When I was young, I dreamed of being a knight. I begged and pleaded for a sword for months. Then, on Christmas morning, I got my wish. I became the proud owner of a light-up, plastic Sword of Omens (complete with roar).
After that, there was no stopping me. I became a fan of anything having to do with swords, castles, and sorcery. Medieval Times, Renaissance Faires, whacking my friends with plastic swords in the yard—you name it, I loved it. Actually… I love it still. I’m still that kid.
That being the case, it might seem surprising that I’ve never been LARPing. By all accounts, I should have gotten into it years ago, but for some reason (call it a cruel twist of fate if you like) I never did. That oversight, I’m happy to announce, is about to be rectified. A-LARPing I will go, and to prep for my first outing, I’m crafting my first sword myself. The best part? I’m gonna teach you how to make one too. The weapon in question is a 36-inch, one-handed sword that should fall right in the middle of most LARP weapon guidelines. That being said, be sure to check your local association’s weapon requirements before constructing anything. Requirements do tend to vary.
Step 1: Gather your materials. You’re gonna need foam (I hear ½-inch thick LD45 works best, but I’ve elected to “tactically acquire” my wife’s yoga mat instead), a sword core (a solid ½-inch diameter fiberglass rod works best, unless you’re willing to splurge on something pricey like carbon fiber or graphite), a bonding agent (DAP contact cement works best for closed-cell foams and joining things to your core, while 3M Foam Fast works great for open-cell foam), rope, a marker, a ruler or tape measure, scissors, a utility knife, tape (electrical or duct work best), and probably a saw.
Step 2: Mark up your core. You’ll want about an inch for your pommel, another inch for your guard, and roughly 4 inches for your grip—depending on the size of your hand of course. The rest of the weapon is your blade.
Step 3: Prep your core. Unless you’re lucky enough to purchase a core that’s exactly the length you need, you’ll want to cut it down to size a bit. Cutting fiberglass is tricky though, so first tape up the spot you’re going to cut. Wear protective eye gear and a face mask so you don’t ingest any fiberglass dust. Saw through the center of your tape, limiting the amount of splinters that you’ll generate. After cutting, leave the tape on your fiberglass and cover the cut end with tape too, just to be safe. I left myself room for a 30-inch blade.
Step 4: Start building your blade. I’ll be using the Box Method to build mine. The first step is to cut two strips of foam that are as wide as your core (1/2 inch) and as long as your blade (30 inches).
Step 5: Glue the foam to the core. I’m using the DAP contact cement for my build, so let me take a second to tell you about using this stuff. ONLY USE IT OUTSIDE. The fumes are not only toxic, they’re flammable. Many a contractor can tell you the story of how they blew a hole in a kitchen wall by using this stuff indoors with a pilot light lit. The can actually tells you to shut off the gas line to your house before opening it. Just go outside. And wear gloves, eye gear, and a mask. Also, don’t bother buying a brush for this. Just use a spare scrap of foam. You’ll have to throw away whatever you use anyway.
Step 6: Glue the foam to the core, continued. Aaaanyway, go ahead and coat your foam strips with a layer of the DAP and wait about ten minutes. The glue needs to get tacky before it sticks. The goal here is to get the two pieces of foam onto the fiberglass rod directly across from each other. When you stick the foam to your core, be very careful to get it nice and straight the first time. This glue is so strong that your foam will rip before the glue comes undone. Apply light pressure for a few minutes to ensure a good bond.
Step 7: Completing the box. Next, cut two more strips of foam. These should be as wide as your core plus the two already-glued bits of foam. For me that was 1¼ inches. Same length as the first two strips (30 inches). Glue these to the bare sides of your core, making sure that they stick to the fiberglass and existing foam strips equally well. Apply pressure again.
Step 8: Top off the box. Cut a small square of foam that will cover the tip of your fiberglass core. Apply DAP, wait for it to get tacky, glue, and apply pressure. Once your box topper is in place, taper two of its edges. These should be the edges covering the smaller layers of foam that you glued to your core first. You’re doing this to help your next layer of foam stick to your boxed core easier.
Step 9: Making the bladed edge. Cut two strips of foam that are as wide as your boxed core (1¼ inches) and twice as long, plus a couple inches. For me this number came to 62 inches. Apply DAP to one of these, wait a few minutes, and then glue it over the sides of the box that contain your thinnest layers of foam.
Step 10: Finishing the blade. Apply the second layer of foam over the first, making sure to wait until the first layer is firmly in place. Once this is done, you’ve got your striking edges all done. Finish making your blade by trimming any uneven layers of foam with either your scissors or your knife. Make sure that the bottom end of your blade is as flat as you can get it.
Step 11: Start making your guard. I’ve heard that a sword’s guard is the most unique part of its construction. For mine, I’ve opted to go for a cutlass aesthetic. This does mean that I’m limiting my sword to one useful striking surface, but I’m ok with that. Here’s a link to traditional sword guards, for the curious.
Step 12: Shape your guard. My guard’s surface is about 5 inches in diameter, and I left a ten inch strip so that I can attach it below my grip later. I recommend making your guard at least two layers thick for structural purposes.
Step 13: Affix your guard. With a guard like mine, you’re going to need to cut a hole into its center to get it into your core. Make sure to make it large enough that you don’t accidentally rip your foam. Use DAP to glue the guard to the base of the blade.
Step 14: Reinforce your guard. I wasn’t happy with the amount of surface area on my guard’s connection to the blade, so I added another layer of foam on top. The hole in the middle is the size of my sword’s blade.
Step 15: Finishing the guard. Apply DAP again, this time working the guard reinforcement most of the way down your blade before doing so. Some shaping will likely be required to create a look I’m happy with.
Step 16: Balancing the sword. Unless you want a sword that swings more like a bat, you’ll want to add a bit of weight to your sword’s hilt. A good way to do this is by adding bar stock or other heavy objects to your sword’s grip. For my sword I’m using a 4-inch bolt covered in nuts.
Step 17: Balancing the sword, continued. Use heavy duty tape to affix your counterweight to your sword’s grip. Make sure it’s not going anywhere. For a two-bladed weapon, you’ll want to evenly distribute the weight on both sides of the grip, but for my cutlass I’ve added the weight to the back end alone, basically because it feels more natural in my hand that way.
Step 18: Creating your grip. After the counterweight is in place, your handle is shaped and ready to be finished with a bit of rope. I elected to use a fairly thick, coarse rope, but a boot lace works well too. DAP up your grip, wait a few minutes, then stick the end of your rope to the space between your counterweight and your core.
Step 19: Finishing your grip. Holding the rope’s end tightly in place, coil the rest of the rope around your handle until you reach the bottom. Once it sets the DAP should hold the rope in place, but I’d recommend a few layers of tape too, just in case.
Step 20: Prepping your pommel. Here’s where that awkward strip of foam that I left alone earlier comes into play. Cut a hole in that sucker, work it onto your sword’s core at the base of your grip and DAP it into place. If you’re not using the same sort of guard I am, a foam ball with a hole in it is an easy option.
Step 21: Capping the pommel. To make sure that no part of your sword’s core is exposed, cap your pommel with a layer or two of foam. Once this is glued in place, you’re done! All that’s left to do is to add a few aesthetic tweaks and add a cover to your weapon (if your local association requires those). Happy LARPing!
To find out more about LARPing, you can also swing by the LARPs show page where to can follow a group of adventures just like you and me as they go off on their quest for fame, fortune, and mostly friendship. You can watch through all of Season 1 of the show before heading over to the premiere for the next season. It’s like LARPing with all of your friends without having to put on bug repellent.
Ok, pro LARPers, how’d I do? This was my first sword, so I’d love to hear any hints and tips you have for improving on my design.