How to Make a Kid’s Lightsaber

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TotW: My Saber

I know what you’re thinking – another post about lightsabers?  Well, this will be the last one, for a while at least.  Consider it a bookend to this post.

 

My Saber. Design and Image Copyright Jason Patz. All Rights Reserved.

 

In this week’s TotW you get to see what my lightsaber looks like.  I can’t remember exactly when I built it but it was around the same time as the trainer saber.  Just as before, I thought through exactly what features I’d want and where I’d want them placed.  After all, a lightsaber is a personal thing – not in the sense that it is secret but that it is intended for one person’s use.

 

My Saber. Design and Image by Jason Patz. All Rights Reserved.

 

I won’t go through all the details as they have been explained in the other saber posts.  I will mention that this one does have a functional button that turns the custom blue-green LED on.  It is powered by a super-compact battery pack out of some random broken electronics that is stored in the base of the hilt.

 

Super-compact Battery Pack is Stored in Hilt Base

 

Unlike the trainer saber, I never finished this one completely.  You’ll notice a hole around the power button and a blank bump in the left side of the hilt.  The power button hole was to have a custom black rubber piece to seal it and then be covered by another piece of chromed tube.  This would have sealed up the hole nicely, given the saber a waterproof look and added a cool black line in some type of pattern around the power button.  I was thinking of something like the pin striping on a custom painted hot rod or motorcycle – something with a dynamic shape.  The bump was to have a pop-up twist knob for blade length adjustment drilled into it.  My thinking was that adjusting the length of the blade easily based on the fighting environment would be a handy feature.  How cool would it be to have a claymore-length lightsaber to berserker with in a big open field?

The same limitations from the trainer saber popped up here.  I didn’t have access to a lot of tools so I had to use a lot of existing parts.  I managed to get the overall shape almost exactly like I wanted it, but not with the level of detail.  If I had been able to use a metal lathe to make these parts I could have increased the thickness of the parts allowing for a more exaggerated profile that would have been much more interesting.  For example, the emitter shroud is the same diameter plumbing tube as the body of the hilt.  I think it would look much nicer if the emitter could be a larger diameter.

I’ve been sketching saber designs on and off for years and, besides Obi-Wan’s Ep. IV saber, this is my favorite one.  I’m happy with the way it turned out.  Maybe one day I’ll remake it when better resources are available to me.

Alert! First No-Prize Awarded!!

An exciting thing happened this morning!  We had our first contest winner!!  Known only to JP.C readers as “John,” this sharp-eyed individual correctly identified the CAD drawing of the lighsaber hilt mentioned in this article-lette!!!  Master Mundi would surely be proud!!!!  Bask in the accolades and back slaps you so richly deserve “John” and know that sometimes no-prize is the best prize of all!!!!!  NOTE:  It is a-ok for “John” to print, laminate and cut-out one copy of the no-prize to wear proudly as a medallion or use as a desk-cessory!!!!!!  DOUBLE NOTE:  Please seek an adult’s help whenever you plan to use scissors!!!!!!!

Now don’t be big babies and sore losers.  Jump into the comments section and congratulate “John.”

Review: Hasbro Force FX Lightsabers with Removable Blades

If you don’t like to read and came here for a review, here is my two word opinion of Hasbro’s Force FX Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsabers:  Buy themUpdate: Since it is a FAQ of article skimmers, I think the removable blades are worth it.  Choose them over the fix blades.

I am not an impulse purchaser and I get a knot in my stomach anytime I’m going to spend any amount money on something fun.  My most recent purchase made me downright queezy but I love it.

Since Star Wars premiered, I’ve had a fascination with lightsabers.  Heck, I’ve been discussing them in various posts for a couple of weeks now.  Growing up, good replicas were either non-existent, too expensive or non-functional.  Very recently this has changed.

For a while a company called Masters Replicas made very high quality, highly accurate copies of the hero movie props.  They were very expensive, very heavy and didn’t really do anything.  They also offered functional versions of these props which were slightly less accurate (to accommodate 20th century sound and light technology) still very heavy and still very expensive.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, the license to make these props was shifted from MR to Hasbro.  Yes, the same company that sells Sorry! and Twister.  I happened upon this information while doing research for my own articles.  As I looked around online, the reviews were positive and really intrigued me.  Would I actually be able to get something that had been on my wish list for years?

The price was painful but doable.  The reviews were positive.  They had just been redesigned to be even more functional (now with a removable blade).  My two favorite styles were now available.  Amazon had reduced their prices to match the online toy stores.  I pulled the trigger.

Just a few days after clicking the purchase button, a giant box was found leaning against my front door.  Not nearly large enough to fill the smoking crater of my fun money account that had taken me two years to save, but still very exciting.  I was worried that with all of the extra space in the box that these things would look like they had been dragged around behind the truck.  Aside from one corner getting bashed a little, the boxes were fine and the contents were unharmed.

Even the Boxes are Nice – Notice Small Dent from Shipping

Star Wars FX Lightsaber with Removable Blade – Obi-Wan

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.  Not as clumsy or random as a blaster.  An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”

– Obi-Wan Kenobi

My very favorite lightsaber design of all time is the original Obi-Wan.  It is one of the hardest sabers to make functional because of its narrow silhouette.  There just isn’t room to stuff components in the top 1/3 of it.  I think this is part of the appeal.  Your mind perceives this detail and says “Too narrow to hold a stick.  It must really generate an energy blade.”  Sadly, this also means it requires the most modification to stuff electronics inside.  You can compare the image of the Hasbro hilt to the actual prop and quickly see that one is merely a suggestion of the other.  The great news is that this is my only beef with this prop.  There are so many ways in which it could be executed terribly and it just isn’t.  It even exceeded my expectations in thoughtful design more than once.  It is products like this that made me want to be an industrial designer in the first place.

Appearance:  Fairly accurate. Much more chunky than the original prop but still easily identifiable.  “Copper” and “brass” parts are painted and the hand grenade/cooling fins are injection modeled plastic as you would expect.  The body is metal.  The emitter and pommel are both made of machined aluminum billet.  A nice surprise.

Construction: Solid. The hilt has a nice weight to it without being overly heavy.  This balance helps it seem “real” and hang from a belt without pulling your pants down or bruising your leg when you walk.  Because the parts you screw on and off are machined aluminum, they should hold up better than plastic.  However, it would be easy to cross thread these parts since the metal is soft and the threads are not completely cleanly cut.  I solved this with a little lithium grease on the threads.  Smooth as silk now.

Blade:  A very accurate color match. Bright enough. Well, the color of all the sabers seems to shift a little from movie to movie and from scene to scene, but this blue is what you would expect.  It is made from very durable (basically shatterproof) polycarbonate.  The LED’s give a very nice step up and step down ignition and shut down sequence.  The glow is almost completely uniform.  There are certain angles where you can see slightly darker areas but you have to really examine the blade to see them at all.  Because it is removable, it is also potentially replaceable if something goes wrong.  On new batteries it is as bright as you would expect.  A very reasonable approximation of how bright they look in the movies.  You can see the color in daylight and it gives off a fair amount of light in the dark.  I do not know how it compares to other blade technology but I think someone would be hard pressed to be disappointed with this light output.

Obi Saber in Reflected Natural Light – Stronger Blue Color is Apparent in Person

Sound:  Very accurate, varied and loud. I was impressed with the fidelity of the sound from such a small speaker in the bottom of the hilt.  It sounds like a lightsaber not a toy.  It hums while at rest, has a variety hums when swung and a variety of crackles when it strikes an object.  The ignition and shutdown sounds are unique and accurate.  It is amazingly loud.  I would say on the verge of being too loud, believe it or not.  My only gripe here is that the motion sensor is not very good.  It only recognizes swings accurately about ½ the time.  Strikes are picked up pretty well if you make contact with something that stops the blade abruptly (your hand instead of a pillow).

Details: There are some really neat extras with this prop.  It comes with a display stand that houses the extra parts.  A positive-locking belt clip is provided (Works like a mobile phone clip).  The hilt and blade can be displayed assembled or separate.  Extra parts are included to complete the hilt when the blade is removed (no gaping blade hole).  The hilt makes locking noise when the blade is seated properly during assembly.  The hilt makes an electrical short noise (there are actually about three different sounds) when you try and turn it on if the blade is detached.

Obi Saber with Blanking Plate Installed

Recommended Changes: I would include a way to vertically wall mount the saber.  It takes up a lot of space sitting horizontal on a shelf and, no doubt, the blade will sag over time in this position.  The on/off switch could have a better feel with more of a positive lock in the on and off positions.  Adjust the supports on the base so that the saber sits perfectly horizontal.  Remove the silly stickers.  The cautionary sticker almost certainly must be in place and affixed with difficult-to-remove adhesive but the on/off and battery stickers don’t need to be on there at all.  It isn’t a big deal to peel them off and wipe the area clean with a little WD-40, but it is unfortunate that you have to do this at all.

Star Wars FX Lightsaber with Removable Blade – Darth Vader

“Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!”

– Emperor Palpatine

This is the perfect compliment to the Obi saber.  Instead of being a stacked parts design, it is a flash attachment with stuff stuck on the outside.  This way I have one of each of the basic styles of the early saber designs.  They have very different silhouettes which is nice.  Of course the blade is red which makes them distinctly different and I have one good guy and one bad guy saber to fight with now.

Appearance:  Very good. Because of it more basic and bulky shape it requires fewer mods to be functional.  I’ve never seen it side by side with an original prop but others have said it is a little larger in diameter.  It is still comfortable to hold and I think it would take very close scrutiny to tell it apart from the real thing.  The detailing is good enough that it really looks like a flash tube (fake electrical contacts are still exposed) with windshield wipers glued on to the bottom.  The emitter shroud is plastic but has a very nice textured finish that adds a lot of visual weight to it.  I imagine it is visually indistinguishable from the original.  The calculator lenses used on the side of the saber are faithfully replicated.  You would have to get within a foot or two of it to notice that two of the knobs are plastic.  Only the very pickiest collector would need something more accurate than this.

Construction:  Solid.  Apparently the original prop had problems with the windshield wipers peeling off during normal use.  The replica doesn’t have this issue as it appears that they are mechanically attached from the inside.  It is an almost all metal construction and should be very durable.  Like the Obi saber, it has a good weight – heavy enough to feel real without being unwieldy.  I greased the screw threads on this saber too and they work much better now.

Blade:  Very accurate color match.  Bright enough. If you have ever done any saber effects in Photoshop, you know that because red is at the dark end of the spectrum, it is really hard to get the color right and make it bright looking.  The tendency is for the blade to turn pink.  Sometimes with real-world props the red blades look orange.  My guess is that this is a way to compensate for the pink hue.  Fear not!  This blade is a beautiful red just as you remember it from the films and it is bright too.  I don’t have any other props to compare it to but, like the Obi, it is visible in daylight and lights up a dark room about as much as you would expect.  I don’t think most customers will be disappointed.  Ignition, shut down, construction, uniformity of light all match the Obi saber in quality.

Lit Blade Shows up in Reflected Natural Light – Saber is Darker Red in Person

Sound:  Accurate, varied and loud enough. The Obi saber is a newer design than the Vader.  It seems to me that the sound was one of the things improved.  Vader’s saber is quieter (not too quiet) and the quality of the sound doesn’t seem quite as good.  Soundboard?  Speaker quality?  I don’t know.  It has all of the same kinds of sounds with the same number of variations that the Obi saber has.  The individual sounds are different from Obi’s though.  The hums and swings are pitched lower.  I think the ignition and shut down sounds are a little nicer for Vader’s.  Overall, it sounds just a little more toy-like than the Obi saber, but I’m really splitting hairs here.  I think any fan will be very happy with the sound quality.

Details: These comments are basically the same as Obi’s.  The display stand is identical.  The biggest difference is that you get a Ep IV style belt hook and D-ring instead of Obi’s mobile phone attachment.

End of Vader Saber with Blanking Plate Inserted

Recommended Changes: Same as Obi’s.  Consider upgrading the sound to match Obi’s in quality and volume.

I do not know how long a set of batteries will last in these items, but I’m sure they are power hungry.  It will also depend on what you consider to be useful life.  Is it when the batteries go dead?  When the light output is 50% max?

If you have a Books-A-Million in your area, you can get the earlier version of them (non-removable blade) for about half price.  The BAM’s around here have very limited selections (mostly Dooku and Yoda).  In the end I felt it was worth the extra money to be able to use the bladeless sabers as a costume prop and replace the blade in the event of damage.

Saber Drawing

I unearthed another saber-related item while digging through my archives.  Here is a drawing of an existing (not my design) lightsaber that I did just for fun at one point.  No-prize prize to the first person who correctly identifies the owner in the comments below.mastsab

First Saber

Whaaaa?  You say.  Is it possible that we get two TotW’s after such a dry spell.  Well, kind of.  Not really.  But in putting the post about my trainer saber together I gathered all of my saber resources.  Mixed in there was the first saber I ever built that was for a friend of mine.  It is made out of plumbing parts, lighting parts and wood.  He wanted something that was reminiscent of Obi’s Ep IV saber and Luke’s Ep VI saber.

Being a design guy I had to do some user vs. item to be used methodology.  We used various tube diameters to get the best fit for his hand and placed the on/off trigger in his preferred location.  We worked out the right length for a comfortable two-handed grip.  The blade length and intensity are controllable on this model through two pop-up knobs in the bottom of the hilt.

Consider this behind the scenes bonus material for the TotW.  If you like Star Wars, I know you like secret behind the scenes bonus material too.  It is engrained in you.  Behold my first saber it all of its low resolution glory (It is the only image I still have of it.  Notice the better lighting though.  Man, I miss having a good camera and photo studio)!

Image and Design copyright Jason Patz

TotW: Trainer Saber

It’s Friday and that means Thing of the Week.  Yes, it is hard for me to say that with a straight face.  I am so far behind on these I don’t know if I can come close to catching up by year’s end.

However, I am partially fulfilling a promise I made to you here when I discussed the greatness of the lightsaber and its impact on the SW franchise and me.  As discussed there, I could never find a decent lightsaber toy or prop so I decided to build my own out of plumbing parts, lighting parts, wood and resin.  I have two sabers to show you and this is the first of them.

Trainer Saber. Design and image copyright Jason Patz

As many of you no doubt know, one of the last things a padawan does to prove that he or she is ready for jediship is to build his or her own lightsaber.  This is how the movies explain all of the variation in the hilts and blade colors.  But as I approached the task from a design perspective I quickly realized that there must be some sort of trainer saber.  Probably some standard mass-produced design.  This was long before the prequel movies so I only had my imagination and reason to guide me.

As deadly as these weapons are, there must be an intermediate step.  Something that might hurt or even maim, but would not kill or destroy – like the shinai that is used in place of a katana when one practices kendo.

There would probably need to be a lot of them (At the time there was nothing that indicated how many Jedi or initiates there used to be – only more).  They would almost certainly be standardized for easy production, repair and maintenance.  I envisioned a quartermaster with racks of these things charging for the next practice round.

They would be free of much ornamentation not only for easy production but for more universal use.  You never know what kind of hand, pincher or tentacle is going to need to grip these hilts.  For the same reason the controls would be simple and obvious – an oversized red button within easy reach on the top for on and off and two set screws recessed into the bottom of the hilt for blade length and intensity on the bottom.

They also needed a battery life indicator that would be prominently displayed.  It would double as a simple diagnostic indicator when in that mode.  A diagnostic probe and charging tool could be hooked up at the small port on the top of the saber.

The emitter shroud would be large and simple to provide maximum protection and minimal opportunities for over eager sleeves to catch on.

Top Front and Side View. Design and Image copyright Jason Patz.

Next up will be my own personal saber.  I hope to have that for you next week.  There you will see that I addressed the two most common comments about the trainer saber:  1.  It looks a lot like a flashlight.  2.  Does it do anything?

You had me at Vvuhshzzz – Intro to the TotW

For a select number of years the shared experience that pulled me from autopilot and forced me to consider my age was a person’s first viewing of Star Wars.  We want to think that basically everyone is the same as us, but in instances like this we are reminded just how different we are.

“You saw Star Wars in the theater?!”  This was quickly followed by one of these:

1.  “I wasn’t even alive then.”

2.  “I saw it on VHS.”

3.  “Is that the one with the gold guy in it?”

Today the discussion rarely comes up, proving that I’m even older now.

Those of you that personally know me will find it hard to believe, but I didn’t really like SW that much when I first saw it.  Mom and Dad had heard all the hype and decided to check it out.  They determined that it was ok for my brother and me to watch it and for a few days (or weeks – movies ran for much longer in the olden days) my mom tried to build it up.  “You won’t believe what you are seeing.  All these big ships.  Lasers.  Light-up swords.  It is so cool!”  It didn’t make much sense to me but I was always happy for the rare treat of a movie.

I don’t remember a tremendous amount about that 2hr 1min spent at the Westbury Twin.  The beginning was loud.  Man, that ship is biiiiggg.  Why are the bad guys wearing both black and white armor?  Obi-Wan Kenobi sure is cool.  Han Solo is funny.  I could be friends with Chewy.  It’s kind of dumb that the bad guys can’t shoot better than that.  I think maybe all of this stuff is real somehow.

What did stick out in my mind was this scene.

I wanted to have a club house just like Obi’s Jundland Waste chalet.  Scorching dry winds.  Sand everywhere.  Curvy hard stuff to sit on.  In all seriousness, it would have been so cool to have little fort in the backyard that looked like that.

Most importantly, I wanted that light-up sword!  For years I have believed that no single thing contributed to the SW movies success more than the lightsaber.  Everything else could have been terrible but this one well-executed bit of design would have produced at least a mediocre movie.  Imagine that – a single prop cobbled together from grenades, lighting equipment, plumbing fixtures and such is capable of  making a successful movie.

It never really occurred to me that things like this would be for sale so I didn’t really picture myself owning one.  Remember, SW was the first movie that really made the strong connection of movie and merchandise.  They were figuring it out on kids like me (and making Senior Lucas mucho dinero).  Sure we loaded up on action figures and playsets.  We saved our proofs of purchase and got the mail-in Boba Fett.  What I really wanted was a good lightsaber toy.  I’d seen that inflatable one at friend’s houses.  Invariably it was sitting flaccid in the corner looking stupid.  Played with once but, upon contact with a bratty sister’s head, now broken and tossed aside.

It needs to make the sounds.  It needs to go in and out and light up just like a real one.  It needs to look cool with real metal and switches and light up buttons.  It needs to be solid so I can hit people and things with it.

Luckily for kids watching the theatrical re-releases, technology caught up with design and you can own an electroluminescent-bladed, really-truly sounds-right, prop-accurate lightsaber today.  You can get cheap toys that look pretty good and have a fairly solid extendible and retractable blade.  You can get all colors and hilt designs.  This product line is now so super saturated that you can get the one used by that Jedi that only appears in the back corner of one shot before she is beheaded.

Years before all of this merch was available, I decided to take matters into my own hands and I designed and built my own light saber hilts.

I’ll show you pictures and give you details soon.   I’m looking forward to sharing this with you.