2021 6:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a large heater shield made with aircraft aluminum. I do not remember which series is it but its from a SCA combat store purchased a long time ago. Regarding the size I am about 5'8 and the shield is half of my size and covers my entire body.

It is oversized almost like the riot shield you mentioned. However this shield is very light, maybe less than 3lb or so, around 4mm thick, also very durable. I remember the maker said you can drive a jeep over it and it will retain its shape. Personally I have not done such thing I did test it with swords and a poleaxe and it didn't do much.
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Stephen Curtin




Location: Cork, Ireland
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Jan, 2021 12:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing I think that modern shields have that could be very useful is having strong transparent materials which allows them to be seen through. If the whole shield isn't made from some kind of transparent material then at least a small "window" could be.
Éirinn go Brách
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Thu 14 Jan, 2021 9:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Edward, thanks! I don't really like aluminium due to fatigue / work-hardening problems but maybe for a shield it's not a bad option.

Stephen, I suppose being completely see-through has it's advantages for riot police. Although the Dutch riot police uses tarpaulin covered wicker shields. When facing spears, swords and axes I'm not sure how polycarbonate / lexan will hold up (although probably better than wicker...). But adding a small window, e.g. made from layered polycarbonate may be a nice option. This idea reminds me of ballistic shields, such as here:
https://www.tencateadvancedarmor.com/personal-protection/ballistic-shields
But those shields are not intended for melee use and at 9500g for the lightest versions, I think they are pretty heavy.
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T. Kew




Location: London, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 208

PostPosted: Thu 14 Jan, 2021 9:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think with any such project, one of the big problems is to narrow down what you mean by "a medieval battlefield". That description could span hundreds of years and thousands of miles, without even looking at how a 'practical' shield can vary by someone's role.

If you're a crossbowman in the 1380s using a pavise to reload behind, the design constraints of that shield are very different to those of a longbowman on the other side of the field carrying a buckler - but both are shields. His buckler probably wants to be light and convenient, while your pavise needs to have a reasonably high weight for stability. And both of you are trying to solve very different problems with your shields than a Viking raider in the 900s, or a Norman knight in 1066, or a Spanish rodelero in the 16th century.

It's a mistake to assume that some of these shield designs are 'better' or 'worse' than others. They are simply adapted for different situations and different forms of use. The same goes for elements of shield construction, like the type of grip or the weight.

HEMA fencer and coach, New Cross Historical Fencing
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
Likes: 5 pages

Posts: 808

PostPosted: Thu 14 Jan, 2021 2:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Kew wrote:
I think with any such project, one of the big problems is to narrow down what you mean by "a medieval battlefield".


That's the problem with fantasy (which this is, basically): there is no practical use whatsoever.

The only people who actually need shields nowadays is the riot police, and SWAT teams.
But "my" shield will be neither of those, for reasons already stated.

I guess that what I'm looking for, is an allround shield that could do well in a generic "medieval" context, either on the battlefield or in a duelling kind of situation.

Tower pavises and bucklers are highly specialised shields, but I do think that generally a Viking round shield, a Normal kite shield, a knightly heater shield and a Spanish rodela did fullfill roughly the same roles. Maybe the kite and the heater were more geared towards mounted combat, but both were used on foot as well. The round shield and the rodela were probably more geared towards infantry but were used by cavalry as well. Why these clearly very different shields were used, and why some cultures / periods preferred one over the other, I have to admit to have no good idea about that.

At the moment I'm kind of leaning towards a rodela variant for some reason, mostly because I like the simplicity of the design, I guess. Although I did make a simple plywood kite shield years ago and I did like the protection it brought to the legs.
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Edward Lee




Location: New York
Joined: 05 Jul 2013

Posts: 371

PostPosted: Thu 14 Jan, 2021 6:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What of a Targe? One thing I would be concerned of would be the ability to carry the shield while not using it. In fantasy settings they either magically appear from your back or are fixed on your left arm. Buckler is small and can be worn on the belt, I've seen 15 inch diameter targe being worn on the shoulder/back and deploys somewhat easy.
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T. Kew




Location: London, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 208

PostPosted: Fri 15 Jan, 2021 11:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:

I guess that what I'm looking for, is an allround shield that could do well in a generic "medieval" context, either on the battlefield or in a duelling kind of situation.


The idea I'm really trying to get across is that there is no generic medieval context. Duelling, for example, is extremely specific. A judicial duel fought under Swabian law in 1410 and one fought under Franconian law in 1420 - despite being in towns within 50 miles of each other and in the same half of the same century - can involve entirely different weapons, shields, protective equipment, etc. And a duel fought between two squires under the laws of war in an encampment between those towns could be completely different again.

Paul Hansen wrote:

Tower pavises and bucklers are highly specialised shields, but I do think that generally a Viking round shield, a Normal kite shield, a knightly heater shield and a Spanish rodela did fullfill roughly the same roles. Maybe the kite and the heater were more geared towards mounted combat, but both were used on foot as well. The round shield and the rodela were probably more geared towards infantry but were used by cavalry as well. Why these clearly very different shields were used, and why some cultures / periods preferred one over the other, I have to admit to have no good idea about that.


Remember that each of these shields is used by fighters who are wearing different types of armour, fighting in different ways, using different weapons, taking different roles on the battlefield and in their wider society. A Viking shield-wall with spears and round shields is doing something very different to [i]rodeleros[i] skirmishing on the edges of a pike block, despite the apparent similarities in their shield choices. Those differences will make a big difference to how such a shield might be 'optimised' with modern materials and techniques. Someone fighting in a line or shield wall might benefit from their shield being larger and stronger, while someone skirmishing would be more likely to prefer it being lighter while still protective.

HEMA fencer and coach, New Cross Historical Fencing
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
Likes: 5 pages

Posts: 808

PostPosted: Fri 15 Jan, 2021 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Edward Lee wrote:
What of a Targe? One thing I would be concerned of would be the ability to carry the shield while not using it. In fantasy settings they either magically appear from your back or are fixed on your left arm. Buckler is small and can be worn on the belt, I've seen 15 inch diameter targe being worn on the shoulder/back and deploys somewhat easy.


Thanks! A targe was not a design I considered before but I do see the appeal. Nor did I consider the carrying around bit.

Although, the targes that I've handled at some point were pretty light, so if I were to make one to the same weight but with modern composites, it'd probably be bullet proof.

T. Kew wrote:

The idea I'm really trying to get across is that there is no generic medieval context.

I fully understand, but that does not help the design process. Wink

The first step in designing something is to define the goals and the context in which it will be used.
That's the most difficult part here.

A contemporary shield, like a contemporary sword, is, in fact, fantasy, because nobody uses them like they were supposed to anymore. But that shouldn't stop anyone from designing or making something like that.

In fact, there is a pretty decent market for zombie slaying weapons. Pure fantasy, but that doesn't disqualify the weapons themselves because they may be fully functional in a different context, whether it is slaying water bottles in your backyard on a sunny Saturday afternoon or when being somehow transferred by time machine to the battlefield at Agincourt.

Anyway, to be more clear, I would like it to be as allround as possible, although with a focus on:
- foot combat
- melee or "duelling" (not in the judicial sense) instead of formation combat
- against edged or impact weapons, not firearms

T. Kew wrote:

Remember that each of these shields is used by fighters who are wearing different types of armour, fighting in different ways, using different weapons, taking different roles on the battlefield and in their wider society.
The Spanish carried their rodelas and side swords to the New World, where they encountered enemies unlike anything they saw in Europe or the Mediterrenean. The context in which they had to use them changed completely from the context for which they were designed (or evolved, if you prefer). Still they used them to good effect.

That is probably a good analogy.

If you were Columbus's armourer, what kind of shields would you have him take with him on his first voyage? I doubt they had a good idea what kind of opponents they could encounter in the India (or Indonesia) they were looking for. In fact, I don't think they spent a lot of time thinking about it, they just took what the soldiers happened to be used to. But it's still interesting to think about.
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