by Brian Young
After reading the articles on lightsaber effects, I was surprised that there was little mention of constructing your own lightsaber - after all, it is the ultimate trial of a Jedi apprentice to build one's own weapon. One article reccomended a site to buy lightsabers, saying that it was the best bargain, but the sabers had little variety and seemed far to expensive for a true amateur like me - starting at eighty-five dollars. This site also advised against any physical activities with their lightsabers, and disavowed any responsibility for damage caused by use. I built my own sabers from wood on a lathe, and they cost me next to nothing. This process can make quite durable and realistic weapons, with removable blades, if you have the proper technical expertise. Also, building your own props adds just that much to your pride in your film.
WARNING! This procedure involves basic woodworking techniques using powerful tools! Know what you're doing or have somebody else help you! Read this entire document before beginning And please, PLEASE, take all reccomended safety precautions.
I will be using English units of measurement - inches and feet - but there are 2.54 cm to the inch, if you prefer metric. "Thick" will mean diameter, and "wide" will refer to a length of wood.
Step One: Planning
On graph paper, draw what you plan the saber to look like, at full size. Most graph paper is in easy-to-work-with units - millimeters or quarter-inches - and is easy to find. Draw the saber from the side, and include all details - grip ridges, button locations, and the like. A thickness difference of only 1/8 inch diameter will be plenty noticeable. A comfortable grip has a diameter of about 1.5 to 1.75 inches - any more and your hand won't reach all the way around, any less and your fingers will scrunch up on the other side. People with large or small hands may adjust these values for their own purposes. Try using various things as comparisons - flashlights, pipes, broomsticks, etcetera. Make a spot near the blade end (both ends if making a double saber like mine) about a half-inch wide, all the same thickness, the "Clamp Zone", and a thicker spot just above it. This will be essential to the blade connection. The end and about three inches down must be AT LEAST an inch in diameter so a blade may be inserted - probably more. Also, keep in mind that you don't want the blade to break.
Step Two: Materials selection:
I built my sabers from wood. The first I tried was a pine replica of Darth Maul's saber, with less-than-spectacular results. Pine is soft, and it warped and cracked once I was finished. Harder woods work better - the wood used in my double saber was a 4-by-4 originally - but wood too hard will be much harder to work with. The board you use must be at least six inches longer than you plan the saber to be (three on each end), and must have enough width to carve a two-inch cylinder from. For the buttons, find dowel pegs about an inch long and 3/8 to 5/8 of an inch in diameter. For a belt clip, you have many options - I hammered a thick staple halfway into the handle, and attached a fairly heavy-duty clip I found. Almost anything can be made to work, some more easily and more efficiently than others. I leave this to your discretion and resourcefulness. For the blade, find a piece of broomstick, copper pipe, or whatever, about a yard long and 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. The material should be durable enough that you can whack it against a tree without it breaking or significantly deforming.
Step Three: Primary construction
Warning! This is the most critical and dangerous step! If you are not sure of your woodworking abilities, find a friend to do it for you.Set up the wood on the lathe, and begin by carving the entire piece down to a quarter-inch wider in diameter than the widest point in your saber. Then, mark on the wood where each thickness change is. Start at the widest point on the saber, and carve each section individually. Leave 1/8 inch diameter outside your plan, to allow some error correction. Once the carving is complete, smooth each section to be the proper thickness throughout, and then sand it while it is still on the lathe. Once the handle is carved, remove it from the lathe and saw off the unused portions (I told you to leave an extra three inches on each end, remember?) either manually or with a power saw. You now have your basic handle. You should be able to hold this comfortably and tightly in one hand or two, and twirl it with little
Mark on the handle where you planned the buttons to be. Drill a hole for each, the same diameter as the dowel pegs and 1/8 to 1/4 shorter. Test the fit of each peg into its hole, but do not put them in yet! Drill a hole in the blade end, as deep as you can and the same diameter as your selected blade. This hole must be straight or else your blade will come out crooked and may even show out the side of the handle. Insert the blade in this hole as deep as possible. Find two short, thick nails, and find their diameter. Drill a hole for them in the Clamp Zone, through the blade, and out the other side. You should be able to insert the nails in these holes to hold the blade in, but also easily remove them. For filming fight scenes, a hose clamp can be affixed around these nails to hold them in tightly.For my belt clip, I found a thick metal staple and drilled two holes a half
inch deep for it. I hammered it into these holes until just after it didn't seem to go any farther, and it stayed. Find a clip that can attach this to your belt and attach the smaller end to the staple. The other end can then be placed through a belt loop.
Step 4: Painting
For the lazy like me, spray paint can easily be used. Paint the handle silver, including both ends, and the blade whatever you care to. Some famous (or not) Jedis' colors, mostly from the novels, the Young Jedi Knights series:
Green: Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker, Jacen Solo
Blue: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker
Violet: Mace Windu, Jaina Solo
Turquoise: Tenel Ka
Silver: Corran Horn and much of the Halcyon line, Raynar Thul
Red: Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Shadow Academy Dark Jedi
For both the buttons and greater detail on the handle, model paint may be used. Paint the buttons an appropriate color, red or black work well. Most lightsabers in the movies have black sections, so personalize your weapon further. When finished, insert the buttons into their holes. The fit should be so that friction holds them in and there is not enough sticking out to get a grip on. This is why you did not put the buttons in before.
You now have a lightsaber for far cheaper than any toy or model you may purchase. Other advantages:
-You can make it however you like
-You can choose the color
-You can brag about making it
-You can make another and fight with a friend
-You can beat up on those people with plastic lightsaber blades
-Did I mention it's cheap?