EL Lightsaber Blade Tutorial

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Here's a Basic Parts List to make blades the way I do:

  • 40" piece of 3/4" OD, 5/8" ID polycarbonate tubing (I get mine from usplastic.com)
  • 39" piece of 1/2" OD, 3/8" ID rigid polyethylene tubing for diffuser (mcmaster.com)
  • 2" piece & 1/2" piece of 5/8" OD, 1/2" ID polypropylene tubing for top and bottom "bushings" (mcmaster.com)
  • 1/4" male mono audio connector (Radioshack)
  • 1/4" 10x32 set screw to hold above connector in bottom of tubing.(mcmaster.com)
  • 8-10' of electroluminescent wire, depending on what kind of inverter being used (I use coolneon.com or coolight.com for this, they have the high brightness wire)
  • 2" piece of 22 guage stereo wire, to wire the EL wire to the connector(I get mine from coolneon.com)
  • 1" piece of heat-shrink tubing to insulate your solder connection between EL wire and stereo wire (RadioShack)
  • 1/2" 6x32 clear polycarbonate screw to hold end bushing in (this is a recent addition, because the end bushings have come out of some of my blades when they are dueled with. However, these are rather expensive, as screws go. I think I payed about $10 for 50 screws.)
  • hot glue, or silicone for end of blade
  • super glue to glue in top and bottom bushings

Note: I don't really like RadioShack all that much. I have a much better electronics store locally that I use that has a better selection and cheaper prices, but you can't order from them online, so I know you should be able to find what you need at RadioShack)

That's just for the blade.

To power it, you need to put inside your hilt:

  • 9V A/C inverter with 9V battery clip (same places that sell the EL wire)
  • 1/4" female mono audio plug (Radioshack)
  • switch of your choice
  • extra wire to put switch into circuit
  • more pieces of heat-shrink tubing to insulate solder connections
  • 9V battery

Then when you get all that stuff, you get to figure out how to put it all together. ;)
Though I can help there, too, of course. :P

When I started making my own blades, I knew I'd be making several, so I didn't mind buying a whole box of set screws, or polycarbonate screws. Or buying special tools, like an automatic wire stripper, and a drill and tap set to thread my screw holes.

Disclaimer: This is how I make my blades, if you do not follow these instructions, I cannot guarantee how well your blades will come out, nor how sturdy they will for dueling purposes. I have improved my construction methods as they have been "battle tested".

Construction


Preparing the tubes:
Cut the polycarbonate tubing to 40" (the "industry standard") or whatever you've decided on for the length of your blade. You can use a Dremel, or a pipe cutter. If you use a Dremel, put a piece of tape around the tube, this will make a cutting line and protect your tube from scratches if you slip when you're cutting. Lightly sand the inside and outside edges of both ends with some fine sand paper.

Next, cut a 2" piece of 5/8" tubing for the bottom "bushing". Using sand paper, bevel the inside and outside of edge of the end that will be inserted into the outer polycarbonate tube. Push it halfway up the bottom end of the outer tube, apply some super glue and insert it flush with the inside of the outer tube. This will hold your male connector and bottom end of the diffuser tubing. You may need to use a hammer to seat the bushing all the way in, if it's a tight fit. I would use a rubber, or plastic mallet, so that you don't mushroom the end of the bushing too much. I use a plastic one that I have for my leatherworking.

Cut a 39" piece of diffuser tubing and bevel the inner and outer edges of one end. Straighten it as best you can, as it will have a curve to it, since it comes off of a roll (as it sits in the tube, it will get straighter, over time).

Take your male connector and unscrew & remove the housing, if it has a clear or black insulative sleeve inside it, don’t lose it. Determine where to place the hole in the housing for the set screw, I usually put mine about an inch up from the "shoulder" at the plug end of the connector, and mark it. I don't have a vice, so I use a pair of vice grip pliers to hold the marked housing on my work space. Use a center punch, or just a nail to make a dent that the drill bit will rest in, so it won't slip off the rounded surface. Start with a 1/8" pilot hole, then choose a size of bit just larger than the set screw. Clean out the metal shavings from the inside of the housing and put it back on the connector, temporarily.

Slide the male connector into the bottom end of the tube inside the bushing. Leave just little bit of the shoulder of the connector sticking out of the bottom of the tube, and mark on the outer tube where you see the hole in the housing. Remove connector and drill the proper sized hole and tap for set screw. You need to use a set screw for this, because the screw needs to seat flush with the outside of the blade, because this part of it will be inside your blade sleeve inside your saber hilt. I don't know if glue will be strong enough to hold in the connector, since you will be taking the blade in and out. I've also had reasons to take apart a few blades, either to fix a broken connection, or retrofit a blade with a screw at the top end, so it's easy to take the connector out when it's held in by a screw.

Next take the beveled end of the diffuser tubing and insert it into the "top" of the polycarbonate tubing, and down inside the top of the bottom bushing. Insert the male connector into the bottom of the tube line up the screw holes in the tube and housing. Push diffuser tubing in till it touches the top of the connector. Mark the end of the diffuser tubing sticking out at 1/4" from the end, remove from outer tube, and cut at mark. The bevel the outer edge that you just cut. Put aside for now.

Cut a 1/2 piece of 5/8" tubing for the top bushing and bevel inner and outer edge of one end, this will be the bottom of the bushing that will insert into the outer tube.

Preparing the EL wire:
Now you need to strip the EL wire. It may take a few tries to get it stripped without breaking one of the fine wires inside, if you’re using a regular wire stripper. Since I knew I’d be making several blades (I had no idea I’d end up making at least 50 of them!), I thought it worth the $15 for an automatic wire stripper to save my sanity, after trying to use just a regular stripper on my first piece of EL wire.

Now use the soldering instructions here: EL wire soldering instructions

Once you have done that, you should test your wire, to make sure you didn’t break or short any wires together. You want to do this before you solder the connector on. If you have your inverter that is not installed in your hilt yet, you can do this, otherwise, I’m not sure how you can test it. I have an inverter dedicated just for this purpose, as it’s too large to fit into a hilt.

Next, solder the end of your stereo wire onto the terminals on the male connector. If your connector didn’t come with a plastic insulative sleeve to put over the terminals, you will need to wrap a layer of electrical tape over them, otherwise, if your set screw that will hold the connector in is a little long, it may contact one of the terminals and short out the wire. (This will not damage the wire if saber is turned off right away, if that's when you discover the problem, but the blade won’t light up if this happens.) Test the wire again to make sure it lights up.

Caution, when using an inverter, you'll need to have bare wires on it to test the EL wire, at first. The inverter puts out high frequency AC voltage. It won't harm you if you shock yourself, but it's gonna hurt. Even for someone like me who is used to getting shocked, due to past jobs I've had.

After insulating the terminals, screw the housing back onto the connector.

Final Assembly:
Now get your diffuser tubing. You will need to bend the EL wire once and slide it into the diffuser to check for length. You want it about 3/8” from the end, when the diffuser tube is against the connector housing, because you will be cutting off about 1/4” off the excess at the end of the diffuser after final assembly. You may have to try this several times to get the proper length for your first strand, it’s hard to judge with the curve of the tube. Once you have the right length, make your second, and bottom, bend in the wire above the connector. If you are using 10’ of wire, you will be making one more bend, but don’t do this till the wire is inserted, because having 2 bends at the top will make it difficult to insert the wire into the diffuser tubing, so leave the end long and insert it first. It will, obviously, stick out of the end of the diffuser.

Test the EL wire one more time, to make sure you didn’t break a connection while you were making the bends and inserting it into the diffuser. Insert the wire all the way into the diffuser tubing and carefully slide this “assembly” into the top of the outer tube, being careful when the connector reaches the bottom bushing, and gently ease it in. Push the diffuser tube into the bottom bushing. Secure the connector to the tube with set screw.

Push the diffuser down till it goes into the bottom bushing and seats against the top of the connector housing. If you are using 10’ of wire, cut off the end at about 1” from the end of the tube, bend it and push it down into the diffuser, making one last bend in the wire.

Now take your top bushing and slide it between the outer tube and the diffuser tube, just get it “started”. Put a little super glue on the inside and outside of the bushing and insert it till it’s in about 1/4-3/8”. Depending on what you use for this bushing, it could be a very tight fit, so you may have to drive it in with a mallet. Don’t hit it so hard that you mushroom too much of the end of the bushing, but insert it quickly before the super glue dries. (at this point, for my own blades, I now install a polycarbonate screw through all 3 pieces of tubing, to ensure that the bushing and diffuser tube cannot come out during dueling. I remove the set screw holding the connector in the bottom and gently pull the connector and wire out about 1/2”. Then I drill and tap the tubing at the top, reinsert the wire and start the polycarbonate screw, looping the bend in the wire over the screw. Reinstall the set screw holding the connector, and cut off the head of the polycarbonate screw and grind it flush with the outer tube).

Carefully cut off the excess bushing and diffuser tube flush with the end of the outer tube. If your wire bend is right at the end of the tube, you don't want to cut it.

The last thing to do is seal the end of the blade. I use hot glue, but you can use silicone, too. For the hot glue, squeeze some inside the diffuser to help hold the wire ends in place, the keep adding glue till there’s excess coming out the top. Wait few seconds for the glue to start to cool, then you can wet your finger and smooth and round of the end "plug".

Once the glue is cool and set, or the silicone is left to cure overnight, your blade is now finished and ready to insert into your lightsaber hilt!

You can have fun feeling like a true Jedi, now that you have a glowing blade for your lightsaber! (That you have hopefully, but not necessarily, built yourself ;) )