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DIY Lightsaber

Chelsea and I are doing Star Wars costumes for Gencon. We're actually doing three or four different costumes for Gencon, but one of them is a Jedi/Sith pair. I'm the Jedi, and we're going for a desert scavenger theme with my costume. Everyone's probably going to think I'm just discount Rey, but I'm okay with that.

We're sewing our robes from scratch - more on that later - and probably crafting our belts out of raw leather, too. With all the work we're putting into the rest of the costume, it seemed like a shame to carry one of those cheap toy lightsabers as a prop. But the nicer looking ones you can order online cost about a bajillion dollars, so we decided to make our own. It hasn't been particularly hard, or even particularly expensive, but some of the steps are a fair amount of tedious work. You should also be warned that, if you ever try this yourself, you're going to bewilder all of the employees of your local hardware store. So, you know, be prepared for that.

Tools and materials

The final parts list for the lightsaber (without electronics) is as follows:

  • 1 inch¬†copper pipe - about a foot per saber. The hardware store only had it in something like 4' increments, but we cut it down pretty easily.
  • 1 inch copper slip cap fitting - to cap the end of the saber
  • 1 inch crimp ring fittings - for contrast on the hilt
  • 1-inch copper slip coupling fitting - the kind without a stop in the middle. We used one and a half of these for one saber - one cut into rings to slide onto the hilt, and half of one, cut at an angle, to make the blade emitter.
  • Rubber o-rings - I'm pretty sure we used both 7/8 inch and 1 inch versions, and they look identical once they're on the hilt. If the folks at the hardware store don't mind, bust one out of the packaging to test it out on your pipe.
  • Leather lace - to wrap the handle

And here's the tools we used:

  • A pipe cutting tool - to cut down your main hilt pipe and the couplings. You can get a cheap pipe cutter for under $5 that can cut soft metals like copper - which is one of the reasons we used copper pipe for this.
  • A hacksaw - one rated for soft metals.
  • Sandpaper - we used sanding blocks and some coarse grit paper (the stuff that came with my sanding tool, so I don't know the exact grade) to trim down the burrs on cut pipe and polish the metal. Your pipe cutter probably comes with a deburr tool, but sandpaper makes a nicer finish.
  • A miter box would definitely be helpful if you have one that fits your hacksaw. We didn't have one, so we made do with a makeshift vice and a lot of unnecessary effort.

The design

We made it up as we went along, spending hours in the pipe aisle pressing various fittings together and seeing what worked. We went in with a rough sketch of what we wanted:

... and changed the design a lot after we found what was actually in the store. A lot of my design work is based on laziness - the accent rings were originally going to be chrome, but we found some coated copper crimp rings that fit perfectly, so now they're a coarse black color. We were going to add some buttons to the wide copper section near the blade - and we still might - but the o-rings actually hold everything down pretty firmly, so at the moment we don't need to screw anything in. And walking into the hardware store, we had no idea how we were going to finish the butt of the blade, but we found some nifty cap fittings that I think look great - especially since they're about zero work to apply.

The assembly

The blade is built with a 1" copper pipe base (which you only see through the leather wrap at the end), with different fittings on top to create a nice look. After playing around with the order of the fittings for a while, we got a general feel of how long we wanted the blade to be, and cut that 1" pipe down to size. The pipe cutter tool makes this pretty easy, if a little tedious. 

Next we cut one of the couplings in half to make the emitter. This is where a miter saw or an actual vise would've been real handy... but we didn't have either of those things. Miter boxes are pretty cheap, but the hacksaw we had wouldn't fit any of the boxes in the store, so we did it by hand. I don't have any pictures of this, because I'm embarrassed about how incredibly unsafe our rig was - I was pinching the coupling to the corner of our kitchen table with a pair of pliers while Erik sawed away at it, inches from my unprotected fingers. Chelsea was sitting on the table to stop it from shaking. None of us were wearing safety goggles.

Don't do it like we did. Please don't.

But here's a picture of Chelsea holding the cut pieces up, so you get an idea of how they look:

Erik and Chelsea sanded down all of the burrs and polished them up while I slept on the couch like a huge loser. This photo is after that process was already done, so know that it looked a lot rougher right after we were done sawing.

After that was done, and we cut the other coupling into two rings, we had a mostly-finished blade. We spent way too much time messing around with the hilt at this point, mock-dueling and dropping everything because nothing was actually secured to the blade. Then we picked up the leather for the hilt and actually finished the project.

We wanted the leather lace to disappear into the top of the wrapped section, so we drilled a hole in the base pipe:

Please, please, please never drill into pipe while your friend's hands are less than three inches away. It's a really terrible idea and will only end horribly. Use an actual vise in an actual workshop with actual safety glasses.

I'm lucky enough to have a drill my mom left at my house when she helped me move some furniture in. I have no idea how you'd do this without one, but you could probably make the wrap work without the hole. If you do have a drill and do need to make holes in pipe, use a hammer and nail to mark the spot you want to drill first, then drill slowly with a steel bit until you feel see the shavings start to fly (through your safety glasses). Then you can speed it up - slow down when you're almost through, and keep the drill spinning as you pull it out of the hole to keep it from catching.

We pushed the lace through the hole with the help of a mechanical pencil, and kept working at it until we were able to pull it through the top. Then we just tied a knot and pulled the lace back through until the knot hit the hole we'd drilled.

The wrapping process was all Chelsea. I had given up because I was frustrated with the short sections of lace we were able to find at the craft store, and then she picked it up and made something pretty amazing. She says that it's super easy, that you just cross the lace over itself as you wrap the two strands around the hilt. I'm still pretty convinced it's magic.

When she reached the base of the wrapped section, we just tied the lace off in a square knot and let the remaining lace trail free.

We're going to glue down the cap and emitter with epoxy as soon as we're sure exactly how we want them positioned. I'm also going to be (hopefully) adding some electronics to the hilt, so check back later for a tutorial on that.

Many thanks go out to Chelsea and Erik for all of their help, and the poor home improvement store employees who suffered our many questions about parts that we definitely weren't using for home improvement. They were incredibly patient with us, all things considered.