Making a Better I.33 Buckler – Part IV: The Assembly

Putting it All Together

At last! After forming a boss, building a press, and making a blank, the only thing left was to put it all together and add the final touches. In the greater scheme, this meant accomplishing three final tasks:

  1. Prepping and attaching the boss
  2. Creating and attaching the handle
  3. Finishing the outer edge with rawhide

When I considered all of the work this would entail, I realized that I still had a lot of work ahead of me.

Prepping the Boss

Assembly_010It took me a minute to figure out how to divide the boss into eighths. I ended up tracing the circumference of the boss on my work table and sorting out the divisions from there, which let me mark them on the boss with my all surface marker. After creating divots with my trusty spring-loaded punch, was ready to get to work.

I decided to drill the holes via a two-stage process to minimize burs and warping. For the first pass, I went with a 1/8″ drill bit to create pilot holes. I followed this up with the 3/16″ bit I’d need to get the diameter right for my rivets. In both cases, I used a piece of scrap wood (plenty of that lying around) to back the metal, which helped prevent warping as well.

Just add rivets... and stuff.

Just add rivets… and stuff.

Prepping the Blank

Assembly_030Here I made a couple of dumb mistakes. First, in a perfect world, I’d have stitched around the hole before drilling the holes to mount the boss, just to ensure that the act of drilling the holes didn’t pull up the linen. However, since I’d goofed when I first cut the metal for the boss (only giving myself a 1/2″ allowance for the rim), I didn’t want to risk drilling through the thread, so I marked out the holes and drilled them before stitching.

Assembly_040As it turned out, drilling the holes didn’t affect the covering at all. I simply used the boss as a guide to mark the holes, and then drilled them directly with the 3/16″ bit. That part of the assembly went well… or so I thought. Then I used artificial sinew to stitch around the hole, making two passes to ensure even tension.

So good so far...

So good so far…

Adding the Boss

The adjustment I’d made earlier to avoid drilling into my stitching cascaded into the second mistake I made at this point in the assembly. As it turns out, drilling all of my rivet holes at once was a totally avoidable bad idea. Having marked out the holes, it should have been apparent to me that I was in no danger of drilling through the stitching. Instead of drilling all eight holes at once and then trying to line up all of the rivets, I should have drilled and set the first two rivets before moving on to the remaining six.

Assembly_060After a process that involved using up a year’s worth of strong oaths (and borrowing some from next year) as well as clumsily widening some of the holes, I finally got all of the rivets to line up with the holes. Now they were fairly loose, so I taped them in place to keep them from falling out as I set them one by one. All in all, it was a needlessly complicated process that could have been entirely avoided with a little bit of planning. Oh well.

Assembly_070I decided to go with domed rivets (ordered from McMaster-Carr) to achieve the aesthetic I had in mind. I can’t recall the last time I set domed rivets, but it had been a while. I recalled using a matching indentation in an anvil to do it, which I didn’t have at my disposal. After briefly contemplating drilling one in my mini anvil, I realized that the Tandy Copper Rivet Setter I had lying around had a perfectly matching domed indentation, so I clamped it into my bench vise.

The rivets themselves were 1″ long, which was far more than I needed, so I was faced with the task of cutting them down. I thought about using my Dremel tool with a cutoff wheel, but that just seemed like a good way to tear through a small fortune in supplies. The hacksaw seemed like an equally bad and time-consuming idea too. Assembly_080Then it occurred to me that I’d trimmed plenty of 1/8″ stainless steel rivets with my Knipex CoBolt bolt cutter (a must-have tool), so it should work for 3/16″ mild steel, and it did.

When I cut the rivets down as far as I could without removing them from the shield, I achieved the perfect tolerance to back them up with a washer. Setting the rivets via my odd setup went smoothly. I’ve always found setting bigger rivets to be less stressful than small ones, as the added surface area makes it easier to to work the ball-end of the hammer around. To facilitate this process, I gave each rivet a stout smack with the flat side of the hammer first to flatten the surface angled by the bolt cutter. In no time, I’d set all eight rivets.

It's starting to look like a buckler!

It’s starting to look like a buckler!

Making the Handle, Take I

Assembly_110I have two things to say about the handle straight away. First, I’m not a huge fan of this design. Second, I’m not terribly pleased with how take I turned out, but it’s was my first attempt. The second time around, I built a much sturdier design, which I’ll detail in the next section. Second, I regret that I took woefully few pictures as I made these handles, and there are images missing of key points in the process.

Assembly_120After grabbing a bit of scrap hardwood I had lying around (I’m not sure what type), I started calculating (guessing) the angles I’d need to carve it to fit the shield. Then I began carving with the belt sander. Cautious as I am by nature, this proved to be a slow process. I removed a bit of wood, checked the fit, noted the results, and repeated the cycle again about 247 times until I got something I liked. One stupid mistake I made here was carve the handle so that the grip extended too far into the boss, which made the final fit almost too close for comfort.

Assembly_150After I’d successfully carved the handle, I realized that it felt a little thin in my hand, so I decided to add a leather grip to it. I vaguely calculated the width of leather I’d need for the task and cut a piece of suede to fit. I used a punch to ensure the stitching would be uniform and then coated the leather with glue before sewing it on and wrapping it. Assembly_170It was a messy business, but it turned out well. Once it had dried, I finished the exposed wood with diluted linseed oil and moved on to the riveting.

The whole time I was carving the wood, I struggled with getting the ends thin enough to rivet then down with 1″ rivets, meaning I had to make the mounting points less than 1/2″ to accommodate the thickness of the shield and a washer, without becoming too thin for stability or disrupting the grooves I’d filed for the mounting strap. Assembly_180It wasn’t easy, and in retrospect, I should have waited until I had some longer rivets, but I wanted to complete the project in time for an activity that weekend. Ultimately, I was able to rivet on the handle, but I’m not confident it will hold up in the long run, and I’ll probably replace it.

Period-style hanging strap added.

Period-style hanging strap added.

Making the Handle, Take II

After my dissatisfaction with my first attempt at making a handle for my new style of buckler, I took a critical look at what I’d done and how I could improve it. In addition to the stability problems I noted previously, I wasn’t satisfied by the first handles’s historical accuracy, so I decided to revise my approach.

I reexamined the few reliable examples of period-correct bucklers I could find, and saw that while some had entirely wooden handles, others had what appeared to be strips of metal instead. I assumed this latter type originally included wooden scales like those you’d find on knife handles. I liked that design, which would also solve the problem I had with the length of my rivets (my longer rivets hadn’t yet arrived).

Assembly_191I started with a piece of 1/8″-thick low-carbon steel bar stock and cut a 13″ long piece. Using a scribe and a marker, I drew lines to center the 5.5″ wooden scales and to place rivet holes 1/2″ and 1.5″ from the ends of the bar. I also marked the rivet holes for the grip. After using my spring-loaded punch to divot the holes for drilling, I rounded out the ends with the combination of my bench grinder and 2″ belt sander. When I was satisfied with the overall shape, I drilled the holes.

Assembly_192Making the wooden scales wasn’t hard. I bought some 1/4″ and 1/2″ oak boards and used my saber saw to rough out the scales. Riveting the scales to the handle, however, proved to be the single most infuriating task of the entire shield-making process.

Now, I’ve set a lot of rivets before, but never in wood, and I wanted to make these rivets sit flush with the scales like a knife handle. So I first tried to use 3/16″ copper rivets, thinking that the soft metal would conform better to the wood. At first it seemed to be working, but after a couple of rivets, I split the top scale and had to start over.

After repeating this process, I tried trimming the rivet down as much as possible and used the small ball end of my planishing hammer to spread out the rivet. When the scale cracked, I assumed it was because I struck the hole with the end of my hammer and resolved to try again without going too deep. This time, I split the scale on my first try, and I was too low on copper rivets to try again.

I switched to the 1/8″ stainless steel rivets, which I use for perf plate, and decided to use washers to spread out the force, abandoning my hope of setting the rivets flush with the wood. I got three of the four rivets set before the scale exploded dramatically.

Assembly_193As I was cutting the rivets out of the metal base, I finally noticed what the real problem was. As I was working over the top of the rivet, the shafts, supported by nothing but wood, were deforming. As they bent, they forced the wood apart. I tried a sixth and final time to set the stainless steel rivets, this time trimming the rivet and grinding the end down so just a hair appeared over the washer, and then arduously spreading out the top with the planishing hammer. It worked at last.

By comparison to riveting the scales, the rest of the handle construction went smoothly. Once I was happy with the scale attachment, I used my 2″ belt sander to plane the scales flush with the metal and round out the corners. I finished it up with some hand sanding and linseed oil, and called it good. I noticed that the first handle I made this way felt a bit narrow, but I have massive hands and didn’t stress about it too much, though I briefly considered wrapping the grip with suede.

Assembly_194Once the oil had set, I bent the exposed metal to conform to the angle of the shield blank. I could pretend that I used some delicate precision method, but I just clamped the metal part of the handle in my bench vise and bent it by hand. I went slowly and checked often so I wouldn’t have to bend the metal back and weaken it. I should note that I bent the metal so that the thicker 1/2″ scale was on the inside of the boss to ensure that the hand holding it would sit inside the bos and keep the buckler close to the arm.

Once everything was set, I riveted the handle in place and breathed a sigh of relief. Upon taking the buckler in hand, I once again felt that the handle was a bit narrower than I’d like, so I decided to make the next one 1/4″ wider, which was an improvement. This time I used the same 3/16″ mild steel rivets I used throughout the rest of the buckler assembly, and I nailed it on my first try. I have to say, I’m much happier with the results too.

A closeup view of take III.

A closeup view of take III.

Sewing on the Rawhide

The last step in this journey was to sew on the rawhide. I expected this task to be a lot easier than it ended up being, but I suppose by this point in the process, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Going into it, is seemed simple enough. I’d mark out the hole offset from the edge, pound out the holes, soak the rawhide, sew it on, and it would be done. It turns out, that’s a lot like saying driving to Alaska is as simple as getting into your car and heading north and west until you run out of road.

Assembly_200Step one went as planned. After grappling a few pieces of 1-3/4″ x 42″ Rawhide Horn Wrap from my local Tandy Leather, I used my nicely sharpened compass to score a line about 1/10″ from the edge. The line showed up clearly on the dry rawhide, and I had no problem putting my leather sewing punch into the groove to begin pounding away.

I figured the extra holes would be covered by the stitching, and this way, I wouldn’t have to worry about accounting for the spacing when trying to match the holes with the ones I’d drilled into the blank. The only problem was that trying to drive the punch through the rawhide was brutally hard. Assembly_210After progressing only about 12″ down one side and nearly taking off the first knuckle on my right hand with a bad swing of the maul, I said, “To hell with this.” I grabbed a piece of scrap aluminum, made a guide, and used my spring-loaded punch to plot out the rest of the holes before drilling them.

Before this point, I’d only worked with rawhide once before, when I cut some strips to cover a sword tip (under a rubber blunt) for safety purposes. I remembered that it gets pretty pliable when wet, but I forgot how long it takes to soften. So, I let my prepped rawhide soak overnight. A 12-hour soak may be appropriate for thicker rawhide, but when I checked on my strap in the morning, I found it to be a swolen blubbery waterlogged mess.

Assembly_220I spent some time squeezing the ever-living crap out of the rawhide to get as much accumulated water out of it as possible and decided that it would still be fine. The expanded tissue was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it was not easily stretching and expanded enough to wrap around the edges of my shield comfortably (it had been dicey before), but it was hard to get a good hold on it. My holes didn’t line up quite as well as I’d hoped, but in retrospect, I’m glad I drilled the holes, because their expanded 1/8″ diameter (redered a bit smaller because of the way wet rawhide expands) make sewing the edging on far easier than it could have been. Eventually I persevered, and when it dried out, the edging looked great.

The Final Results

Insights and Conclusions

I could write a small book about the insights and conclusions I’ve drawn from this experience, and I’m already seeing that I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. I’ll spare you all the fine details, but here are some of the things I’ve learned: how to dish and planish a boss (and how to make a proper dishing form), how to laminate a curved shield blank (and how to build a shield press), how to rivet a wood-scaled handle, and how to work with rawhide.

As I’ve bumbled through a process of reviving dormant skills, developing new ones, and making several tools to make tasks easier, the biggest revelation for me is that learning to make a better I.33 buckler is a lot like learning to use one. I had to make a lot of mistakes, and there were plenty of times my judgement betrayed me, but in the end, if I did my homework, listened to my peers, and evaluated my results honestly, I found it easy to make rapid progress.

These are just the first bucklers of this type I’ll make, and it’s my sincere desire to someday offer bucklers these for sale to anyone who wants a period-style buckler that can hold up to regular use, but I’m not there just yet. For now, I look forward to showing off my next few attempts, some of which are destined to be tourney prizes. More than anything, I look forward to a time when I can reflect on this experience and marvel at how far I’ve come.

Written by Phil Selman

Known as Warder Philipp Reimer von Wolfenb├╝ttel in the Society for Creative Anachronism, Phil is a lifelong historical fencer and martial arts instructor. He specializes in I.33 sword and buckler and avidly enjoys late-period Italian rapier (primarily Giganti).