Introduction: Con-safe Staff Technique

Big props are awesome. However, with the increased emphasis on con-goer safety, it is difficult to make large props while still meeting safety constraints. While unfortunate for the replica prop community (especially the gunsmiths. I feel for you.), it opens up new design challenges!!

When making large props for cosplay, it's important to keep safety in mind. Many cons are putting material restrictions on prop constructions in an effort to keep props safe while at the same time allow cosplayers to display their talents. With uneven enforcement at the door an unfortunate evil of affordable ticket prices, it becomes important to not only build props according to constructions rules but that are also demonstratively safe to the layman. All while balancing appearance and durability.

With an eye on doing a Gambit cosplay and wanting to wield his iconic staff, I thought I'd share the following technique of staff construction for a rigid staff. The trade-offs are listed below.


- Inexpensive

- Easy to make in an apartment

- SAFE!!

- Relatively durable and rigid


- Limited finishing options

- Seams can be hard to hide

- Will wear out over time

REMEMBER: Check with your con organizers before bringing your prop to the con. If you think it might be questionable, ask. Each con is handled differently.

Step 1: Materials and Premise

This build uses two consumable materials and two (optionally three) tools. You will need:

Card-stock or another stiff paper. But not too stiff, because you want it to bend before it creases. (~$7)

Aluminum tape or another finishing laminate. You could probably do some pretty cool stuff with a wood-grain or carbon fiber laminate. (~$7)

Scissors to cut the tape

PVC Pipe as a form. Pretty much any rigid cylinder with an internal diameter the size of your finished product will do. This won't be consumed. (~$3)

Dowel or any other stick. This is purely to push your card-stock out of the PVC when it gets stuck.


The basic idea of this technique is to use the spring force of rolled card-stock to hold a rigid cylinder, similar to how a balloon or a tire holds a rigid form from the air pressure inside pushing against the exterior walls.

Step 2: Building Each Section

Tightly roll a sheet of card-stock and insert it into the PVC pipe, letting it expand once it is almost entirely inside the pipe. The paper has a tendency to "cone", as there is no normal force keeping the paper from uncoiling. You can help rectify this by tamping on the end until all the sheet line up. The goal here is to try and create as uniform a cylinder as we can.

Wrap tape around the exposed end, making sure to maintain the circle enforced by the PVC.

Push (or pull) another section of the roll out of the pipe and tape along its length. Rinse and repeat until you've taped the entire roll.

Repeat this process until you have enough feet of cylinder to match the desired length of your staff.

Step 3: Capping the Ends

DISCLAIMER: I think that there are better ways of doing this, but none occurred to me prior to creating this instructable. If you've got better methods, please share!

Cut out a square of tape and place it on the end of one of your tubes.

Cut the tape into a rough circle (this helps remove material to prevent unsightly irregularities later).

Cut chases in towards the pipe, and then fold those pieces down. The more darts you cut, the smoother your circle will be. However, each connection will be weaker, so balance appropriately. While doing this, be careful not to deform the circle.

Wrap another piece of tape around the tube at the end to hide gaps and irregularities.

Do this once more on a different piece to create your two staff ends.

Step 4: Combining Pieces

On this step we'll begin combining smaller pieces together to create longer sections. Keep the next step Section Connectors in mind, as you don't want to build the whole staff this way.

Take two of your cylinders (make sure they aren't both ends. Won't make that mistake twice.) and a roll of card-stock. Put the roll of card-stock about halfway into one of the cylinders and let it expand. It will cone.

Don't worry about tamping the cone. Instead, put a small crimp into the end of the roll, decreasing the exterior diameter.

Slide the other cylinder over the crimped end, working it down until it meets flush with the other piece.

Wrap a piece of tape around the joint, fusing the two together.

Repeat until you are left with only 2-3 lengths of cylinder.

NOTE: This step has been the biggest point of failure in the final design so far, as the cylinders have a tendency to rotate around the joint, sheering the aluminum tape. Aluminum tape doesn't stand up to sheer force very well at all. It would help to shore up the joint with something like packing tape, but as always it is a balance between reinforcement and keeping your lines clean.

Step 5: Connecting Sections

This step is almost identical to the previous step, except these connections are designed to break apart. We do this for two reasons:

1. Portability. It is a whole lot easier to transport three 1.5-foot rods than one 4.5-foot rod.

2. Construction Demonstration at the checkpoint. You are much more likely to get your prop approved when you can break it apart and show that is is simply tape and paper, with no internal core.

Start like you did in step 3 by inserting a card-stock roll halfway into one of your section.

Wrap a piece of tape around both the roll and the tube where they join, holding them together. This serves the dual purpose of holding the roll in place while also serving to help disguise the joint when the pieces are joined. I've also put a small piece of tape around the end of the roll to help with longer term durability.

Put a crimp in the end of the roll to assist with joining.

Slide another section onto the roll and work it down until it meets flush with the first section. Repeat until you have a completed staff!

Step 6: Additional Notes

As you can see, the staff has surprisingly good rigidity. In the photo above, I am holding it by one of its ends and it is maintaining its form throughout the entire length.

This was a prototype, and I'm not that satisfied with the finish. It looks alright from 10-15 ft, but more care taken during the tape application steps would definitely lead a better finish. I also think that by using something like poster-board you could create longer section with fewer joints, leading to a straighter product. You can see in the pictures where one of the ends is a little crooked due to joinery.

The estimate cost of this project is ~$17 if you have to buy everything from scratch. That is enough material to make about 7 or 8 staffs, which means you can make several and pick the best. Since your unit cost is so cheap, if your prop gets denied at the door it's not as big a deal to just chuck it; you are only out the time it took to make.

If you've used this idea, or came up with a better technique, please share! Let make our props safe and awesome!

NOTE: Remember to police your props. Regardless of safety, no one likes getting smacked in the face with a cardboard tube. And as always, have fun!