Introduction: Manhattan Area Larp Sword Build
I will be taking you a sword build. This is hardly the only way to build a LARP safe sword, and in fact many larpers would probably point out that I am doing it wrong. However, Manhattan Area LARP has deemed this method safe and acceptable.
Our steps will be as follows.
1.) Gathering tools and materials.
2.) Putting it all together.
3.) Making it look pretty, or at least prettier.
Step 1: Step 1: Gathering Tools and Materials
The good news is that you only need three things in order to make a larp weapon, aside from tools and paints.
1.) EVA foam. For this type of build you will need both 1/2 inch thick and 1/4 inch thick. You can pick this up from most sporting goods stores, Walmarts, The Home Depot, or online. It is fairly inexpensive too, which is a plus.
2.) Fiberglass rod for use as a weapon core. For this particular build I could have used 3/8 inch thick, but I had 1/2 inch on hand, and that will work just fine. You can occasionally find the right size in a hardware store but ordering online is the safer bet. Just search for "fiberglass fence post" and that should get you what you need.
3.) Leather. Now you do not need a lot of this. It is mainly used to reinforce the tips of the core so that it doesn't push through the foam, though I also use it to reinforce in a couple of other places. I prefer using suede as it has a rougher surface for the glue to grab onto. I got the apron at Harbor Freight for around $12.
Now for the tools you will need or want. First the needed ones.
1.)Utility knife. You absolutely have to have this, and some extra blades wouldn't hurt either as the foam dulls the blades faster than you would imagine. You can find these at hardware stores and Walmart, as well as other places.
2.) Contact cement. I use DAP Weldwood, and I have never had any issues with it. Many others swear by Barge, but I have never tried it so I can't tell you if it is better. The only reason I have not tried Barge is because I can't find it locally, whereas DAP is available at The Home Depot in small jars and 1 gal cans.
3.) Straight edge. I guess this is not a need, but it sure beats trying to cut or draw a straight line by eye. I got both of the straight edges in the picture at Harbor Freight for pretty cheap. Definitely go with a metal ruler if you can, as you can cut directly against it without worrying about shaving into it.
4.) Dust mask. Now, I am putting this as a need, but you can get by without it, but after you start sanding, your lungs will thank you if you are wearing one of these bad boys. You can get them at most hardware stores as well as Walmart.
5.) Sandpaper. I used 80 grit exclusively for this project.
Now for the wants.
1.) Silicone caulk. This is used to fill any cracks or voids. You don't have to have it, but it does leave you with a better looking weapon.
2.) Detail sander (or any palm sander) and Dremel. Neither of these are needed if you are only making one weapon. However if you don't have at least the detail sander you will have to sand everything down by hand. There is a lot of sanding so if you don't have one, prepare to hate this project. If you are only going to buy one of these tools, make it the detail sander.
3.) Grinding wheel and sanding drum. If you don't have a Dremel you do not need this, if you do have one they are incredibly useful.
4.) Silicone-body-filler-spreader-thingy. Surprisingly that is not the official name of this tool. I use this to spread the silicone caulk to get nice, even coverage. You honestly do not need this, your finger will work fine, but I prefer this and it was cheap at Harbor Feight.
Finally, paints and paint like things.
1.) Plasti Dip or Leak Seal. These are used both to seal the foam and to provide a flexible base for your paint. I prefer Leak Seal, but Plasti Dip is cheaper and works just fine. Both of these are available at most hardware stores and Walmart.
2.) Acrylic paints. This is the best paint for foam weapons as it will flex when it needs to, and adhere to the base layer.
3.) Through the Roof. This is an unfortunate necessity. Unfortunate because it is a bit pricey. It is used as a clear coat over your paint job. Clear Plasti Dip will not work for this purpose. You can find this at Ace Hardware, or Tru Value, though you may need to order from their websites.
Step 2: Step 2: Putting It All Together
Turning all of the stuff you've gathered into a weapon is pretty easy to do, though it does take some time and practice. I honestly believe that it is more complicated to tell you how to do it, than it is to do it. But I will do my best to guide you through the process.
The first thing that you need to do, is to come up with your design. It doesn't need to be elaborate or fancy, just a basic sword shape (if you are making a sword) works just fine. You can see that mine is pretty rudimentary, but it gave me an idea of what I was working towards. I also jotted down approximate measurements of the whole thing. I thing that the blade is the only thing that ended up the size that I wrote down, everything else changed as I needed it to. This was more of a guideline than anything.
I then drew the blade shape out on my 1/2 inch foam. Normally I would have made a template on paper and traced it onto the foam to make sure everything was symmetrical but it was a simple shape so I just drew it freehand. When drawing it onto your foam go ahead and put it on the smooth side. For this project it will not matter. I used a Sharpy to put the shape on the foam. I recommend silver so you can see it on darker colors, though black works too. It is just a little harder to see.
From there I cut the blade out of the foam. Next was the first bit of sanding, to get most of the texture off of the "rough" side. You do not need to get the textured side completely smooth, you just need to get it close. Once that was done I determined how far from the tip I wanted the fiberglass core. The rules in our LARP state that there needs to be at least 2 inches of foam on top of the core if it can be used to thrust. I desided that left my core too close to the sides so I gave it four inches to the tip. Then, working backwards from there I was able to determine how long my core needed to be and cut it to the right size using a jig saw (I guess I should have put that in the tool list, sorry.) When cutting fiberglass it is best to wrap tape around where you are cutting to reduce the amount of dust you are creating.
Before moving further with the core and assembly, you need to cut out a small piece of leather to put on the end of the core. I cut mine into a fat "H" so that it can sit inside the channel for the core and I can still glue it to the foam to hold it in place. Just apply some contact cement to the end of the core and to the leather and affix them together.
Now I was able to cut out a center section that my core would lay in. I just measured it out and used my utility knife to cut it out. Then I secured it to the core using contact cement, making sure that the leather lays flat on the foam after it is all together. I then glued the leather to the foam.
Note: Allow me to take a moment to discuss the proper way to use contact cement in case you don't know. It is unlike other adhesives in that you apply it to both surfaces getting joined, then let it dry. After both pieces are dry you can stick them together. Fair warning though, you usually only get one shot at joining the two pieces. Once the glue touches it is joined. If you have to try again you may need to sand both sides down and start from the beginning.
Now that the center of the blade was together, I went ahead and designed the handle and cross piece. I decided in order to make it easier, to make them as one piece. As you can see, it is a simple design that doesn't take much effort to cut out. I then transferred the pattern to the foam and cut out three of them. After sanding down the "rough" side on all three I cut a center channel out of one of them to use as the central part of the handle. I then applied another piece of leather to the end of the fiberglass core and glued the center handle piece in place.
Following that I traced the blade onto the 1/4 inch foam twice, and sanded the "rough" side. Once the two blade pieces and the two handle pieces are ready, cut out another two pieces of leather to reinforce where the blade and handle meet, and glue one on to each side. After the leather is glued on go ahead and glue one blade piece and one handle piece to each side. While attaching the 1/4 inch foam you may discover that the heat caused by the friction of sanding has enlarged the piece. This is fine, you just have to trim the excess off once it is glued to the rest of the sword.
After all the pieces are glued together you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Step 3: Making It Look Pretty, or at Least Prettier...
The first thing I do at this point is to clean up the ugly edges. This gives me a better starting point when I start shaping the blade to make it look more like a blade. This is done by sanding at a slight angle, just enough to give it the proper shape, but not so much that I end up sanding the center piece of foam. You want to leave the center piece as un-sanded as possible so that you have a thick enough striking surface. The thicker the striking surface the less it will hurt whoever you strike.
Disclaimer: Yes, there will be some degree of pain inflicted on your opponent, depending on how hard you strike them. The goal is to minimize that pain to a manageable level, but mostly you are trying to not cause any real harm.
Once you have the blade shaped it is time to focus on the handle and pommel. Both require some patience and practice to get them rounded. I suggest taking your time getting the shape right. Do not go too thin or the foam will not hold up. It might be best to practice rounding a few pieces of scrap foam glued together before you attempt it on your sword. Just take your time and do a little bit at a time and you will have it down in no time.
After all of that sanding you will almost be done. This is when the grinding wheel on the Dremel comes in handy. If you lightly run it across everything that you have sanded up until this point it will smooth it back out, removing the fuzzy texture that the sand paper left. If you do not have a Dremel you can use a very fine grit sand paper instead, though I am not sure how fine you would need to go to achieve a smooth texture.
Once that is done you are finally done with sanding. Go ahead and do a little dance to celebrate, you've earned it.
Step 4: Step 4: Painting
Unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperating lately, so I have not been able to paint this sword. This will just be a quick overview and I may do more in depth instructions at a later date.
Step 1:) This is where the silicone caulk comes into play. Fill any cracks or seems that you can find. Let it dry about an hour and then go over it again, you may have to reapply a couple of times, but it is worth it. Once you have everything even, allow it to dry overnight before moving on to Step 2.
Step 2.) Paint the entire thing with Plasti Dip/ Leak Seal. Make sure you cover it everything. Don't try to get it too thick on the first coat, do multiple coats instead. Let it dry and cure for about a week before moving on to Step 3. This may be a bit too much, but I prefer to be too cautious when it comes to this.
Step 3.) Paint with the acrylic paints. Go crazy, try new things. If it doesn't look the way you want, just paint over it. Have fun. Then allow to fully dry before moving on to Step 4. Again I like to be cautious and allow it to dry overnight.
Step 4.) Apply the Through the Roof. Follow the directions on the bottle and apply evenly over the entire piece. Allow it to dry then apply another coat. Repeat until you feel comfortable. Again, allow it to cure for at least a week.
There you go, you have now finished your sword. Admire your new creation, then get out there and hit somebody with it. That's the whole reason you made it anyway.