One afternoon, like many others, I found myself engaged in an intense battle with with my son on the backyard grass. This day’s chosen weapons are blocky foam replica swords from some a slightly popular video game. I decided I’d had enough with trying to have a entertaining battle with the things – and if they break? Costly at $25 each. A new, CHEAPER, more realistic design was necessary.
Now, when I was a kid, we rolled up newspapers as tightly as we could, wrapped them with duct tape and did battle in the middle of our street. Builder skills varied, and so did the quality of the weapons – if you wanted durability, you had to use a good amount of newspaper. In the end, you basically had to swing these heavy things like battle axes to get them going.
While I thought about going back to this design for our duels; my 32 additional years of building experience led me to a simpler, more nimble design.
COMMON SENSE ALERT! These swords are not toys. They will hurt you if someone swings it hard and hits you. I’d imagine in the right hands it could break fingers or small/thin bones. Build and use these at your own risk! Be cool. Don’t hurt people. These can be super fun if used with some common sense – I designed them to be safe should there be the accidental missed block or something… but we can’t NERF the world people! Kids need to be kids. As the authors of The Dangerous Book for Boys [amazon.com link] said:
I think we’ve become aware that the whole “health and safety” overprotective culture isn’t doing our sons any favors. Boys need to learn about risk. They need to fall off things occasionally, or–and this is the important bit–they’ll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don’t end up with safer boys–we end up with them walking on train tracks. In the long run, it’s not safe at all to keep our boys in the house with a Playstation.
So don’t sue me if someone gets hurt, ok? I already told you it could happen. Have fun, but be smart.
And with that out of the way, let’s get to building!
You’ll be able to find what you’ll need at your local big box DIY superstore:
- 1/2″ foam pipe insluation – one 6 foot section should be good for two swords
- 1/2″ PVC pipe (thin! see below) – a little over 3 feet per sword
- one (1) 1/2″ PVC four-way junction
- three (3) 1/2″ PVC end caps
- clear PVC cement
- duct tape – I like the cheaper, off-brand stuff for this project – its thinner and easier to work with.
- spray paint (optional). You can leave your PVC uncolored if you want. I chose to go with gold for the hilt to give it a touch of class and honor
NOTE: get the thinnest walled PVC pipe you can find. The standard schedule-40 stuff that comes in the shorted lengths near all the fittings is way to thick. It’ll be heavy and really hurt when someone misses a parry! At my local store, I could only find the real thin stuff in the bulk area in 10 foot lengths. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Hopefully you have something to cut PVC. These crazy things work really well [amazon.com link]. Avoid hacksaws as they make all kids of nasty PVC dust. You don’t need to breathe that. Your store will cut stuff for you for a nominal fee. They might think your cut list is crazy, but who cares… tell them what you’re making and they’ll probably think its pretty cool.
Cut the PVC into these lengths:
- 1 piece 26 inches
- 1 piece 5.75 inches
- 2 pieces 1.75 inches
First, we’re going to use the three shortest pieces to make the hilt. Dry-fit the pieces (no cement) before-hand to make sure you like the sizes you’ve cut. Once the cement comes out, you can’t go back.
The hilt will look like the letter ‘T’. Take the two smallest pieces and fit them into the junction opposite of each other. Put the 5.75 inch piece of pipe in one of the remaining holes. This will be your handle. You can put caps on the ends of each of the pipes. If you’re happy with the sizing, you can take it all apart and glue it together. When I use PVC cement, I like to let the brush drain off for a bit and even wipe it along the inside edge of the can to get most of the excess, drippy glue off of the brush. Then quickly use the brush to coat the inside of three of the holes in the junction, as well as the inside of each of the caps. I like to swirl the brush once around to make sure I’ve evenly coated the inside of the fitting. Quickly put all three pipes into the four-way junction first, then put the caps on the ends of the pipes. When you’re done, it should look like this (note this one is already painted – I got too excited to finish and forgot to photo document this part of the process!)
Now we are ready to work on reinforcing the foam with duct tape so that it doesn’t split when we slide it onto the 26 inch PCV “blade”. Cut the foam to a length of 26 and one-half inches (26 1/2″) Start with a 6 inch length of duct tape and wrap around one end of of the foam. Do not apply pressure to the point that it starts compressing the foam. You should be able to smooth it lightly on to the foam and make sure there are no wrinkles as it wraps around the tube:
For added strength add another piece of 6 inch duct tape over the tape you just applied.
Continue this procedure down the length of the of the foam, butting each new section against the last. You can overlap a bit between sections if you’d like. Try not to leave any foam exposed between the tape wrappings:
Before you get to the end, we want to add a couple tape squares as a cap before we wrap the last bit of the end. Offset two square pieces of tape on the end of the tube. Fold down the diagonal ends and hold them down with the last 6 inch section of tape:
And an additional 6 inch wrap of tape over the end:
We are now ready to start sliding the foam on to the blade. Now, note that in these pictures that I took, I was waiting for the painted hilt to dry – so I ended up pushing the foam on to a lone piece of PVC and pressed it against my belt. You might find it easier to use the hilt handle with pressure against your thighs for this part.
Put the 26-1/2″ long blade PVC into the open end of the taped foam. While it’ll be easy at first, it’ll take a considerable amount of effort once you get about half way. I like to switch between pulling on the bottom end an about the middle of the foam section to move further on to the PVC. Use your judgement – if you pull too hard on a stubborn section, you may rip the foam and have to start over. Keep working it until you’ve got about all but four inches of the PVC covered with the foam/tape “blade”.
(here I’m using the open end of the PVC against my belt to push the foam on to the PVC)
As you work it down, you may find that some parts get compressed and are wrinkled. This is ok, just apply more pulling pressure to the bottom of the foam and it should smooth out.
Wrinkles are ok, they will smooth out.
Now that the foam is mostly pulled down, you’ll add some layers of tape lengthwise to the blade. Rip a section that is almost 26 inches and pull on both ends to keep it straight. With this method, you should be able to smooth out the tape to run the length of the blade without wrinkles. Repeat this two more times, slightly overlapping the last layer as you go.
Add one more width-wise 6 inch strip at the top and bottom of the sword to cover up the fact that the last three lengthwise strips didn’t make it to each end of the blade. On the open end of the foam, I like to offset it a bit over the end so that it will cover the black part of the blade near the hilt:
If you were working like I did from the pictures, swap some PVC cement on the remaining channel of the hilt and press your blade in. Give it a minute to set up, and pull the foam all the way to the top of the hilt.
I used a hot glue gun to wrap a small section of fake leather fabric to the handle between the end cap and the junction. You could do the same, or use electrical tape or paint… its up to you.
Now that you’re done, you just need to build one more and you’re ready for some knight-style sword practice! Remember: be cool, be smart, have fun!