So what's LARP?
LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing and involves putting on a character and playing a role in a usually unscripted dramatic storytelling that can involve magic, mayhem, swords, post-apocalyptic and may other themes. For most of us, is a fantastic form of escapism from everyday life. They can take different forms (parlor and boffer games being two of the largest) and are participated in across the globe.
Getting started with LARP kit can be an expensive and absolutely daunting process. Your character ideas change, kit is super expensive and, if you have no previous crafting experience, the idea of making your own gear can be absolutely daunting.
This tutorial aims to provide you with the instructions and know-how to make a basic RBG, or Rubber Band Gun pistol, that can be assembled in under an hour, and on a budget. You are expected to have basic woodworking skills (sanding, sawing, drilling, etc) and access to certain tools. If you don't have the specific tools listed, look for a local woodworking group, or a maker space that might be able to help you.
This tutorial provides you with essentially a blank canvas that can be converted to almost any character design, and also gives you a starting point to springboard into other shapes by using the same basic technique, like rifles, handgonnes, etc. This pistol design passes the basic safety requirements for all the Australian LARPs I have access to, however it's important that you check with your own group's guidelines to make sure this fits with their safety requirements. Swordcraft, for example, require RBG's to have flintlock-style side plates attached. Modifications to suit your group should be able to be made to this design with minimal fuss. If you have issues, please feel free to shoot me a message and I may be able to help.
This pistol is light, compact and -above all- cheap to make. It is a practical option for players on a budget, those who want to create their own gear, or those who aren't quite certain if they want an RBG and want to see how they feel. It can be stained, painted, burned, and even sculpted on to a degree, allowing you the most options for truly customizing it to your character. Most importantly, it gives you an important look into the world of how they're made, meaning you're better able to care for your own items, spot defects and potential damage before it becomes an issue, and know what you want out of an RBG should you decide to upgrade further down the line.
Note: There are optional steps at the end of this tutorial for adding a metal barrel to your RBG, as well as making and using a 2-piece trigger assembly. These require specific tools and are moderately difficult. Make sure you read through the whole tutorial first to decide which steps you want to follow before starting any project using these instructions.
Note: This is an image-heavy tutorial. Please take the time to look at all the pics carefully as they'll help you along your way. As ever, please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or suggestions you might have!
If you are interested in just making the bands for your RBG, please follow this link.
- Pine plank, 30mm thick. Anything over 30cm long and 15cm wide should do. For those making their own model, the length and width really depends on your design. You can use other types of wood for this project, but hardwood can be heavy and unwieldy. Don't use pallet wood, use new lumber only, otherwise you're going to have a hell of a time sanding everything down. If 30mm isn't available, opt for thicker, rather than thinner.
- Aluminum or HDPE sheet, 3mm thick. A piece 10x10cm should do you plenty for a single or a two piece trigger, and a decorative side plate.
- Saw - Electric jigsaw or a hand saw will do
- Sander, or sandpaper in 240 and 800.
- A drill
- 2mm and a 5mm drill bit.
- Files and rasps
- 2mm nail
- A metal punch marker
- Scroll saw
- Metal or nylon washers that will fit over your 2mm nail.
- Dremel with a wood-cutting bit
- A router or laminate trimmer with a round-over bit
- Aluminum for any side plate or decoration
- Dremel cutting disk
Necessary for the metal barrel mod:
- A cove box bit the dimensions of your barrel for your router
- Gal or aluminum pipe for a metal barrel (and an optional dowel to fit inside your pipe)
- Screws deep enough to hold your barrel on to your RBG
- (Optional) Matching wood putty, or Dremel with a wood-cutting bit
Necessary for the 2-piece trigger:
- A small piece of aluminum rectangle tube as linked, or similar. The width of your tube must be able to fit into the RBG body, and must accommodate internally the width of the sheet you're using for the trigger.
- Two screws to attach your casing to the RBG
- Your sheet of 3mm material for the triggers - aluminium, steel and HDPE will all do here
- 3 2mm nails
- A small spring (pictured at the end of the tutorial)
- Side cutters
- A hammer
- Small pliers
- Washers that will snugly fit your nails
- Another Dremel cutting disk
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Step 1: Design
So the design shown in the pictures is the 'Privateer' model we make here at Black Dragon Bespoke (find us on Facebook!). It's a neat little design, loosely based of old flintlock pistols. It's got a good weight, sits comfy in the hand, and is easy to cut out thanks to straight lines and the lack of complex curves.
If you're making this for yourself, you're more than welcome to use our design. We do ask that you don't replicate our designs exactly if you intend on selling them, as this is our livelihood, and what allows us to put food on the table, and bring you awesome tutorials!
If you're making your own pistol design, what's important to remember is that your barrel MUST be straight, from the point where you set your trigger/release, to the tip. There must also be no obstruction. When bands fire, they tend to spread outward, and a little upward as they fly, so keep this in mind. You can theoretically make your barrel any length, but the longer the barrel, the longer the band, and the longer the band, the more air resistance it will experience so it will potentially fly slower. Shorter RBGs tend to be more accurate. The draw of the band, however, is dictated entirely by how much material you use in the band itself (which is in another tutorial of ours), so we've had short pistols with super firm draws that hit hard, and long rifles with squishy soft draws that feel like being hit with a wet rag.
Also remember that some LARPs have rules on maximum weapon length, type, etc. Otherwise, you have a wealth of designs to choose from, if you're basing it off a historical design, or just making something fun!
The little divet at the back of the gun is for our trigger/release mechanism. If you're not certain how that works, I advise reading through the tutorial first so you get the feel of the way it all goes together. If you're making the exact design we have here, using the mechanism as provided will be fine. If you're making your own custom design, the depth of the RBG will dictate how long your trigger piece will need to be.
So, let's get started.
Pick your design and trace it onto the wood. I always have my RBGs going with the grain of the wood for strength, and looks. I also tend to use the straight lines of the lumber to make my job a little easier, and line them up with the barrel if I know they're straight.
Cut your design out using your saw. If you're equipped, a scroll saw makes piecemeal work of difficult curves.
Step 2: Shaping
Once you have your flat shape, you're now going to want to round those edges. At a minimum, making sure there are no sharp corners is a pretty big priority for a LARP-safe RBG, otherwise, consider comfort and ease of use. Rounder edges are always going to be better in your hands in the long run - you don't have to get them completely round, but move away from that solid ninety-degree angle, at the very least on the grip area.
If you're lucky enough to have access to that laminate trimmer or router, here's where your round-over bit will come in handy. The size of the bit is really down to personal choice. Otherwise, get to work with those rasps, files and that sandpaper.
You don't need an exact finish quite yet as there will be ample opportunity to get a clean finish on it after we're done.
Step 3: Making Your Trigger
This style shown here is a single-piece trigger. It works by having the point of rotation around a nail that is placed through the hole visible in the top right corner of the trigger. So if we were to pretend that the piece were in a RBG, the band would be pulled from off screen on the right-hand side, and it would hook over the largest bit of the trigger at the top, and that's how it would stay until fired. When fired, the hump on the left of the trigger would move upwards as the trigger is pulled (and it rotates around that pivot point), pushing the band upwards and firing it.
Trace it on your aluminum or HDPE, and cut it out. The design doesn't have to be millimeter perfect, near enough should be good enough, so long as it has all the primary features. Use the 2mm drill bit to punch the hole as shown. Marking your hole with the metal punch beforehand will save you a LOT of tears.
File/sand the edges down, especially on the inside curve of the trigger where your finger will sit, and the little top-left corner where the band will sit.
Step 4: Drilling the Trigger
You're going to want to mark the centre line of your RBG body. Make sure you get it as close as possible, because this will impact the fit of your trigger.
Now that you have your trigger piece, what you want to do is sit it on the side of the RBG and line up the dip where the band sits with the divet on the RBG, making sure it lines up with the FRONT of the dip. It should fit right on, or beneath, the body of the RBG itself when the trigger is at rest. The pic shown has the trigger at the firing position, though still properly aligned.
You're going to want to mark out the area your trigger will occupy inside your RBG body by grabbing that 2mm nail, pushing it through the drilled hole and very gently into the wood. Using that nail as a pivot point (whilst still aligned with the divet) pull the trigger back until the 'lump' at the back of the trigger would realistically push upwards in that divet, thus allowing the band to fire. Make a mark on the RBG body as to how far backwards the trigger would need to move to fire, and add half a centimetre for wiggle room.
I generally go up to 2cm back from the bottom of the divet, and up 4cm forwards, and find that this works well for most arrangements.
Mark everything out, and double check it!
Once you have everything marked, you're going to want to drill a series of 5mm holes along your centre line, between your front and back markings. This can be a little difficult in the divet itself, so make sure you're going straight up and downwards. This will be the start of your trigger setting.
If you're lucky enough to have access to that Dremel and the wood cutting bit, go ham and remove
the centre area of wood as shown. If you're doing it manually, continue trying to drill out the area until most of mass is gone.
Grab your files and clean out the area until it's as straight and clean as you can manage. Having straight sides is an absolute must at this point.
Step 5: Fitting the Trigger
Using that mark you've made earlier when fitting the trigger, grab your 2mm drill bit again and drill through your RBG body at that point, but only about 3/4 of the way through.
This will give you your mounting point for the trigger. Now that you have the centre drilled, put your trigger inside the RBG body, and push the nail through the hole you just drilled, through the trigger and into the hole on the inside wall, but do the last part gently as you will need to remove this again.
Test the fitting of the trigger and check the pivot point. At this point, you may want to employ the use of your washers. When fitting, I generally try to get two washers on either side of my trigger piece, and find it not only helps it sit straight (especially if your walls aren't properly straight) but also provides some really smooth movement when you give them a squirt of lubricant, too.
Once you've gently pieced it together, give it a move. Does it sit right? When you 'fire' the RBG, does the trigger rise into the divet? If the answer is no, go back and refit that bad boy. If you're in a pickle, you can fill that drilled pivot hole with some wood filler, and re-drill it once it cures.
If yes, well done. The hard part is over. Pull your RBG apart and set the bits aside.
Step 6: Sand Everything
Start with 240 sandpaper (or don't, I'm not your dad), paying close attention to where you've rounded the edges and the handle. They're most likely to have burs and rough edges, especially if you've used a router or laminate trimmer.
Work your way across the RBG until you're happy with the finish, and then hit it with the 800 grit. You can, of course, work your way up higher, or slower through the grits, but I generally find that, by the time you've gone over everything with the 800, it's very smooth, and incredibly comfortable to use.
Step 7: Staining, Painting, Etc
So at this point, you can go a little wild with decorating.
There's a lot to be said for a bit of linseed oil and a cloth if your sanding job is neat, otherwise you can paint, stain, drill, ect. to your heart's content. Wood stain works really nice over pine, and if you slap on a bit of base coat, you can also spray paint and then seal the RBG body in any colour you like.
If you have that dremel handy, you can engrave designs into the body. If you have a small saw, this is where you can add your side plates and any cutwork you want to punish yourself with.
If you want to paint your designs on the side, acrylic paint will do the job, just make sure you seal it once its completely dry.
If your LARP group requires you to have a flintlock sideplate, now is the time to add it. Just ensure that it's significantly low enough that the band won't snag on it whilst firing.
Step 8: Finished Product
Now that your RBG is all pretty and dry, go and replace the trigger piece, washers, nail, etc. and hammer it in properly this time. To seat the nail, what I normally do is hammer it through the other side until the head is pressed firmly against the barrel, nip the end off with a set of side cutters, and then peen it over. If you're using a shorter nail, just hammer it all the way in.
The one thing you need to make sure is that there are no sharp or pointy edges that are going to snag costumes or hurt people.
Once that's all sorted, you'll have yourself a functioning RBG!
Now you'll need to go and make yourself some bands to fire out of that bad boy. Go and jump to the tutorial for bands over here.
The next two steps are optional additions to the design and are not necessary for a functioning RBG. If this is your first attempt at making one, I highly suggest sticking to the base tutorial to get a good feel of how it's all supposed to work before tackling the more advanced steps, as they require significantly more skill, and more specialised tools.
Step 9: Optional: Add a Metal Barrel
This step can be completed anywhere up to just before painting or staining your RBG, though it is highly suggested that you have your trigger fitted first so you know how much room you have for a barrel. This is doubly important if you are using a 2-piece trigger.
This part of the tutorial assumes you are competent in using a router.
Start by measuring the length of the RBG stock that you have to work with; that will dictate most of your barrel length. Ultimately, your barrel can be any length, but I will draw your attention back to the earlier point that shorter = more accurate. In this example pictured, the barrel only stuck out a few centimetres past the body of the RBG, and that's more than enough for it to look good and maintain function.
One thing that is worth noting is that, if you're cutting a notch in your barrel for the band to sit, give yourself an extra few centimetres than what you'll need for the last step. Worst case scenario, you can trim it off when you're finished.
Once you've decided how long your barrel is going to be, cut your pipe. We have access to a band saw here that made quick work of it. Make sure you wear adequate PPE, especially if you're using galvanised steel pipe. If you're fitting a wooden dowel inside your barrel, now is the time to cut it to size and squeeze it in. You shouldn't need to glue it, but if you do, a bit of 2-part epoxy works well.
Grab your RBG and mark out the centre line down the body. Now mark where your barrel is going to start.
Set the barrier for your router or laminate trimmer so that the centre of your cove box bit is bang on that middle line. It's worth making a mark on the outer side of the RBG so you know how far back you go, once that mark is removed from the top. It can also be hard to see with the top of the tool obscuring it most of the time.
Start at a really shallow depth and slowly work your way down, pass by pass. The tool is going to want to pull away from the centre line, so take it slow and steady. You can see in the pics that we made several passes with our router before we got to the desired depth. After each pass, take a moment and check the depth relative to your barrel. We prefer ours set quite deep, so that's what we went with.
Once you've hit your desired depth, you have two options:
- Grab your Dremel and the wood-cutting bit, and square off the end of that channel you've just made so the pipe can sit flush against the inside, nearest to the trigger.
- Get some wood putty, and fill that little gap.
Ultimately, it just depends on how anal you are about the finished product; it has no real impact on the overall function of the RBG.
Once that's sorted (if you're using putty, wait for it to dry, obviously), recheck the fit. If you're happy with it and are ready to secure the barrel, flip your RBG over so you're looking at the underside of where the barrel will be sitting. Mark your two pilot holes - it doesn't really matter where they are, so long as the drill will go into the barrel on the other side, but not through. You can see how we've spaced ours from the pics. Drill those out with whatever bit corresponds to the screws you're using. My personal preference is to drill them out twice - once for the pilot hole, and once to recess the screws INTO the RBG. That way, I can choose to fill those holes with putty at a later date.
Screw that barrel in, admire your work, and have a cuppa.
If you're adding a notch in the end for your bands, you have a few options.
- Simply cut yourself a little wedge, and sand that down.
- Get yourself a rasp and some elbow grease and go to town.
- Grab a big drill bit, punch your hole, and actually drill through the barrel, just far back enough that the metal barrel surround the hole on all sides. Grab your saw, and cut the very end bit off, leaving yourself with a nice half-round notch in the end.
Whatever method you pick, you NEED to sand your barrel. Nothing will chew through your bands faster (or pose a bigger safety risk to another player) than sharp edges or jagged metal on the end of your barrel. Just take those edges off, smooth the curves out and you're done!
Have a look at the last step if you want to add a 2-piece trigger to your RBG.
Step 10: Optional: Two-piece Trigger
Apologies in advance. This section is quite long, but it needs to be kept together.
So in terms of materials for your trigger mechanisms, we've got a preference for stainless steel and aluminium, however there's nothing stopping you using HDPE or another hard-wearing and thin material. If you're working out of HDPE sheet, you may want to consider using sheet more than 3mm thick, and also scale your rectangle pipe accordingly.
To start, your entire mechanism will fit neatly inside the pipe, henceforth referred to as the casing, as pictured. Some parts of this process need to be highly accurate to enable firing, and others can be a little more slapdash, but please read through this section of the tutorial in full before starting anything.
Start by laying out your sheet and marking down your pieces. Pictures one and two give you a good look at a widely-used style of trigger mechanism. By and large, the overall structure of your two-piece design can vary, however they do require several main components, should you wish to design your own - the trigger piece for your finger and a square edge on your bottom piece, and both a 'lock' point that slots into said square edge and a release point for the band on your top piece. The design provided has been tried and tested in the LARP community, across many different makers and groups, and is not our own design.
Unfortunately we derped and forgot to take pics of the two-piece parts against a ruler, rather enthusiastically putting them to good use, but we'll update this once we get our next batch cut out in hopefully a month or so. The trigger casing is about 7cm end-to-end, with the larger trigger piece being roughly 5cm, and the smaller about 3cm. Again, the overall dimensions of the pieces do not matter hugely, so long as they have the ability to lock together, which will be explained below. I have, however, provided a .png of the pieces used. If printed without scaling on A4 paper, it will give you the exact pattern required. Disregard the loop at the top of the image.
- Marking out your design, cut your pieces out as accurately as possible. Make a point of keeping the edges as straight and as square as possible, as this will assist with them locking together later. You can go over the edges with a mild sandpaper to remove any dangerous surfaces where the finger will rest on the lower trigger piece and where the band will sit on the upper trigger piece, but avoid sanding anything that needs to make contact.
- If you're replicating the mechanism as shown, you'll require a 7cm long piece of the rectangle tube. Mark and cut.
- Now you'll need to remove sections of the tube as shown. Have a close look at the 5th picture - you'll be removing a rectangle on one side and an L shape on the other, but do not remove the remaining bottom middle section, or cut off the top shelves. When we cut these out, we generally try and take it as close to the top inside edge of the pipe as possible, as you can see in the pic. These top 'shelves' will become the attachment points to our RBGs, so keep them tidy, and file them back if you need to.
- On the 6th picture, you can see we've marked two holes. What's hard to see is that these holes are on those little shelf pieces we've just made, but as close to the body of the casing as possible. Drill those two holes out, and then fill the area between them with more. What you're doing here is starting to cut out the middle section where your trigger mechanism will sit.
- Use your Dremel cutting disk, rasps, files and good old elbow grease to clean out that middle section until you have something that resembles the 8th picture. Your lines should ideally be as straight as you can make them, as any material that's left in the way will impact on the trigger movement. Just make sure not to eat into the wall of your pipe.
- Next, take a look at pic 9#. You're going to want to drill three holes, one in the top middle, one mid right, one low left. The placement of these is important, but can always be tweaked when we get to the mechanism. All three holes should be the diameter of your nail, since that's what we're sticking through them.
- Now, direct your attention back to the first picture. Notice the three holes in the trigger pieces? Try to match them as closely as possible. Again, with the same drill bit because we're sticking nails through these, too.
- Using the 10th pic as a diagram, assemble your trigger! Make sure everything is facing the right way, that it locks in and releases. It'll be best to this with the mechanism lying flat, with the nail heads underneath it, because we don't have any washers in there right now to make sure they're spaced correctly if it's standing upright. Remember that it releases the band forwards so you'll want to put forward pressure on the release pin at the top whilst pulling the trigger. Now, you might find that your casing has bent in while drilling the holes, depending on how enthusiastic you are. The best way to fix this is to slide enough junk in between the pieces, and then beat it flat again with a wooden mallet, but use whatever method you have available. Just make sure that those 'free' edges are as parallel as possible. This goes without saying, but disassemble your mechanism before you reshape the casing, yeah?
- Once that's sorted, you'll want to drill the hole at either end of the shelves as pictured. This will be how we attach it to the body of the RBG. Chamfering the holes here is a good idea, as protruding screws are a potential hazard, and unsightly.
- Now if you haven't already taken your casing apart, do so now. Grab your bottom trigger piece, and the spring. I've attached a picture of the one we use, but so long as it's fairly hard and small enough to fit into the space provided, it'll work. Soft springs like those found inside pens will not work. Unfortunately, the trigger design shown changes at this point in the tutorial due to what we had available while making this, but the instructions do not. Using the lower hole on your bottom trigger piece, you'll want to securely attach the spring. I usually do it by way of bending two of the loops out of alignment and hooking them through the hole, kind of like a jump ring. Just ensure that it's secure. Using glue, or soldering it on is not recommended, due to the flex and tension that it will be under.
- Assemble your mechanism in the casing again. Using a pair of thin tweezers or pliers, secure the other end of that spring to the unused nail in the casing, and test the fit. This point can require a bit of fiddling to get the tension right. Ideally, you want the trigger to be springy, not spongy, and for the band release to be pushed back to ready-to-fire position with a satisfying "click". You may need to cut your spring. With the one we use, I can get two trigger springs from one purchase as I cut them in half.
- At this point, all you have left to do is to use the side cutters, or a saw, to cut your nails down to a little above the casing, and to peen them over neatly. You will want to place your casing on a metal surface so the nails don't move while you peen them over.
- From there, it's simply a matter of creating a recess into your RBG body for the shelves to sit, and screwing it in. You'll still need to follow the other RBG steps in order to create a space for the trigger casing, just make sure you do it with enough space to accommodate the rectangle pipe.