Are you hoping to build “an elegant weapon, for a more civilized time”… and in just 10 minutes?!
On that turbulent Tatooine day when Ol’ Ben used those words to introduce Luke to his weapon of choice, he was not speaking of the sawed-off shotgun, lead pipe, crossbow, blunderbuss, broad sword, spear, war elephant or even war pig. No, his elegant weapon traces its roots much further into the past and to a galaxy far, far away. Though it would’ve been interesting to watch Obi-Wan present Luke with his father’s old, trusty war pig (slightly worse for the wear), Kenobi was referring, of course, to the light saber. These instructions hopefully are so simple (and I hope, elegant) that even a Gungan can build one. It's not the fanciest light saber in the galaxy, but my goal is to help all you Jedi out there with serious time constraints. Do it yourself, or do not – there is no ‘try’! Here's how to build a light saber.
What kind of light saber do you want? Part of the allure of light sabers is their individuality. Each Jedi constructs a light saber that appeals to him or her – a weapon that reflects a particular Jedi’s aesthetic sensibility and preferred style of combat. The light saber of Luke Skywalker, for example, is far different from that of Count Dooku or Darth Maul. So before you set out to construct a "Star Wars" light saber, remember that there is no universal, cookie-cutter approach. What do you want your light saber to look and feel like? Do you prefer Luke’s single blade or Darth Maul’s two? Do you want a straight handle like Obi-Wan or a hooked handle of the kind sported by Dooku? And how big are you? Not all Jedi’s are as tall as Anakin, and as Yoda pointed out, “size matters not!” But Yoda did construct a light saber that was smaller than others. If you choose to complete your light saber with a lighted blade, you can also decide what color to make it.
Graflex or plumbing? There are two excellent paths toward a splendid light saber handle: the Graflex 3-Cell or the hardware store piping method. Some have even made light sabers using stuff you might have around the house, like vacuum cleaner tubing, using saws and other tools. I'm going to do something easier.
Acquiring a Graflex 3-Cell device requires more legwork from you, because it’s a vintage photographic tool. A Graflex 3-Cell flash handle is what powered those old photographic flash bulbs you see in movies and old photo-shoots. But it just so happens that the handle can be converted to an excellent light saber handle as well, and indeed you’ll see many converted Graflex handles as light sabers in the movies.
- To find a Graflex 3-Cell, you can visit antique stores or trade shows of antique camera equipment. You’ll pay the least amount for one of them in this venue – just don’t reveal your plans to turn it into a light saber.
- Another option is to go online and try finding one either at a site like eBay or through a newsgroup. Expect to pay more for them this way, however (you can actually buy them pretty cheaply from the trade shows).
- Once you’ve found your handle, it’s only a matter of gathering more widely available materials and modifying mainly the bottom half of the handle before you start making your own light saber. Check out the Graflex conversion instructions at Yoda’s House.
If you can find a Graflex quickly and cheaply, that’s great. But for those of us who need a light saber prop for Halloween at the end of the week or something, it may not be a practical approach. Here’s what I would suggest when you don’t have the luxury of time. All you need is one evening and a way to get to the hardware store. Here’s how I built mine in about 10 minutes... and a few hours (the Force is not very strong with me, and there was some gluing).
- Pick up your materials from the hardware store. Here’s what you need to pick up for the light saber construction process.
- Plumbing pipes... make it the chrome kind. Your length and shape of pipes depend on the light saber you plan to build. For a classic, Luke/Vader saber, you can purchase two ~6 inch pipes, probably 1.5 inches in diameter, and a short connecting pipe. Your 6 inch pipes should both have a flared end whose lip can be fastened to the shorter connector pipe using end rings. This means that your short connecting pipe should be threaded at both ends. One of the 6 inch pipes ideally would have a threaded end as well, so that an end ring can screw onto it to form the top “emitter” end of the light saber. But if, like me, you couldn’t find such a pipe, a plain-end will suffice; you just need to get some heavy-duty adhesive that works on metal, so you can glue an end ring onto it for your emitter.
Your short connector pipe piece can be changed depending on what kind of light saber you want to build. For a Maul-style double-bladed light saber, simply get a longer connector pipe. For a Dooku-style one, grab a 45-degree angled pipe.
- O-rings. As many as you like (they’ll be used to enhance your Jedi grip!). As you can see, I have 4 O-rings.
- Rubber garbage disposal gaskets. Once again, as many as you like. I bought three, but ended up only using one for the top emitter end of the light saber. Many people use thick rubber bands like these for their grip.
- Automotive weather-sealing. This is what I used to make the grip. There are many kinds of rubber strips that you could use to form the grip and decorate your emitter end. Doormat rubber and weather stripping work well, for example. Some people even use adapted bike handlebar grips for their light saber. Get creative!
- A rubber anti-slip pad, the kind used for furniture legs. This will be the stopper at the butt end of my light saber. Some people also suggest using a metal sink plug, which would probably be more aesthetically pleasing than my rubber stopper, but if you can’t find a sink plug that fits, you can improvise as I did. Your home improvement store is filled with stuff that could work. Check out the plumbing, furniture and lighting departments.
- D-ring or substitute ring (like my eye bolt) and nut. This will form the belt-clip at the butt end of your light saber, allowing the Jedi to keep his weapon always within arms reach! It’s optional; many Jedi also have deep pockets! But a purist will tell you that it’s essential. If you have a metal stopper at the butt end, you’ll have to have a drill to get any kind of d-ring or other ring to connect to it. But if you use a rubber furniture pad like I did, many of them already have a hole drilled into them, so look for a ring that requires only one drill hole and you’re set! My stopper had one hole so I found an eye bolt and appropriate nut.
- Magnetic tape. I used this to embellish my light saber. Things like this allow you to get creative and really personalize your blade.
- Adhesive. Use it for gluing your rubber stripping to the chrome pipes (if you use weather stripping or my automotive weather seals, these kinds adhere without glue). I also used the glue to seal my end cap onto the emitter pipe and my stopper to the handle-end.
- Gloves. When handling heavy-duty adhesive substances, it's always a good idea to wear gloves.
- Trusty X-acto knife. You'll need this sharp tool to cut precision lengths of rubber.
- A couple things I decided to leave out: light source, calculator bubble-strip, button. Primarily I cut all the corners I could in order to make this as fast as possible – if you’re crunched for time, nobody will fault you for doing the same (or so I hope). But if you do have time, you can use these and power tools to create an even cooler light saber prop. Check out the different links throughout this article for more ideas.
- Slip the end rings down the long pipes. They catch on the flared lips and then you can screw them onto the short connector pipe to fasten all three pieces together. Now you have the beginnings of your handle!
- Arrange your O-rings onto your grip as you see fit.
- Cut your rubber handle strips to desired length and affix them to your handle. Be very careful to cut them at an equal length and place them at even increments along the shaft.
- Add decorative flare to the light saber. I split a length of my poofy automotive weather sealing strip in half lengthwise and ran each half along the short connector pipe. Then I affixed two equal lengths of magnetic tape to the mid-section of the connector pipe to make the entire pipe darker than the two chrome pieces of the light saber. If you have buttons, calculator bubble strips or other flourishes, this would be a good time to put them on.
- Add the emitter-end strip to the top of your handle. For me, that just involved wrapping one of my disposal gaskets around the top.
- Affix (or screw on) the end cap at your emitter end.
- Secure your belt hook to the stopper. If you have a metal stopper for the butt-end of your handle, you'll have to drill your hole now. Since my stopper already has a hole, I can just insert the eye bolt into the hole and then screw the nut snugly against the inside wall of the stopper.
- Plug the handle-end with your stopper. Mine fit snugly anyway, but I added glue.
- Putting the ‘light’ back in ‘light saber’. If you want a light saber that actually lights up (every wannabe Jedi’s dream), there are ways to achieve this. Unfortunately, the technology doesn’t yet exist for us to create a functional light saber like what we see on the silver screen. If you want to know how to make a light saber light up, here are your options:
- Photoshop blade effect (for onscreen appearance): If you intend for your light saber to be a prop on-screen, then you can use programs like Adobe Photoshop and Fxhome to add the desired effect. Check out Kin-Char Bamin’s helpful tutorial.
- LED blade (for in-person appearance). Using a chain of LED lights wrapped in a transparent tube, you can build a light saber that actually lights up! The only limitation, however, is that the un-lit blade (as it were) is always extended; the only thing your button-control does is light it up or turn the saber-light off. So you’ve got a permanently extended blade. For a Jedi who operates in shadow or under cover of darkness, this effect will be very awe-inspiring. But for the Jedi who plans to be seen with such a weapon in broad daylight, the elegance that Obi-Wan spoke of may be lost. Here’s a great site to check out if you want to learn more about the possibilities of LED in a light saber. Personally, the Gungan in me was overwhelmed by the electronics involved… Mee-sa stickin’ to de photoshop approach!
"I see you have constructed a light saber. Impressive.... most impressive..."