Firefighter Shadowbox Keepsake Tutorial

In recent weeks I've been having chats online with other firefighters about how different we are but how some things are always the same.

One of the things that are always the same is our helmet shields.

Firefighters wear helmet shields to identify their Department, rank and assignment.  They can be a simple number or even an ornate gold leaf hand painted Chief shield!  Each Department chooses the shape and style based on their helmet type and tradition.

When a firefighter promotes or gets reassigned, the shield changes.

I decided to do something with my old shields to remind me of where I've been.  Perfect for home or the office when promoted, this shadowbox project is so easy even the kiddos can help out. It was a fun project so I thought I'd share it.

First, you'll need the shield.  There's a good chance your Firefighter has the old ones tucked away somewhere safe.  If it's been too long and you don't have the early shields (For example, I want to do a frame for each Department I was a part of but never thought to keep my shield from Explorer Scouts or my first Volunteer job) you can have a replica shield made to match at DE Lewis, they make just about anything.

Now to get an old T-shirt and patch from the Department, preferably the specific Station logo if possible. (Yes I was assigned to Engine 51, that isn't just an Emergency! reference).

Now the shadow box.  You can run down to the corner hobby shop and grab a frame but make sure you get one at least an inch deep!  Most of them are less than an inch and cost extra because they have nice padding and some pins included.  Try something like THIS. We won't need that extra stuff, just a solid backing and the thick paper they put inside to advertise the frame.  Take a look at the shield I'm using here.  It is bent from being on my helmet for years and is almost 2 inches deep!  I'll have to reform it a bit to fit in the case.

Remove the backing of the shadow box and place the shirt over it, the neckline of the shirt will *almost* reach the top.  Make a wide cut around the frame, we'll trim the excess later.

Next, place the shield and patch on the shirt and get an idea of placement.  There is no wrong way to do it, experiment with different layouts.  I chose to match other layouts I had done before but you can mix it up all you like! You don't want either too close to the outside or it won't fit properly once the spacing for the shadow frame is added. We're actually going to use that to our advantage in the next step!

When you have the placement all set, cut the shirt and wrap it tightly around the paper that came in the frame.  It'll be a little difficult at first, but you can pull wrinkles out of the shirt and get it nice and set using a simple office stapler.  Keep the staples as far to the edge as possible, the inserts for the shadowbox will cover them.

When you have the shirt all stapled apply double sided tape to the patch and put it in place.

Now do the same with the shield.  For those wondering why this shield has no company number associated with it, this shield was worn mostly when I was assigned to Headquarters and only worked in the field occasionally.  As a result, I had no Company, only the rank and emblem of the EMS Division.

If this is an old fashioned or well used shield it will have a natural bend to it, like mine does.  You may need to flatten it out ever so slightly to get it to fit.  Apply the double sided tape behind the shield to keep it roughly in place.  The tension of the shield against the glass and the backing will hold it nicely.

This photo shows the shield pressed down against the shirt and spreading it out, making wrinkles.  If this happens, remove the front and bend the shield back just a bit.  It will still have all its original character, I promise.

Place it all back into the frame upside up to keep the shield from falling off.  Double check that the hanging hardware is at the top and there you go, a great souvenir and keepsake for your firefighter!

Now grab other shields and shirts from their career and make a series!  Just make sure you order enough frames so they all match!  I got 5 and have 2 more to go!

This makes a perfect one of a kind retirement gift!  You can also add a badge and lapel insignia as well, just pin them through the thin shirt and paper!