I wanted to make a weapon prop for a costume that I was making but it needed to have a few suitable qualities:
- Be safe for people to have a look at and handle
- Not be dangerous (i.e. won't cause damage to people if someone tried to stab someone with it)
- Look reasonably authentic
- Be able to be carried in a bag around a town. Yes, it could be classified as looking like a concealed weapon but it would be better than having a realistic looking and exposed weapon being carried around a town - this might attract far too much attention.
I went for a Morgul blade prop since it is a weapon that is used by the character I'm trying to emulate, it's small enough to be suitably portable and it's fairly easily recognisable. I could've made the sword that was used but replicas seem to range from 116cm (46") to 135cm (53"). This would be tricky to carry around town without getting a lot of unwanted attention.
Step 1: Gather Materials
The materials used for this include:
- EVA foam - I used a green, cheap camping mat
- Bamboo skewers
Other things that were used:
- Sharp fixed blade knife
- Straight edges / rulers
- Rotary tool (Dremel or similar)
- Needle files
- Sand paper
- Old soldering iron
- PVA glue
- Primer - Universal and grey colour
- Silver spray paint (glossy finish)
- Silver spray paint (hammered finish)
- Black spray paint
- Black and dark red acrylic paint
- Printer (can be a standard A4 printer)
- Pens / pencils
- Spray adhesive
- Hot glue
- The Internet for reference material (I don't think I've included any copyright material but if I have, the rights belong to the relevant owner.)
Step 2: Making the Full Size Pattern
I needed to make a shape that was the right shape and full sized. I looked around on the internet and found a good looking picture of the blade itself. From looking at unitedcutlery.com, I found out that their replica is 63.3 cm (25 1/8" long) overall. When I printed out the image I had found, I measured the length of the image to be 27 cm. Ideally, you'd want to print out the image to be full sized but I only had an A4 printer so I printed that out and scaled it to the correct size (as detailed below).
To transfer the image to a full sized, I first calculated the scaling factor I needed which was 63 cm / 27 cm. (i.e. wanted size divided by print out size = scaling factor). This gave me a value of 2 1/3. This meant that all the measurements from the print out needed to be multiplied by 2 1/3 to give the full scale version.
I taped 3 pieces of A4 together to make a sheet long enough to make the full size image. I drew an approximate center line down the page as a guide. I transferred the image by measuring the image size of the relevant detail, multiplied it by 2 1/3 and then drew onto the larger paper. Only do one side since it will save you a fair amount of time.
After I was reasonably satisfied with half of the outline, I folded the paper in half and then cut out the entire shape using the half I had marked as a guide. Unfolding the paper gave the complete shape. I copied across some of the detail so that I could get reference points of parts for future stages.
Step 3: Making the Foam Shape
Using the paper shape that was generated from the previous step, I used a felt tip marker pen to trace around the image and make the suitable lines. Using a fixed blade knife (best to use a new blade since using a blunt blade is a bad idea), I cut out the shape from the foam camping mat.
I made an approximate outline cut to make the rest of the cutting more easily manageable. When there was a smaller piece, I cut out the shape more accurately. I would recommend leaving a half to 1 cm extra material around the edge of all shape. This is so that if errors are made, they can be reshaped a little without changing the shape too much. If you cut it out pretty much perfectly, you can't afford to make any mistakes. Your ability could well be better than mine though so do as you wish.
After cutting out one shape, I found that the foam was rather flimsy so cut out another similar shape so that two pieces would be thicker and be less flexible. A simple test proved that I needed even more structure. To overcome this, I made a shallow cut into the inside of the foam and inserted bamboo skewers after I had removed the sharp ends. The points were removed so that the bamboo would not eventually poke out through foam and cause injury (i.e. when the prop is bent, it might wear at the inside section of the prop and eventually cut through if it were to be sharp).
Extra chunks of material were cut out to make more of a shape on the pommel and the hand guard.
Once all of the pieces were prepared, the whole thing was glued together using spray adhesive. It might have been ok to use contact cement but I wasn't sure if that glue would melt the foam to oblivion. Hence, I used some test pieces to see the effectiveness of the glue in sticking the foam together. Since it worked fine, that spray adhesive was used for joining all the pieces together.
Step 4: Shaping the Blade
I used the knife to shape the foam to be a fairly good match for the silhouette for the scaled drawing. Then, the Dremel was used to shape the foam. Bear in mind that rotary tool can shape the foam pretty easily but it can take away a lot of material very quickly, if you lose concentration. So, take it reasonably slowly and only take of a small amount of material at a time. I used a sanding drum for most of the shaping with the drum since it gave the best results for me.
If you don't take you time (as what happened to me), the Dremel caught on some of the material and took out more than I wanted it. I repaired a few of the minor mistakes with hot glue - be careful with this though since the heat of the glue can melt the foam if you're not careful. Since the final effect was to look like a battered blade, I wasn't too worried but it would be worth bearing in mind for next time. I would recommend using a slow speed since the Dremel seems to bite less if the speed is slower. If the speed isn't adjustable, jsut take care.
The shaping that I did to emulate the morgul blade included:
- Make two fullers on each side
- Put a bevel onto the edge of each side of the blade part
- Make the pommel into an egg shape
- Very carefully made three grooves into the end of the pommel (it's very easy for the Dremel to take out too much material here)
- Grind the guard into a smooth curve
- Carve out two sections of the center section of the hand guard
- Miscellaneous other aesthetics
After making a nice smooth shape, I realised that the original blade is pitted, worn and looks old. So after sanding the blade to look nice and smooth, I had to rough it all up again. I used a low grit sandpaper (I think it was 80 grit or coarse sandpaper) to roughen up the surface. I used the soldering iron with an old tip to make the surface more pitted.
Surface finishing (optional) - So that the paint would adhere better and not soak into the foam, I very carefully moved the foam over a flame to close the cells on the surface. The foam changes to a slightly darker hue and to a more glossy finish. Be careful though - not moving the foam quickly enough will burn the foam or possibly make it catch on fire. Either result is bad. It is possible to not do this step at all but you are likely to need more coats of paint in the later step.
Step 5: Adding Detail
To make the grip on the handle, I cut quite a lot of lengths of string to emulate the ridges on the grip. PVA glue was thinned down with a little water (about 5 parts glue to 1 part water). Each piece of string was then dipped into the glue and then laid onto the handle and wrapped around the handle. After all the strings were wrapped around the handle, more of the watered down PVA glue was put over the top of the strings and then that layer of glue was left to dry. The glue also helped seal the surface.
When the glue had dried, I noticed that the strings were no longer the right length. I think that when the glue dried, it shrunk the lengths. As such, I used a bead of hot glue to fill in the gaps at the end of the strings. It wasn't perfect but it was good enough.
Hot glue was also used at this stage to fill in any of the remaining gaps as shown in some of the above pictures.
Step 6: Painting
Primer was sprayed all over the surface of the prop and left to dry. Since the surface was moderately well sealed (from "Step 4: Shaping the blade"), only one coat of primer was needed and the grey was uniform across the surface. If you didn't do that bit, you will need a few coats of paint. Remember: several light coats give a better finish (and dry faster) than one thick coat.
I applied a silver undercoat which came out too bright. A hammered finish silver coat of paint on top of that gave a better finish. After that, a light misting of black paint over the blade part gave a better result but the pits were silver and the proud edges were black (you would expect the pitting to be dark and the edges to be shiny).
To get the effect I wanted, I emulated some dry brushing techniques. I sprayed some of the black paint onto a scrap piece of cardboard, picked up some of the paint with a fingertip and then rubbed it into the dents. Since the silver paint was reasonably shiny, it was easy to rub off the excess so that a black pitted effect remained. Using a similar approach for some of the silver paint, I highlighted the edges as if they had been almost polished by rubbing against other surfaces. I think I used the glossy silver paint for these highlights.
The above method was also applied (at a similar time) to the hand guard and the pommel.
After that was done, I painted the handle black by hand using a narrow brush. When it was dry, it didn't look very realistic. So, I mixed some red and brown acrylic paints together and then thinned it down a bit with water. This would almost make a wash that could be used to colour the handle to make it look more like leather. A piece of kitchen roll was lightly rubbed over the wet paint to make a more interesting texture It worked out fairly well on a test piece so I continued over the rest of the handle.
Step 7: Conclusion and Improvements
Overall, I am happy with how this has turned out. There are improvements I could make, if I were to make this again. These include (in no particular order):
- Using a heavier weight EVA foam (i.e. a search for "heavy duty gym mats" and the stuff with ovals on it) to be a bit more resistant to movement and flexing. Should remove the need for bamboo supports.
- Use the sleeving of electricity cabling instead of string to prevent it shrinking.
- Maybe using Plasti-Dip on the handle to make the string (or other material) less noticeable.
- Be more careful with the rotary tool so errors crop up less.
- Make the tip less pointy - it's already bent a little bit. This might be solved with denser foam.
There might be more but that's what I can think of for the moment.