Building a Fiberglass Sword

 

Rugged Good Looks and Blade-like, Too

Constructing a Fiberglass Core Sword

We in the MMCG are always looking for a way to make a more sword-like simulator that can be used in full contact sparring. Up to this point, the PVC sword has proved itself to be the most cost effective and easily constructed sword; however, it is not the sturdiest of weapons and is severely lacking in appearance. The wood and metal core sword gave us the best ability to weight swords properly and achieve a more sword-like appearance through its flat blade, but has proven to be costly and time consuming and many of our members have been greatly upset at the prospect of the time involved in replacing such weapons when they break.

Most recently, we have been experimenting with rattan core swords to great success; these swords have shown themselves to be very durable, they can be shaped with relative ease, which allows the sword to take on the same appearance as the flat bladed wood and metal core swords and they can be weighted with relative ease; however, rattan is more difficult to come by and must be ordered from the internet in most cases, the shipping costs of rattan bring it into a price range that is comparable with the wood and metal core swords and the amount of work required in shaving them down is only minimally less than those same swords.

We believe our newest design has far greater potential than any of the previously used models. Our fiberglass core sword allows for a slimmer profile, a flatter blade, a more sword-like feel and a more sword-like action when sword-on-sword contact occurs; all of this comes with a price tag that is comparable to the PVC sword, readily available materials, ease of construction and, while the jury is still out on this part, durability that is only surpassed by the rattan core sword.

The main drawback to this style of sword simulator is the thin blade makes the thrusting tip fold over very easily and therefore the sword must be used carefully when thrusting. However, the fiberglass flexes quite readily and absorbs some of the force of impact.

What follows is a step-by-step description of the construction of the padded fiberglass core sword prototype built by Ser Owen Godwinesson.

Materials
2, 4' long 5/16" diameter fiberglass driveway markers (available at hardware store)
3' long 5/16" diameter steel rod
1/4” thick auto-upholstery foam
1/2" thick auto-upholstery foam (optional)
Strapping tape
Duct tape
High-temp hot glue gun and glue
13, 2" fender washers
4, 7/16" flat washers
1/2" wide flat steel bar
Grip materials of desired type

Tools
hacksaw
File
Scissors
Appropriate glues, etc… for attachment of grip
Dremmel rotary tool with cut off wheel (optional)

Step 1—Sword Length

Choose a historical sword upon which to model your padded version. Or just design one that looks nice and matches your fighting style and reach. In the case of the prototype, I chose an arming sword - Oakeshott type XVI - most popular from 1300-1350.

Here's the sword we're going for.
An example of an Oakeshott Type XVI sword

The fiberglass should be cut to the desired length of your sword (minus about 2 inches to allow for the thrusting tip and pommel). Be sure and keep track of the extra fiberglass, you'll need it later. CUTTING TIP: wrap several layers of masking tape around the location of the cut prior to cutting to minimize splitting.

The steel should be cut to about 2/3-3/4 the length of the fiberglass.

The parts of the core, cut to length.
Two fiberglass rods and one steel rod approximately 2/3 the length of the others

Step 2—Gluing

Begin by laying out your pieces on a FLAT AND LEVEL surface that will not be damaged by your glue gun. Sandwich the steel rod between the two fiberglass rods - one end should line up perfectly while the other end should have the excess fiberglass sticking out beyond the steel.

Once your glue gun is hot, tack the pieces together with hot glue down the length of the sword. At the tip (the end without the steel) force the tips of the fiberglass together and tack them with a strip of glue down the center an inch or two long. After you have enough tacks to hold the pieces together firmly, go back and fill the remainder of the sword where the steel and fiberglass are together. GLUING TIP: use the side of the cone tip on your glue gun to flush up the glue and smooth out bumps.

The whole piece glued up. This is how your parts should line up.
The whole piece glued up

The glue fills the gaps all the way down to where the steel ends, the gap will be left unfilled to allow for flex.
Where the steel ends

Detail of the glued tip, this bond will be reinforced with strapping tape later
Tip detail

Step 3—the crosspiece

Now it's time to put that leftover fiberglass to use. By using pieces from the same rod, we are able to achieve a very snug fitting crosspiece that is not overly bulky - like many of our other methods.

Once you have decided how large you want your crosspiece to be, cut two pieces of fiberglass to that length MINUS the length of the two rubber tips that came with the driveway markers. Then cut two more pieces that are the full length of the crosspiece MINUS the width of the blade (which should be about 15/16") and DIVIDED BY TWO. These two shorter pieces will be the ones you put the rubber ends back on.

With your cut pieces, assemble them in the same fashion as the rest of the sword (with hot glue), leaving enough space in the center for the blade to pass through. It should look like this:

Here's what the crosspiece should look like once it's glued, notice that the rubber tips are on the ends to prevent the edge of the fiberglass from cutting anyone.
The Crosspiece

Now it's time to taper the ends of the crosspiece. If you have a dremmel, this is the time when it really comes in handy, otherwise, a coping saw with a metal cutting blade will work. taper the ends of the two long pieces of fiberglass and smooth out the sharp edges with your dremmel or sandpaper. SAFETY TIP: Using the Dremmel for this step produces a VERY fine fiberglass dust, you should wear a mask and do this in an area outside of your house.

The crosspiece with the ends tapered and smoothed. Notice I took off the rubber ends so I wouldn't damage them, I re-attached them later.
The tapered crosspiece

Now that the cross piece is glued up, measure up from the butt end of your sword to where you want the crosspiece to sit PLUS 1/2" for the attachment of the pommel. Once you have it positioned, check it for square and glue it on with hot glue.

Step 4—the pommel

Now that our sword is starting to look like a sword, we'll add a pommel. The pommel serves to add weight and bring the center of balance closer to where it should be. Figure out how many 2" fender washers it takes to match the thickness of the sword flat (it took 5 for me) and tape them together with strapping tape. TIP: fender washers work best for this because they are thinner than flat washers and allow you to more closely match the thickness of the flat.

With a permanent marker, draw a straight line across the washer about 1/2" down from the edge:

Washers taped together and marked for cutting.
Fender washers taped together and marked for cutting

Clamp the washers to a sturdy surface and cut across the line with your hacksaw.

All clamped to my workbench for cutting.
Fender washers clamped to workbench
Washers after cutting and filing off sharp edges.
Picture of washers that have been cut

After you have cut the washers, file off any sharp edges. Then add additional washers equally on each side until you achieve the desired thickness. I added two 7/8" flat washers to each side for aesthetic purposes. Your finished product should look like this:

The pommel prepared for attachment. Note the groove made by the cut washers that will slip over the end of the sword.
view of pommel
Another view of pommel

Slip the pommel on the end of the sword and secure it with strapping tape. In order to attach it securely, use epoxy in the to attach the end (I didn't but thought it would be a good idea as I was writing this). Pull your tape tight and secure the pommel and snugly as you can.

Tape the crosspiece on as well and put some strips of strapping tape around the blade a few inches apart down the length of the blade. Your sword should now look like this:

I wrapped the crosspiece in strapping tape and then electrical tape in order to give it a nice black finish, this would also be the time to finish your pommel however you like - I used duct tape. The electrical tape on the blade is intended to mark the final location of the balance point (this is located to match the original>
Sword with crosspiece and pommel attached

Step 5-the grip

At this point, add whatever weights you feel are necessary to your blade in order to balance it properly and ensure that it matches the weight of the sword on which your padded sword is modeled. If you are working from your own design, try to find a sword of similar build and length for comparison and approximate its weight. Goods weights and lengths for swords can be found at: Albion Swords.

1/2" steel bar added for weight and to beef up the grip.
Grip with 1/2 inch bar added for weight

You may finish you grip however you like, but here's how I did mine. Get some twine of not too thick diameter and tightly wrap the entire length of the grip. To create a tapered effect, wrap the parts you want to be thicker a second or third time.

Grip all wrapped and ready for leather.
Grip with twine wrapped around it to create a tapered handle

Coat the rope with glue (either wood glue or regular white glue works fine) and allow it to dry. This will help keep the rope from sliding around and firm it up a bit. Then wet a piece of thin leather and stretch it around the handle, wrap it tight with more twine and you'll get textured rings running down the grip. After it takes the shape of the handle, trim it to the proper size and glue it with leather glue. Wrap it tightly again and let it dry:

Finished grip. Isn't it pretty?
Leather wrapped grip

Step 6—Blade Padding

Using the 1/2” upholstery foam, cut strips to fit onto your blade edges - alternatively, you can use a double layer to 1/4" padding. They should be slightly wider than the edge of the fiberglass, 3/8" wide at least (although it’s not necessary to make them any wider). Something solid should be used on the tip to prevent the edges of the fiberglass from poking through the padding, such as very heavy foam, shoe rubber or leather. Tape the foam on with strips around the blade. Cut a piece of 1/4" foam to cover the flat of the blade, it should be 1/2" wider than the core of the sword so that a bad strike doesn't result in the fiberglass coming in direct contact with your opponent. Padding tip: Use spray adhesive to help secure the flat foam so that it stays in place while you're taping. You can achieve a nice sharp-looking tip by layering 1/4" foam of descending size on the tip and taping over them - this is also necessary to add extra padding for thrusts.

Here's how the edges and tip should look.
Tip padding diagram
The pink area shows how the flat padding should sit on the blade.
Flat padding diagram

Then Tape the foam on using strapping tape all the way down the length of your blade. Spiral the tape and compress the foam just the slightest bit - almost not at all.

All padded and almost finished!
Completed padding and fully taped.

Step 7—Duct Tape

Tape that sucker up. Duct tape applied lengthwise gives the sword a more blade-like look, and adds less weight. Try not to compress the padding at all on this step.

The finished product, all duct-taped up along with my longsword I also made with the same materials. DANG THEY'RE PURDY!
Finished padded fiberglass arming and longsword

Epilogue

The finished product should look something like this. As you can see, the resulting sword is a pretty decent copy. The taper isn't perfect, but the weight, balance and size are almost identical to the original.

Comparison of real sword with padded sword-simulator.
Comparison of fiberglass sword to real arming sword

WOW! Now that's a sword to be proud of. It's the best looking padded sword simulator that I've ever seen that actually duplicates the weight and balance of the real thing. This has become the new standard in the MMCG.

 

   
 
 
     
   

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