In May of 2005, the original STAR WARS lightsaber prop was auctioned off to a lucky bidder for a whopping $240,000.
Yes, that’s a significant sum of money for a film prop, but considering what it took to make this thing back in 1976 and how many people have seen it since then – not to mention George Lucas’ Midichlorian count going up a few points – the prop’s value is well-justified.
But what if you’re not as lucky as George Lucas? Or even as rich as a drug lord who managed to overthrow an entire government with only his trusty remote control? You might still be able to own your very own replica lightsaber, but you’ll need to make it yourself.
Please understand that I make no claims as to the validity of this project. The odds of your Midichlorian count going up a few points is pretty slim, and even if it did happen, you’d never be able to prove it. This tutorial may contain incorrect information or faulty logic, so proceed at your own risk.
Please also understand that this tutorial has been designed for the sole purpose of having fun and learning new skills and not as a means to build an actual working lightsaber prop. I’m sure that we all appreciate copyright laws, and we’re not going to start acting like George Lucas hired thugs in white coats, but if you make a replica prop. It’s good enough to fool people; I’ll leave that up to you (especially if you purchase life insurance for me).
If you decide to make a lightsaber a display piece, please don’t point the blade at anything explosive or flammable. And if someone puts out an eye with your prop, I’m not responsible. You can at least try to convince them that it’s the new lightsaber technology, but you have to admit that makes for a pretty lame excuse.
I’m going to show you how to make this design in three sections:
- The hilt – this is the frame of the saber, the grip, and the control box.
- The blade emitter is the protrusion that emits the blade of energy when the saber is turned on.
- The blade – the lightsaber beam itself, made from aluminum foil.
#1: THE HILT
The hilt is simple to make, yet it’s difficult to explain in writing. I’ll do the best I can.
The hilt is made from two identical pieces of sheet metal, cut out with tin snips and bent into shape. They’re then drilled for wiring and attached with pop rivets. The exact dimensions aren’t too important – make sure you have enough room inside to fit all the parts (the more space you have, the easier things will be).
I made these hilts out of 14-gauge sheet metal. 14-gauge is 0.0781″ thick, which is just over 1/16″. 18-gauge sheet metal would also work just fine – it’s 0.0508″ wide, which is just under 1/32″. It’s easier to bend 18-gauge sheet metal, but the finished product would be slightly thinner. Either way will work; 14-gauge was what I had available at the time (that, and my local hardware store only sells it in 4’x8′ sheets).
One subtle design change I made to my replica was the addition of a small tab on the back of the hilt (bottom in the picture). This is where the pommel (the knob on end) attaches. There’s also one at the top, where it will attach to your belt or lightsaber holder.
After you cut out and shape both pieces using tin snips, drill a hole in the back of the hilt for wiring. Then drill a hole through both pieces to allow the blade emitter’s LED wires to come through. If you’re feeling courageous, you could even go crazy and add multiple LEDs – remember how much current they all draw from your battery source (to calculate LED current draw, see this tutorial ).
#2: THE BLADE EMITTER
The blade emitter is the most complex part of making a lightsaber. It’s also one of the more expensive parts. You can buy a blade emitter for a few bucks on eBay, but it will not look even remotely close to this design. First, I need to explain the resistor “ladder” that you must create for running multiple LEDs. As far as I know, there’s no rules for this type of wiring – it seems every replica saber creator has their method. Some use a capacitor-resistor ladder, while others use what’s called a “string” wire.
It doesn’t matter how you make your resistor ladder – make sure you have at least two resistors for each LED. The number of LEDs connected in parallel determines the resistor value, so if you have three LEDs, the first resistor needs to be 100 ohms, the second 200 ohms, and the third 300 ohms. Be sure to use the same resistor values for each LED’s anode pin (the longer leg) – that will keep all your LEDs at equal brightness.
I used this simple calculator to help me figure out my resistor ladder values.
For this design, I have four LEDs in series. The first resistor is 100 ohms for all LEDs. The second resistor is 1,000 ohms for the first LED, 5,000 ohms for the dual-LED, and 10,000 ohms for the third.
Feature of replica lightsaber
- polycarbonate blade
- KG-7 audio crystal
- 3W LED white light
- 100% black high-strength nylon fiber
- Lightweight alloy hilt with antique bronze coating
- The emitter can be disassembled to show the inner workings of a lightsaber
- Authentic sound
- Rechargeable battery
- AC wall charger with USB cable
- Removable AV switch (red/green)
- The length of the polycarbonate blade is 31 inches, and the whole length is 45 inches long, with stainless steel tube handle included in the saber
- The length of the polycarbonate blade is 32 inches, and the whole length is 47 inches long, with stainless steel tube handle included in the saber
- Polycarbonate blade + KG-7 audio crystal
- Polycarbonate blade + 3W LED white light
- All black hilt + polycarbonate blade
It’s also a wise decision to add a resistor in series with the battery’s positive terminal because there is a current spike when you first connect the battery. Just solder a small resistor (anything from 1k ohm to 5k ohm should work) – this will reduce LED brightness slightly but protect your batteries from getting fried.