Time taken: 20 hours
Materials: 35mm dowelling rod (1.8m long), 8mm plywood, 5mm plain flat pine, natural flat leather thong 5mm wide (10m), thin brown leather strip 20mm wide, an old belt, cardboard, sculptamold, air dry modelling clay, waxed thread, paint (iridescent silver, graphite, mars black, burnt umber), leather shoe dye (red), PVA glue (wood glue), nails.
Tools: Hammer, knife for whittling, various modelling tools (including fingers), paintbrushes, clamps.
Techniques: Whittling, braiding, fabrication, modelling, painting.
Difficulty level: This was quite hard.
This is the picture I used for reference:
First, I drew the shapes on pieces of thin plywood and cut them out using a jigsaw. I could have made the dragon head all in one piece but that would have required buying wood and I was trying to use what I have around, so two parts it was. Also, since this staff has an obvious handle, that part had to be whittled out of the dowelling that forms the main body.
Next up, dyeing the braid that lovely shade of red using the shoe dye, and attaching the blade that sticks out from the centre of the staff, which is made of pine sheet. Nice touch, this – although I’m in two minds about how useful it’d be as a melee weapon, it’s still better than the usual nothing your mage has to defend themself if things get up close and personal. Also, the two parts of the head were glued together using clamps and some nails and glue and wooden splints.
Next, adding the head to the top of the staff (it’s nailed on and reinforced with wood glue), adding the dark staining to the ends of the leather handle cos it’s old and huckery looking (mars black/burnt umber paint, wiped cleaner in the middle), and putting on the cardboard base shapes of the hand guards. They are just a guide to show where to put the sculptamold that will form the hand guards themselves. The slashing blade is attached by carving a slot into the staff handle, then nailing it in place and reinforcing with wood glue. This could probably also be made from EVA foam for a con-safe weapon.
Then, the inevitable Sculptamold. It’s a mix of paper pulp and plaster, and once it’s mixed you have to apply it within half an hour or it sets on you. I’ve found the best way is to make about a cup at a time, and add slightly more than you need so you can sand it back. At this point I made the shapes as close to their final form as possible to minimise the sanding.
Sanding is boring. Luckily, I have a dremel and this sped the process up some. However, I discovered that plaster mache forms a crust under which it’s a lot softer, and if you go through the crust accidentally it becomes quite hard to only remove a little bit. I have modelling clay to fix those kinds of mistakes.
The clay part is a matter of adding tiny bits to fill holes and make sharp shape edges, then adding a small amount of water and smoothing. Then more sanding. The sanding was the longest part of this process, and took a week of puttering about whenever I had time to get it as good as I wanted. This is also a good time to add any gouges and grooves you want to put into the final shape. Then, prior to painting, the inevitable gesso:
I spent a lot of time reading about how to make wood/plaster look like metal. Most things said “Sand, sand and sand some more, then use spray paint.” I’m not set up for spray painting, however since my staff is supposed to look old and cruddy and would have been made by hammer smithing rather than casting (so there’d be imperfections), I figured careful brushing over a good coat of gesso would do the trick. So, first three coats of iridescent silver:
But it’s supposed to be old and that doesn’t look old, so next up a wash using a colour called graphite. It’s basically a dark silver/black colour, and with enough water mixed in it stains rather than paints, and settles in my carefully-applied hollows and gouges and corners:
However, the graphite has an inherent problem in that it’s reflective, so even while it’s looking dark in the corners, if the light catches it right it might as well not even be there. So the final touch was very careful addition of a wash of burnt umber and black paint (heavier in the corners), to make it look grimy and dirty. I’d never done weathering before so I was pretty pleased with the result. After that it was a matter of adding the strange leather strap thing around the middle (made from an old gun belt I got at the army surplus shop, cut up the centre and oiled to make it dark and then sewn on), cleaning up the splashes, and voila! Freedom’s Call:
And here’s the newly-repaired spiky bottom. It would break if you actually hit anyone with it, but it looks the part.
I am a knob.