Legio V Alaudae Home


A little Background

Sorry for the history lesson, but before you start making a scutum, you need to know a little about how it works and how it is supposed to be used. Made of a wooden core covered with painted cloth and/or leather, the scutum is a necessary part of the arsenal of any raping, pillaging, and/or plundering Roman soldier. Now, contrary to what you may think, the Roman shield is used as more of an offensive weapon than a defensive one. It, like almost all shields of the day (including their enemies), had a protective steel boss that covered a centered handgrip. This boss allows you to literally "punch" the enemy with it. When fighting roman style, think of your scutum as your main weapon.

Making a Scutum: Fifth Legion Style


Making scutums is the second largescale project that the fifth legion took on as a group. in 2007 we made 8 shields in roughly 3 months. There are many different skills required to make a shield so we have broken up different sections of the shield construction for different weekends, and basically assembly lining them. With 3-4 people coming every weekend, and each member coming to atleast TWO workshops, we got them done on time and with good quality. When we started the shield project we standardized the shield design for the fifth legion. Below is the centurions shield and legion standard. All new shields need to be made to these specifications, although as usual exceptions can be made.


All new shields for the impression of Imperial Legionary should be 40"x30". We use an "Augustan" shaped shield (curved sides). The amount of curve is 3 inches per side. So, the middle of your shield should be 30 inches wide, but the top and bottom should be 24 inches wide. The proper curve can be made by bending a thin piece of wood and tracing. (blanks are also available from the centurion. We use the same shield emblem as the twentieth legion in Washington DC, and emblem designs can be found on the twientieths handbook. ALL fifth legion shields are rimmed in black or off black leather. One area where I don't mind being a little inaccurate is in the kind of paint we use. We use American Tradition (offshoot of Rustoleum) latex paint. Its available at lowes and many more. The red color we use is Apple Orchard Red, and the yellow is Daffodil. Using the same color of red and yellow is fairly important, because people will notice and ask why your shield is a slightly different color.

Curving a Shield Blank

Below you can see pictures of the steps involved in curving a shield. These were taken when Adam was curving his shield, at Howard Green's house.

Making the Shield Frame

Making and Attaching the shield frame is probably the part of making a shield that requires the most patience, knowledge of woodworking, or practice. It requires the use of a steady table saw and as many clamps as you can possibly scrounge up. Depending on the amount of curve you want in your shield, you can make the frame in one of two ways. You can steam the frame to make it extra curved, or to garantee that the shield won't uncurve itself later. The other simpler way is to simply laminate two uncurved strips together in a curved form somehow (the same way we make the shield just smaller). Below are some pictures of how to steam a frame. The wood will stay curved because the escaping (and bubbling) heated water causes the fibers to weaken. You can then put pressure down to put a little bend in one section. If you are new to the process and have no one to show you how, you will surely break a few before gettting the hang of it. Just be careful not to burn yourself!!

For all frames regardless, I find that 2 laminated (glued in a shape) 3/16" thick x 3/4" wide strips make a good strong frame. This makes a 3/8" thick frame overall. Remember to use a good dense hardwood, because there will be some stress on them for a week or two until the shield fully dries.

Again, the pictures below are of a steamed frame, but it can be done without steaming! Without steaming it just requires a little more care in bending the frames before gluing, and probably making some sort of jig to keep the strips in the right position while you clamp them.

For those making shields with "THE SHIELD PROJECT!": you only really need to pay attention to the last two pictures because we won't be steaming them.

Covering the Scutum with Leather

Covering the scutum with leather isn't that complex. Its mostly glueing, stretching, then clamping. The only moderately frustrating thing is trying to get the hide, that looked flat and even in the store, to stay flat and even on the shield. Bubbles can also be a slight issu

New Covering Approach

When we did the shield project (8 shields at once) we tried a new way that involved very few clamps out of necessity. However it got a better result and this is the way I now tell people to do it. It requires a little longer of sitting watching glue dry but it gets a smoother result and little or no do-overs.

1. If using wood glue spray the shield with water so that the wood glue won't dry too fast. (if using hide glue, make sure the shield is warm.)
2. Paint on the glue. Don't be cheap, use a paintbrush and make sure every inch is covered with a thin white glossy layer.
3. Lay the leather on starting in the middle and brushing the rest on with your hands systematically. As the leather gets more wet it will wrinkle and make bubbles. You just have to keep brushing them out with your hands but probably won't get them all out. If you have real vegetable tanned there is a good chance the bubbles will go away after it dries or after you put paint on. If its chrome tanned, you are going to have to just deal with some bubbles. Just keep brushing until the glue is set (about 15 minutes). You don't have to stand there all 15 minutes, but you better not walk far away until it sets either. If you are using heavy linen layers, you shouldn't have any problems with bubbles.
4. Once the whole area of the shield has leather, cut off all extra around the edges, this will allow it to lay more flat while its drying. When glueing, the leather is getting progressively more soaked with glue byproduct and will get bigger. Thats why it IS NOT (yes correcting my earler statement) to clamp it down while its drying. After it has set (15-20 minutes) its probably alright to clamp it down for overnight.

A couple lessons I learned: don't cut the leather before applying it to the shield, and don't wet your leather excessively. Other than that I think the pictures will have to speak for themselves. You may want to note that some of the NEW instructions above do not agree with the photos. Follow the new instructions..

Applying the Linen Backing

Applying the linen is real easy. First put a thin layer of glue about the first 5 inches or so onto the shield then start with the edge of fabric pressing it down. Use a clean wood block rather than your fingers and you'll avoid dirt and having the linen stick to you. I had some real thin 1/4" shims from scrap wood handy that made it easier to press and strech the linen into perfect corners and edges around the frame. In these photos I used clamps to hold down the shims, but on subsequent shields I just tacked or push pinned them into place. They shouldn't be THAT tight against the shield so very small tacks left halfway out for easy removal work great. You can do nearly an entire shield back at once without having to wait for the glue to dry to move your clamps. Again, remember to wait to cut your linen until after the shield is covered.

Painting the Scutum

1. get the guides off the Twentieth Legions Handbook.
2. Get a bendy metal ruler.
3. Get some good sticky white tape and a razor blade.
4. use common sense and look at the pictures.

Twentieth Legion Scutum Page