Conventions can be a great place to have fun and show off your artistic skills through props and costumes. It would not be fun, however, to be pulled aside by security and have the prop you spent hours on confiscated. Many conventions have strict restrictions on what materials are suitable for props in order to ensure the safety of all con-goers. One of the materials most conventions accept is balsa, a light and VERY soft wood. It is very malleable and can break unless you are careful with it, but is light and easy to carry around. This instructable focuses on making the master sword from The Legend of Zelda with this material, but if you so choose, you can use stronger woods (just check the rules of the convention you are attending first). If you're not into the cosplay thing, this is still great as a decorative piece on your wall or to use for casual costuming.
Step 1: Materials
You will need:
- 1/4" x 4" x 36" sheets of balsa wood (4 of these)
- A sharp xacto knife (or something to cut with)
- Air dry clay
- Gold, silver, and purple acrylic paint (A bottle of black and brown are optional)
- Paint brushes
- A can of dark blue spray paint
- Mod Podge (Decoupage glue) (I use this in many steps as a regular glue since I get it in a large jar)
- Wood Glue
- A ruler
- Aluminum tape
- Sand Paper
- 1/4''x36'' dowel (either the round or square ones should be fine)
- Masking tape
- PVC Pipe (One that fits comfortably in your hand and is long enough for one hand)
- Faux Leather
- 3 Wooden toothpicks
- 2 2mm craft foam sheets (foamies?)
Step 2: Blueprints!
Blueprints are the foundation to any good prop. For this build I took a reference picture and blew it up in Microsoft Publisher to the proportions I wanted. I did this by pasting the image into an empty space in publisher and clicked format. Then, I resized the length to what I wanted and the width automatically adjusted along with it. I took some paper I had and placed it over the screen and traced the basic lines. You can later check for symmetry by folding the paper and fixing whatever doesn't align.
Step 3: Getting started
You first want to take one of the balsa sheets and mark a line down the middle. Then place the dowel on top with one side 4-5 inches from the edge of the balsa (this is so you don't cut into the dowel when shaping the wood and so you have a place to grip). Then mark the balsa where the end of the dowel is. You then want to cut down the middle up to that line you made and make a hollow spot where the dowel will sit into (Pic 1). You then want to take your wood glue and glue this layer you just cut to another slab of balsa. Add glue into the hollow spot you made and place the dowel into it. Finally glue the third slab of balsa on top and clamp/tie the layers together and wait for it to dry (Pic 2).
Step 4: Shaping the wood
You then want to trim your blueprint so you have the blade portion by itself (Pic 1). Lay this onto the balsa layers you glued together and try to line the center of the blade with the center of the balsa. Trace the edges of the blueprint onto the balsa and cut this out. Make sure to keep your blade at 90 degrees with the wood so all the layers are even! When I cut this out I left behind a bit that goes beyond the blade to act as a tang in some sorts (Pic 2), this would help later with the grip.
Step 5: Making the blade sharp
After cutting the basic sillouette out, you want to cut the edge of the blades off the blue print (Pic 1), tape them on the balsa and trace the edges with a pen (Pic 2). Then take your xacto and slowly start cutting the edges down (Pic 3). I prefer to do this by cutting a bevel on the top layers, leaving the middle untouched, and then marking a line down the middle layer's center (Pic 3 & 4). Then I cut almost down to the line I drew on the middle layer and try to flatten the edge out.
Step 6: Sanding the edges
Now your blade has a beveled edge, but we want something flat and smooth, so we want to sand it down to what we want. If you have a power tool, such as a dremel or an oscillating tool, then you would want to use these to cut down on time. If not, then you can still easily reach the same goal with varying grits of sand paper. Which ever method you use, make sure to wear a mask so you don't breathe in the wood particles. Taping the inner portions that you don't want to be sanded may help unless you are using something that would chew right through that (Pic 1). I personally used dremel bits from an old, broken dremel set and put them in a power drill (Pic 2). After sanding, I took a 1000 grit sandpaper and sanded it down to a smoother surface (Pic 4 & 5). Tip: If there are small indentations where you carved/sanded a little too much (Pic 6), you can add two layers of tape over this to make a gap filler (Pic 7).
Step 7: The hilt
The hilt portion is made of a soda bottle with he rounded portion cut off (Pic 1). This is then glued to foamboard (or cardboard) to hold the circular shape. The "tang" is trimmed down so it can be fit into the PVC pipe and a hole is cut in the foam so it can go through the bottle top (Pic 2), then the two are glued together. I dipped some paper towels in mod podge and stuffed it in the bottle so I wouldn't be an empty cavity (Pic 3), but you could use other options like expanding foam. A space is cut out of the plastic bottle top for the diamond piece that will be attached later (Pic 4). To complete the rounded top portion of the hilt, take the air dry clay and smooth it on and sand it once it dries (Pic 5).
Step 8: The wings and strengthening the wood
The wings on the blueprint are cut out and traced 3 times for each wing onto the last balsa sheet (Pic 1). Glue these together and trim the sides so they are flush with one another. You then can poke small holes along the detail lines on your blueprint onto the wood and connect the dots with a pen (Pic 2). The middle line should then be traced all along the wings (Pic 3) so you know where to stop carving when you bevel the edges. The parts where the wings have a indentation are made by cutting a sliver out in the middle, then followed by trimming it down to the line that it stops at (Pic 4 & 5). The round portion that connects the wings to the hilt are then beveled down, but unlike the blade's edges it should stay rounded. Sand the wings until they are smooth (Pic 6). To assemble the wings to the body, I took six toothpicks, cut them in half and stabbed the part of the wing where it connects to the sword body. The toothpicks are then flipped around and glued into place. After the glue has dried, wood glue should be spread liberally over the parts of the wings and the blade body that connect. Wipe off whatever squeezes out when the two are pressed together (Pic 7 & 8). The whole piece is then slathered in several layers of a wood glue and water mix (Pic 9 & 10). The first layer is a 2 part water to 1 part glue mix an after that a little more glue is added to the mix. The glue soaks into the wood and created a kind of hard exterior, but it's still fragile.
Step 9: The diamond and pommel
The diamond is made by creating a 3-d blue print by taping flat pieces of paper together to make the general shape (Pic 1, 5 & 6). Air dry clay is then added in to fill in the empty spaces, dried, sanded then covered in mod podge (Pic 1). A tear drop shape is then added (Pic 3) and clay is smoothed on by pinching your fingers together and rubbed to create a spine (Pic 4). This too is covered in glue and painted (Pic 2). The pommel is made in a similar fashion. I made the 3-d blueprint first and taped the paper together with a foam circle underneath (Pic 5 & 6). To see how far the dowel would go into the pommel I put the pvc onto the tang and layed the pommel blueprint up to the dowel that sticks out. A mark is made where the dowel should end in the pommel and a space is cut out of the 3-d blueprint. The pommel blueprint is then placed on the dowel and clay is used to cover the space, leaving behind a space where the dowel can slide into. The clay is then dried, sanded down, covered in glue and painted a black base coat (Pic 7). The space cut out previously in the hilt can now be filled in with air dry clay, but make sure that you place the diamond where it should be so you can tell where the clay needs to go and will not interfere with the diamond's placement.
Step 10: METAL!
Now you can bust out your roll of aluminum tape. It shouldn't have any printed decals or images on it. You want to cover areas first where it normally would be hard to smooth over. On this sword this ares is the octagonal shape that protrudes out of the blade. Cut a piece of aluminum tape and cover the flat side, smoothing the tape over onto the flats of the blade. Cut a seam down the tape so it can be folded over each other (Pic 1 & 2). Be extremely careful with this stuff! If it doesn't smooth on just right, creases can form and they are a pain to try to smooth out. After both sides are covered we can now work on the flats of the blade and the edges. For most swords I have made with this method, two pieces the length of the blade are normally needed to cover a side completely. Slowly peel off a section of the backing and rub it onto the blade's surface. You want to cover one half of the blade's flat side, then press the tape down onto edges. For this sword the octagonal piece doesn't allow for you to just press the tape in place so you will need to cut seams at the edges and fold them down, luckily any gaps made by folding are covered by the tape we put on before! some material will hang over the edge of the blade, trim this so a minimal amount can be folded over onto the other side. Repeat with the other half of that side and then onto the face of the sword. Tip: If you do happen to come across creases you can try rubbing it with a round surface, like the sides of a pen or with the pvc pipe. This helps to flatten the crease, but unfortunately it doesn't completely remove it.
Step 11: Foam and paint
The part that extends from the hilt and part way down the blade is made from craft foam or foamies. This is made by placing a piece of paper on the blade and tracing where the hilt, wins and edges were. I then drew a line where I wanted the foam to stop and the little triangle indent and transferred the drawing to the craft foam where it was cut out. These are then glued to the blade with mod podge (Pic 1 & 2). Tape can be used to make sure the foam doesn't slip and so pieces don't fall off before the glue dries. The foam is then covered in mod podge so it can be spray painted. The aluminum tape covered blade should then covered with paper and masking tape to keep the paint off. The hilt, foam pieces, wings and the pommel are spray painted in a well ventilated area with a mask (Pic 3). After the pain is dry, mix some mod podge and purple acrylic paint (Pic 4) and paint over the blue areas. This make the blue slightly purple and tones down the glossy-ness of the spray paint (Pic 5). I did three layers of this. Then unmask the blade and paint a mixture of silver acrylic paint with mod podge (Pic 6) onto it to dull down the bright sheen from the aluminum.
Step 12: Putting it together and the triforce!
Now you can take the PVC and use the wood glue to bond the PVC pipe to the hilt (Pic 1). If there is an empty space between the rest of the tang and the end of the PVC pie, fill this with scrap wood and a little glue. Squeeze a little glue into the hollow of the pommel and the area on the PVC that will make contact with the pommel and put them together (Pic 2). Wait for the glue to dry. Now cover the diamond with mod podge and place it onto the blade so it fits into the area you made for it. Take a piece of paper and trace the shape of the octagonal piece onto it and draw out the triforce design (Pic 3). Place this paper back on the blade and lightly go over it with a pen several times, this will leave shallow grooves into the surface as if it was engraved into it (Pic 4).
Step 13: Decorations!
With the leftover craft foam, draw lines about 1/8 of an inch thick and cut them out (Pic 1). Paint them gold and lay them under the foam areas you painted blue and cut them to the right size (Pic 2 & 3). Then, you want to use the remaining strips to make the lines down to the octagonal piece (Pic 3 & 4). Glue these on. Yet again, place paper over the hilt area and trace the design, then draw the little spirals that go off the wings and frame the diamond. Cut these out, trace them on foam and cut those out. You then can paint them gold (Pic 5) and glue them in place (Pic 6).
Step 14: Leather wrapping the grip
For the grip cut two strips of leather, fold them in half lengthwise (hotdog style?) and glue them together. Then lay them over the top and bottom portions of the grip and glue them on (Pic 1 & 2). To keep them together while they dry, I usually wrap tape around them. Then cut a strip of the leather you want that will be long enough to wrap entirely around the grip. For most swords I go with the wrapping method that spirals down to the end, only overlapping by 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch depending on what look I want. To do this take one end of the strip and lay the inner corner on the edge of the grip (Pic 3) with a little glue and wrap it around so as it come back to the start you can overlap the strip slightly (Pic 4). Then, slowly wrap the strip around the grip making sure the overlapping parts are as even as possible until you reach the end. Trim the excess parts, glue the end of the strip down and tape together until the glue dries (Pic 5).
Step 15: Ta-daaa!
You're now finished! Swing that new spiffy sword while shouting "Hyah!". You deserve it.