Getting the right shield can make a huge difference in your game. The wrong shield can hold you back; the right shield can make you more comfortable and effective in your fighting. Many fighters get stuck in the rut of borrowing equipment and never making any themselves. I wrote this article to explain some of the variances in shields and hopefully persuade fighters to be concerned with, and involved in their personal shield construction.
There are many shapes to choose from, but here are the basic ones that I have seen: circle, oval, kite, and rectangular. Oval shields are usually stretched by height (they are taller than they are wide). The kite shields are usually larger shields shaped like an old-fashioned kite, where the bottom point is used to guard the legs. Rectangle shields vary largely in dimensions. Circle shields are the most popular because of their versatility and ease of construction.
Curved vs. Flat
This is an interesting question that usually only concerns women. Men simply tend to prefer flat shields, which makes sense, because their chests are flat. However, some women have problems with flat shields. The larger your breasts the greater the angle that your shield will make against them and the harder it will be just to hold the shield flat. Whether the shield angles up or down, it will tend to open up the area that is not touching (or close) to your body. If you are having difficulty holding the shield to your body, especially if it angles off your breasts, I would recommend switching to a curved shield.
Strap placement can be highly variable depending on who made the shield and what they were thinking about when they made it. Often not much thought is put into it at all. The placement of the straps can determine where the shield sits on your body, what angle it sits, how responsive it is to movement, and how comfortable it is (especially grip). Things to think about when fitting straps:
- Have someone hold the shield up to you and help adjust it to the place where you want it to sit. Draw markings where your arms are. Do you want it high to the shoulder? centered? towards your sword arm? low?
- Experiment with arm angle. Do you want your arm straight up and down between your breasts? do you want it at an angle towards you shield arm? do you want it angled down to your hips? do you want it straight across from your body? Think about what is comfortable for you. Experiment with other people's shields and pay attention to their strap placement.
- How do you want the straps? do you want them parallel across your forearm and hand? or do you want to angle either the hand grip, forearm, or both? i prefer an arm strap perpendicular to my forearm, but a sligthly angled grip.
- What materials do you want to make your straps out of? Pick something comfortable, durable and adjustable. Almost anything you buy will eventually stretch, so adjustable is important. Comfort is always a factor. Durable is important; your shield straps will be under a Lot of stress (think about blocking those polearm smashes!) and you don't want to be replacing them every week.
- Beware of arm comfort. Have I said comfort enough? Watch where you put bolts, rings and chain links. Remember where your arm is and be careful that it won't be banging against anything that will hurt. I once had a shield I loved, but it left big, ugly bruises on my forearm every week. No Bueno.
There are a wide variety of materials out there that result in diverse styles of shields. Your shield backing will determine the weight, durability, flexibility and shape of your shield. Here is a quick survey of the materials I am familiar with:
And, another list, this time its strap materials:
- Classic trash can lid: These can be curved or flat, and are usually round (though i've seen square and rectangle trash can lid shields that worked). These are generally fairly durable, but do have a limited life span of a few years. Cheap. You can usually get these for free at hardward stores, walmart, etc. because people often buy the trash can and don't get the lid. Nice because they come pre-cut into the shape.
- Toboggan aka Snow Disk aka Sled: These are round and usually curved. The come in plastic, fiberglass, and metal. Plastic is the cheapest, lightest and easiest to find of the three. Fiberglass disks aren't made any more because they are a health risk, though you can still find them at garage sales. They are more durable and less flexible than the plastic and usually don't weigh very much more. Take care though, they are a health risk. When you cut into them put tape on either side of where you are going to cut, be very careful of fiberglass splinters, and be very careful of the fiberglass dust (get a mask so you don't inhale it, and clean up your work area with a damp paper towl). Tape over any area you cut to prevent splintering. Fiberglass splinters are Nasty. Metal snow disks are indestructable, not flexible and heavy. If you like a heavy shield, these can be really fun (They make a resounding "THWANG" noise when hit really hard). You will have to get special drill bits or blades to cut into these though. These can also be somewhat difficult to find.
- Four layer foam: There's a better name for this, but I don't know what it is. Its four layers of open cell foam in a sheet. These make very light and surprisingly durable shields. The foam is very versatile because you can cut whatever shape you want out of it with a regular utility knife. You can even put a curve into these by bending it and stretching it over time.
- Bread crates: I haven't seen these in a while, but I do remember some square shields made out of the impact plastic bread crates from bakeries. They are fairly durable and cheap. I've never made one, so I don't really have much to say about them....
- Leather: good, old-fashioned, leather. This is very popular because amtgardians tend to have leather and they are very comfortable. With a little effort and 75 cents worth of supplies, you can even make it adjustable. One thing to beware of is that leather stretches, and eventually wears out.
- Denim: Sewing denim 3 or 4 layers together into straps and work very well. Denim is cheap, but the heavy weight can be hard on a sewing machine (I use leather needles when i make denim shield straps). Denim also stretches so beware. When I sew the velcro on, I usually leave extra on the small side so that it will still fit after it stretches.
- Backpack straps: Adjustable, durable, generally nice. They have padding, which can be extra soft. They're made out of synthetics, so they don't absorb sweat and can sometimes chafe. Some people like 'em, some people don't.
- Handles: There are many types of handles out there that can be substituted for a grip strap. The most common kind I have seen on shields is the garage door handle. When shopping for these, be careful of jagged edges- some handles have edges on the inside. Also getting a good fit can be tricky, be sure that you can fit your hand in like you were holding the shield, that's the whole hand with the knuckles. Handles look deceptively large until you try this.
This is by no means a fully comprehensive piece. It is my attempt to share what I know. I welcome feedback, email me. An alternative shield style to add on to the list is a punch shield, a round shield with a single handle grip in the center. I saw one of these used quite effectively at Clan this year and it was very interesting. They are more popular in the SCA, and you can probably find some online resources about them on the SCA web.
The best way to figure out what kind of shield you want is to experiment. Check out other people's shields and be sure to note what you like or don't like; ask questions about the shields you like. Make your own shield. At the worst you'll mess up and have to fix it. After a while you will have an idea of what works for you and what doesn't.
This is an outpouring of the information I know. I'm not responsible for what you do with it. Don't hurt yourself. Don't hurt other people. Follow all safety precautions for the materials you're using. Don't run with scissors. Be nice to old ladies. Call your mom and tell her you love her. Don't be stupid, avoid evolution. Have a nice day.