Building a Padded Rattan Sword

 

Durable, Adaptable and Sword-Shaped

A Padded Rattan Sword

Every year or so, the MMCG collectively ponders its weapons construction in order to evaluate the current weapons in a number of different areas. Although PVC swords will always be the cheapest and quickest to throw together at short notice—and therefore the most prevalent—they do not simulate the characteristics of a real sword very well.

Numerous alternatives to PVC have been suggested and experimented with, and each new design presents its own set of benefits and drawbacks. This particular design is no exception, but the benefits to a sword simulator made from rattan are more pronounced than those of other construction methods thus far.

To begin with, rattan is a substance ideally suited for constructing weapons simulators (as evidenced by decades of SCA use). It is easily filed or sanded down so as to more easily approximate a blade shape. Hardware such as pommels and hilts are more easily attached to rattan. It does not easily splinter or shatter as compared to other woods in use for weapons cores.

What follows is a step-by-step description of the construction of the padded rattan sword prototype built by Ser Maelgrim Crowther.

Materials
3/4” skinless rattan of desired sword length
High-density foam of 1/2” thickness
1/4” thick auto-upholstery foam
Strapping tape
Duct tape
Pommel and crosspiece of desired type
Grip materials of desired type

Tools
Saw (for cutting rattan)
Files
Sandpaper Scissors & knives (for cutting foam and tape)
Appropriate glues, etc… for attachment of grip
Appropriate hardware for attachment of crosspiece and pommel

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 already had a piece of rattan of a certain length, and so I chose the sword I would simulate accordingly.

The rattan in its original form.
Raw Rattan

The rattan should be cut to the desired length of your sword (minus about 2 inches to allow for the thrusting tip). Please note that the picture shows rattan with skin—ordering skinless rattan will save you a great amount of time in the long run.

Step 2—Filing the Grip and Blade
Measure the length of your grip and blade, and mark them on the rattan, remembering to leave whatever room is necessary for the attachment of crosspiece and pommel. For the section that will eventually be the grip, file it to a slightly oval shape (sword grips should never be perfectly round). For the blade section, file it so that the top and bottom portions (the flat of the blade) are, well, flat. This should decrease the width of the sword-blade section to around 1/2 an inch.

This step can be sped up considerably with careful use of a belt sander or sanding wheel. Care must be taken when using power tools—not only to avoid injury, but to avoid removal of too much rattan). If you use a power sander to flatten the rattan, please wear a mask so that you don’t coat your lungs with rattan sawdust.

The filed sword, shown sideways as well so that the width of the blade can be clearly seen.
From the front
From the side

Optional Step—Taper the Blade
You may wish to make a blade whose edges are not parallel. If so, this is the time to put that file or sander to good use and file the edge-sides of your sword blade until the tip portion is no smaller than 1/2”. Any smaller would not only make the resulting thrusting tip dangerous, but possibly weaken the rattan so much that it would be too flimsy for combat use.

Step 3—the Hardware
At this point, you should attach the pommel and crosspiece for your sword. Crosspieces may need to be held on by a variety of different methods, including liquid nails, screws, and tight fit. After the crosspiece has been attached, the pommel should follow. Please note that the pommel and crosspiece pictured here were originally made for SCA use, and are therefore designed to fit onto rattan of 1-1/4” diameter. See the epilogue for details.

Step 4—the Grip
This step can actually take place at any point, but I did it right after things started to look like a sword. In the pictures below, you can see the wetted leather being stretched and glued on, and held on by rubber bands. You can make your grip from whatever you like, or even just sand the rattan very well and leave it as-is.

The grip in both stages of work. Top--with base elements. Bottom--with leather glued on and held by rubber bands.
Cord and risers
Leather glued on

Optional Step—Weights
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.

Step 5—Blade Padding
Using the 1/2” high-density foam, cut strips to fit onto your blade edges. They should be 3/4” wide at least (although it’s not necessary to make them any wider). A sensible precaution to take is to also attach thin strips of 1/4” auto-upholstery foam so that your blade edge has a little more spring. 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 done--the blade-edge padding has been taped on with strapping tape in a spiral pattern.
Strapping tape stage

Step 7—Flat Padding & Thrusting Tip
Down the length of your blade’s flat, tape the 1/4” auto-upholstery foam so that a thin layer of foam covers the flat of the blade. This is your “Crap, I accidentally hit with the wrong part of the blade” insurance. Tape a few extra strips of 1/4” foam to the end of the sword so that you get a layered, but flat thrusting tip.

Step 8—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 too much on this step.

The finished product, all duct-taped up.
Finished padded rattan sword

Epilogue
The finished product should look something like this. As you can see, the resulting sword isn’t a perfect copy, but the weight, balance and size are all fairly close.

Comparison of real sword with padded sword-simulator.
Comparison

A note about the crosspiece and pommel shown on the prototype: they were originally intended for SCA use, and are therefore bulky and blocky so as to conform to the SCA’s rules about all weapon-edges being no smaller than 1-1/4”. This also means that the hole in the center of the crosspiece meant for the rattan is 1-1/4” in diameter. Therefore, the prototype was made using 1-1/4” diameter rattan, and painstakingly filed down over the rest of the blade, leaving only the space for the crosspiece that wide.

If you choose to use SCA components for your MMCG padded rattan sword, be aware that you will need to buy larger rattan, and that you will need to do quite a bit more filing and/or sanding.

 

   
 
 
     
   

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