So you wanna look like this? Well, bad news: there’s only one Jamie Bower in the world and chances are, you’re not him. But I can help you out with that sweet, sweet Seraph Blade.
You can commission a blade from me. Here’s my Etsy shop! Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about custom orders. Each blade is made to order and is individually made by hand so please allow for a few weeks of crafting time.
But what if you want to make your own? Well, here’s a tutorial on how to carve one from solid acrylic. I make them out of liquid resin these days, but that is a huge expense for a single seraph blade which is probably what you want if you’re reading this.
Things You Will Need
- 1″ – 2″ thick clear acrylic
- A band saw
- A belt sander (with 50 and 80 grit belts)
Drafting and Design:
- Graph paper and drawing implements
- A permanent marker
- Cardboard or other stiff paper
- A ruler
- A tub or trough for water
- Wet or wet/dry sandpaper (a selection of grits from 120-2500)
- Soft towels
Lighting and Wrapping (Optional):
- A plunge cutter
- A Dremel tool with engraving bits
- Snug-fitting safety gloves
- A small, thin LED flashlight
- Leather, faux-leather, or cloth (to wrap the handle)
- Leather paint (If you wish to re-colour the leather/paint runes)
- Velcro or snaps
- Modge Podge
Safety Equipment (NOT OPTIONAL):
- Safety glasses
- Ear protection
- A dust mask
If you’re not installing lighting in your sword, you don’t need the plunge cutter or the Dremel tool. The other tools, however, are necessary. You can try to hack away at the acrylic with a jigsaw and a hand-sander but I really don’t recommend it.
Alright, let’s do this.
Draw your blade design on graph paper. Azrael will be our model for this tutorial.
Cut out this design and transfer it onto cardboard or other stiff paper. Use a few pieces of tape to hold the cardboard template securely on the acrylic while you trace it onto the protective paper. Use a permanent marker. This will be easy to see and unlikely to smudge.
This will be your last opportunity to make changes to the design. Remember that you can’t add material after it’s been cut away. If you’re adding a light, make sure that the light mechanism will fit in the handle with at least a centimetre of space all around the edges.
It’s band saw time! Put on the ear protection, dust mask, and safety glasses. Safety gloves are not recommended for this task as the fabric can become caught in the blade. I don’t recommend Googling images of what happens after that.
Say it with me guys! “Safety gear is not optional!”
You may also want a do-rag, a bandana, or some other snug fitting hat to keep the million bits of flying plastic snow from getting into your hair.
This is my band saw. Its name is Nibbles. Nibbles only likes to cut in straight lines or very gradual curves. If you try to cut too sharp of a curve, the saw blade may snap. You can still achieve the cuts you want, but you must think outside the box and remove the excess acrylic in pieces.
Plan your cuts. There is no need to cut precisely along the black line of the template. You can always sand those curves smooth later.
Patience is the key to success. Do not rush. Acrylic is a material that is harder than most human bones. The saw blade will nibble through it at a few millimetres per second.
I recommend taking frequent breaks to switch off the band saw and stretch your arms and back. Try walking around a little, drinking some water, or having a snack. This will help you avoid getting stiff and sore from remaining still for long periods and also allow you to stay focused. Zoning out while using power tools is dangerous!
Now that you’ve had a break and a stretch, it’s time to shape the blade. For this, we will need the assistance of my beloved belt sander, Chewie.
I’d like to speak about safety and safety equipment again here. This is because I am aware that Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series and the Shadowhunters fandom in general tends to have a young audience. You may not have used these kinds of tools before and I want you to know how to keep from hurting yourself. If you’re already familiar with these noisy little monsters, you’re free to skip down to the next picture.
I have all of the guards and guides taken off my belt sander. This is not recommended by the manufacturer. But since I have to turn the acrylic at all sorts of weird angles to get the shape I want, the guards make this impossible. I use the sander as a carving tool to remove excess materials from the piece quickly. It is not how the tool was designed, but it works for my purposes.
As with Nibbles, the handling of Chewie requires safety equipment. A dust mask, protective eye-wear, and ear protection. Please do not wear safety gloves while using a belt sander. (Unless you are working with metal.)
As with the band saw, one moment of distraction can result in the injury. I have two scars on my left index finger from this rapidly-spinning belt. Less than a second will take the skin off. If the tip of a glove becomes caught in the rotating mechanism of the belt sander … let’s just say that you won’t be attending that convention you were planning on going to. Yes, the plastic dust will be a little hot when it flies off the belt. You’ll get used to it fairly quickly. Trust me. No gloves. Not worth it.
Always unplug the machine if you have to move it, clean it, adjust it, change the belts … basically anything besides turning it on and off. I once picked up a belt sander to move it. It turned on while I had it held against my stomach.Thank goodness I dropped it immediately and it only snagged the edge of my shirt, otherwise that would have been an awful mess.
Start with the 50 grit belt and grind down the edges of the sword until you have the shape you want.
Once you have the shape more or less as you want it, it is time to switch to the 80 grit belt and do some smoothing.
The smoother you can get the surface of the sword, the less work you will have to do later with the hand-sanding. Run your hands over the piece, inspecting it for imperfections. See how it feels to hold and wield it. Now is an excellent time to make adjustments to the grip if it is uncomfortable.
If you are adding an LED to your sword, you will need to cut a slot for the flashlight to fit in. If not, you may skip ahead to step 6.
Now it is time to make use of the plunge cutter. This tool is known by a few different names. I call mine Jitter-Bug.
This is Jitter-Bug. Jitter-Bug is loud, obnoxious, and possesses an undying hatred for all mankind. Do not trust Jitter-Bug. Hold onto it firmly like your life depends on it because it absolutely will try to jitter right out of your hands when you put it to the acrylic.
You will need to wear all the usual safety gear I’ve mentioned before, plus protective gloves. The plastic dust flying off will be hot enough to hurt. Possibly not enough to burn, but it’s uncomfortable enough to be distracting. Remember what I said about distractions? Yeah. Let’s just avoid that.
After all that sanding on Chewie, you will have to re-draw the light recess on the handle of the sword. Take a moment to hold the blade and press your fingertips on the grip. Where do they sit? You want the tip of one finger to rest over the button of the flashlight hidden in the sword hilt. Mark where that is and make sure that the light will be in the right place before you start cutting.
Clamp the sword to the edge of the table. Sit yourself down, and get in a nice stable position. The tool will vibrate a lot so you will have to keep as steady as you can.
Now, Jitter-Bug, like Nibbles, also only likes to cut in straight lines. You will have to be clever about removing the material from the light slot. Start by cutting all around the black line.
I use two different kinds of blades on Jitter-Bug for this. The one in the picture above is a narrow one for cutting the shorter sides of the rectangle. The wider one is for the longer sides. Please unplug the tool when changing the blades. Switching it on by accident really sucks.
Cut a grid-pattern in the acrylic where you will be removing material. Make sure that each line is deep enough for the flash light to sit flush with the surface of the sword handle.
Now, place Jitter-Bug’s blade in the line closest to you at a 45 degree angle and begin making those little squares into wedge-shapes. When you are cutting away from yourself, it is okay to remain seated, but when you cut the other side of the wedge, you will have to stand up and move to the side. Never, ever cut toward yourself. It’s called a “plunge cutter” because “stabby machine” would probably get you put on a government watch list of some kind.
Once those 45 degree angle cuts meet, the wedges of acrylic will come popping out like a boxer’s teeth, leaving a nice recess for you to put the light in.
Take your Dremel tool and grind all those rough ridges smooth, especially the front side of the light recess. The clearer and smoother you can make that side of the rectangle, the better the light will transmit through the acrylic.
Alright. You’ll be happy to know that we’re done with the scary power tools. Now it’s time to gain a new-found hatred of water. That’s right. It’s wet-sanding time and your fingers are going to be wrinkly as a raisin by the time we’re done.
Put your water tub or trough on a table and fill it with warm water. The warmth doesn’t affect the sanding in any way but you will be able to work for much longer without your hands cramping if the water is hot.
Plop that sword in the water, cut a strip of 120 grit sandpaper, and begin sanding the sword. Once you have done all you can with the 120 grit, move up to 240 and do it again. Then again with some 360 grit. Then again with some 600 grit. Then again with some 800 grit …
You get the idea. Change the water every couple of rounds. This will allow you to have some nice warm water again. It will also make it less likely for stray bits of plastic to get caught between the sword and the sandpaper which will create more scratches. Between each round of sanding, rinse the sword off under running water, dry it with a towel, and inspect it under good light to see how many scratches and scrapes remain.
When you’re through, with all your polishing and no scratches remain, it should look something like this.
For those of you not putting a light in your sword: Congratulations! You are finished! Enjoy your beautiful Seraph Blade.
For those of you inserting an LED, your toil is not yet done. Come with me to the magical land of … hiding something in a crystal-clear object.
You’re going to need a hilt wrapping on your sword to conceal the flash light. There’s really not any way around that. A lot of people were surprised when the Shadowhunters TV series launched and the Seraph Blades had opaque handles. If you give it some thought, though, you can totally see why.
You can read through it for crying out loud. How are you going to hide anything in there?
Well, grab your graph paper, it’s time to take measurements of your sword handle. You can cut and wrap the paper around the hilt as much as you like until you’re content with the design of the wrapping.
Remember that if you’re painting the leather, it’s going to shrink a little as the leather paint dries! So leave a little extra space. Take note of how wide the Velcro is, or how wide the snaps are, and make sure that the wrapping overlaps at least that much. I’m using Velcro in this tutorial.
It’s up to you how you want to design the hilt wrapping. The one I’m going to show you is a double wrap simply because I like how it looks.
Azrael is wrapped in a pair of old socks here to protect it from getting dinged on tools and tables and whatnot while I move it at all sorts of weird angles for the fitting.
Once you are sure of your design, cut the leather. I use vegetable tanned leather because it is relatively easy to mould to the correct shape by immersing it in hot water for a few minutes, and then wrapping it around the hilt to dry.
If you’re painting it, make sure it is completely dry before doing so. It may take a day or so to get it in the right shape and dried properly. Again, patience is the key to success with this.
I paint the interior of the hilt wrap as well as the exterior because I do not want the cow-hide colour to show through the sword. It will take several coats to achieve a good look. Give each coat four to six hours to dry before applying the next one.
Wrap the painted leather around the hilt and carefully cut a hole where the light recess is. I use a scalpel for this.
Glue the leather wrap in place and wind string securely around it so that it stays put while drying. This usually takes another day.
For this style of wrapping, I have used a length of suede to go around the hilt a second time and form the flap that covers the flashlight. Yes. This takes another day to dry.
Now it is time to cut the Velcro and glue it in place. I have used a combination of paper clips and string to hold them while they dry. This takes … how did you know? Yes. Another day. See, you’re getting the hang of this already!
At long last, we can put the light in its new home. I’ve secured a length of elastic to the back of it so it can be easily retrieved. You don’t have to do this but it is convenient.
Flashlight? What flashlight? I’ll have you know that my Seraph Blade ignites with the power of the angels! Hmph! Mundies.
Now we may remove the protective socks and feast our eyes on a brand new LED-equipped sword.
Weeks of labour. But suddenly, it all seems worth it.
Sometimes, my customers can find it hard to be patient, but I think you can now see why you have to wait so long for your new baby to arrive! I don’t know about you, but I have a new appreciation for the stubborn, hard-as-nails attitudes of the Iron Sisters.
I know, I know. You’re all waiting for me to stop talking and show you the light.
Possibly the bathroom selfie of the year.
Unmistakably glowing, even in bright sunlight.
So that’s my tutorial. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to scribble something in the comments section below. I love chatting with my fellow Shadowhunter fans.