Introduction: Wolverine Costume With Retractable Claws

This year's theme for Halloween was super heroes, so around the beginning of October I set out to design a Wolverine costume. The outfit is based on the X-Men movies, because it's a lot easier to look cool in black leather than yellow spandex. The claws I based on the comic books, with thin claw-like blades coming out of studs on the backs of my hands rather than knives coming out from between my knuckles as they did in the movies. That was both because I like the more animal look of the original and because it made it a lot easier to make the claws retractable.

Step 1: Grow a Beard

Step one: start growing a beard. Depending on how hairy you are, you'll want to leave anywhere from a month to 14 years to do this step. It can't hurt to start putting on muscles at this point too, but I find I grow hair a lot faster than I grow muscle.

Step 2: Painting the Jacket

Next, pick up a black leather jacket, black leather pants and gold fabric paint. I got a cheap jacket at Good Will, "Scribbles" 3D paint from Beverley's and already owned the leather pants.

For the front design I borrowed most heavily from the first movie, with this page as my main template. Starting with the second movie Wolverine loses the spiky design (which was a nod to his original comics costume) and gets a big X on his chest that I don't like as much. The more angular design on the arms I stole more from the third movie. All three movies have a really dorky back design, so I just made up my own for that. Don't forget the little "x"s on the collar and the bigger one in back.

For the belt buckle I just used a button maker and yellow and black construction paper, and attached it to the belt that came with the jacket using a strong rare-earth magnet. The color was a little cheesy looking in good light, but it worked fine in the dark.

Step 3: Retractable Claws (equipment)

Now for the claws, Wolverine's signature piece. I played around with a few plans for automatically retracting and extending claws (including a pulley-based system) but eventually went with a simple gravity-based system: flick your arm down and the claws extend, raise it up and they'll retract. They can be held in their current position by pushing your knuckles against the claws, either to block the end tubes or to hold the extended claws in place.

For each hand you'll need:

  • three tubes, about the length of your forearm. I used the plastic handles from some cheap pitchforks they were selling at the local Halloween store.
  • three metal-looking end tubes that are slightly smaller diameter than your main tubes. I used metal joiners from an old tent I had salvaged for last year's costume.
  • three wooden dowels that will fit into the main tubes
  • a Dremel tool or the like to shape your dowels to look like claws
  • metal foil tape or silver or chrome paint
  • three end plugs to close off the backs of your main tubes (I used a quarter-inch piece of PVC tubing)
  • two spacers to keep your claws separated (more pieces of PVC tubing)
  • black leather gloves
  • a piece of black leather (I salvaged some from a leather backpack that had finally fallen apart)
  • an old sock (any color)
  • and of course, duct tape

Step 4: Retractable Claws (claws)

Now take your wooden dowels down to the workbench and have at them with the course sanding tip of your Dremel tool. This is where the artistry comes in -- I started by flattening the bottom and bringing the top to a point, then smoothing out the edges until I had a kind of oval animal-claw shaped top. Then I brought the tip down to a rounded point, with a curve to the end to give the illusion of a slight curve to the claw even though it was actually straight until the tip. Here's the illustration that was my main inspiration.

As for technical details, you want the claw to just fit inside your arm tubes after you've added the stoppers to the back and the metal end tubes to the front. That will allow the claw to slide freely without having the front of the claw catch on the metal end tube, which is a smaller diameter and thus creates a slight ridge. Make sure the claw slides freely through the tube and end tube up until the last couple inches (you may have to sand it down so it will slide freely, and don't forget to account for any paint or foil you'll be adding). You'll want the last inch-and-a-half to two inches of the claw to be of larger diameter, big enough to pass through the main tube freely but too small to fit through the end tube. The transition should be abrupt, with a lip that will strike the inner tube head on. You can wrap electrical tape around the end of the claw until you get the necessary thickness.

Finally, make the claws silver. I used metal foil tape, which is kind of a pain to work with but makes for a great shiny finish. You can also use silver spray paint, though that doesn't give as nice a metallic look. (There's probably a good chrome paint out there that would also work, though I didn't look.)

Step 5: Retractable Claws (putting It Together)

Now splay your three main tubes out at a slight angle, place your two spacers between them to keep them angled slightly apart, and duct tape them in place. (Note: I found my spacers would occasionally pop out from between my tubes in spite of the duct tape; you might want to reinforce with Popsicle sticks or glue the spacers in place to avoid this problem.) Plug the metal end tubes into the tips of your main tubes. Make sure the end tubes are firmly in place, and most importantly make sure that they're straight so the claws still slide freely. Then tape the leather piece over the top of the main tubes so that it hides where the main tubes and end tubes join. The leather piece will come out of the jacket sleeve and lay on top of the glove. Finally, load your claws in through the backs of the main tubes, and plug and duct tape the back ends.

Step 6: Retractable Claws (wearing Them)

When donning your claws, first put the wider piece of sock / elastic band just above your elbow. I actually used the heal of the sock to fit around my elbow. Then put on the jacket, and slip the back of the claw apparatus down the sleeve and into the sock so it's held to the arm. Next, put on the glove and use the thinner piece of sock / elastic band to secure the base of the leather piece and apparatus itself to your wrist. If you've sized everything properly, the elastic band will be hidden by your jacket sleeve and the metal end tubes will be right behind your knuckles. My jacket had zip-up sleeves which helped secure everything in place.

Depending on your jacket you might find the claws make odd bulges at your elbow. If so, just tell people they're muscles ;-).

Step 7: Beard and Hair

Aside from the claws, the most recognizable thing about Wolverine is his hairstyle and mutton chops. In the comics Wolverine's hair and facial hair are often drawn to follow the same lines as his mask, with mutton chops following the sides of his mask and his hair tufting up in "wings" along the sides to follow the lines of his mask's horns. They toned that down in the movies (especially the first one), with Hugh Jackman sporting thick mutton chops and stubble / peach-fuzz for the rest of his beard rather than going for the hard line, and I went for something similar.

His hairstyle was also toned down for the first movie and got progressively more and more styled (see here for where it's gotten to now). For hair, I used serious "hair spike" gel and lots and lots of hairspray while my wife helped brush the sides of my hair into curls with a cylindrical brush. As you can see even then one of the curls didn't hold, but it still worked pretty well. The general cut is apparently called a "duck" cut, and was popular back in the 50s -- check out this page for detailed instructions on how to cut and/or style Wolverine hair.

Step 8: Resources

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