When making a boffer weapon, there are a few key things to keep in mind:
- Safety: Safety is always first. You will usually be hit repeatedly - and quite possibly hard - by any number of other combatants during a fight at KR. A safe weapon is essential to avoid injury to yourself and to others.
- Durability: You want to build a weapon that will last. Crafting a durable weapon will ultimately save you time, money, and - most importantly - aggravation.
- Usability: If it doesn’t meet size or rules regulations, your work was for naught. Similarly, it may look cool and be safe, but if it’s unwieldy or uncomfortable to use, you may wind up ditching it for that old stand-by sword.
- Looks: Let’s face it, looks count. If you (or everyone else) can recognize your sword on sight, it’s a work of art to be proud of. If it adds to the atmosphere of the game, great. If it looks like crap, that reflects on the craftsman as well.
With this in mind, let’s make a weapon. You’ll need the following:
- PVC Piping: either ½" or ¾" depending on the length of the weapon (see below).
- Duct Tape: Silver is the basic color for blades and edges, while black or brown tape is usually used for handles and shafts. There are a lot of other colors of tape out there, and you may find that working with them is more fun. (Fists / Brawlers should be white, black, or the color of the character's skin.)
- Closed-Cell Foam (Pipe Insulation Tubing) in 5/8" Wall thickness: Make sure it fits your size pipe! PVC takes about the same size foam as Iron Pipe, but has thicker walls than Copper Piping does. If in doubt, take a sample of pipe or foam with you to the store.
- Open-Cell Foam: The soft, squishy stuff you find in cushions and pillows. You can get this in 2½" thick strips for Air Conditioning Insulation at Hardware stores, which is ideal. Larger blocks may be needed for custom weapons, axe heads, etc.
- Scissors or X-Acto Knife: Both are handy. Both will get gunked up from the duct tape. Get some solvent to clean them, or replacement blades for the knife.
- Spray Adhesive (Optional): To secure insulation to your pipe.
- Sports Grip Tape (Optional): So you don’t drop your weapon. From hockey tape to tennis grippy, there's a wide range of choices.
Step 1: Determine what you want to make
This includes the size of the weapon, whether it will be edged or blunt, if you need a head of some sort, etc. Make sure you have the right materials on-hand when you begin. A listing of all the legal weapon sizes can be found in the Rulebook under "Weapon Sizes" - please check there for minimum and maximum weapon sizes.
Grips are usually 4" for each hand, Pommels are 4" of foam with a 2" open cell ending. These lengths are for Knight Realms, and may vary from one game system to another. The Overall Length is the only hard and fast numbers you need to stick to - the other lengts are good guidelines to go by when planning measurements. A Marshal always has the right to reject a weapon due to poor or unsafe design and construction.
- A Bastard weapon must have a grip large enough to accomodate two hands.
- Spears, Staves, and Polearms must have their entire shafts covered with foam (i.e. - no unpadded core at the grip, although you may use a thinner foam, such as 3/8", on the non-striking surfaces).
- All wepaons must have padding on BOTH ends, which means the pommel, too! Even if you won't be using your sword to waylay someone, you may catch someone with the pommel in combat, or someone else could pick up your sword by accident (or on purpose) and use it.
Step Two: Prepare the PVC
If your weapon will be one-handed, you can use ½" PVC piping. If it will be two-handed (If the piping will be over 4 feet), use ¾" PVC. Some people may want to use ¾" for Bastard weapons, to reduce whip – run this by your Weapons Inspector at your game. This also depends on what techniques you use, if any, to reduce whip.
"Whip" is the wiggly motion you get from swinging a longer weapon. If you hit someone, and the tip of the weapon keeps moving a lot, or if you swing and your weapon visibly bends along the shaft as it moves, your weapon is "whippy" and unsafe. If you hold the weapon and wiggle it vigorously, and the end wobbles noticeably in a wave-like manner, this is also an indication of too much whip. To reduce whip, you can use strapping tape (the kind with wires in it that is a pain to cut) and wrap it around the pipe, tightly, in a spiraling fashion both up and down the pipe (spiraling in opposite directions, making a diamond / X pattern).
After you have cut the pipe to the appropriate length, sand or file the ends so they have no sharp edges or burrs that might rip the foam (or another player). Take a single piece of duct tape, and run it the length of the pipe, then wrap it around the diameter of the pipe. Repeat on the other side, totally encasing the pipe in 2 pieces of tape. This is to give some grip for the foam once you put it on, and also to contain the PVC if it should break.
Step Three: Cut and Add Foam Insulation
Next, you add the blade and the pommel. Slide the Blade piece onto the pipe, leaving one inch between the end of the PVC and the end of the foam (the pipe should end inside the foam by an inch). If your blade is longer than one piece of foam (usually 36"), put the shorter piece towards the bottom / handle of the weapon, since you want a continuous (and safer) piece for the top, which is more likely to see action. Mark the PVC where the bottom of the blade foam ends.
Take a 4" piece of foam and do the same on the butt / handle end of the weapon – this will be the pommel. Remove both pieces of foam.
To attach the foam to the PVC, there are two schools of thought. One uses tape, and the other uses adhesive.
The first method is to add layers of tape until the foam fits tight enough that it will not move. This can be done either the length of the blade, or at key points (tip, base, and usually one or two points along the shaft). Tape allows for the foam to be removed later, if you need to repair it, but is not as secure. An alternative to layering tape is to twirl tape into a "cord", and "thread" the shaft with this cord, then cover it with another layer of tape. This allows you to screw / slide on the foam, while ensuring a tight fit.
The other method is to use spray adhesive along the length of the shaft. This makes a firm, strong grip, but the foam is non-removable, and will tend to degrade faster since the glue is less forgiving for the stresses combat places on the foam (mostly twisting).
Attach the blade to the PVC core. If you did not use spray glue, Use 4 strips of tape at the base to attach it to the PVC.
If you have a cross guard, you will want to add it at this point. A cross guard is a piece of foam (usually the same foam insulation you cover the pipe in) between 8" and 12" long that forms a "T" with the blade. Cut a hole in the cross guard, and slide it up the handle to the blade, and secure it to both the blade and the PVC.
Once the blade and cross guard are attached, add the pommel in the same manner that you mounted the blade (leaving a 1" space at the end).
With all the insulation on, cut a piece of tape and ring it around the base of the blade for one complete loop, with the bottom 2/3 of the tape hanging off the foam and over the handle. Using a sharp knife, cut the tape vertically into about ½" strips, and secure the strips along the bottom of the blade foam and to the handle. When this is done, the bottom ring of the blade should be covered with tape, along with the bottom ½" or so of the blade, and the top portion of the handle. Repeat this process for the pommel. If you have a cross guard on your sword, you will need to secure it in a similar fashion to the PVC – again, 4 strips from the foam to the PVC is probably best.
Step 4: Tips
Now we add the thrusting tips and pommel end. Cut two lengths of open cell (squishy) foam, each about the size of the insulation foam, and at least 3" long. Take a longish strip of tape (at least 8") and cut it long-ways, making two narrow strips. Tape the tip to the top of the blade, compressing the foam from 3" to about 2". Be careful not to compress it too much – it should still have plenty of give, and spring back easily. Place the other strip at a 90° angle, again compressing the tip down, but not more than it already is.
Continue to cut strips of tape and cover the tip. Ideally, you can do this in 3 or 4 pairs. Too much tape, and the soft foam will be come stiff, making it lose its bounce and become unsafe. Repeat this process for the pommel end. Again, make sure it is soft, as the pommel is often a striking point for knock-out type attacks.
When the taping is complete, take a thumbtack and perforate the tips repeatedly on all surfaces. This will make air holes so the foam will expand after a hit. The tip should fill back out rather quickly, and become soft again – if it stays compressed, or is rigid, it will hurt on a thrust.
Step 5: Wrapping it up
By now, you should have a bare, but recognizable basic sword. Using long strips of Duct Tape, cover the length of the blade, covering it entirely. Try not to get wrinkles in the tape, as this means you will need more tape, and will ruin appearances. A single piece of tape should run from the base of the blade up to just below the tip of foam, without covering the tip (and adding unwanted layers to it). When this is done, wrap a single ring around the top and bottom to cover the loose ends (Again, below the tip), finishing them off.
For the pommel, one or two rings around the insulation should cover everything. This is usually easier than several short, vertical strips, and does not look as bad as they would on the blade.
Step 6: Final Touches
Cover the gandle / grip in some kind of sports tape. Your sword is now complete. If you want, you may decorate it with various colors of cloth or duct tape for that special appearance.
Things to keep in mind
When making a boffer weapon, here are some tips to make a better blade:
- Lighter is better: The less material you use, the lighter the weapon will be. Since you are going for speed and not crushing power, a light, fast sword is desirable. Using as little tape, foam, and other materials as possible will make a faster weapon.
- Colored tape: You can use colored tape for the pommel, guard, and even blade of your weapon.
- Smooth it out: Any time you apply duct tape, try to keep it as smooth and even as possible. This will let you use less tape, as well as result in a better appearance. It should also prevent tears and weak spots in the long run.
- Cutting Corners: When trying to fit tape around odd corners, like a cross guard, an X-Acto blade can be used to cut slits in the tape, making it easier to fold around corners. Remember, you want a tight fit with few wrinkles, using as little tape as possible.
- Fill in the Holes: Some smiths will plug in the gaps in the 1" hole at the top of the weapon with a spare chunk of pipe insulation, as a safety precaution from the PVC poking out. Also, inserting a stick of insulation into the hole in a cross guard will make it more rigid, especially if it is packed in tightly. That will help it last longer when resisting shots from other weapons.
Beyond the Basic Blade
If you want to make something other than a sword, here are suggestions:
Staff / Spear: These are easy to represent. For a staff, just use black or brown duct tape. For a spear, use mostly black or brown, but regular gray / silver for the tip. Ambitious smiths may add some open cell foam to the end to make a spearhead (see below).
Weapons with other hitting surfaces: Let’s face it - the basic sword can get boring. Some day, you may want to make an axe, mace, hammer, bardiche, halberd, or something similar. But how do you do that fancy head?
The answer is "lots of open cell foam." Any foam that is not covering the PVC shaft directly should be open cell foam, covered in a layer of duct tape. No foam should be visible, both for safety and appearance reasons. Don’t forget to use a thumbtack on any open cell areas, to allow them to re-expand quickly.
There should be no pointy ends or corners that could possibly poke someone in the eye. A good rule of thumb is that no protrusion should be able to fit into an eye socket – it should hit on the face around the eye, in the event that a head shot might accidentally occur.
Hooking, hinged, or flail weapons are not allowed for safety reasons. While it would be cool to have a hook to disarm someone, the possibility of hooking an arm, leg, or something else by accident is too great. Also, the rigidity of something that could pull a weapon away would be too stiff for safety standards, and would likely ruin the target weapon as well. Flails and other "chain" weapons can accelerate to dangerous speeds, even for padded foam.
KR does allow the use of fiberglass and /or graphite for weapons, in place of PVC.
Fiberglass and graphite are lighter than PVC, and special lightweight tape can be used with them, resulting in "ultralight" weapons. However, they also can hurt a lot more if swung forcefully (due to the smaller striking surface the force is spread over), and fiberglass may splinter if it breaks.
In any case, a weapon core should break well before a bone ever does. It’s much easier and cheaper to replace a broken boffer weapon than it is to go to the Hospital with a broken bone, and feelings are usually a lot less hurt as well.
Where to get supplies
You can get everything you need for a basic boffer weapon from your local Home Depot: PVC, Insulation, Duct Tape, and Open Cell foam. some stores may not have the sizes you need, so you may need to hunt a bit to find them.
If a local store does not work, you can always order online. Check the "Web Links" section of the website for a current list of vendors carrying supplies you can order online.
What to buy
The following brands / items are recommended as being proven durable and useful:
Duct Tape: 3M Brand. Best adhesion, and durability under adverse weather and physical conditions (i.e. - beating the stuffing out of your fellow players).
Open Cell Foam: Frost King Air Conditioning Weatherseal, Product AC43. This comes in a 36" strip 2" x 2", which is perfect for cutting into thrusting & pommel tips. Just measure a 3" length, cut, trip the corners to make it round, and you have a tip!
Pipe Insulation: Tundra Seal Self-Seal. This is the good pink / tan stuff that holds up a lot longer than the gray Frost King stuff. It's harder to find, but if you can find it, it's worth grabbing. Do It Best has it available in their online store.
Ultralight Supplies: Check for online kite supply stores, or if you are lucky enough to have one nearby, visit it. Graphite and Fberglass tubes and rods make excellent ultralight cores, but make sure you get them as thick as you can - otherwise, they will whip easily and may be too loose inside your insulation.