Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Construction of a Viking Shield; Part 3

In respect of linen, although there are some modern sources that suggest that linen could have been used to face Anglo-Saxon / Viking shields, the author at the time of writing this article, having sought assistance from the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo[1] is unable to find any hard evidence that linen was ever or actually used in this context. That does not mean, however that it never was, and as the purpose of this exercise is to learn about the construction it was decided to face both sides of the shield with linen canvas.

Application of Linen to the shield

For ease of explanation, the shield at this juncture will be Stage 1, and the convex side, side ‘A’.

In order to compensate for the dimensional change that had caused the arching, the first application of linen canvas would be applied to Side ‘A’. The reason being that as the linen shrank it should compensate for the inherent tendency in the wood to change dimensionally. Before applying the linen, the entire surface of side’s ‘A’ and ‘B’, were scored and both sides of the periphery of the shield from 2 inch (50 mm) in from the edge, and around its entire circumference was bevelled so that the thickness at the edge of the shield was red
uced to about 7 – 8 mm.

Now the hide glue was made ready and, using a paint brush, applied it to Side ‘A’ making sure that there were no resinous areas that would inhibit adhesion. That done, hide glue was then applied in the same manner to that side of the linen canvas that would rest next to the wood.

Although the shield had undergone dimensional change, once pressed down flat with hand pressure it remain flat long enough to allow the linen canvas to be smoothed, not stretched, over the surface of Side ‘A’ with the warp of the fabric lying diagonally to the longitude of the boards. This was because when shrinkage occurred there would be an even and lateral pull exerted.

Because it was anticipated that the whole structure could buckle or come apart with the warm wet glue having been applied, and in the absence of any better idea, it was decided that the most expedient method to prevent the structure from experiencing dimensional change as the glue was drying, was for the shield to be pinned down to the wooden workbench using a few small 18 gauge / 1 inch nails; the linen canvas being secured about ½ inch (12mm) in from the edge with just drawing pins. I then applied more hide glue to the top surface of the linen to ensure that the linen was completely impregnated with hide glue to ensure good adhesion.

It is acknowledged that this is not the best way to hold the shield down; some weight could have been used, but after some deliberation it was decided to follow the route taken as the surface would at least be able to dry evenly.

The following day the small nails holding the shield flat were removed and the excess canvas linen trimmed from around the shield. The shield was left for another day because although the glue was dry, because of the amount of glue applied it may not necessarily have ‘cured’. The next day it was found that the shield had experienced considerable dimensional change. The shrinkage of the linen canvas had proved so strong that the boards were brought up so that Side ‘A’ was now concave. (Stage 2) (Image to follow).

It was clear that I would need to apply another piece of linen, in the same manner, to Side ’B’ to compensate for the shrinkage of the linen canvas on Side ‘A’. This was done in the same manner as for Side ’A’. (Stage 3.)

When the linen on side 'B' was dry, it became apparent that the application of linen canvas on each side of the shield had effectively cancelled each other out, and the inherent tendency in the wood to undergo dimensional change dominated the structure and side ’A’ had now returned to the convex. (Stage 4.)

What was significant, however was that the structure was now far more robust, and the effort required to push the shield flat was now greater. Would one be prepared to go into a life or death or struggle with the shield as it was – most unlikely, so it was decided appropriate to apply a layer of raw-hide to each side.
[1] Næss, E.M. (2011) Education Officer. Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.

...to be continued...
(This work is an extract from a paper entitled "The Construction of a Viking Shield" by Anthony C. Lewis BA(Hons) MCFM JP.   The full work can be found HERE )


Viktor said...

Regarding the question if linnen was used to cover shields. In Birka grave Bj842 there were 45 tinned iron clamps around the edge of the shield, inside some of those were rests och wood and textile.
And in Birka grave Bj736, on one of two shields in the grave 54 tinned iron clamps were found, on several of these wood and leather fragments was found, and on some they found rests of textile.

This might not be proof of linnen covered shields, but it may be examples of some kind of textile on shields.

Links: (in swdish)



Æd Thompson said...

Relaying a message from the author;
Hi Victor. Thanks for the response.

Your comments are very interesting. I am at the moment in Copenhagen intending to go the museum tomorrow. I have noted the grave numbers and will mention what you have said and see if they can throw any more light on the subject. I apologise for not being in a position to give you a fuller response but will do so when I get back. Thanks again for the response. Tony

Anthony C. Lewis said...

Hi Victor, Thank you for providing me with hard evidence that suggests that textiles were apparently used on the shield face. That this textile was found under several of the clamps does suggest that the whole of the shield face was covered with it.

Unfortunately, my visit to Copenhagen Museum proved fruitless in determining the type of textile used (presumably linen)so I shall contact the Swedish authorities to see what they have to say about it.

Once again many thanks for your help Victor, and please submit any further information you may have.


Viktor said...

Hello again,
After discussing this matter with a friend i must say that the descriptions is somewhat vague about if the fragments of textile is actually found on the inside of the clamps, or just "on" the clamps.
Which could of course mean something completely different.

I will post more when/if I get clearer information about this.


Anthony C. Lewis said...

Hi Victor, no problem. It is an interesting issue and needs to be resolved. I have not had any feedback yet. At the moment depending how things develop I plan to go back to Denmark for a few days and might just extend the journey for a couple of days up to Birka to speak to them. Where do you live Victor?
Take care, Tony

Anthony C. Lewis said...

That's next year in 2013 I plan to go back, by the way.


Viktor said...

I live in Stockholm.
You should definitely visit birka, but even more important is to visit Historiska Museet in Stockholm, where most of the artifacts from Birka are kept.

Link to Historiska museet:

The English version:


Viktor said...

I would really like to recommend a trip to Birka and Stockholm.
But make sure it is during the summer. Since Birka is an island it is not easely accessable during the winter.
Here´s a link I found to someones visit during the vikingmarket at Birka, probably in 2009.



Viktor Brolund

Anthony C. Lewis said...

Thank you for the link. Yes I will definitely have to go to Birka next year and the Historiska Museet. I have had no response yet by the way, So I will try another email address or I shall probably have to telephone them. The photographs on the Seven Seas were nice, there are three images there that I will probably use in a project I have just begun as a recent visit to Ladby and the Rosklide Ship Museum, working title being the 'Viking' sailing ships.

Take care

Anthony C. Lewis said...

Hi Victor. I had some feedback from Amica Sundström, Antikvarie Curator, Statens historiska museum – National Historical Museum, re the the question of fabric on the shields.

The vit metal (white metal) is meant usually a silver alloy or silver-plated bronze. These metal plates are not analyzed as precisely the kind of metal it is, I cannot say.

The vidhäftande textile (adhesive fabric) means that it attached fabric on some of the metal the plates. I have looked at the objects. Textile residues from a plain woven fabric. You cannot tell if the fabric comes from a garment or other textile fabric and has been received or if it belongs to the actual construction of the shield. Most often, we imagine that the shield is made of relatively thin wooden planks and that these were covered with leather as a kind of reinforcement. It is also possible to imagine that the fabric was reinforcement or a combination of leather and fabric.
Amica Sundström

antikvarie – Curator
Statens historiska museum – National Historical Museum