Not everyone is going to be able to afford a realistic looking lightsaber. A FX Lightsaber sells new for $120, and custom lightsabers can be built for as low as $60 and go as high as $800 or more. However, the lightsaber is an integral part of the Jedi and training in it should not be forsaken due to cost or availability. Also, there are times when it would be in your best interest to save your “show quality” lightsaber and use something with a little less technology in your training. These reasons and others should not be hurdles to overcome when it comes to your training as a Jedi. Just as Obi-Wan told Han Solo, “there are alternatives to fighting,” there are alternatives and substitutions you can make when it comes to your lightsaber training.
One of the cheapest and easiest to find substitutions for a lightsaber would be a 1-inch to 1.5-inch (3-4 cm) dowel rod like the ones you use to hang clothes from in your closet. Simply purchase a six-foot long dowel rod and cut it down to fit your custom size. To make it more realistic looking you can purchase electrical tape in black, gray, and whatever colors you want to use for the blade and wrap it around the dowel rod. The only good part about using a dowel rod as a lightsaber substitution is the price. The cons are that the balance point is in the middle of the dowel rod instead of being close to your lead hand and where the emitter section should be which makes it extremely difficult to perform spins and strikes correctly. This could actually prove to have a negative impact on your training; therefore the dowel rod should only be used as a last resort.
Another lightsaber substitution is the shinai. A shinai is a bamboo sword used in the Japanese sport of kendo, which we will cover in a later chapter as a possible training method. Ranging in total length from 36 to 47 inches (92-120 cm) and weighing approximately 1.1 pounds (510 grams), the shinai is meant to closely resemble the actual dimensions of the Japanese katana although it is slightly lighter. A shinai can be purchased new for around $25, but if you look around you likely would be able to purchase a used one for less. A shinai makes a great lightsaber substitution as it is already made, can be ordered to fit your size, is widely available, and is fairly light and balanced. The hilt of a shinai is very similar in length to a standard lightsaber hilt, and one could easily wrap colored electrical tape around the bamboo blade to make it look more like a lightsaber. However, as the shinai is made out of bamboo it can require some special maintenance requirements to maintain its integrity.
Yet another wooden practice sword used in the martial arts that would make a good lightsaber alternative is the bokken. Also called a bokuto, the bokken is a practice sword used in many different martial arts and is meant to serve as a safe and inexpensive alternative to a real sword. An average bokken is 40 inches long (103 cm), weighs 1.6 pounds (750 grams), and can be purchased for under $15. The bokken is a good surrogate for the lightsaber as it is fairly balanced, rugged, commercially constructed, and readily available. Compared to the shinai, the bokken is cheaper, more durable, and easier to care for. However, the bokken can be up to an entire foot shorter than a replica lightsaber and that could cause some negative transference problems for you when switching between the two during your training.
One more lightsaber possible substitute that is used in practicing martial arts is the iaito, also known as the mogito. Used in iaido, the Japanese art of drawing the sword, the iaito is an unsharpened sword that resembles a katana in appearance, size, and weight. The average iaito is approximately 34 inches long (86 cm), weighs 1.8 pounds (815 grams), and can vary in price from $250 to over $2,000. The iaito is a good stand in for the lightsaber as it is well balanced with a properly sized hilt. When ordering an iaito most places allow you to choose from a range of blade lengths to allow the sword to be custom fit to your own dimensions, but the length will still be shorter than a replica lightsaber. Like the bokken, this could also cause problems in your training when transferring from the iaito to a mock lightsaber.
In the toy aisle at your favorite store you can often find a kids lightsaber made by Hasbro. The Hasbro lightsaber has a sectioned blade that collapses into the hilt, something to keep in mind if you are going to go on a vacation and want to carry something compact to train with. The generic version is readily available for under $10 while ones with light and sound can be purchased for $25 or less. The Hasbro lightsaber would make a good training lightsaber for your youngling as a shinai or bokken can cause bodily harm, in fact people have been seriously injured and killed with them. For an adult however, a Hasbro lightsaber is not a good option as it is too light, unbalanced, and the diameter of the hilt is way too big to properly practice any lightsaber spins unless your hands are the size of Chewbacca’s.
If you feel that you are creative and capable in the shop you might choose to construct your own lightsaber out of materials you can find in the local hardware store. A relatively easy and inexpensive lightsaber option is to make one out of polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC. PVC pipe is a thermoplastic polymer often used in household plumbing because it is cheap, durable, and easy to cut and assemble. The core of the lightsaber hilt is constructed out of 1-inch diameter PVC pipe cut to the appropriate length determined earlier in this chapter. You can customize the lightsaber hilt by using additional pieces of PVC pipe of larger diameters cut to shapes of your liking or by using readily available end caps. Assemble all of the pieces of the hilt with PVC cement and let it dry.
The blade of a PVC lightsaber is normally fabricated using half-inch diameter PVC pipe. When determining the length of the blade, be certain to accommodate the length of your hilt so that you create a full push tang. The tang of a blade is the portion of the blade inside the handle, and a full push tang is when the tang of the blade is entirely inserted into the hilt and secured in place. You might have to get creative in your construction or use copious amounts of PVC cement to ensure a solid attachment of the tang within the lightsaber hilt. To complete the blade, wrap it in foam pipe insulation of the appropriate size then completely wrap it in electrical tape in the color of your choice. The electrical tape allows you to make a blade that looks like an actual lightsaber while also keeping the foam insulation in place and adding some structural integrity. Creating your own lightsaber out of PVC pipe creates a very cheap and practical lightsaber that is constructed to fit your own specific dimensions. Some might be opposed to being around the chemicals required in its construction, and unless your counterweight the hilt the PVC lightsaber is not very balanced. Since the PVC blade is lightly padded, if you are struck by the blade it doesn’t hurt as much as if it was assembled out of other materials but it will also not stand up to high intensity dueling.
There are other alternatives and substitutions that can be incorporated into your homemade training lightsaber. For example, you could construct the hilt out of wood that has been shaped and hollowed to allow the PVC blade to be inserted, although this would not be a feasible option if you don’t have the appropriate set of tools. You could also create a lightsaber hilt using metal sink tube from the plumbing section and securing the blade tang with a custom screw assembly. This will create a balanced lightsaber that can be made to look very realistic and one that can be highly customized as well. For alternatives to the lightsaber blade you have a few options as well. You can use ½ to ¾ inch wood dowels, but unless you can get them made from a hard wood they will most likely break after a few unchecked swings. You can also use polycarbonate tubing, the same blade tubing used on a lighted saber. If you want to be just like the actual lightsaber props used in the movies you would have a blade made out of carbon fiber. The carbon fiber blade is extremely light and durable, but it is also expensive when compared to the other options.
As you can see, there are numerous options when it comes to getting your own lightsaber. Which one is the best option? That is for you to decide. We have provided the pros and cons for all of the alternatives that are available, but here are a few questions you need to ask yourself. How many discretionary credits are available to you? How quickly do you need your lightsaber? Are you going to be dueling with other people, practicing on your own, or are you looking for a conversation starter to put on your mantle? You can always find out more by looking in our forum and asking around.
Click here for our overview of the lightsaber.
Click here for information on how to make your own lightsaber.