Chapter 18: Will a shield save your apocalyptic bacon?

When you see a tool or weapon used again and again throughout history, in just about every culture, it makes you think: yeah, that’s pretty useful.

Hammers and saws. Ropes and wheels.

Swords and shields.

Previous posts have looked at what gear, weapons and vehicles might be smart for any flavor of apocalypse, whether you like (a) zombies going nom-nom-nom, (b) robots turning sentient and deciding they don’t like being slaves or (c) climate change turning Waterworld into prophecy. And listen, every flavor of apocalypse tastes equally bad. I pray to whatever gods that listen that we can avoid calamity and chaos. 

HOWEVER: It is fun, and interesting, to talk about this stuff, and figuring whether you want to look Lowes or the mall first. (I know you want to do that. It’s okay.)

And shields are a serious thing to think about. They keep popping up throughout history.

So let’s talk it through.

A Mondo Vibranium Shield of Invulnerability

The temptation is to go all crazy and build the toughest shield possible, a work of art that will laugh at arrows, eat bullets and make swords break in half.

I mean, that sort of shield works great for Captain America and Wonder Woman, right?

Okay, yeah. Raise your right hand if you want a shield, your left hand for a lightsaber and keep them up if you’d sell your car to get a shield AND a lightsaber.

Everybody who didn’t raise both hands is lying.

Here’s the problem: you’re not making Wonder Woman / Captain America shield.

Not today, in your heated garage with electricity and power tools.

Not tomorrow, after you buy a bunch of welding equipment and somehow find a bunch of titanium, vibranium and uranium.

And not during any sort of apocalypse, where you won’t have electricity or power tools. Seriously. You won’t, and any book or movie about the apocalypse that features electricity is Cheaty McCheatypants. 

Another clue that the movie or book cheats harder than the Astros and Patriots in a game of Who Can Steal Signs Better: clean-shaven, well-groomed heroes. Nope. Everybody in the ‘pocalypse gonna make the Duck Dynasty boys look well-groomed.

Time to get brutally practical

If you read a little about shields throughout history , a few things pop out immediately.

First, any shield had to be light enough to carry on long marches. Ten pounds is about it.

Second, even the armies that really relied on shield-and-spear formations–which isn’t a bad way to go–didn’t actually have heavy metal shields. They had light, wooden shields, reinforced with all sorts of stuff: metal or rawhide edging, linen and glue, leather. 

Third, soldiers didn’t see shields as some kind of invincible, long-term tool. They knew a shield would get beat up and possibly destroyed, so these things weren’t expensive family heirlooms like swords or suits of armor. Shields were disposable and replaceable. If one saved your life exactly one time, hey, it worked. And if a shield got smashed up, making a new one wasn’t hard.

Making a scrapyard shield of the apocalypse

Our limitations are pretty logical, then: 

(a) raw material that’s easy to find

(b) hand tools instead of power tools

(c) a final shield that’s lightweight and easy to repair or replace

So I tested it out and made one, then learned from my mistakes and made a SECOND SHIELD, embracing the scientific method of “make a Serious Plan, follow it to the letter until you learn that it Seriously Sucks, then give it another go.”

Shield Number 1: Wooden Pallet Craziness

As for raw materials, I went with the following main materials:

  • A pallet of wood. The boards were about 5.5 inches wide by four feet long, thick enough to be sturdy. Pallets are insanely common and basically scrapwood.
  • Two wooden stakes to hold it together. Also common and easy to find.
  • Wood glue and common screws to finish it off.

This thing had the shape of an octagon (think stop sign), which would seem to make sense at first, being a rough circle.

How did it turn out?

Using a wooden pallet may sound smart. Common sense.

Nope. This is a terrible idea.

Wooden pallets have poor-quality wood. Spectacularly so. The wood they use in pallets is also thickier and heavier than you’d want in a shield.

Gluing the pieces together was also a giant mess that didn’t work out. Wooden pallets have incredibly rough cuts.Smooth, perfectly straight wood might glue together fine. These things weren’t meant to be glued.

When finished, the shield was not just too big, but incredibly heavy, and more useful as a portable wall than a shield. 

Verdict? Straight into the garbage can.

Shield Number 2: Cedar Fence Special

You can find cedar fences anywhere, making this a solid idea. The wood is a lot thinner than what you find in a wooden pallet, and a lot higher quality. YES.

I went with a hexagon instead of octagon, which saved weight while still having a roughly circular shape.

To strengthen it, I hammered a bunch of extra steel plates meant to protect wiring (yes, they probably have a name, and no, I have no idea) along the edges, with some thin scrap metal plates in the center.

The final steps, which aren’t done yet, would be attaching a handle or rope, then covering the front with duct tape to protect it from water, give it extra strength and cover up the scrap metal.

Didn’t use glue at all on this one–turns out you don’t need to. Screws all the way.

Verdict: Completely doable. 

Is a shield smart?

Yes, as long as you treat it as a cheap, disposable object and keep it small.

Marching long distances with any sort of giant shield would be a good way tire yourself out.

If you’ve got a group of people with you, whether it’s three or thirty, I’d want everybody to have a small shield to protect themselves and each other. Honestly, if you’re wandering around the wastelands and see six random people with machetes and garden tools, then another six people with matching shields and spears, you’re gonna steer clear of the folks with shields. Especially if they do a decent formation with shields making it hard to hit them, and spears stabbing you before you get close enough to even try.

To maximize the effect of shields, use your Psych 201 skills. Paint every shield with the same colors or symbol, because the absolute last thing you want to do in the ‘pocalypse is mess with people who belong to a gang or army, and get hunted down by Robert Duvall or whatever. 

Also, if your band of survivors gets good enough with swords and shields in formation, it means eventually doing stuff like this. You know, in epic slow motion.

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