hile making a couple of foam swords for kids in my Chinese Swordsmanship class, I took photos of the step by step process. This will give you do-it-yourselfers all the clues about how to make your own. For those who like the padded Chinese swords but can't be bothered making them, there's an order form at the bottom of the page. I'll do it for you.
ids love sword fighting. If you don't buy them a sword, they'll improvise with sticks. Bumps, cuts, bruises and warnings about losing an eye don't have a lot of impact. Well .... how many dangerous things do you remember doing as a kid? How many things have you still neglected to tell your parents about? My entire childhood was one dangerous thing after another and my parents didn't know about most of it. So yes, they will pick up those sticks and whack each other.
Some people think the answer is to buy toy swords from the local shop. My little grandson has one of those. They sometimes have sharp tips though, and if the plastic breaks, there's a sharp edge as well. We had to find a fairly safe solution for the local kids who wanted to come to a Chinese swordsmanship seminar a few years back. We liked the solution so much, I'm still using these custom foam swords for training kids, four years later.
This is what our our foam swords look like. They have a stick through the middle with a handle on one end and a blade on the other. The blade is shaped like a Chinese jian sword hilt because we want them to train with something close to the real thing. The blade is wrapped in closed cell camping mat foam, and a sock, or specially created sleeve. It is held in place with electrical tape. Now, here are the pictures and step by step instructions.
I make my foam swords patterns by drawing around an antique jian handle (Pic. 1). This gives correct shape to the pommel, handle and guard, which I make all in one piece. If you are making this yourself, you could print out the picture the size you want and trace it. After I draw around the sword handle onto paper (Pic. 2) and cut it out (Pic. 3), I resize it for kids by folding it over in the middle to make it shorter (Pic. 4). I usually cut out one side of the template and fold it over before cutting out the second side (Pic. 3). This gives the best chance of the handle being even on both sides. No matter how carefully you draw around a sword hilt, one side always seems to be lopsided when you've cut it out.
Next, place the paper pattern on a piece of leather and draw around it (Pic. 5 - 6). Then turn it upside down and draw around again so you have two sides of the handle. Leather isn't expensive if you find an old leather bag and cut it up. Old leather looks nice. Garages sales and Op shops are good sources. Don't cut up your wife's favourite handbag or you will just have to buy her a new, more expensive one.
You will need some padding to make the pommel fit over the top of the dowel or pipe you are going to use for the foam swords. Cut at least two extra pommel sections out of your leather - three if it's not very thick (Pic. 7). While you're at it, cut a circle about as big as an Australian 20 cent piece - about three and a half cm across. That's for protection at the end of the blade. We'll get to that further down.
(Pic. 9) shows all the pieces you will need to make your foam swords. When the pieces are cut out of the leather (Pic. 8) , use contact glue or something else that will stick leather together (Pic. 10), and make the pommel. Fix the pieces together inside the other handle parts (Pic. 11). I hold mine together with clothes pegs while it's drying (Pic. 12). Don't stick the lower parts of the handle to each other yet and don't stick them onto the blade until you have done the padding for it.
I usually use lengths of dowel to make my foam swords. - not too thin, or it will snap the first time the sword takes a hard block or hits the top of a fencing mask. You want it to be able to break before the child does, but not too thick - 200ml is about right. You might want to substitute rigid plastic piping for the dowel, but remember it might hurt the kid more, even though it's padded. These boffers won't bruise but they might still sting. It depends on your kids. I like them to feel the sword a little when it hits them, so they will learn to deflect properly and not play bad pirate movies.
Cut your dowel to the right length for the child. It will be both blade and handle. 82cm is about right for the average ten year old. Make it longer or shorter, depending on your kids.
Next, cut a strip of closed cell camping mat foam. I'm calling them foam swords, but this is fairly solid padding. Most homes have a few of those mats which were compulsory for the school camping trip but not thick enough to actually sleep on. Take revenge on it and cut it up for padded swords. You will need to measure your handle over one end to make sure the piece is the right length. It needs to be wide enough to wrap around a couple of times - 25-30cms is about right. It depends how padded and how heavy your boffers are going to be.
Cut about six small bits (7cm) of electrical tape and stick them along the length of the foam. They will be used to wrap over the dowel and help hold it in place while you are rolling (Pic. 14). You won't get so gluey if you do that. Now put glue around the edges and in squiggles over the piece of foam mat. Fix the tapes over the dowel which you've laid down along one edge of the mat (Pic. 15). Start rolling.
Lean on the rolled mat blade and wrap electrical tape around it in at least five places to fix it in place (Pic. 16). This is tricky. It wants to unravel and make your hands sticky re-rolling it. I find elbows are good for leaning on it and the edge of a bench is good for letting enough blade over to wrap tape around successfully. I'll let you work it out.
Now you need that circle of leather. Glue it to the end of the foam sword (Pic. 17). Then glue and tape in place, a wider circle of foam (Pic. 18-19). This makes a protective tip. The dowel can not be driven through it to harm a child on the end of a thrust and the foam over the leather circle will soften the impact.
When the blade is fixed in place, stretch one of those unpaired socks everyone has, over the foam, and tape it in place near the top of the handle (Pic. 20). You will have to fold any extra in first and tuck in any too wide parts as you tape it in place down the blade. Don't fix the sock too high on the handle part. If you do, it will catch on the electric drill when you are making holes for the split pins (more on that further down). It will then take itself out of your hands, spinning wildly and whacking you in stomach while sweeping your glass of water off onto the floor. So don't fix the sock up too high. Just tuck it inside before taping, like I said.
Tape from the top down, fixing the sock to the handle part of the dowel, neatening the sock at the top, spiralling down to hold it in place, and wrapping it around the tip end. (Pic. 21) Now you are ready to work on the handle (Pic 22)
When the glue is set enough to work with the guard, remove the pegs and drill a hole through the leather on each side of the guard. (Pic 24) Pop rivet the guard together. (Pic 25) You will probably have to put a small washer or nut over the pop rivet before squeezing the handles. This holds the rivet in place when the leather begins to stretch with age. You can reuse these leather handles when the sword breaks or you have to make a longer one. (Pic 26)
Now drill two holes through the handle part, going through the leather, dowel and leather on the other side (Pic 27). You will be putting steel split pins through the handle of your foam sword to hold the leather in place. When they are hammered as flat as possible (Pic 28), wrap the handle with enough soft material to shape it and cover the split pin lumps (Pic 29). Finally, take some more electrical tape and carefully wrap the grip until no material shows and the grip is neat and smooth. (Pic 30)
If you are good with a sewing machine, make the sword cover out of a slippery material such as satin, rather than a sock. It gives real swordplay a better feel.
If your children are using these foam swords for full speed swordmanship, it is advisable to have them wear thick gloves and use a fencing mask, such as you see on this page.
For a quick slideshow overview of how to make these swords, see the How To Videos page.
Price: $20 each
Postage: Calculated according to weight and area.