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Amtgard-legal shortsword or longsword construction

There are necessary qualities an Amtgard-legal shortsword or longsword must possess, and there are stylistic/personal touches that can be added. It is certainly permissible to exceed safety regulations in favor of softness, squishyness, niceness, pillowyness and cushionyness, but the rulebook's minimum standards will always serve to represent the worst quality a weapon can be in and still be permissible for play. All length measurements refer to the final length of the weapon (if you know what it will be - if you don't, the length of the bare core plus the minimum required padding is a good approximation). Please note that this page does not cover the construction of any Amtgard-legal weapons other than slashing and piercing or bashing weapons of a total length between 36" and 48". There are additional and/or different construction rules for different weapon types. There are also many different ways to construst an Amtgard-legal weapon - don't hesitate to be creative unless you're looking for a way to make your weapon less friendly.

Qualities a shortsword or longsword must possess to be Amtgard-legal

What constitutes a good core

Bamboo: If you have a home/garden store in your area, they may have bamboo poles (stakes) for gardening purposes. Longer pieces of bamboo can be "whippy", meaning that they will flex in an Amtgard-illegal fashion. Thinner pieces tend to be "whippy" and will crack or break faster. Long and thick pieces of bamboo are ideal for polearms, greataxes and staves. Bamboo is lightweight and is often pleasantly curved such that your final product (for the purposes of this page) will resemble a cutlass or saber.
Kitespar: These are rods spun out of carbon fibers, and are most commonly used in kite construction (unless Amtgard is more popular than kite-flying). They are generally a little heavier than bamboo, but are also a little stronger. Longer lengths of kitespar are also "whippy". If you're not fortunate enough to have a kite supply store in your local area (I know that I'm not), there are many online retailers who can supply kite spars.
Graphite: Non-metallic golf shafts are generally made out of graphite. They have varying levels of flex and are usually the right length for a longsword. Golf shafts tend to taper towards the tip, so they are more fragile at the tip. I have seen one graphite shaft break in three years (versus five or more bamboo shafts and no kitespar shafts), and the weight and strength of graphite has led me to use it exclusively for my swords. Bamboo can compete with graphite when it comes to weight, but not strength. However, graphite shafts are rarely longer than 45" or so. Graphite also tends to be restrictively expensive and hard to find. If your local area has a driving range or pro shop, I recommend asking them if they have any broken clubs they might donate. Remember that Amtgard is not-for-profit and businesses can get tax breaks for donating to us.
PVC: This is the "old" way of making swords. PVC comes in varying outer-wall thicknesses, and weight and strength increase as the outer wall gets thicker. Longer lengths of PVC are "whippy" and more prone to breaking or cracking. However, PVC is easy to find and is relatively inexpensive. PVC is also the heaviest of the listed core matierials. This can be preferable if you want a weapon that can't be easily batted aside. As long as the weapon you make is legal for play, PVC is as good a place to start as any.

Materials needed

I use three kinds of tape and four kinds of foam for these swords. I typically cut each length of tape that I use in half or in thirds lengthwise, because a thinner strip of tape weighs less and will still hold down the foam. Since a big portion of sword-making is taping the same area multiple times, this keeps the weight of the tape that I use a little lighter (whenever you take a sword apart, you can see all the tape that was used together in a single pile - it gets pretty hefty!) The key to taping is using enough tape to hold things in place but not so much tape that your sword becomes heavy and/or hurts people.


Clear Tape: I am currently using USPS Packaging tape (I got it most recently from K-Mart in a 6-pack), but the qualities that I recommend comparing when choosing brands are strength (when you pull on opposite ends of a length of tape, does it break in the middle or stretch out?) and weight (lighter is weaker, but less weight is easier to move and stings much less when you strike with the weapon). I cover all my weapons in a single layer of clear packaging tape to make them waterproof and to make my weapons a gift-wrapped present every time I whack someone with one.
Strapping Tape: This tape has fiberglass threads running lengthwise throughout and is very strong. It is best used where you don't want anything slipping so that you can ensure that your weapon feels "solid" in your hands as opposed to a bunch of sliding sections of foam. Be careful not to use too much of this tape, however, as it is rather heavy. I don't care how I get this stuff, just that I have it around all the time. Proper use of strapping tape makes your sword hold together much longer.
Duct Tape: This is good tape. I use Duck brand most of the time, but there are some other brands that have a more cloth-like makeup and create a softer, smoother feel. There are also weather-resistant or heat-resistant or water-resistant variations available, and they look nicer for a longer time. I only use duct tape to cover pommels and to attach covers, as it is rather heavy.


"Wrap" Foam: A thin and light sheet of foam that can be wrapped tightly around the weapon's core to provide any desired diameter of padding. As the foam begins to break down, the sheer number of wraps around the core can maintain your weapon's friendliness for a while. If you can heft it, a thicker weapon will take longer to break down and feel nicer to the people you whack. This foam is likely most often described as U-Hual packaging foam, but Pergo tiling foam is very nice. Locally I can only go to Lumbermen's and get SillSeal.
Noodle: Pool Noodle, to be exact. This is not a flotation device, as the sticker warns, but a magical product that can make your dreams of wailin' on some dudes with yer sticks come true. There are inferior knockoff brands, and hopefully you'll be able to tell with the old fingers whether or not the foam in question is really good enough to hit someone with. Good Noodle usually starts off a little hard and softens up as you go (most swords need to get broken in for at least five or ten minutes). Be warned that Noodle breaks down very quickly. I do not use Noodle at the end of the blade of my swords.
That Blue Foam: Camp Mat or Camp Pad, maybe just a Sleeping Pad or Sleeping Mat. They should be in most outdoors/hunting sections in your local department store, and if you've got an R.E.I. or whoever their competitors or child companies are in the area, they may have these as well. These can be poor quality, such as the recycled foam camp pads. Choose foam that is soft and squishy, not hard (if you wouldn't want to sleep on it, don't hit someone with it - or maybe sleep on it and soften it up so that later you can hit someone with it). This foam is quite durable, and is prime for capping tips and pommels. It's the eye-saver.
Cheese Foam: High-density open-cell foam that is used as padding in pillows or as a sleeping mat, and can be found at the local fabric/craft store, if one exists. I currently have a sheet of 2" thick Cheese, and that's what's pictured below. To make a plug that will fit on top of your weapon's tip, first cut a cube (or a right rectangular solid) of Cheese foam. Next, tightly wrap strapping tape around the bottom of the chunk of foam (the size of the foam piece will determine how large the diameter of the area taped off will be). You can cut off the very bottom of the taped area if you want the plug to sit on your core more nicely. When this foam is attached to your weapon's ends, it creates a cylinder of foam that absorbs each stabbing impact.


The core pictured throughout is a graphite golf shaft that I got for free from a local driving range. I covered the ends of the core with Strapping to ensure that there are no sharp corners that might cut through foam. I took a roughly 2" cube of Cheese and wrapped Strapping around the bottom half of it about as tightly as I could. This created a cylinder of foam that was covered with tape and a big puff of looser foam above it. The portion that is covered with tape connects to the taped end of the golf shaft with a little more Strapping (this plug should never move).
Because Noodle breaks down more quickly than Wrap, I use Wrap exclusively for the tips of my weapons. Once a Cheese plug has been taped down, tape an edge of your Wrap foam to the core and start wrapping it around. It gets harder to evenly and tightly wrap the foam when using wider foam sheets. Use Clear tape or another light, strong tape to hold the edge of the Wrap foam to the core. As you wrap the foam around the core, stop to tighten it up periodically. As long as you don't tear the foam with your efforts, the foam can be as tight as you can get it. The picture to the right shows that the base layer of foam I created is approximately 2.5" thick. The Cheese plug is being held in place by the Wrap foam, and ends 2" from the core.
I tend to strike with the end of my sword much more than the base of the blade, so I feel okay about putting Noodle on the bottom of the sword. It's lightweight and it comes from the factory 2.5" in diameter with a hole through the center, but that doesn't mean that it's simple to work with. The golf shaft that I used wasn't thick enough around to fit exactly inside the noodle's pre-cut center hole, so I took strips of camp pad and taped them around the core with Clear tape (some of the bumpers are double-thick) to keep the noodle from rattling around the core. Sometimes it's nice to have a noisy weapon because it will make a sound when you strike something, but if the foam is allowed to rattle around it will start breaking down from the inside out. Any kind of foam can be used to pad the space between the core and the Noodle, so start making comprimises with yourself. Push the Noodle up against the bottom section of Wrap firmly. The foam bumpers should be thick enough to hold the Noodle securely enough in place that you can worry about taping it all down later.
Because there are multiple sections of foam taped down over the length of the core, I want to be sure that they stay very close together. I use four strips of Strapping lengthwise and a strip of Strapping on either side of every place where two sections of foam meet. At the tip of the sword there is at least 2" of foam that is unsupported by the core. I use a wider strip of strapping tape over the Wrap on the tip of the sword to be sure that it holds together. When applying this strapping tape, please feel free to use your brute strength to force the foam together lengthwise. You should not be able to squeeze the intersection of any sections of foam and feel the core.
The biggest problem I had with my Wrap weapons was that after playing with the sword for a while, the outer layer of foam would start to split apart because there was tape over it and the tape was splitting. My solution right now is to put a single layer of Wrap over the surface of my weapons that can get torn to pieces and then re-taped or replaced and not affect the legality of the weapon. It takes more construction time but it lets you drag out the life of your weapon. The tip of the sword is a chunk of Cheese foam between two 3" diameter circles of Camp Mat. I extend the Strapping that holds the tip on to just below the first section of Wrap foam. This means that even the 2" of foam without core beneath it is secured. The tighter that the top circle of Camp Mat is held down, the meaner your tip will be when stabbing. Of course, the looser that the Camp Mat is held down, the sloppier your tip will be.
I make pommels in much the same way that I make tips, but I fold the Wrap foam in half along the width. The pommel is the area where I use the most Strapping. I don't strike with the pommel, and I certainly don't want it sliding around when I'm wielding the sword. Two more 3" diameter circles of Camp Mat go on the bottom of the pommel. Once the Camp Mat is secured, tape the top of the pommel to the core. Six or eight thin strips of strapping tape held down with another strip of strapping tape on either end should be pretty good. Once the pommel is attached to the point that you can't pull it off, you can always tighten it up when you cover it with pretty tape (I use duct tape, but if you wanted you could even make a little cloth cover for your pommel).

The last major step is to cover the entire length of the sword with Clear tape to protect the foam from the elements (This also makes your sword a gift-wrapped present every time you hit someone with it). A waterproof sword is desireable especially in rainy areas. It is possible to use a single strip of Clear tape to cover the entire length of the blade if you spiral the tape. Even if you do not choose to spiral the Clear tape, be sure to sufficiently overlap the edges of the tape to keep out moisture. I put one more (shorter) spiral of Clear tape around where every two sections of foam meet to keep the foam from splitting apart. I pad my handles with Wrap and then connect the pommel and the bottom of the blade to the handle with Clear tape or duct tape. The handle padding can be taped down very tightly. Even without a padded handle, be sure that your pommel and the bottom of your blade are securely attached to the core. I take lengths of duct tape and place them such that half of their width is not in contact with the blade (or pommel, when securing the pommel) and wrap the duct tape around the diameter of the blade (or pommel). Smooth the tape up around the core and then wrap a thinner strip of duct tape or just some strapping tape around the tape that covers only the core. Try to get this strip of tape attached as tightly as you can and as close to the blade (or pommel) as possible. Now you've got a sword that's truly "tight".
For quick and easy covers, I recommend Jaclyn Smith brand Trouser Socks (I found them at K-Mart, and they're 23% Lycra). Most nylons and stockings (and even your tube socks) have an extra layer of stretchy ribbing at the end your foot goes in, but the Jaclyn Smith Trouser Socks have that layer (of Lycra) down the entire length of the sock. Secure your cover with tape and find your local Champion to see if the thing you made is any good. To the right are three completed swords (with grip tape over the padded handles), one with crossguards and one without a cover. The uncovered sword has a bamboo core and is slightly curved. The crossguards are made out of pieces of old Noodle cut to fit around the sword's blade.