Can a lightsaber be made from wooden dowels? That was the random question that popped into my head while waiting for glue to dry on another project. A quick search on the brought results for wooden lightsabers turned on a lathe ... but could it be done with dowels? Also, I don't have a lathe ... but I do always have dowels.
Note: We're talking non-functioning lightsaber here. No lasers, no lights, no sounds ... just the shape.
The verdict ... Yes, you can indeed make a lightsaber with wooden dowels. I also used two metal washers (one 1" and one 2"), a scrap of 1/8" steel rod, and a scrap of square poplar stock.
I found a few nice pictures of Luke Skywalker's lightsaber from Return of the Jedi made myself a sketch on 1/4" graph paper (See above), so I could come up with a plan and a cut list, which I have listed at the end of this Instructable.
Dowel diameters used were 1/2", 3/4", 7/8", 1", 1 1/4", and 2"
Step 1: Cutting Grooves Into a Dowel
I started with what I considered to be the most complicated part to make [Part 9]. It's a section of the lightsaber with circumferential grooves cut into it, so that you get alternating high and low rings. There are nine grooves on the reference photos and schematics I've seen, but I ended up with eleven to fill the space. This could be corrected by adjusting the measurements and spacing, but since this was basically a proof of concept, I didn't worry about it.
My groove cutting method employed my small parts crosscut sled on the table saw. I used a Kreg miter slot stop block to set a definitive stopping point for the sled and set my desired blade height. My sled doesn't have an integrated ruler, so I temporarily attached a seamstress tape measure using clear packing tape. Lastly, I set the sled stop block to an arbitrary starting point.
Note: I cut these grooves in a long length of dowel and cut it to final length afterwards ... that's how I keep my hands at a safe distance. I would NOT do this with a short dowel.
Note 2: If you are uncomfortable with this method in ANY way .. DON'T do it. Just draw them on or something.
How I Cut The Grooves:
1. I advanced the sled into the blade until it bottomed out at the miter stop block.
2. I used my left hand on the far right side of the fence to hold the dowel against the back fence. Just enough pressure to keep it tight against the fence, but still rotate.
3. I used my right hand to spin the dowel until the groove was cut around the entire circumference.
4. Once cut, I'd back the sled away from the blade and turn off the blade.
5. Lastly I'd move my sled stop block 5/16" to the left and repeat the process.
What I end up with is 1/8" grooves with 3/16" spacing between them.
At this point the miter stop block was removed and the blade raised to I could cut this dowel to it's final length of 4 1/4".
Step 2: Cutting Dowel Lengths
The rest of the table saw work is just cutting severl dowel diameters to various lengths. As previously mentioned, I have provided a cut list at the end of this Instructable and the sketch in Step 1 also includes all the pertinent information.
The main concern is that you want all of your cuts totally straight ... so that when you check them with a combination square, the ends are perpendicular to the side. If they are off, the dowel will stand/sit at an angle on the drill press table and the holes will therefore be at an angle .. then when you put it together, things will look crooked. I used the stop block to keep the dowel from moving during the cut .. holding it against the fence with just my hand just wasn't accurate enough.
Note: Oneeasy solution for this would be to use a drill chuck on a lathe to drill all of the holes. Not only would it be way more accurate, but you could also drill blanks ahead of time and then just cut off rings as necessary.
Step 3: Drilling Dowel Holes
Since I don't have a lathe, I need to drill all my holes with the drill press ... so I need to mark all of the centers. To do this, I used my shop made dowel center finder.
Part 9 needed a 1/2" hole drilled 1/2" deep in it's "forward" or "top" end. To hold the dowel parallel to the bit, I used a scrap 2x4 with a hole drilled in it and clamped it to the drill press table. It's very effective.
Part 10 needed a 1" hole drilled 1/2" deep in both ends. You could use the same 2x4 method, but I was able to hold this one with my hand without it spinning and/or leaning.
All of the short dowel sections get a 1/2" hole drilled all the way through. I drilled half of the depth from each side to eliminate blow out. The 3/4" dowels kept breaking, so I ended up drilling them out with a 1/4" bit and then using a unibit/step bit in a cordless drill to enlarge the hole to 1/2".
Incidentally, I also used this unibit to enlarge the holes in the metal washers to 1/2". I held the washers with a pair of vice grips and the cordless drill in the other hand.
Step 4: Fabricating the Pommel
The pommel is the largest diameter dowel on the lightsaber. 1 3/4" would be ideal, but the big box store didn't have that, so I went with 2". I cut off a 3/4" length ... and had to use a clamp to help hold it to the sled due to weight.
After marking the center, I needed to find 6 equidistant points around the circumference. I did this by first setting my mini compass to a smaller radius than the dowel and drawing that circle. I then picked a point on this line and used the compass to intersect the line to the right and left. To get the three remaining points, I picked a direction (I like clockwise) and moved point to point.
The center through hole was drilled out using a 1 1/4" bit ... half way from each side to avoid blow out. I used an F clamp to securely hold it while drilling. If the bit grabs, it'll try to take the clamp from you ... keep a firm grip.
The six raised sections on the actual prop are isosceles trapezoidal in shape and while I'm sure I could come up with a jig to do that using my crosscut sled, it seemed tedious and unnecessary. Instead, I used the oscillating spindle stander to create arched grooves. I know what you're thinking ... "How did his OCD allow him to do that free-handed?" My desire to not build a jig trumped the OCD in this case.
The 2" diameter looked to big in respect to the other parts, so I used the oscillating belt sander to reduce the diameter closer to 1 3/4".
Step 5: The Glue Up
Overall, the glue up process is pretty simple. Here are a few quick tips gained from my experience:
1. It is beneficial to have a scrap board with holes drilled in it in case the parts need some persuasion with a mallet. 2. I found it easier to do two sub-assembles .. then the final assembly of four larger sections.
3. Don't put glue inside of the ring. Slide the part close to it's final location, put some glue on the dowel at that location, then slide the ring into place. It far less messy and you really don't need much glue anyway.
Sub-assembly 1 - The Pommel: Glue the pommel on to the bottom section of 1 1/4" dowel. [Parts 11 & 12]
Sub-assembly 2 - The Tip: Refer to the sketch in Step 1 for ring order and placement .. or just eyeball it you crazy animal.
Note: To keep the end washer in place, I used two part epoxy.
Final Assembly 1: Glue the Pommel [Part 11 & 12] into the main handle [Part 10]
Final Assembly 2: Glue the Tip Sub-assembly into the center section [Part 9]. I used a speed square and two sections of 1" dowel to ensure the parts were in the same plane (straight).
Final Assembly 3: Glue the top half into the bottom half.
Step 6: The Belt Hook
For the belt hook, I used 1/8" steel rod. I started in the middle and bent it until I had a narrow isosceles triangle. For the bottom angles, I held the long side with vice grips and made the bend with regular pliers ... because that's what I had. I had made marks, but it also worked out that I could just bottom out the triangle with the body of the vice grips.
Excess material was cut off using bolt cutters and I cleaned up the sharp ends with a file.
Step 7: The Control Panel
For the control panel, I just used a poplar scrap. To create the concave contour, I used the small end of the oscillating belt sander. It was attached with some wood glue and painters tape from light clamping pressure.
Note: The prop has the control panel a bit offset from the pommel ridge containing the belt hook.
I drilled the 1/8" holes into the pommel ridge with a cordless drill and squeezed the hook shut with channel locks - no adhesive.
Step 8: Finishing
The dowels were pretty smooth, so not much sanding was required ... especially if you are careful to clean up all the glue squeeze out before it dries. I basically just broke all the edges with 150 grit. It would be even easier if this was done prior to assembly.
My initial intention was a faux metallic finish using spray paint (aluminum, copper), followed by Rub-N-Buff. However, I thought the shade variation in the dowels was cool and since this was the prototype, I decided to leave this one natural.
I went with one coat of 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits to bring out the grain ... followed by two coats of shellac.
Step 9: Glamour Shots
You're ready to run around the house/office/neighbor hood with your new lightsaber .. quoting lines from the original trilogy .. maybe even from The Force Awakens. It's ok if people think you are a crazy, idiot, nerd ... just be you.
Truth be told, I started out making this for my friend's 4 year old son, but it ended up on my mantel. I'll be making a scaled down version for him with the faux metal finish in the near future.
Dowel Cut List [Parts numbered from left to right]
Part 1: 1/2" Diameter x 4" Length - Extra 1/2" for insetting
Part 2: 2" Fender Washer
Part 3: 1 1/4" Diameter x 1/4" Length - 1/2" through hole
Part 4: 1" Diameter x 1/2" Length - 1/2" through hole
Part 5: 3/4" Diameter x 1/4" Length - 1/2" through hole
Part 6: 7/8" Diameter x 3/8" Length - 1/2" through hole
Part 7: 1" Fender Washer
Part 8: 3/4" Diameter x 1/4" Length - 1/2" through hole
Part 9: 1" Diameter x 4 1/4" Length - Extra 1/2" for insetting & 1/2" hole drilled 1/2" deep in one end
Part 10: 1 1/4" Diameter x 4 1/4" Length - 1" hole drilled 1/2" deep in each both ends
Part 11: 1" Diameter x 2 1/4" Length - Extra 1/2" for insetting
Part 12: 2" Diameter x 3/4" Length - 1" through hole