Recently I realized that I had not yet gotten around to building my own lightsaber. Sure I had a nice Master Replicas one that worked well and looked good, but as a Maker I really wanted one that I had built. A little research led me to the plumbing saber, not only is it not a new idea, it dates back to Obi-Wan's saber in the original Star Wars ANH which was made largely from plumbing parts.
So the idea isn't new, but I haven't seen any other plans that involve using a toy saber for the blade and sound effects. This should provide you with a decent looking hilt that also has a light up blade and effects on the cheap. Some of these steps can be skipped, all can be done in other ways, feel free to approach this with an eye to personalization and creative solutions.
Step 1: Parts and Tools
Here's what you will need:
1. Anakin/Vader color changing lightsaber toy. This is the most expensive part of the build, they run from $30 to $40
2. A momentary push button, I got mine at Radioshack for $2
3. A pop up sink drain
4. A plumbing extension tube
5. some wire
6. some gaffe tape or electrical tape or any other thick tape.
7. A bunch of Rubber Bands (or you can just use more tape)
8. A small 3 AAA cell battery compartment (I cannibalized a pocket flashlight for one)
9. Some solder and shrink tube
Rubber grips from: http://www.thecustomsabershop.com/
Tools I used:
A small philips head screw driver
A sharp hobby knife
A soldering Iron
A Dremel Tool (you can get by without this but it's REALLY helpful)
Step 2: If you want to make an omlette... (toy saber breakdown)
The Anakin/Vader color changing light saber is one of the most expensive sabers you will find in the toy isle, but it's the only one with a nice polycarbonate blade like the more expensive replica models.You might be able to do this sort of rig with one of the cheaper collapsible blade types (that's my next project so I'll have one to wear on my belt at conventions), however for this rig we are using the nice one.
It's a pretty nice looking hilt for being made of plastic, but we came here to make our OWN saber, not just have Darth's. Feel free to keep the emitter cap if you want and reuse it though, it's a nice bit of detail.
First take out the screws holding shut the battery compartment, then remove the batteries. This will reveal some more screws, basically take out every screw you can find.
Cut the wires going to the battery compartment, we will be attaching a new one that is smaller, make sure to label the wires for + and - so that we will know what the polarity is when we attach the new battery box. You can also cut the wires attached to the on/off button board, but make sure to cut them at the button end. Finally do the same with the speaker end cap, leaving an inch or so of wire still on the cap, we will be extending the wires that go to the end cap, adding a new button and a new battery compartment. Note: it's a good idea to label your wires some how so you know what went where.
Finally remove the blade from the handle. it's held in place by a pair of plastic pins, it should be able to slide off of them once the saber is taken apart. The pins help keep the contents of the blade in place so I ended up cutting them off of the old saber chassis and gluing them into the blade to keep it together.
In the end you will be left with a blade that has a small circuit board in it, attached to a small 3 way switch and some wires.
Step 3: Plumbing, or making an awesome saber hilt.
The Pop-Up Drain, and the Extension tube. These two parts are magic. Just sticking the one on the other looks like a light saber. What I did was I removed the plastic and brass rings from the drain, and then wrapped a bunch of rubber bands around one end to build it up so I could squeeze the extension tube on and have it stay. There are lots of ways to do this, I just had a pile of rubber bands handy. You could use gaskets or taper or whatever. Now unscrew the bottom tube from the drain to make it easier to get into it.
Step 4: Wiring things to things and assembly.
So, I need to ask for your forgiveness here. I got so engrossed during this part I forgot to take any pictures. I'll do my best to break it down in parts and describe what I did. It helps to have some experience soldering, but it is a pretty simple job, if a bit fiddly. remember to tin your wires and always cut your heat shrink tube and slide it on the wire BEFORE you solder them together!
Note: the wires used in this saber are very thin and the connections to the boards are very delicate, be careful handling them or you might have to re-solder them.
1. Add some wire: We will need to extend the wires that led to the on/off button board, the sound cap, and the battery box. Remember that polarity is important for the battery box, I used black and red wire so I knew which was - and which was +. For the battery box and sound cap they should be at least a foot or so long.
2. Mount the blade: I wrapped black gaffe tape around the bottom of the blade till it was just a hair bigger diameter than the top of the drain. Then I slid the drain over it and twisted and squeezed it till it was jammed in place, you can see the black gaffe tape through the opening in the top half of the drain. The tape is right where the two pins went through.
3. The Button: Remember when we added extra wire to those wires that went to the button board? Now we use em. First check to see if your button will fit in the cap on the side of the drain, you may need to widen a hole or something depending on the button you picked. I had to widen the hole and the channel under it a bit with my dremel tool. The pipe looks like steel but it's actually coated brass and cuts pretty easily. Once it seems to have a good fit, thread the wires through the side pipe, and through the pipe cap and solder them to the terminal on the button (doesn't matter which, and don't forget to put your heat shrink on BEFORE you solder so you can slide it up to the join and shrink it in place with a lighter or something).
4.Battery case: If you have the blade mounted and the button in place, you should be able to take the long wires for the battery box and the speaker and run them through the extender/drain bottom and have them come out the other side, now screw the extender/drain bottom on to the drain and you should be left with a light saber with some wires hanging out the bottom. Make sure you have the 3-way selector in the position you want since it will be unreachable in the body of the saber. Take the two wires that lead to the original battery box (did you remember to label them?) and solder them to the new battery box (either buy a 3 cell AAA battery case or salvage one from a pocket flashlight like I did). At this point the light saber should light up when you press the button.
5. Speaker Cap: the size of extender tube I got fit the speaker cap PERFECTLY. I attached the wires to it, fed the battery box and all the excess wire into the handle, and then pressed the cap into the end of the extender tube, perfect fit, finally I screwed on the nut on the end of the tube.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
When you finished the previous step you had a Light Saber, but it was a little plain. Now you should take some time to personalize it and add some details. Glue bits of models to it, or reuse the Vader emitter from the toy. I chose to stick some rubber grips on it that I got from The Custom Saber Shop (they have a lot of nice bits).
I hope you have fun and end up with a cool light saber. This is a good way to start on the hobby of making more advanced sabers, and a pretty affordable build compared to most replica sabers.
Edit: If you'd like to make your own blade and even sound effects, check out this lightsaber Infographic:
May the Force Be With You