DIY Lightsabers (and Force Lighting!)

If you missed it, check out our Yoda and The Emperor costumes page from Halloween 2005.  That page overlaps somewhat with this one, but covers more material albeit in more of a narrative fashion.  This page focuses more in depth on the lightsabers and The Emperor's force lightning than the rest of the costumes.



Here are the final products: A couple glowing sabers, force lightning, and passersby gawking in awe and envy.  In other words, everything on a true geek's xmas list!

(Okay, the picture looks like crap because it's a long-exposure photo taken without a tripod.  I promise these look great in real life.)


Lightsabers

Parts and Materials
  • Chrome plumbing -  Those come in different sizes (i.e., lengths and diameters).  It is relatively cheap, so feel free to experiment.  Additionally, you can try PVC pipe as well since it has the advantages of being even cheaper, easier to cut, and more amenable to paint.  Depending on what diameter tube you go with for the hilt and the blade, you will require additional pipe sections to complete the assembly.  See the photos below.
  • Windshield wiper blades -  Cut into shorter lengths, these make great grips for the hilt of the blade, although they are more decorative than functional unless what you used is really durable.
  • Epoxy -  You will need something strong to keep the grips from peeling away if the lightsaber is going to be used as a prop (as opposed to a display; it's up to you).
  • O-Rings -  These may have two uses.  Aesthetically, they are terrific for garnishing the chrome hilt.  However, they may also be useful for increasing the diameter of parts that need to be squeezed together (e.g., blade housing into the hit).
  • Tension bands -  These can look pretty neat as well, but I used one specifically to bind the chrome tubing down on the PVC section that held the blade in place.
  • Clear polypropelene tubing -  This will become the blade.  It can be cut to length and frosted.  Can be found at McMasters.  I made the Emperor's 3' in length, but I cut Yoda's just a bit shorter.
  • Spray-on glass frosting -  This will cover the clear plastic of the blade to diffuse the light and make it appear more like it does in the movies.  Without this coating, the individual strands of the el-wire will be visible.  Speaking of which...
  • El-Wire -  Short for electroluminescent wire.  I would recommend going with 30' of wire.  That sounds like a lot, but it is a narrow diameter, so more it needed to flesh out the blade.  Can be found at Elwirecheap.com.
  • Inverter -  El-wire requires an AC signal to light up, so an inverter must be used with batteries.  Most el-wire kits include an inverter that is approximately the size of a 9V battery.
  • 9 Volt batteries -  You'll probably want three of these as more voltage/current will be required to drive the amount of wire you'll need to make a decent-looking blade.
  • 9 Volt batter connectors -  These will be used to wire the batteries together, obviously.  Can be found at Radio Shack.

Tools
  • Dremel -  Best investment you'll ever make since you'll use it all the time if you're a DIYer.  You can use this for cutting the tubing.  For large, straight cuts, a jig saw (with the appropriate blade for the material, either metal or plastic) might be a better choice.
  • Wire cutters and wire stripper -  If you expand upon the basic single 9V set-up of most el-wire kits (which I recommend you do), you will need to cut and strip some wire before you can connect things.
  • Soldering iron and solder -  To solder the battery connectors together.  This will hold up better than simply twisting them around one another.
  • Long shoestring -  You can probably use another string, but I happened to have long, soft nylon laces around from a pair of hi-tops.  I used this to pull the el-wire up into the tubing.  It is going to be packed in there pretty tightly, so you keep doubling it over approximately the length of the blade tube, then tie the shoelace around one end and pull the whole mess through.




Finishing the job
Because we waited until the last minute on Halloween, the sabers didn't get as thorough a treatment as I would liked to have given them.  Still wound up from the next Halloween, I finally got around to completing things more than a year after the fact.  Here's the rest of the story in a galaxy not too far away...

I ran several left-over O-rings over the blade-end of the hilt purely for decoration.

Also, the end of the pipe I used for the hilt had a sharp, out-turned edge.  I had a band-like O-ring that I slipped around that.


For handle grips, I bought a cheap pair of windshield wipers and cut them into thirds to give me six lengths.  (One of the pieces is between the cushions; I found it later).

With the grips glued on and the O-rings more evenly spaced, things look a lot more professional.  I also added a spare compression band at the top simply because it was on hand with the rest of the parts.

Note: Try to get the O-rings as close as possible to the diameter of the tube/handle.  Too small and they'll all break off within a few months.  Seriously.  That's what happened to mine.
 


Additional ideas!
Part II: The Emperor's Force Lighting*
(*Note: You could also be Count Dooku / Darth Tyrannus)

Here's a better view of the Emperor's lightning.  As you can see, it isn't terribly impressive in the daylight or your camera's flash the way it is at night.

Parts and Materials
  • Wire clothes hanger -  You could also use any sort of sturdy wire such as galvanized fence wire.  Be careful of sharp ends, however.  Note that the effect is probably more dramatic if the hanger/wire is black.
  • El-Wire -  Same as discussed above.  Probably between four and six feet of wire is good unless you want to solder it to branch in sections.  I had one "branch" double on itself to go back and form another strand.
  • Inverter -  El-wire requires an AC signal to light up, so an inverter must be used with batteries.  Most El-wire kits include an inverter.
  • 9 Volt batteries -  I used two in order to increase the brightness to approximately the level of the effect seen in the movies.
  • 9 Volt batter connectors -  These will be used to wire the batteries together, just as with the sabers above.  Can be found at Radio Shack.
  • On/Off switch -  Unless the el-wire kit you have includes one, you'll need some way to easily switch the power off and on.  I happened to have a toggle switch on hand for mine, but I would recommend a small push-button model instead as those are easier to trigger with one hand.
  • Black electrical tape -  I taped the batteries and inverter together to keep things from rattling around and coming loose.
  • Clear Scotch tape -  I used this to attach the El-wire to the harness (i.e., clothes hanger).

Tools
  • Wire cutters and wire stripper -  As with the sabers, you will probably want to add an additional 9V battery or two to the circuit.  Also, you will need a heavy-duty wire cutter for the support (i.e., to cut the galvanized wire or to unwrap the clothes hanger).
  • Soldering iron -  Again, this is to solder the battery connectors together.


Here's a close-up of the power. 

The switch is on the left (basic SPST switch) then a pair of 9 Volt batteries taped to an inverter to run the el-wire.  The battery connectors are soldered together for added stability.  All the excess wire was left bundled to keep it out of the way.  After all, you're probably going to get a little theatrical with things on Halloween night.


Warning: I am not responsible for your safety.  This page assumes you will consult a Jedi Master if you do not know how to use any of the tools or construction techniques (e.g., soldering) outlined on this page.



All images and text copyright 2005-2007 Alexplorer.
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