Introduction: Starlord Belt Buckle - Making Custom Belt Buckles
With the recent release of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I have been putting together a Starlord (Peter Quill) cosplay. The unique belt buckle sported in the movie proved to be a fun project! Though I am setting out to create a semblance of the one worn by Peter Quill, I realized that creating your own custom belt buckle is a simple and relatively effortless project. With the right equipment, creating your own designs is a rewarding experience.
I have put together what I consider to be a pretty good semblance of what is resembled in the movie, however certain details are lacking, particularly the beat up look it has, though I figure I can just wear it and let the beat up look come about naturally.
What you will need:
- A used belt buckle of similar shape (I got mine at a flea market for 2$)
- Large gauge copper wire (5mm wide, 3mm high)
- Metal Epoxy
- Metallic Spray Paint
- Various grits of sandpaper (60,200,320)
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Step 1: Choosing the Best Approach
When it comes to creating various costume items or props, I favour the approach that results in the most durable end product. In this case, I wanted a belt buckle that could withstand being worn continuously, developing its own worn out look over time. Various materials and techniques could have been used to achieve more accurate detailing (ie: 3D printing) however I was set on it being made entirely out of metal.
That being said, I wandered the local fleamarket to find a used belt buckle and came across the Quebec one, pictured above. My initial plan was to use the buckle as the base and to cut out and weld on a plate of steel or similar size and engrave all the detailing into that. This plan quickly died, however, given that I was poorly equipped for precision detailing out of steel plate. The belt buckle is also too thin to reliably weld anything to. As any project goes through its series of versions before converging on the successful approach, I figured I would add in the images of this approach as a learning tool.
Reasons why this planned failed:
- Belt buckle too thin to weld to
- Difficult to precisely detail thick plate metal with a dremel tool
- Negotiating the curvature of the buckle with thick steel plate is difficult to approximate
- The resulting belt buckle would be far too thick if above steps actually succeeded
My next approach was then to add the detailing to the base of the buckle incrementally. For this, I required something that was easily manipulable and could affix to metal via a strong bond. Large gauge copper wire and metallic epoxy fit this description and became the material of choice.
To those wishing to customize their belt buckles, I recommend choosing a material that can be roughed around quite a bit with little to no wear, given that clearing off extra epoxy results in beating up the buckle a bit and any material that cannot take the force will likely be ruined. Lighter gauges of wiring could certainly be used if applied with care! If you have tried anything similar, please let me know in the comments! :)
Step 2: Preparing the Buckle Base
The first step was to grind down the face of the belt buckle to start anew. Be sure to wear appropriate safety equipment and having a good grip on the buckle when working with the grinder. The metal becomes extremely hot so it is helpful to hold it in a set of pliers.
Once the face is complete, you can sand it down with a coarse grit sandpaper to get an even surface (I used 60 here). In the image above you can see the resulting buckle as well as the epoxy I used and the coil of heavy gauge copper wire.
You can get and idea of what the buckle should like once ground down as well as the epoxy and copper wire I used in the image above.
Step 3: Measuring Out Your Detailing Pieces
Whatever your design may be, it is crucial to have your idea mapped out to avoid mistakes down the line. In my case, I required two evenly spaced parallel lines. Off of these, I needed three shorter and thinner lines that sat over these parallel lines. To achieve this, I simply turned the copper wire on its side.
I have included basic dimensions of what my belt buckle was based around, though these are only approximate values since the thickness of the materials you use will alter this, and in the end, I relied on how the pieces came together, more than on the exact dimensions. The major concern is ensuring everything is equally spaced from one another and that all pieces are parallel. The moment a piece is off just a bit, you will be able to tell immediately. Be sure to take the time and care to get this right!
Step 4: Preparing the Copper Detailing Pieces
Start by cutting out an approximate size of copper wire. For this project, I need two longer ones to span the buckle and then 6 smaller ones. Its important that you try to keep the pieces as straight as possible as you work with them (Grinding, sanding, manipulating) ans so you can use a hammer and flat surface (I used the flat/anvil part common to most table top vices) and simply tap them to take out the curves, with a hammer.
For each of the longer pieces, I ground down the upward facing ends to round them and then sanded them down to fit. To get the smaller pieces to overlap the longer ones, I used the edge of my grinder wheel to cut into the copper and leave about a milimeter of overhang. To then follow the curvature of the buckle and to curve the overhang downwards to fit snugly against the longer piece, I used the vice again, leaning the copper piece upside down over the open ends and tapping into the center to curve it. See the pictures to get an idea of how to do this. Be sure to take your time with the detailing of these pieces as they will make all the difference.
The first time I was working though this detailing, I left the pieces largely unfinished and instead epoxied everything together and figured I'd finish the detailing on the grinder later and sand everything down. As most people know, copper is very conductive of heat and as it turned out, the heat generated by grinding was more than enough to boil the epoxy and all the pieces ended up falling off. So I instead detailed them to completion, and left the fine tuning by sanding to the end, once they had been reset with epoxy.
Step 5: Epoxying Everything Together!
Mix together your metallic epoxy and then lay in your initial pieces. I started with the longer parallel pieces to ensure a solid base to then epoxy the smaller ones onto. Once set, use a sharp edge to scrape away some of the extra epoxy. For this I used the tip of a drill bit, running it along the edges. This helps clean up the look significantly!
This is the part of the project where the choice of materials is key. The high gauge copper wire can handle the rough scraping away of epoxy. Thinner or lighter materials may not fare so well.
The side pieces should be detailed so that they fit onto the parallel piece perfectly. Then epoxying them down sets them into place. Again, be sure that the alignment is accurate!
Step 6: Sanding Down and Painting!
Once the epoxy is set, you can sand down the edges with the various sandpaper grits. Try to scrape away as much of the epoxy as you can and get into the little cross grooves. Once you are satisfied with the result, you can give it a coat of metallic finish spray paint (I used the metallic finish pictured above which I had left over from various Steampunk projects)!
Step 7: Be One Step Closer to Guarding the Galaxy!
And that's it! Get your favourite belt and set it on! You can now wear your own creations and its adds a nice touch to your cosplay! I love mine for the fact that it is entirely metallic; I don't have to worry about it getting damaged or beat up (since the point was to let it develop it own beat up look over time)!
Best of luck on all your own projects and have fun with it!