Roman Scutum: Part Duo

In my last post on making my scutum I’d finished making the metal boss.  My next step was to determine what design I wanted on the front of my shield.  As mentioned before, only one shield has made it to modern times and we have to look towards stone carvings and written word for information.  From what I’ve gathered, each legion had its own design and it seems possible that the smaller cohorts in each legion might have had different designs as well.  This would be similar to the different patches found in modern military units.  So, once again there’s a lot of freedom in what could go on a scutum.  What’s clear is that the designs had meaning to them.  Some told of a legion’s history via a laurel wreath or animal.  Others might tell where a legion had served.

I chose to use a design similar to the one found in Trajan’s Column (see last post).  Legio XX uses the design off of Trajan’s column and has provided templates for the design.  The design is the winged thunderbolt of the Roman god Jupiter (Zeus in Greek).  The part that looks like a unicorn’s horn is the actual thunderbolt while the arrow tipped lines are lightning.  I’m assuming wings indicate the flying thunderbolt but eagles were also very important to the Romans.  My design is the same as the one on Trajan’s column with the addition of the curving lighting to keep from copying it exactly.  If you think the winged thunderbolt has fallen out of favor since 2000 years ago take a look at the USAF emblem.

I printed the templates from Legio XX and used them as a basis for making my own larger poster board templates with the exception of the wing.   I used it at the provided size.  From there I taped on and traced the templates.  The positions of the templates were measured to aide in getting them in the right spot.  Then I traced them in the other three positions.  I also put in some horizontal lightning arrows in the middle of the shield whose template is not included in the pic below.


I finally worked out how I wanted to attach the boss which I’d been turning over in my head for a while.  I drilled the boss to use as a template for locating holes in the scutum.  I didn’t want to mess up the design once I’d painted it or mess up the shield I’d spent a while painting while drilling.  The boss is mild steel and drilled pretty easy using the drill press.  It was then placed on the scutum and one hole was drilled.  A bolt was inserted to hold the boss in position so the other holes could be drilled without the boss shifting postion.


Up next was painting.  Lots of hand painting with white paint.  Multiple coats of course.    SC22

And then more painting but this time with yellow paint.  Several coats again.  Then I meticulously outlined it all in black.  Have I mentioned I don’t like painting?  Oh well, after working several evenings the painting was finally finished.


Next, comes brass work.  From what I’ve read online, some scutums were sewn together at the edges.  Some had decorative brass rims.  Others had heavier rims to better withstand attacks in what I’m guessing was wrought iron or steel.  I chose to go with the brass rim.  I used 0.012″ thick brass shim stock to form my rim.  As delivered the brass is hardened and requires annealing to work.  I annealed my brass a piece at a time with a propane weed burner.  Fortunately, it can be quenched instantly to cool down without causing any issues or hardening.  It does work harden though which means as you bend the brass it gets tougher to bend.  So, you get to work it, anneal it, work it some more, anneal, repeating as needed.

My rim is constructed of eight pieces: four corners, top/bottom, two sides.  Once again I made templates to mark out the design before cutting the brass with snips.


I don’t have a metal brake because I don’t know where I’d put it.  Instead, I made a simple form, clamped it in the vise, and bent the brass with a small ball peen hammer.  The piece was then flipped and hammered to create the C shape I need.


After a bit I had the four corners.  Of course they don’t look like corners yet…


To bend the corner pieces to shape, I made a form out of some plastic that I cut to the correct shape and thickness of my scutum.  I marked the bottom where the corner piece should go on the plastic and clamped it in place.  Then, with light taps, I bent the brass.   As you can see, the brass doesn’t magically bend smoothly.  The extra metal on the sides bows out in waves. Then it was off to anneal it again to be safe for the next step.


To get rid of the big waves on the sides we want to create a bunch of small ones.  To do this the corners are put back on the form and the waves are hammered on which pushes them down creating smaller waves next to them.  As you’re doing this, you can feel the brass work hardening as it gets harder to move requiring annealing again.  I completed about five iterations of hammering and annealing before the waves tucked down nicely.  Sometimes the brass will fold over which requires prying it back up to get it to lay nicely.  Below, you can see the progress making the corner pieces.



The top and bottom pieces were cut out of annealed brass using a template.  Again, a larger form was used to hold the brass so it could be hammered into a C shape.


Here’s one of the top/bottom pieces.  I’ve left one end to be finished once I’d shaped it and test fit it with the corners.


The top and bottom edges of the scutum are curved which requires more shaping.  I clamped one end and coerced it into position using clamps and hammer.  Once again, waves in the brass are created on the short side which were tapped down as before with the corners.  Luckily, they don’t have to be flattened as much as the corner pieces.


Finally, I cut the side pieces which was easy since they don’t require curving.  Here’s a picture of all the brass rim pieces after shaping.


The annealing and handling of the brass had tarnished it which isn’t the look I want.  To polish it, I tried some Brasso and quickly discovered that wasn’t the approach I wanted to take.  Instead, I made a mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water for the brass to soak in for a couple hours.  After that they were nice and shiny.  To install the brass rim permanently, small brass plated tacks were used.  I clamped each piece in place, drilled through the tabs partially into the wood, and then tapped in a tack.  I cut down the tacks so that they wouldn’t come out of the other side.  This left clean tack heads on both sides.  An alternate approach would be to drill all the way through and clench the tacks on the back.  Clenching seemed harder to do and easier to mess up which is why I didn’t go this route.


It’s thought that the boss was traditionally held on with rivets or clenched nails.  I wanted to go with rivets but wanted to be able to remove the boss if needed.  So, I decided to fake the look of a rivet with a carriage bolt.  To make the carriage bolt not look like a carriage bolt, I filed off the marking and then hammered on the head which I hope looks more like a rivet.  I also filed the holes in the boss square so that the carriage bolts would sit flush on the boss.


To hold the carriage bolts in place I used some uncoated steel square nuts.  This kind of ruins the period look that the rest of the scutum has but I’m ok with it since it’s on the back.  If it ever bothers me too much I may make some kind of domed cap to go over the nuts.  If you’re curious about the string, it is used to hang my scutum on the wall.


Here are some picture of the finished scutum.

SC36 SC37 SC38

That’s the end of the scutum build.  This project took longer than I thought it would but was a fun build.  It was my first time working with brass like this (as opposed to on the lathe) and blacksmithing the boss was new too.  All in all, it was fun and I believe it turned out well.  It’s certainly the best (and only) scutum I’ve seen in person!

Vade en pace”

This entry was posted in Metalworking, Projects and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s