This instructable serves as a tutorial on how I created an LED-lit prop Levin Sword from Fire Emblem:Awakening (also featured in Super Smash Bros. 4). I made it for my Robin cosplay, which I wore to compete in a cosplay contest. The process uses fiberglass cloth and resin to create a hollow, light-weight and translucent blade. Total construction time was about 28 hours. If you attempt this, make sure to read the safety tips for each step before you start!
for this project you'll need:
- SAFETY EQUIPMENT (more than half of the materials I used to make this are super toxic)
- a respirator
- work gloves
- rubber/latex gloves (many pairs)
- safety glasses
- work mask
- first aid kit
- clamps of various sizes (small-medium)
- hot knife
- hot wire (optional)
- lots of wax paper (to use as a work surface)
- scissors you don't mind potentially ruining
- soldering iron + solder
- scissors you don't mind ruining
- hot glue gun+ a ton of glue sticks
- all-purpose or wood glue
- clear scotch tape
- masking tape
- heat gun (for optional heat-shrink tubing)
- large ruinable paintbrushes (at least 3)
- A DREMEL with cutting, grinding, and sanding attachments
- multiple grits of sandpaper (i used tons of 60, some 80, 120, and 180)
- so much sand paper
- 3D printer + filament
- laser cutter (OPTIONAL)
- insulation foam (approx. 4ft x 2 ft)
- modelling clay (optional)
- epoxy sealant
- 1 yard fiberglass cloth
- fiberglass resin (including hardener)
- silver, yellow, and gold spray paint
- 1 lb of Apoxie Sculpt
- thin wood (plywood is fine) for laser cutting.
- alternatively, use balsa or another light wood and cut the piece by hand
- wooden dowel
- light brown or yellow felt
- toilet paper/ paper towel roll
- leather strands for handle finish (technically optional)
- LED strip lighting (doesn't have to be waterproof)
- 9V battery clip
- toggle switch
- heat-shrink tubing or electrical tape
- 8 AA battery pack
- AA batteries
- 9V battery to check light functionality (optional)
DISCLAIMER: This sword was actually my first attempt at propmaking, so there's a lot that can be improved on! I'll make notes in each step on how to perfect the process. (step 1: do NOT attempt to make this in 5 days like i did, It will only make your life hell for those days).
Step 1: Step 1: Making the Mold
The first step to making the Levin sword blade is creating the positive molds that you'll use to cast the blade.To do this, I carved insulation foam using hot knives. Time to complete:
- It helps to print out a true scale template first (i just used an image from online, attached here, and scaled it myself. try to scale the sword so that it will fit with your height, mine was about 91" long and I'm 5'6")
- acquire two pieces of insulation foam roughly the size of your molds
- outline your template and bevel lines (copied from the template printout) onto one piece of the foam, then stack the two halves and use a hot wire to get the basic outline. since the other half is a mirror image, make sure to reverse your outlines and bevels lines as you prep the second half.
- use a hot knife (in my case, a hot exact-o knife) to carve your bevels! make sure to align the pieces every once in a while as you carve to make sure they'll be even.
- you can choose to fill in any imperfections (aka places where your hot knife decided to do whatever it wanted) with modeling clay. remember that you will have to clean the clay out of your mold later, and it will be an annoyingly tedious process.
- fiberglass resin will dissolve your foam mold, so seal it in epoxy before casting. they take about 12 hours to dry. do this on wax paper so you don't ruin your work surface!
- REMEMBER to remove any remaining clear film from the foam, or it won't be sealed properly!
SAFETY TIPS: hot knives are hot and sharp, so be careful! more importantly, cutting foam like this creates toxic FUMES that will mess you up. use a respirator throughout the process (including sealing, epoxy is also bad). SAFETY GLASSES ALWAYS.
Tips on improving the process: GO SLOW with your hot knife to avoid mistakes! Also, make sure you check the evenness of your halves often as you work so they don't end up mismatching.
Step 2: Step 2: Fiberglass Casting and Sanding
Next up is casting the actual blade!
- start by cutting your fiberglass cloth. use your mold as a guide and cut it using the example I've shown in the first image. The goal is not to have too much excess while still covering the whole blade. Relief cuts are there to help keep the fiberglass from bubbling on the many sharp curves this sword has. Cut at least 3 layers for each mold.
- lay out your work area with wax paper. for this step you should definitely work outdoors, so prepare for that. have your work space ready with your mold, fiberglass cutouts, and resin supplies (including your brush, resin container, scissors, respirator, gloves,and resin + hardener).
- prepare to work with resin! Check the instructions on your chosen resin as to what your hardener to resin ratio should be. when they mix SMALL amounts they don't lie! once you mix your hardener and resin (use a mixing stick) you'll have at most 10 - 15 minutes to work with it before it solidifies in your container. If/when this happens, throw your excess away in a large outdoor trash can, trying to spread it our as much as possible because as the resin components react they get HOT. again, this is why gloves are super important.
- start casting! to do this, start with a layer of resin on your mold - cover that ting 100%. slowly lay a fiberglass cutout over your resin-y mold, using your brush and more resin to make sure it's smooth and to get rid of any bubbles. use your scissors to add any needed extra relief cuts (warning: this will ruin that pair of scissors).
- add another layer of resin, working quickly so your supply doesn't set up, and make sure you get every nook and cranny on the mold. I also used my glove hands to help shape the fiberglass, through I recommend having multiple sets of gloves ready if you do this as your gloves will get resin-covered and sometimes break from sharp corners or the heat of the resin.
- mix more resin, and repeat he process with as many layers as you want (I used 3 to keep the sword lightweight).
- when you're done, let the resin cure (outdoors, this stuff smells) for at least 12 hours before you start sanding. the resin fully cures after about 2 hours.
SAFETY TIPS: Fiberglass resin is super duper toxic, so again make sure to wear a respirator throughout the whole casting process! Also, multiple pairs of gloves (mine were nitrile rubber and worked fine), since there's a good chance you'll want to switch them out during the process and/or they might break. SAFETY GLASSES ALWAYS.
Tips on improving the process: don't try to push the excess fiberglass too far under the mold, it will just make the cleaning process harder. you can always cut the excess off with the dremel later. Again, i cannot stress enough the importance of cutting your fiberglass first-- otherwise it will add 2 hours to your work time.
Step 3: Step 3: Sanding and Cleaning Your Casts
This is probably the most time/labor intensive part of the process. spread out your work times if you can to avoid exhaustion/disillusion.
grits I used: 60/80/120/180
- important mention: leave the mold in your cast for sanding, it'll provide a better/sturdier work surface than an empty fiberglass shell.
- make sure you sand outside or in a work area. for this part of the process you can use either a respirator or a regular work mask, but make sure you prepare your clothing, etc. to be covered in fiberglass dust.
- start off but using the dremel (cutting tool) to cut off most of the excess fiberglass from the edges of your cast. this will give you a rough starting shape to work with.
- use the grinding tool to finish off/smooth the edges you cut with the dremel as well as the sharper surfaces of the blade corner points.
- start hand sanding. begin with the lower grits, sand the entire piece to your satisfaction, then move on to a finer grit. use a block to wrap your sandpaper around to make the process easier/more ergonomic. this step will take a lot of time and effort and will not be a clean process.
- after you finish sanding, it's time to take the mold out of the cast! when i made mine i used a wedge to physically break the mold out, but if yours is too stuck in you can use acetone to dissolve the foam out (though this is a nasty/toxic process).
- Chances are, regardless of the method you use to remove the mold, there will be remnants (of foam, clay, etc.) left over inside the cast. i used a wire brush to clean these out.
- align the two casts. there will probably be some warped or misaligned areas, but you can fill these in with hot glue.
SAFETY TIPS: For the sanding process, make sure to wear long pants and sleeves because the fiberglass dust will get EVERYWHERE. This also means wearing a dust mask and safety glasses. Be careful using a dremel, power tools are fun but not toys.
Tips on improving the process: you can always sand more/more fully. I stopped at 180 grit but i would recommend going at least 1 grit finer. I also didn't sand the inside of the blades at all, which you should do if you want a more polished look while the sword is lit up, but plan to find another source of light diffusion if you do.
Step 4: Step 4: Work With LEDs
Now to make the circuit that will make the sword actually light up! Protip, find someone with electrical/circuit experience to help you/do most of this step for you, like i did.
- cut your LED strip to the desired length (i cut mine into 4 pieces), and use the adhesive tape on the back of them to stick both pairs of strips together, back to back.
- to make soldering easier, use an exacto knife to cut off any waterproof covering in the way of the pads.
- solder wire leads onto the LED strip pads. if possible, use electrical tape to secure the connection.
- solder the power leads for the strips and switch in parallel to a perfboard circuit according to the circuit diagram attached. you can use a 9V battery to test your LEDs, but i recommend using an 8-AA battery pack (i got mine from radio shack), which will give you the full voltage (and brightness) you need. luckily, the battery pack can also connect with a 9V battery clip.
- if you want to make the batteries replaceable (recommended, as the 8 AA battery pack has only 10 minutes of life in it), make the set of wires connecting the switch to the batteries extra long (you can bundle these up inside the handle later).
SAFETY TIPS: Don't ever breathe in solder smoke, so if you don't have some type of fan on while soldering, use a mask/respirator. also, safety glasses! And be careful with soldering irons, they'll give you 3rd degree burns.
Tips on improving the process: definitely triple-check your circuit before you accidentally short out a battery like i did. and make sure you get the right voltage for your lights or they won't be bright enough!
Step 5: Step 5: Assembly
Putting it all together! a.k.a. the wonders of hot glue.
- use scotch tape and/or hot glue to attach your LEDs to the inside of your blade cast
- wrap up the non-excess wires of your circuit in masking tape (you want to wrap the excess wire around your battery pack, which it also helps to masking tape)
- find or cut an appropriate length wooden dowel to use for added stability. make ABSOLUTELY sure that your dowel is the right length and is in the right position, because after you put the blade together there's no going back.
- make sure that your circuit still works in this arrangement!
- align the two halves of the blade, and start hot gluing them together. if there are holes in your seam, layers of hot glue do a good job of providing a complete and translucent seal!
- once you've finished putting together the blade, you can now paint it! I used a THIN layer of metallic silver spray paint on mine.
SAFETY TIPS: Hot glue will always 100% of the time burn you if it gets the chance. don't let it, especially if you're using a high-heat glue gun.
Tips on improving the process: make sure to check the length of your dowel before you glue it down and especially before you glue the halves together. Also, you could use a strip of fiberglass with resin to attach the two halves for a stronger/cleaner hold, but that also requires another round of sanding, so keep that in mind.
Step 6: Step 6: Detailing
now, to make the sword look like a levin sword.
- making the blade detail
- i used a laser cutter for this part, but it's definitely possible to do this by hand, especially with a dremel
- if you have a laser cutter on hand, i've attached a file with the path tool i used. scale this as you will, depending on how you size your sword.
- if not, i've also attached a true scale image of the detail part that you can print out to use as a template!
- I used .25 in laminate/plywood, so i cut 2 of each piece so i'd have more material for beveling. i glued the pieces together with wood glue and lots of small clamps. if you want to avoid this step, use thicker stock.
- time for more sanding! I recommend carefully using the sanding tip on a dremel to bevel the edges of your wooden blade detail. have sandpaper on hand to manually smooth/straighten out the edges.
- use the same attachment to carefully carve out the hole in the center of the circular part of the detail for the jewel.
- when you're done sanding, use a few coats of metallic gold spray paint (you can prime it first if you don't want wood lines) to finish them off.
- i used a 3D printer for these details to get the mos accurate shape, though alternatively you could use sculpy for the pommel and resin cast the jewels.
- i've attached the models i used to print the parts. again, scale them to your liking.
- use a fairly small layer height if possible to get a smoother print.
- after they're printed, paint them using yellow (jewels) and metallic silver (pommel) spray paint. again, priming them with white might yield a cleaner result.
- use hot glue to attach the jewels to the hole you cut in the blade details. wait to attach the pommel until you've finished making the handle.
SAFETY TIPS: don't look at the laser if you're laser cutting, and again, be careful with dremels. also, beware of the curse of hot glue where you get burnt at least once every time you work with it. (fun fact: while attaching some detailing, i touched some hot glue that gave me a burn so deep that it took 3 weeks to heal.)
Tips on improving the process: fill your 3D printed pieces with Bondo if you want them to be sturdier, i left mine hollow which mad them more lightweight but also more fragile (especially the pommel).
Step 7: Step 7: Making the Hilt and Handle
now to finish it all up and make it an actual hold-able sword!
- making the handle:
- first you need to make the actual handle. wrap the excess cord around your battery pack and put it all into a toilet paper tube (to make the batteries replaceable). cover this in brown felt so that any spaces between the leather strips on your handle won't be visible.
- when you're cutting the piece of felt to wrap around the handle, leave some excess felt near the bottom of the handle to make it easier to attach a felt "cap" to the bottom (using a non-permanent material again is useful for making the batteries replaceable without disturbing your work on the handle too much).
- wrap strings of leather around your handle until it is covered, using hot glue to secure them to the felt.
- I used a full pound of apoxie sculpt to make the hilt of my sword, but carving it out of foam or another lightweight material may yield an easier-to-wield result. I chose to use straight clay because it made a really secure bond between the handle and the blade.
- sculpt the handle using the attached image as reference. follow all the instructions apoxie sculpt gives you on the label about how to work with it.
- the hilt will take about 2-3 hours to set up, but make sure to check on it during that time especially if you're letting it dry flat to keep the clay from settling. after 3 hours, smooth it out to your liking, use masking tape to cover the rest of the blade and handle, and paint your hilt with metallic gold spray paint.
- YAY YOU FINISHED! now go take pictures and send them to me so i can see your beautiful handiwork.
SAFETY TIPS: Again, hot glue will definitely burn you. also, use a mask and safety glasses when spray painting.
Tips on improving the process: use clayworking tools to smooth out your hilt! I only used my hands and the quality suffered.