Tutorial: How to Make “Wooden” Shield for Costumes

shields for cosplay

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You can use props of any kind to help your costume stand out within the crowd of cosplayers. One of the most common types of props that costumes call for is some form of shield. There are many different types of shields you can create, but the basic structure underneath can be created with cardboard or EVA foam.

This tutorial uses cardboard. Cardboard shields are fairly easy and cheap and they are a great starting point for beginner prop-makers. However, if you need a domed shield, you’ll need to use the other method with EVA foam to give it that curved shape (tutorial linked above).

Whether you are trying to recreate the Hyrulean shield or just need something basic to go with your costume, you can use these methods and just change up the details to fit with your specific costume.

a cardboard 'wooden' shield

Making a flat cardboard shield

If this is your first time making your own prop, this is the perfect place to start. This is a cheap and easy tutorial that can actually give you a pretty cool shield in the end that you can be proud of. Even though cardboard may seem too basic for cosplay, don’t underestimate how much you can do with a little bit of resourcefulness and paint.

Supplies needed:

drawing the shield
You can create your circle by attaching string to a pencil and swinging it around a center point.

1. Make your shield design

Start by drawing out the shape and design of your shield. Make sure the whole thing is to-scale so that you can use this drawing to cut out your pieces of cardboard in the next step. Don’t forget to include any details you’ll want on the surface, such as a centerpiece, an outer ridge, or a design on the shield. If you want to create a completely symmetrical shield, I recommend drawing out one side and folding the paper in half when cutting it out so the second side will be the same exact shape.

You can make your shield in any shape you want, but in this example, I’ll be creating a Viking-style circular shield. To create a large circle, you can try to find something sufficiently large enough to trace. However, if that’s not possible:

  1. Mark the point on the paper that you want to be the center of your circle.
  2. Cut a length of string that is the length of the radius of your circle. (the radius is half of the width of the circle)
  3. Tie the piece of string to a pen or pencil.
  4. With the end of the string pressed against the center point, sweep the pencil around to create your circle.
cutting cardboard to look like wooden slabs
Tape your cardboard slabs together and trace your shield shape. Cut it out and flip it over to use the non-tape side as the front of your shield.

2. Cut out your base shield

Once you’re happy with your design, it’s time to cut out the cardboard. If you want the shield to have a more or less smooth surface, try to find a cardboard box that is big enough to fit your entire design. If you don’t have anything available, you can always glue multiple pieces of cardboard together, but the crease where they are glued will be visible.

If you’re following along with what I’m doing and want to create the appearance of wooden planks making up the shield’s face, then there is a little extra step before you go ahead and cut out the shield base.

  1. Start by cutting slabs of cardboard. I used the cardboard flaps from the top of a small cardboard box for this.
  2. Then tape these cardboard slabs together until you have a big enough surface area to fit your shield. Only put the tape on the back of the shield so that it won’t show up on the front.
  3. Trace around your pattern over all of the cardboard pieces.
  4. Cut the shield shape from your cardboard slabs.
glueing decorations to the shield
Use hot glue to attache any decorations you want to add to your shield.

3. Make additive details

Remember all those details you drew onto your shield in step 1? Now it’s time to make those so you can glue them on top of your shield. Cut out those details so that you can trace them onto another piece of cardboard. Anything that’s fairly flat can be cut out of cardboard and glued onto the front of your shield base.

In my case, I traced the center circle and the outer rim. Because the outer rim was so large, I had to separate it into eight equal sections to glue around the outside of the shield. I also added some hot glue in between the cardboard slabs to help them stay together.

If your shield has any details that are not flat, you’ll have to use other tools and materials to help you create the best shape. For example, my shield has a large semi-sphere in the center plus a bunch of small bolts around the perimeter.

I found a large plastic ornament to use as the center part of the shield. Then use some clay in a silicone mold to create all of the bolts. You can be as creative and resourceful as you want when adding these extra details, but when in doubt I always turn to paper clay since it’s easy to mold into whatever shape I need.

painting the wooden texture of the shield
Start with a base layer of paint, then use a sponge to streak a thin layer of a darker color horizontally on the shield. Repeat with another darker color. Then use your darkest color to go over the cracks and edges around your shield’s planks.

4. Prime and paint

Before you paint the cardboard, you must add one or two layers of primer. If you don’t, the paint will end up sinking into the surface of the cardboard and it won’t dry the right color. A good all-purpose primer that I use for most non-flexible props is Mod Podge. Simply brush on a layer or two and let it dry before moving on to the acrylic paint.

Now it’s time to paint your shield. Depending on the paint you use, you will probably need to use two to three layers to have a solid color (light colors usually need more layers, while dark colors might be fine with just one). Once you’re finished painting, it’s a good idea to add a finishing layer of mod podge on top to prevent the paint from chipping.

I used metallic paint for the center and outline of the shield and multiple shades of brown for the wood-like paint. To get this effect:

  1. I started with the lightest shade of brown to create a solid-colored base. 
  2. Then I used a sponge to streak a medium and dark brown layer on top, letting the paint dry between layers.
  3. Then I used the darkest color to paint over the cracks and edges of the shield
attaching a handle to the back
You can paint the back of your shield if you want to, or just make sure only the front shows up in pictures.

5. Add straps

Now your shield is basically done and all you need to do is add straps to the back so you can hold it easily. You can paint the back of the shield if you want to. I did not, because I only intend to take pictures with it from the front, but it would be a much nicer finish if you take the time to paint the back as well, totally up to you.

Adding the straps is pretty easy:

  1. Cut two strips of craft foam. You can paint these to look leather-like if you want to. Check out my tutorial for how to use foam for ‘leather’ straps.
  2. Use hot glue to attach them to the back of the shield. Make sure you can fit your arm through the strap before gluing it down.
  3. Staple the straps in place. For a little extra hold, I like to staple each end of the straps to the cardboard.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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