Thermoplastic Gunblade

Posted by Ellinor Orton on October 29, 2017 at 3:50 PM

I’ve never made a cosplay for myself before, for various reasons, but I decided at the last minute to make a costume for hallowe’en, and picked Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy IIX. I’d made a jacket for a customer several years ago, so I still had the pattern for that, and I had various remnants to make it from. By Wednesday I was happy with my soft kit, but I wanted to make a gunblade, Squall’s iconic and impractical signature weapon.

As any costumer will tell you, the night before you need it is the best time to embark on building a prop, especially if it’s going to involve a new skill. This was of course the case with my gunblade. I’ve learned a lot making it and I know what I’ll do differently next time. And there will be a next time!

I started with a vague idea of a rough and ready build that wouldn’t be all that accurate to the game, to which end I purchased a plastic gun and two plastic swords from Poundland. These turned out to be unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, because I got over-excited and a bit more accurate about stuff.

So, the first thing I did was work out the proportions of the weapon, work out how long I wanted the blade to be, and pattern it out from there. I used a very technical method for this, by measuring a picture, scaling up, and drawing on a sheet of newspaper.

I then transferred these measurements onto a sheet of mounting board, which is stiff cardboard. I discovered it wasn’t quite long enough for the whole blade, but I got round that by sandwiching the join under two other bits of card.

I wanted the blade to be a bit more rigid so I made it in two layers, attaching them together with contact adhesive. To get a smooth finish to the edges I glued the sheets together then cut them as one. This wasn’t really necessary in the end as I wound up covering the whole thing in thermoplastic, but that wasn’t the plan to begin with.

I had intended to make the handle by just cutting the barrel off the plastic gun, separating it into its halves (it screwed together) and gluing that in place. But I realised that it wasn’t going to be the right shape, and by now I was way too into accuracy for what had been a quick fix build.

So I cut the gun down and separated it as planned, then made a card template for the extension and glued that in place with hot glue. I then used gaffa tape and craft foam to build it up round, because gaffa is amazing. This was very wobbly, but provided the framework to wrap overlapping strips of thermoplastic round. This gave it rigidity, but wasn’t very attractive. I smoothed it with a layer of craft foam, and filled in any big hollows with extra bits. I then covered it with gaffa to see how smooth it would be and added more filling as necessary.

I made a paper pattern that I thought would cover half the gun handle, tried it out as best I could, and then cut two versions in worbla. Positioning it was tricky as I had to hold it in place until it was set. I made the seam where the two sides of the covering met as smooth as I could by just working it, but if I was remaking with more time I’d sand it down, too.

That left the raw edges at the bottom to be filled. I cut an oval a bit larger than the hole for that. The gunblade has a chain hanging from the bottom so I just poked a hole in the middle of the base and pushed a section of chain through. I sealed it in place with a blob of hot glue. I failed to consider that this would heat up the thermoplastic and make it flexible – the weight of the chain pulled it through the panel, bringing the glue with it, and in the process of putting it back in place I burned myself pretty badly with the hot glue. So don’t be daft like me.

Once that had all cooled, I attached the panel by heating the edges and pressing them onto place. Again, I smoothed out the seams with my fingers but would sand if you’ve got time.

I think it was at this time I decided to sheath the blade in thermoplastic, to try and get it to be a bit more rigid. I think next time I’d probably try to do that differently, but I’m not sure how. Perhaps making it from all thermoplastic, maybe three layers. Or from a thin board of wood. But this worked well enough. I just folded a triangle round the blade and cut the detailing in at the tip. I had to add a strip at the top to get a smooth join. I’m not pleased with that bit.

So now I had a smooth plastic covered blade and hilt, which needed the barrels and the revolver part adding.

I cut a short length off a poster tube and cut it in half lengthways. I then cut out a rectangle of sticky back craft foam for each, and cut out three groves with rounded edges out of them. I stuck those on and covered them with thermoplastic, pressing it down into the grooves to give the shape I wanted. I attached these with hot glue, positioning them over the end of the handle to cover that and give both of them a neat end.

For the barrels, I cut a section of drinking straw, wrapped it in worbla, and got glued it in pace, sucking the end under the revolver cylinder. They should be wider, I think, so maybe a chunky straw or a length of dowel would be better.

That just left the trigger guard so I referred back to my diagram for the dimensions, then cut a small strip of foamcore, scored it and bent it, then wrapped it in thermoplastic and attached it. I should have done that with the trigger too, but I was getting really tired so I just cut the trigger off the toy gun and glued that on. It’ll have to be replaced because it’s not on properly and has come loose.

I ran out of time to make the lion charm that ought to be on the chain, so just popped a bead on there for now.

With hindsight I ought to have masked up the handle then sprayed the rest silver, because I used black thermoplastic, but I didn’t because it was late and I wasn’t thinking that well by then. So I sprayed it silver, then masked the silver and sprayed the handle black.

And that was that. My first big project using thermoplastic and my first cosplay costume for myself!

I’m excited about making more stuff. I might well make a Vincent Valentine costume, and I could use similar techniques to make the gun. I think that if I do need to make another gun or gunblade handle, I will probably make it with stacked layers of thick corrugated card to create the basic shape to form the worbla around.

Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with what I made and how I made it, and I’ve learned some things for my next project.

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