My kids wanted foam covered swords for sparring, and nothing on the market looked very good. So I made my own from swim noodles with wooden cores. And then the toddler wanted one, so I made her a smaller one, too.
- Swim noodle with 3/4" hole
- 3/4" (or 7/8") dowel for core
- 1/4" - 3/8" thick piece of wood or plywood, about 5"x5", for guard
- Gorilla glue or equivalent polyurethane glue
- tape for clamping things together
- optional: wooden ball for pommel
- optional: baseball bat or tennis racket wrap, piece of leather or drawer liner material for handle
- optional: paint / wood finish
- drill or drill-press with Forstner or spade bit sized for dowel
- sand paper
- optional: circle cutter, or else router with straight or spiral bit
Warning: These can give a good whack, so be careful to avoid injury to persons or property. Inspect periodically for damage to foam and replace foam in case of damage.
Step 1: Buy
Buy a swim noodle. The narrower 2.5" diameter ones with 3/4" holes will make the sword less unwieldy. Consult kids on color. Ensure there are no rips and the holes are centered. I got mine at Academy Sports.
Get a wooden dowel. I went for poplar so it would have a bit of give and wouldn't be as heavy as oak. For durability, go for oak. You may consider rattan, which is what SCA uses.
You have a choice between 3/4" and 7/8". The advantage of 7/8" is that it will fit more snugly in the noodle. The disadvantage is that it will be 30% heavier, and even at 3/4" these swords are heavy enough that my 9- and 11-year-old like to use them two-handed. The 3/4" may rattle a bit in the foam (the hole in the foam tends to be a little more than 3/4") but the Gorilla glue should fill most of the gap.
Step 2: Measure and Cut Dowel
You have three decisions to make:
- A = length of foam blade. Make sure it's not too long for kids to swing comfortably.
- B = length of dowel sticking out of foam. Decide if you want the swords to be single- or double-handed. Check with the user how long the handle should be, putting the dowel in the foam temporarily. Add the thickness of the wood you're using for the guard, plus 1/2"-3/4" for the amount of dowel that will go in the pommel if you will have one.
- C = length of unsupported foam at end. You want the dowel to end before the end of the foam, for safety. I went for 3" in the big kids' swords, and about 10"-12" in the toddler's sword. On reflection, the 3" should have been about 5-7"--that would have improved the weight and balance, and safety.
Measure carefully. Now cut the dowel to the length A+B-C.
Step 3: Cut and Drill Guard
Cut a guard for the sword, shape and size of your preference. I used some 3/8" thick pine I had lying around and I cut a circle by nailing it to the table through a pivot point and spinning it against a spiral blade on a table mounted fixed router (I do not recommend my guard-free router table mount, but that's what I hand; and because of lack of plunge, I have to start just off the piece, which produces a slight flat area). A circle-cutter driven by a drill press would work well, too. If you have a good quality jigsaw you can cut a circle with that, too, either by hand or with a simple jig. All of these methods leave a center mark.
I think an octagon would look every bit as good as a circle, so if all you have is a saw, you can still do it. Just print off an octagon in the right size, cut it out, trace it, and cut. Mark the center by using a rule through two sets of opposite corners.
Now drill a hole sized for the dowel in the center.
Sand to taste.
Make sure the guard fits the dowel. Enlarge hole if necessary. Don't worry if it's a bit loose, since the Gorilla glue will expand, and the foam will also help hold things in place.
Step 4: Optional: Pommel
I had some craft wood balls with pre-drilled holes I bought for another project (decorative swords for my son's room). The hole in them wasn't quite wide enough for the dowel, so I had to enlarge it. I did that with the drill press--would be difficult with a hand drill (would be better to get a solid ball rather than a pre-drilled one for that).
You have to clamp them well. (Note my DIY wooden drill-press vise.)
Step 5: Cut Foam
Cut foam to blade size (size A from step 2). I used a hacksaw but I bet even a serrated kitchen knife would work.
Step 6: Glue
Wet the dowels outside the handle area (Gorilla glue is water-activated). Put Gorilla glue on them. (I suggest disposable gloves--the stuff is hard to get off hands.) I made several long lines of Gorilla glue. Put less glue near the handle--the glue expands and it doesn't look great when there is squeeze-out.
Insert into foam, leaving distance B (from Step 2) sticking out. Spin the foam to spread the glue.
Put glue on the part of the foam facing the guard, and make sure there is some glue on the dowel where the guard goes, but not too much. Insert guard. I used painter's tape as clamps for the large swords. I also had used too much glue and it was seeping out around the guard, and I had to continually wipe it off.
If you are using a pommel, glue it on
Step 7: Tip
You could leave the tip hollow, but I think it looks better and may be more durable with a solid foam tip.
Cut off about 3" worth of leftover noodle.
Cut a piece lengthwise that can be squeezed to fill the hole at the end of the blade.
Put Gorilla glue on it (not too much--the squeeze-out is rough and not so good looking). Stuff it in. If you sized it like I did, you won't be able to get it in all the way, but that's fine.
Once the glue dries, cut off foam that sticks out. If you have squeeze out, you might cut 1/4" off of the blade.
Step 8: Optional: Wrap Handles
I wrapped them with synthetic baseball bat wrap. The stuff is expensive ($5 at Academy, enough for one two-handed sword or two one-handed ones) but it feels soft and grippy. Greatly improves the feel of the sword.
Step 9: Optional: Paint to Taste
I used DecoArt acrylic gold paint to paint exposed wood surfaces.
Step 10: Optional: Toddler Version
Our 1.5-year-old really coveted her big siblings' swords, so I made her one. Hers is shorter, and the dowel in it is really short--most of the blade is just foam. Also, to avoid choking hazards, I left out the pommel. And to avoid her eating paint, I didn't paint it.