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Unread 07-12-2008, 04:25 PM   #1
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Nygen's Scabbard Tutorial

Nygen’s Scabbard Tutorial

Preface: Hello everyone! My name is Nygen and I’ve been a part of the cosplay community for about a year. After viewing various threads, including Chiok’s very helpful wooden katana thread, I noticed there was a lack of a Scabbard tutorial. I then decided to try my hand at it. While I do not have a masterful grasp on scabbard construction yet, I will do my best to explain the process to the best of my knowledge. I hope you will be forgiving with my technical inaccuracies or inefficiencies, as I too am learning. I am more of a heavy prop maker specializing in larger creations. I also work primarily in wood, so this guide will focus in that as a central tendency. This guide will evolve and grow as I do. Feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer them.

List of Contents:

Creating The Scabbard
1. Sword Design
2. Planning the Scabbard
3. Constructing the Scabbard
4. Fine Construction of the Scabbard
  • A) Using Wood Putty/ Filler
  • B) Using Plaster / Spackle
5.Painting the Scabbard
Advanced Techniques
  • A) Wood Bending
How to Pick the Right Wood

Step One of Planning: Sword Design

Yes, this might seem like an unexpected step of “scabbard design”, however the sword is the most important part of making your scabbard look realistic. If your sword is constructed in such a way that it is not optimally designed, the scabbard will look very odd. This unfortunately will exclude some swords that are in the anime universe from having a sleek scabbard, or even one at all. Here are several guidelines to creating an optimal sword.

Broadswords, Straight Wakizashi, Longswords, and other non-curved swords:
These designs are already optimal for creating a scabbard as they do not have points along the blade that are thicker to any superior (towards the tsuba/handle/hilt) point of the blade. Curves are also not a part of the equation, so they are no problem. With a blade that does not curve and is at no point thicker than any previous point before it, you will be able to create a very tight and sleek scabbard.
Curved Swords(Katana, Wakizashi):
This is where some trouble enters the mix. There are some elements of design that you can use to optimize the scabbard/saya.
  • 1: As previously mentioned no point on the blade should be thicker than any superior part of the blade.
  • 2 A: Make sure you have a continuous curve. This part will drive you crazy. Having no variance in curve is part of an optimal design. This is shown in design by having a large circle connect the bottom point of the blade connected to the tsuba to the tip of the blade. To my knowledge there is only one accurate way this can be done. So far, in my construction of Ulquiorra’s Katana, I have used Microsoft Visio to design this layout. Chances are, there is some Calculus Equation that can be used to find this out. Hell if I know it…..
  • 2 B: When you give up on creating a continuous curve, simply try to make it as continuous as possible. As long as you have kept that in mind, it should be close enough to not have an oddly shaped scabbard.

Alternate Swords (Scimitar, Weird Anime-only Swords) :
This is where your scabbards get ugly. The two laws of sword design were listed above. If you look at my Tybalt swords, which are for now the examples in the pictures, they do not follow the laws of sword construction. Anime and real life just do NOT mix some times. The resulting scabbards look sort of… odd. They are somewhat akin to the “banana” shape. This will happen regardless of how good you are, if you are attempting to create a scabbard for a scimitar or other odd shaped weapon. Do your best to design the swords to follow the 2 laws as best as you can.

Say your sword has an odd “bend” to it. Yes, Yuu Kanda of D Gray Man, that means your weird ass sword, Mugen. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the sword, it is straight until the very end, where it bends upwards. This is a HORRIBLE design for a sword to go into a scabbard. If you created a scabbard for an accurate Mugen katana, you would end up with an ugly banana. You have three choices.
  • 1:Modify the design so that the sword follows the rules, and is straight. This is what I did with my first two Mugen’s I have made.
  • 2: Cheat. Here’s where you use your brain and mess with everyone else’s. Because you do not want to have an ugly banana scabbard, yet you wish for your sword to be accurate. Damn cosplayers, always having to have things accurate. The way around this is by cheating. If you slightly taper the sword continuously on the top so that you have decreased the size of the blades width by a quarter inch or so at the last three inches of the blade, it gives you room to screw around. You then elevate the top that quarter inch width in the last three inches, giving you the illusion of having a curved sword. In reality, the blades width has never exceeded the original amount and it can still fit in a straight, tight scabbard. By messing around with design, it’s possible to fool people, and come out with a sleek, tight scabbard.
  • 3: Enjoy your ugly scabbard and accurate sword. Sorry…. Reality sucks.

Step Two of Planning: Planning the Scabbard

Yes, we are finally at the step of designing the scabbard. I know your thinking “What the hell. About damn time, this was a guide on sword construction. Misleading ass!”. However, the planning of an optimal sword was harder than the design of the scabbard. From here on out, planning the scabbard is a piece of cake ^_^.

Step A: Laying out The Sides

The wood you are using for the side construction should be a quarter inch in depth, or less. It should be wide and long enough to accommodate both the sword blade and at least an additional quarter inch on each side.
  • 1. Purchase some insulation foam with adhesive on one side. It looks like this, and is a half inch wide. You can find it at your local hardware store.It Looks like THIS
  • 2. Cut the foam in roughly in half, down the middle.
  • 3. Erect the side rails. First, Lay your sword out on either the wood itself, or on some practice cardboard. Now remove the backing on the adhesive insulation foam you had previously cut in half, and place it along the sides of the sword blade. Now, if you have made the sword optimally, it should draw in and out without having to force itself against the foam side rails. If the sword is not drawing out and in without trouble, then you have to play with the foam side rails and re-adhere them until you can do so. These side rails will be replaced with wooden side rails at a later time.
  • 4. Now, when you can draw the sword from the scabbard without compressing the side rails, and it is still somewhat “tight”, you can advance to step five. Trace the contour of the outside of the temporary side rails with a pencil or pen onto a previously selected piece of wood.
  • 4A. If you have made this on practice cardboard you can now cut out the contour you have just made. It should look something like THIS. Now trace the contour of the cutout you have made onto a previously selected piece of wood.
  • 5. Now Cut out the drawn on shape of the wood. Be careful not to go inside the line. Excess can always be cut off or sanded off later.
Step Three: Constructing the Scabbard
  • 1. Purchase or cut some wood about a quarter inch wide and with a depth a little thicker than the depth of wood that was used on your sword. In this example I purchased some quarter inch balsa wood and cut it with a sheet rock knife.
  • 2. You should have a few wooden guide rails cut out in case a mistake is made.
  • 3. Now place some glue (preferably glue that does not expand), on the bottom of a guide rail and using small plastic clamps, position it onto one of the edges of the cutout. Do not worry too much about placement. If the wooden rails are roughly as wide as the insulation foam you had used before, it should be all good ^_^.
  • 4. After that rail has dried, you will be repeating the same process you had done with the foam insulation guide rails, but using plastic clamps to hold the wood in place. Now, the wood is harder than the foam, so there will be no give. Move the one mobile wooden rail around until you can draw the sword with some give (or a little give if you do not want it to scratch). It should look something like THIS . Keep in mind that the sword in my example was not of optimal design, and there is a bit of empty space in the scabbard.

Last edited by Nygenx : 07-12-2008 at 06:38 PM.
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Unread 07-12-2008, 04:26 PM   #2
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  • 5. Once you have the best layout for drawing the sword, remove the sword from the layout. Now trace the two sides of the rail you have not glued yet. Remove the clamps, put glue on the bottom of the second rail, and clamp it into the traced lines. It is important that you put it in the same lines as you had previously tested.
  • 6. Check to make sure that you can draw the sword the same as you could before. It is important that you do this before the glue on the second rail dries, in case it has to be adjusted.
  • 7 .After the second rail has dried, cut off any excess wood on the outside of the two rails, but keep it aesthetically pleasing. If your scabbard would look odd cutting off excess wood, leave it on. You can always use wood filler later.
  • 8. Now, Trace the piece you have onto another piece of wood. It should look like THIS. Then cut out the tracing very carefully on the line you have drawn.
  • 9. After you have cut out the second side, Glue and clamp it into place so it looks like THIS. It should match up evenly with the other piece of wood, giving you something that looks like a scabbard.
Step Four: Fine Construction

Now you have for all functionalities sake, a scabbard. However, it doesn’t look too pleasing. It certainly does not feel smooth at all. Here’s how you fix that.
  • 1. Apply a generous amount of wood filler / wood putty to any rough spots on the scabbard. The sides will need plenty to hide the joints of the wood. If you need the consistency of the putty to be smoother and easier to apply, you can mix it with a bit of water. This will give it a plaster like consistency, and make it easier to apply evenly. Applied filler should look like THIS
  • 2. Sand it down with a 80 – 100 grit sandpaper. If you need to take off a bit of excess wood or are in need of a smaller (more sanding) grit, then use a lower grit sandpaper. (I have some 36 grit stuff that looks like roof tar T_T)
  • 3. Repeat these two processes until it is fairly smooth, and then take the grit of the sandpaper used higher.
  • 4. Eventually You will end up with a very smooth scabbard that looks like THIS.
  • 5. Take a smooth file, and file out the lip of the scabbard.
Alternate Method: Plaster / Spackle

Plaster is a bit harder to work with than wood putty, but if done correctly, it saves time. For the purposes of illustration, I took my scabbards and plastered them anyway.
  • 1. First take the plaster, which looks like cocaine, and place it onto a mixing steel. Add water and mix it until it looks like preparation H. It should look like… THIS.
  • 2. Spread the plaster over the scabbard with a putty knife. Smooth it out with water. It should dry fast. If you’re unlucky or slow, you will end up with cocaine rocks. Work fast or what your working with turns to THIS.
  • 3. When the plaster dries, sand it with high grit sandpaper. If it is not smooth repeat these three processes. When your done it looks nice, white, and smooth.
  • 4. Take a smooth file, and file out the lip of the scabbard.
Step Five: Painting the Scabbard

Painting is the last step most people will have to take in scabbard construction. This is done with the process as follows.
  • 1. Take your well sanded scabbard and spray it with a primer. You want to make quick light passes over the scabbard like THIS. DO NOT WORRY if you do not cover it evenly. It is better to use too little primer, than too much. You will want to do this multiple times. In between primer coats use scotch-brite or wet sanding sandpaper to smooth the coats. When your done it’s like THIS.
  • 2. Purchase a good spray paint, and again make light quick passes over the scabbard. If you want the coat to be as smooth as possible, purchase some wet sanding sandpaper, and use it between coats. Be sure to wipe off the wet excess and to let it dry between coats. It will look like THIS eventually.
  • 3. If you wish to, use clear coat paint. This will give your scabbard scratch resistance.

At this point, you have FINISHED your scabbard. If done correctly, this can produce a high quality and accurate scabbard. Here are some pictures of my finished scabbards, along with one of those straight Mugen I was talking about earlier.

Below are advanced techniques and additional information. I thank you for your patience in reading my guide, and hope you will provide feedback. Thank you! Nygen~

Last edited by Nygenx : 07-12-2008 at 06:35 PM.
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Unread 07-12-2008, 04:29 PM   #3
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Advanced Technique: Wood Bending.
This is necessary when you are working with the wooden guide rails. You may notice that the wood may start to crack or break when trying to get it to conform to your cut out. If this is the case, you have one of three options.
  • Option One: You can choose to break the wood and then cut off the splinters and excess after it has been cut. Then later on, during the fine construction stage, you will have to fill the area.
  • Option Two: Ghetto Wood-Bending. I am not an average person, when it comes to tool possesion, however I do not expect an average person to have the tools I have. For the common person, ghetto wood bending is your solution. It is a process done by first cutting a piece of wood in the contour you need to be able to bend to. You then boil a pot of water on high till it is bubbling and releasing plenty of steam. WEAR HEAT RESISTANT GLOVES WHILE DOING THIS. Now get tie wraps and wrap the guide rail to the wood you had just cut out as tight as you can, without breaking the wood. After a while you should be able to tighten the tie wraps a bit more before the wood would break. Eventually you end up with THIS

  • Method 3: "Real" wood bending. True wood bending is done by submerging wood in boiling water and then clamping it down after being removed. Its obviously quite dangerous, and I do not expect anyone to be able to do this. You can also use a steamer to do this, but it wont get as much bend.

Tips for Picking the Right Wood

I recommend using either pine, maple, or poplar for the main pieces of the scabbard. A piece of wood that is good for the two main pieces is generally about a quarter to an eight of an inch thick. The thickness makes the scabbard look less bulky and more realistic. The wood you purchase should be called "craft wood" and comes already smooth. Home Depot and Lowe's both carry it in four foot lengths. It is possible to get even thinner wood, but generally that has to be home-made. With home made wood, it is necessary to sand it down till its smooth.

You should also take care to make sure the wood is as straight as possible. You can check to make sure that the wood is straight by two tests.
  • Lie the piece of wood on FLAT ground, and press down at various points on the wood. Then flip it over and repeat. If the wood pushes down or comes up at all, then it is not flat.
  • The second test is using line of sight to look down the plane of wood. When you flip the wood over, if it looks at all distorted, it is bad.

The side rails should be made out of a softer wood such as pine. Balsa is also acceptable and is easier to cut, yet you will need to apply putty over it, as sanding will never be totally smooth from its grain type.

Reserved...For Advanced Techniques, Alternate Methods, Alternate Materials and Power Tools Guide.
"I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it" -- Bill Gates

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Also, feel free to add me on Steam @ nygenx.

Last edited by Nygenx : 07-12-2008 at 06:50 PM.
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Unread 07-12-2008, 04:30 PM   #4
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Reserved. This is a big guide in its entirety, when its all up.
"I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it" -- Bill Gates

Check out our Etsy shops @ CommandDesign & ThePixelBarnyard

Also, feel free to add me on Steam @ nygenx.

Last edited by Nygenx : 07-14-2008 at 11:31 AM.
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Unread 07-12-2008, 05:50 PM   #5
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Wow that's a very detailed guide. I've got a question though. Since it doesn't really look like you lined the inside of fabric, did you sand the inside of the scabbard smooth to protect the blade's paintjob or is that not neccesary?
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Unread 07-12-2008, 05:56 PM   #6
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Right now im creating a materials list ^_^. If you purchase wood from a store like home depot, it is not really necessary, given you've coated the sword with enamel. The craft wood they sell is already pretty smooth, so theres no need to sand it down. The edge of the blade and top might get scratched up, and its possible to prevent that with some fabric. So far I've done it once, when I had to after using a router to hollow wood. It did not turn out *that* well. I do however, intend to use a fabric lining when making Nel's sword. When I do, Ill post how to ^_^
"I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it" -- Bill Gates

Check out our Etsy shops @ CommandDesign & ThePixelBarnyard

Also, feel free to add me on Steam @ nygenx.
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