Making a Better I.33 Buckler – Part II: The Press

A Pressing Need

Now that I’d made a boss, it was time to move on to the shield blank. When I decided I wanted to dome my new period-style bucklers, I realized that I had quite a challenge before me. I saw immediately that I’d need to laminate two or more layers of thin and flexible material, but that was about it.

Press - 01a

Gorilla Glue not recommended.

Scouring the Internet did me little good, as a couple hours of casual research only turned up a few theories as to how it could be done. The scant few resources I did find all referred to large Hoplite shields and pointed to methods involving hydraulic presses or lathing. I found none of these approaches either appealing or within my reach, so I decided to go with the trial-and-error approach.

Depressing Results

I can’t write off my first attempt at forming a domed buckler blank as a total failure, because I was ultimately able to rescue the blank, but it certainly was a lesson in how not to form one. I started with two layers of 1/4″ luan and prepared it in a similar manner as the other two blanks highlighted in the next part of this series, only with four slots per layer, rather than eight.

Press - 04Having observed curved shields made several times, I got the idea to build a form and bend the two layers over it. For a test run, I decided to see if I could get away with simply centering a 2.5-pound weight on a 15″ circular pine slab. I glued my pieces together, stuck them on the rig, and then…. well, it seemed like a good idea up to that point, but I had no idea how to clamp the edges down.

By the time I could rig something up to hold the clamps on the curved edges, my glue would have set, so I did the next best thing and screwed it all down. As the luan began to split, I realized this was not a great idea, but it held well enough, so I let it dry. The next day, as I chiseled my crude dome off the form, I realized I’d have to come up with something better.

Press - 06Just the same, I couldn’t see the point in wasting this attempt, so I cut off the mangled edges and decided to make the most of the situation. That’s when I discovered that the edges themselves hadn’t properly laminated all the way around. I think that’s because I’d gotten stingy with the glue toward the edges for fear of gluing my clamps (or, in the end, screws) into the wood below, but the results were worse than expected.

At this point, I’d become determined to see this through, so I gently tucked some more glue into the gaps and clamped them down. The end result was a blank that was over an inch smaller in diameter than I’d have liked, but passible. None the less, I concluded that there had to be a better way.

An Impressive Revelation

I racked my brains for a better solution over the next few days and came up with all manner of complicated and elaborate solutions. At one point, I’d considered building a contraption that included a bottom disc with a raised section in the middle, and an outer ring that tightened down over the blank like the hoop of a drum.

Press - 05a

This is my “I have no clue” face.

As I was about to write that last idea off as both too restrictive and too likely to go catastrophically wrong, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d been looking at the problem all wrong. Rather than stretching the edges down, I thought, I’d be better off pushing the center down. And that’s when the solution for my press hit me.

The Press Design

Press - 06aThe design I came up with was remarkably simple. Rather than tightening down the edges, I’d affix a ring to the base and press down on the center with a cast-iron dumbbell weight tensioned with a single bolt. To pull this off, I’d need another 15″ round of pine and the biggest freaking bolt I could find, with washers and a nut to go with it. The largest bolt my local hardware store carries is 3/4″ in diameter, but that seemed like it would do the trick. Materials acquired, I headed back to the shop to get to work.

The Building Process

Press - 07I thought step one would be easy, but it occurred to me that finding the center of a circle isn’t quite as intuitive as I’d thought. After improvising a few embarrassingly unsuccessful techniques, I did the smart thing and googled “How to find the center of a circle.” Reading this incredibly simple solution reminded me of the moment my childhood self realized I had no brain for mathematical problem solving (which is why I became a writer). At any rate, once I’d finally figured out where the center was, I used my trusty wire compass method to draw out the inner diameter of the rim.

Press - 08Since I’d gone through the trouble of finding the center of this slab, I decided to use it for a guide to ensure that both layers (the ring and the base) lined up right, so I endeavored to drill a hole in the center. This proved to be another hurdle, as my drill press wouldn’t reach, and I wanted the hole to be as straight as possible. The solution was simple: I used the press to drill through a piece of scrap wood and used that scrap as a guide for drilling the other hole.

Press - 13With my holes drilled, it was time to cut out the ring. This proved to be an easy job for my saber saw, and though I didn’t get the rim as smooth as I’d have liked, I was able to sand it out with little trouble. Reasoning that a sharp edge may lead to problems when I pressed my material, I decided to give the ring a pass on my router to round out the edge.

Attaching the ring to the base was pretty easy. I used my hand drill (still holding the drill bit) and the cut-out center I’d cut out of the ring to align the ring with the base. A few nails later, and my nice and smooth ring was securely attached to the base.

Press - 15I repeated the process I’d used to create the drill guide before to create a guide for my 3/4″ paddle bit, which allowed me to drill an almost perfectly straight hole in the center of the base. Surprisingly, the 3/4″ bold slipped in with no fuss. I put a washer below the base to spread out the force of the press, and one above the weight to apply pressure evenly as the press was cranked down.


Press - 16With the bolt securely gripped in my bench vise, I had a fully functional press, ready to go. Now, all I needed were some new blanks to test it out. More about that in the next installment.

Written by Philipp

The proprietor of The Edge of the World historical fencing academy.

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