Shinken (X Sword) Tutorial (3 posts)

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#1 Kabukiyasha on 11 years ago

Since we were asked a lot about this during mini-animania, I decided a tutorial was in order. (This can be found on my journal should the thread disappear.)

Feel free to ask questions here.

[b]How we made these swords![/b]

First step, the master plan.

[b]The plans and basics[/b]
Don't they look gimpy now...
There are more shocking images to follow too.

A basic explanation, now that you have a diagram of sorts.

[b]The wooden blade[/b] (The durable one)

[b]The Artboard blade[/b] (The travel/SFX one)

As you can see, we basically planned out what we'd do in the skit before we went into the weapon making. We always wanted one of them to break, so we went with the one that didn't first to make things easier for ourselves.

We have no actual wood-working facilities, so to get our blade, we glued two strips of paneling together (if you ask for a wood panel or guard strip they usually know what you're talking about). Then we did some backyard sawing to get the basic blade shape.

Now came the problem of making a hilt for it. We cut a rather thick curtain pole to the right length (which was rather hard to calculate since the sword has a tendency to change lengths according to character height ratio throughout the manga and artbooks...), then glued two strips of aluminium along either side, thus forming the two strips of brass that would later be on the blade, and a nice socket for the blade to sit in.

We glued toothbrush handles to the sides of the curtainpole then wired them on to make them secure and bulk them to the right length/width. The 'M' shape was built up of wire. You can see photos of it here with the base layer of clay that provided a foundation for further decoration. As you can see, there is a LOT of wire going up and down the sword to make the connections sturdier. A lot of hot glue and contact cement died for this as well. When gluing the sword blade into the aluminium strip slot, clamp the metal strip NOT the blade (it will leave dents).

For a while our camera died, so I'm providing a walk-through.

The artboard blade is cut out of artboard, nothing complicated. The handle for this one has to be thinner. So use a metal pipe or something, but make sure the result means the blade will sit snug between the aluminium strips. If you intend for this sword to break (why else would you make it of artboard), make sure to run the strip right along till the point you want it to break. Or it might break just from holding it. We broke ours 7 days before the competition still ^_^;;; And had to rip the blade out and reinsert a new one >_>

[b]The hand-guards[/b]

Before you do anything, measure out your hand size to the ratio of the sword vs character in the manga. This will vary depending on the cosplayer. Since we had to make two identical swords, it was decided it was best to go with the bigger hand-size (Fuma) since it would look better in the coupling.

With a piece of sturdy wire (test it, it should hold shape but be able to be bent with relative ease with pliers). Twist and shape it until you have the basic outline for the shape in this photo, remember to fit the thing over your base sword to make sure it fits and is correct size.

It doesn't matter if it's not exact at this point, as the subsequent layers will help fix that. Cover the wire frame in chicken wire or square mesh (chicken wire is best since the hexagons bend easier into curved shapes). Make sure the wire meets as closely as possible with the frame, bind the edges down with thin wire.

Cover the result in papermache or duct tape (make sure it's the good stuff if you're using tape, proper black rolls with cloth backing). Press the mache/tape in tight so it doesn't form bubbles between the mesh and top layer. Wait for it to dry before doing anything else.

Before you start. Most paperclay/sculpy will stick perfectly fine to any surface if you wet it enough. The texture changes however as you wet these materials, so practice with it first. Avoid using too much glue while the clay is wet to help it stick. If you're working on separate bits that should go together, let the clay result dry completely then attach with glue. This is because a lot of the tute relies on sanding, and glue doesn't sand as well (or to the same consistency).

Get paperclay or sculpy (ask at local art/craft stores). We used a combination of heavy clay and paperclay for our cosplays and it works well. Apply a layer of paperclay to the tape/mache hilts you have now. It doesn't matter if it's a bit lumpy, but make sure you fill major dents and wipe away excess clay where needed so that the surface is a smooth curve following the framework you built beneath.

Wait for it to dry, should take about 18 hours. Then start sanding. Working with rougher sandpaper to begin with, then carefully moving on to finer grades till you get a smooth finish. You may need to apply more paperclay to holes/dents that show up after sanding (we had to do three layers).

You will end with something like the photo above, but here it is again:

Draw the flame pattern onto the guard as shown in that photo, doesn't really matter what you use, but I opted for high-lighter since it won't scratch the paperclay (so it matters less if you make a mistake, remember the 'holes' that make up the flame will show the sanded layer beneath).

Build the central bit up with paperclay/sculpy, you need it to be around 5-7mm thick, don't add the border around it yet (see above picture). Roll tubes of clay around 10mm (1cm) thick, and apply this to the edge of the guard forming the border that goes around everything. It needs to stand about 5mm-7mm above the sanded surface (like a mini wall). The excess from the tube should be pushed under the guard and form the basics of the new edge. Don't worry too much about the smoothness of that yet.

Sculpt the 'scallop' at the end of the guard. It's easiest to lay on tubes of clay that get smaller at one end (lone cone shape), stick them together, then use a small thin wire loop (double the wire over, squish the loop flat) and dig out the lines in between each till you get the desired shape. This part took about 3 hours, so be patient and you will get it right.

Next, apply a layer of paperclay that is around 3mm thick all over the guard leaving a 'moat' around the central bit you built, cutting VERY CAREFULLY with a plastic or wooden sculpting tool as you cover the flame design. If you cut too hard you will damage the sanded surface underneath. You must do this as you are applying this new layer. Once the paperclay is dry you will not get smooth cuts as easily.

Take one more chunk of paperclay and form it into a sort of flat half-oval. This is the 'lip' of the border that goes over the flame design and the 'scallop', thus hiding the connection. Make the 'spikes' that flow out to the 'tails' of the guard, forming them carefully with your fingers. It's fine to whack on a blob of clay about the right shape (tube with a dangling pyramid shape at one end), and work the design up once it's on the guard. You should end up with something like this:

When this dries, sand it CAREFULLY, because the sandpaper has a tendency to rip out edges of the design (paperclay/sculpy is very easy to sand off). After you sand, you can tidy up the edges, make them squared off (our edges were basically squishy uneven duct tape and paper mache), and fill with paperclay till it looks even. And don't forget to add the border between the 'spikes' and the flame section.

Once the hilts are sanded, make one more long, thin tube of clay (3-4mm). Stick this to the edge of the central part. Don't press down too hard, you want the result to look like it's a hard border. You may want to tidy up all your borders after sanding, then let it dry and resand them. That's what we did.

Lastly... carve the letters in with a scalpel, you might want to practice this on another piece of dried paperclay. Wetting the scalpel a little before making the cut will make it smoother. You CAN sculpt this bit in while the clay was wet, but I found it hard to get that carved in look the letters have. And wanted them to be different from the flame designs.

#2 Kabukiyasha on 11 years ago

[b]Building up the hilt[/b]
Remember that wire-covered sword with a rough clay base? Bulk up from that, carefully sculpting in the details that will be visible layer by layer. I did the jewel seat last, since everything else fuses under it. You can see a photo of it here (the guard is not glued yet, this is just for sizing).

Here's another angle, as you can see, the 'M' now goes OVER the hilt on one side, then tucks in on the other (where it goes over the hilt on that other side). If you're confused, have a look at the finished photos and the references. The 'triangles' do NOT end/start on the same side, nor are they mirrored on both sides. It's more like an infinity loop.

Build the jewel seat with a chunk of clay (you need it to wrap over everything between blade and hilt. To give you a better idea of the shape you want, I've included a close up of the finished product. You're ONLY building the base shape of the jewel seat at the moment, do NOT add the extra clay that covers and surrounds the jewel (you have no jewel yet, right?). Put the guard on the hilt to get the height of the seat right, it should leave around 7cm space either side between seat and guard tail. The photo has the last layer of decoration on it, which goes over the jewel a bit.

[b]The jewel[/b]
Resin cast the jewel in a takoyaki dish >_> Yes, you heard right. Spray releasing agent onto the dish (you can wash it off), and mix your resin ready to pour. It needs to be filled to around 17-20mm thick, make sure you cast about 7, you need 4 to be pretty much even. Let them set, if you're using transparent resin with purple dye (the jewel is surprisingly opaque in some artbook shots, so this is up to you), take care to get the clear resin that does NOT have a yellowish cast. Once you pop them out (don't forget the releasing agent on the takoyaki dish or you will never pop them out), you can sand the bottom smooth (there will be a little edge from the resin settling).

Wait around 15 minutes and examine your casts. Some of them will have bubbled (probably the earliest and last pouring, since the resin agents may not have mixed properly for those). We used around 75-100ml of resin agents (you don't need much catalyst ever). A friend helped me do this part, since he has facilities and equipment, you will want to be very careful doing resin-casting as it can get nasty.

If you did not use a clear resin: Spray paint the result with metallic plum modeling spraypaint. I can't stress this enough, it is NOT worth going cheap on the spray paint.

If you did use clear resin/purple stain: Back it in foil. Use clear glue or silver leaf, but the back of your jewel has to be polished and foiled so that it doesn't show up the clay seat.

Stick the jewel to the seat you made for it, the glue doesn't need to be super strong, you will see why soon.

[b]Final decorations[/b]
The jewel will sit above the seat, and it will look too big and not bordered. This is where the complicated bit comes in. Roll a tube of clay around 10mm thick, and put it around the jewel to about where you want the jewel surface to show. Press it down, and try to keep the border even. Carefully use a wooden or plastic sculpting tool to smooth it out. Press it flat over the jewel part that's hidden, and use your finger to circle the rim so it pushes the clay up into a border. >_> Yes that's hard to explain, so look again at this photo:

Once that's dry, sand very carefully, building up that rim if you need to till it's about even on all sides surrounding the jewel. You need to do this 4 times, twice for each sword.

Once that is dry, add the decorative borders and such with thin tubes of clay. You can make it look edged by pinching the clay tube once it's laid down between index finger and thumb. Be very careful how hard you pinch, or it will look wobbly.

Use good quantity of clay and cover the hilts. You can create the illusion of the hilt passing under the 'M' by making the M strips higher with more clay. >_> Our 'M' bits didn't actually go over/under at all, the illusion of it being above the hilt is built in clay, as you can see in comparison of two shots:

The toothbrush parts should also have attention put to it. If you study the edge on the shinken, it's much thinner on the handles than the rest of the designs. This one was pushed into an edge with my fingers, and I ran it along with some water till the lip 'curled' up to form the border.

When you're doing this, put the finished guard on the sword often and mark with a highlighter where it sits (outline it, so you know what it will hide). You have to do this to make sure everything will still look balanced, this is possibly the most fiddly part of the whole thing. If you make the handle too thick, the guard will sit higher. So while this process is decorative, it's also practical.

Don't forget to add the visible decoration behind the guard. And note the two spongy 'blocks' between the guard and the rest of the sword, the use for these is explained later.

[b]Putting it all together[/b]
Remember the spongy blocks? Those were made of clay and provide a connection for the glue to attach the guard to the hilt. When you're ready to go with the connection, put two oversized chunks of clay between the guard and the hilt as you push the guard on (I found it easier to stick the clay chunk to the hilt first). Push the clay in (it'll want to slip out when you're pushing the guard on) to make sure it touches the guard.

It's better to do this when the clay is a bit dry (which is why I stuck it to the hilt first, so I'm not holding a loose bit of clay while we were fitting the guard on). The clay will be spongy enough to take the shape you press it into, but not so sticky that it will rip off with the guard. Pull the guard off once you get the shape right.

Build the 'beads' that connect the guard to the sword at the top. And remember it's 'ring', bead, 'ring', bead 'ring.

Glue the guard to the bead with contact cement >_> You might not need to go so far if you're not fighting with these swords. But we were worried about the impact wobbling them off. You will get this: (Except the painting of course)...

[b]Stars of David[/b]
We built them out of wire then cleaned them up with paperclay. Since they were built of wire, it was easy to bind them to the end of the hilts and glue down. They were sturdy enough in the end to rest the swords on. Make sure to sand these.

#3 Kabukiyasha on 11 years ago

[b]Spray painting![/b]
Use primer. I can't stress this enough so I'll say it lots of times.
SPRAY PRIMER EVERYWHERE (except the handle poles if you want). Don't miss a bit, whereever you do miss will look an entirely different texture and the chrome just won't look chrome.

Don't forget the beads/stars of david.

Gray White Knight Primer is a favourite, why gray? Since almost every colour will show up well against gray, and gray is an excellent base for most spray jobs. Do two coats of primer, following manufacturer's instructions on the can. If you over spray you will get a 'blob', wipe it off fast with water and rag, if it's on the blade, you may need to wipe it all off and start over. This is going to be a bit hard with the artboard one.

When that is dry, use a combination of masking tape, paper and BLU-TAC >_> If you don't know what this is... [url=]Blu-tac Wiki[/url] to cover any bits of the sword that's not meant to be gold/bronze/brass. This was really useful for covering the jewels. Get in close to the edge, and try not to cover much of the hilt. Don't forget to cover the blade, you can cover the higher parts of it with plastic bags and tape instead of taping it all up.

If you did make a breakable sword, remember to use blu-tac or tape to form the taper on the strip where the proper 'gold' strip ends on the wooden version. The aluminium goes up the blade, but the gold paint for it should only go as long as the strip extends on the wood one. You can see what I mean in this photo:

LEAVE AT LEAST ONE DAY between spraying the different colours.

Since the masking tape and such will have a lot more ease pulling off paint you want to stay on if you don't let it dry enough. I'd recommend 2-3 days in between colours if you have the time to wait.

We used White Knight metal: Brass. We looked at the gold as well, but the brass actually came out looking more metallic. The gold has a tendency to be too yellow. Spray the entire hilt really well, get in to all the corners and hidden bits and don't forget the jewels. You will need to be turning the sword quite a lot to get at all of it. The paint is touch dry at 10 minutes, but you need to dry it without letting any of it touch anything >_> And don't forget the beads/stars.

We put down two boxes and balanced the hilt and blade on it so that the edge of the boxes touched only the unwrapped handle and the unpainted blade.

When that is dry, you do the reverse of what you did earlier. Free the blade and cover the hilt this time. We found it easier to just poke a hole through a plastic bag and put the blade through, then tape/blu-tac the detail of the hilt that pokes through. Remember to use blu-tac to mark out where the blade starts vs hilt when spraying the silver.

We used: White Knight Chrome Silver >_> Make sure you get the CHROME.
A few things about the chrome finish. You want to make sure your swords are very done, all glued, all dry, nothing missing, nothing needing anymore sanding/reprimering (if you add anything to it after painting, you MUST primer before painting again).

The chrome finish rubs off very easily even after drying, and you cannot reapply coats after it is fully dry, because the paint sits on the chrome like a mist and ruins the finish. You should spray once, leave it to dry an hour, then spray a second coat. If you want a third coat, leave it one hour then do it, don't leave it longer than two hours in between coats.

When drying, the blade should be rest point up if possible. We found convenient chairs for this with holes in near the base of the armrests, so we slotted the swords through, resting the clay hilts on foam padding to avoid getting them damaged. You can set up a stand, anything that will allow the swords some leverage to stand on their stars of david.

Once they are dry any finger marks on them WILL show. So hold the swords by handle/aluminium strips.

"What? But my sword looks all shiny and perfect, why do I want to cover it in plastic?"
You might be asking. There are several reasons for this.
1. Your sword is now constructed mostly of clay. Great, it looks nice and sands up a treat, but it's also easily dented, scratched, and generally bruised even though the primer helps.
2. The chrome paint will now begin to rub off everywhere, your clothes, your fingers, your hair, you name it.
3. The plastic shine might look a bit fake to your eye, but it's also a nice trick to smooth up any bumps that show up in strong lighting. This means photographs will look smoother and at the same time more reflective.

Right. For all those benefits, there is one thing important about the lacquer. It WILL eat some of the chrome. Especially if you didn't leave the paint to dry for long enough, and if you over spray.

We used White Knight again, since it is best to stay in the one brand and we found this was a good one.

With the lacquer, it's really hard to tell whether you hit a spot or not, so there's a tendency to keep spraying till it looks wet. >_> Don't do it! It will eat the top layer of paint and give a 'blended' look to the sword, making it look grayish. LIGHTLY spray the entire thing, if you're certain you've missed parts, do it during the respray. You will want to do 2-3 coats of this. Follow the instructions on the can.

To dry the swords afterwards is a bit interesting. Anything the sword touches, it will pull lacquer AND paint with it, since the lacquer does sort of 'melt' in with the paint layers a bit. We sat two chairs back to backand taped the swords to them with the blades free, the hilt in between the chairs, and the tape only binding the handle holes. We used atlases to weigh the chair at the end down. I've drawn a rather gimpy diagram to explain:

[b]Finishing Line[/b]
Wrap the handle parts in purple wool (the cheap sort), remember the hilts go thicker at the middle, so you will need more layers there. Make sure to coat the base in PVA as you work up, so that the hilt doesn't come loose. Glue the end as well. And there you have it!


#4 fev on 11 years ago

nice work!

#5 Kabukiyasha on 11 years ago

Thank you ^_^
Got a lot of people asking about them, so figured I'd do this write up.

#6 Kabukiyasha on 11 years ago

Quick note, not sure why but the journal version of this isn't working for me -_-

#7 Nuivi on 11 years ago

Thanks for this, I've never made a cosplay prop before but I'm very very ambitious and I think your walk-through is quite a godsend for me XD
I mean, clothing and anything fabric, fine, but when I started doing research on cosplay swords all I could find was craftfoam giant-sword walkthroughs and the sword I have in mind is very thin and oddly sculpted hilt.
I'm going Terra, Dissidia version, and wanna perfect her sword, but how to make a strong yet SLIM sword?

And yeah, this has given me a lot of insight into sword-making, so I feel a bit less lost now ^^

A couple of questions though:
What brand or kind of clay where you using for the beginning stage?
I may have glossed over it, but I couldn't find the name when I went over again, and any idea what shops it's sold in? (I'm used to fabricland having everything I need, so yeah, Hardware shop names = useful ^^;)
Also I'm British so I might just have to look out for an identical product but with a different name, but hey, it's always worth asking in-store.

Thanks again for putting this up, seriously, I'm so relieved there's an alternative to chunky craftfoam for swords.

#8 hayashiox on 11 years ago

I'm curious
what was your material cost and how long did it took you?

#9 emerald.line on 10 years ago

Omg. The fact that such an amazing prop maker is in Sydney (wooh home town) ......i think, after all only Sydney has mini Animania....... brings tears to my eyes *lol*. GO AUSSIE COSPLAYERS!!!!!

#10 saiyamanmasenko on 10 years ago

[QUOTE=hayashiox;3133579]I'm curious
what was your material cost and how long did it took you?[/QUOTE]

I am a little curious about that, too. Bu thank you very much for posting this. You have given me some wonderful new ideas to try. still not sure I will be able to get it anywhere near as cool as this, but new ideas to try nonetheless.