Making A Shield Boss
By: Matthew Stichman
Mad Matts Armory


Making your tools
You'll need a dishing hammer and a dishing stump. Here's how to make them.

Dishing hammer. I use a modified 4 pound mini sledge. This is a pretty heavy hammer to swing for extended periods of time and has made me into a mutant. My right bicep is a full 1" bigger then my left. Modify this hammer by grinding one face into a dome with a diameter of about 3 inches; on the other face, leave about half of the face flat and grind the edges down into a smooth curve.

Once you've done your grinding it's a really good idea to polish your hammer. You'll get much better results if you do. Polish the face by sanding by hand with gradually finer grits of sandpaper. I start with 60 and go up to 1500 grit.

Dishing stump Now that you've got a dishing hammer you need something to dish into. I use a cedar stump (note: the harder the wood the better and any coniferous wood isn't great because of the sap, but it does work.) the stump is about 1 foot diameter and the height is determined by where my knuckles are when I hang my arm down in a relaxed position. You don't have to have something as big as this but it makes it easier. You can basically use anything wood that's big enough for the dish. If you use something smaller then attach it to something heavy.

Make a depression in your stump that is approximately 3" across and 1" deep. You can make this depression by beating your stump with the more rounded end of your dishing hammer.

Dishing the shield boss

On to the actual dishing. Hold the blank in your left hand lightly. It's a good idea to wear some kind of glove to reduce the shock to your hand. Ear protection is also a good idea. Those little earplugs work, as do the big earmuff ones. I'm assuming a boss with an overall diameter of 8 inches with a 1 inch flange, made from 14 gauge mild steel. You could use 16 gauge but it will end up very thin and you run the risk of tearing a hole through it while dishing.

Beat the metal into the depression and move the disk so that you dish the shape of your boss. Use the flatter end of the dishing hammer to dish. Don't dish the area where your flange will be. The flange area might wrinkle a little and it will dish out a bit on it's own. I usually beat the wrinkles out as they appear with the flat end of my dishing hammer. Don't worry about pretty right now. Striking with the edge close to you after the first pass moves the metal faster but makes things lumpy. Hammer from the outside to the inside in a gradual spiral pattern in several passes until you get to the depth you want. Allow for the flattening of the flange in your depth. A 1" flange usually takes 1/2-3/4" away from the overall depth. Obviously a smaller flange takes away less.

Now that you've got your depth strike with the flatter face of your hammer hitting with the flat part in the same spiral pattern. This will get rid of a lot of the lumpiness.

So you've now got something a little prettier. But it doesn't really have a flange. Hold your boss so that the depression is pointing downwards and put the edge against the edge of your stump. Not the edge of the steel let it hang over a little. It's best to put the boss on the side of the stump opposite of you and with the boss on the outside of the stump and a little hanging over the edge of the stump. Start hammering the flange down over the edge of the stump using the flat surface on your dishing hammer. Start with a blow that hits the edge of the stump at a 45 degree angle and then a couple more blows until you're striking flat on the top. You have to hold the boss so that the soon-to-be flange is raised from the stump and sitting on the edge. Move to the side of the area you've just hammered and repeat until you've gone full circle. You should now have about a 1/4" or a little less flange. Repeat this process concentrating on the 45 degree blow until you have the flange size you want.

Some other hints:

  • Holding the boss lightly is important. If you grip it hard you'll hurt your thumb just hold tightly enough so that it doesn't go bouncing across the room.
  • It's important to try to support the metal on at least 3 places on the wood when you dish. If you don't you won't wreck the boss but it'll kick and your thumb will feel it.
  • Don't be afraid to hit the metal. You won't hurt it.
  • You can polish it up with any kind of abrasive you want. A wire wheel will work well since your boss will likely have some small lumps and sandpaper just makes these more evident. I use two wire wheels. A new one at first that removes more material faster and then a very old one. This doesn't remove much but gives a much shinier finish. I highly recommend you don't use a brass wire wheel. use the steel ones. They're not as harsh and the metal won't rust as fast. You can make your own very old wire wheel quickly by using it on concrete and pressing a lot. You want the bristles worn down and bent over.

Additional things you could do to make your boss prettier:

  • Boughing. Boughing is the process of striking the metal with a soft hammer against a hard surface. I use a 12 pound shotput on a steak and an ironwood mallet for this. This process is for getting rid of the big lumps.
  • Planishing: Planishing is the process of pinching the metal by striking it with a hard hammer onto a hard surface. I use the same shotput and a lightweight autobody planishing hammer for this. Basically you know you've finished planishing when the entire boss is covered with tiny facets. This gets rid of all the small lumps.

The only thing left to do is drill some holes in the flange and rivit or bolt your boss onto a wooden shield blank.

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