Time taken: 9.5 hours.
Materials: camping mat foam (10mm thick), dowelling (10mm and 32mm) , tacking nails, contact glue, 2 polystyrene balls, scarlet binding tape, hot glue, newspaper, wallpaper glue, air-dry modelling clay, gesso, acrylic paints (mars black, old gold, burnt umber), Rub ‘n’ Buff (silver leaf), mod podge.
Tools: Craft knife, pen, metre ruler, hammer, saw, clamps and clamping boards, drill, sandpaper, glue gun, paint brushes.
Techniques: Woodworking. carving, sculpting/fabrication, braiding, painting.
Difficulty level: Easy if you have a steady hand. Braiding can be tricky but there are videos on the internet that show how to do it.
So Cullen in DA2 uses a longsword and shield, and part of the deal with my model agreeing to do this is that I made those too. The ref pics I used for this are these ones:
The first one mainly shows the shape of the blade and handle and the length of the sword in relation to his height. The other one shows more detail of how the hilt is made. If you look closely you can see the braiding in this one.
So, where to start? As usual the first step was making a scale drawing in the quad book using the pictures as a reference. Then I drew the blade straight on to the camping foam and cut two rectangles from it. At the same time I sawed a length of dowelling to reinforce inside the blade, and a thicker one for the handle:
Then I put contact glue on the camping foam bits and clamped them together with the long dowelling piece running down the centre. The clamping boards were supposed to help apply even pressure down the length. They didn’t exactly do that, but it was close enough and the foam stuck together evenly.
The next morning the glue was dry, so I drilled a hole 10mm wide and 50mm deep in the centre of the handle part, and glued them together. Since I don’t want the blade to come flying off while he’s weilding it, I also added a couple of tacking nails to hold it in place nice and solidly.
The next step was to shape the blade. This bit requires a steady hand, as you’re cutting the foam on a 45 degree angle, and the aim is to do it all in one strip so you don’t get jaggedy edges. I’ve found that using one of those craft knives that has bits of blade you can snap off when they get blunt works best. I snap off another bit after each long cut. The idea is to give your blade an ‘edge’ that is straight.It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect because you can sand out jaggedy bits using medium-grit sandpaper, but the better your first cut the less sanding you have to do. Any bits that are impossible to fix can be made into ‘features’ to make the blade look old and used.
Then it was back to the quad book to prepare the pieces to make the crossguard. On this sword there are three parts – the two smaller ones are cut on an angle and the larger one forms the main part of the guard. They each have to have a hole in the middle to thread onto the handle. I am not very good at cutting neat tidy holes into camping mat foam!
These are then threaded onto the handle in order, and I spent some time sighting down the blade to get them nice and straight:
Then I added a couple of layers of basic paper mache to consolidate the shape of the guard and add the raised bits to the top of the blade.
After this, the handle braid has to go on. In an ideal world you would do this bit last, but the braiding sits undeneath the hilt decorations so you have to do it at this stage and then try to protect it from the rest of the process. Here is a video that demonstrates how to do a handle braid. This one is 16-strand – it’s the one I used for Freedom’s Call – but the principle is the same and 4-strand is heaps easier. You can do a handle braid (also known as diamond braid) with any multiple of four strands, by the way.
In that pic you can also see the two polystyrene balls I used. I cut the bottom off the big one and made a hole so it’d slot over the end of the handle, then carved it to shape. The smaller one was glued on using hot glue after also being carved to shape. Then I vacuumed myself and my room to get rid of all the tiny bits of polystyrene. Finally, I added two strips of lightweight air-dry modelling clay (don’t ask me why it’s pink) for the guard binding shown in the pics.
The final step before beginning to paint is to use modelling clay to smooth all the bumpy bits and form the shapes at the top of the blade. I used Fimo lightweight air-dry polymer clay for this, but I wasn’t happy with it.
It just doesn’t handle like real clay and although it’s nice and lightweight, it has a rubbery feel to it that makes the delicate smoothing really hard as edges tend to spring back out of shape. So I went back the next day and added some actual clay to finish and smooth where the polymer clay hadn’t cut the mustard.
There is pretty much no way I’ve found that you can skimp on this step. You just have to keep adding patches of clay and sanding them back until you’re happy. For me, it took all of one day (on and off, since it was 15 minutes work then wait a couple of hours for it to dry) to get it where I wanted it.
Then, the inevitable gesso:
The gesso acts as a medium between the foam/paper and the finishing coats. It sticks better to both than they do to each other, and has a bit of give so it helps prevent the paint flaking off. Also, it’s sandable. This was another job where you spend 5 minutes then go away for a couple of hours, and on the sword I used four coats.
Finally, the interesting bit – colouring! For the blade and silver bits I used Rub ‘n’ Buff in silver leaf:
And for the gold bits I used plain studio acrylic in old gold. Of course, just putting plain colour on makes it look like a cartoon with no character, so it has to be weathered. It’s kind of hard to weather over Rub ‘n’ Buff because it’s a wax, so I tend to put a very light layer of graphite (a colour of acrylic that’s like a dark metallic silver) over the whole thing, then wipe it mostly off. This gives the weathering wash something to stick to, while the metallic nature of the paint doesn’t affect the shine of the silver too much. It’s also good for emphasising hollows.
The final wash was done with a combination of mars black and burnt umber. I find just using black doesn’t give the rust/dirt look quite as naturally on its own, there needs to be a bit of brown in there. This is just sloshed on really watery and settles in the hollows and creases and makes it look old.
Finally, a coat of satin finish (mod podge will do the job), and ta da!