As of this post, I’ll focus more specifically on this project, building the Graflex lightsaber. I don’t like using other peoples’ photos whenever possible, so I’ll be adding my own photos in as I receive parts and can take pictures of them.
There are a number of parts needed to create a functioning lightsaber, and unlike the previous post, you can’t get them all on Amazon. I’ll start with a simple list of the parts and where I ordered them. Keep reading for more information on each item.
- Hilt – Graflex 2.0 hilt kit by Korbanth
- Sound – Plecter Labs Nano Biscotte v3
- LEDs – Tri-Cree X2 Blue/Blue/White
- LED Heatsink – Copper 7/8″ Heatsink
- LED Resistors – 1 ohm, 2 watt resistors, bought 5
- LED Thermal Tape – Star thermal tape pad
- Speaker – 2W 28mm Bass Speaker
- Sound font – TFA Graflex HD by Shameem Moshrefzadeh
- Battery – 3.7V Panasonic Li-Ion 18650 Battery
- Power Port – 2.1mm Power Port
- Power Adapter – 3.7V Lithium Ion Smart Charger
- Wiring – 28awg and 30awg, mix of colors
- Chassis – GOTH 3Designs Graflex 2.0 Padawan Chassis
- Threaded rods – 4-40 Fully Threaded Rods (eBay) or 4-40 Brass Fully Threaded Rods (Amazon)
- Threaded inserts – 4-40 Ultrasonic Threaded Insert (tapered) and/or 4-40 Ultrasonic Threaded Insert (straight)
- Blade – 7/8″ Vader’s Vault Blade, 34″ and shine-through tip
- Blade Plug – 7/8″ Graflex Blade Plug by KRSabers
HiltFirst off is the hilt itself. As I stated in the initial project post, the hilt can be made out of an actual Graflex flash if you can find one, but it’ll cost you a whole lot of money. There are several places to order replica kits that are much more affordable, and already have most of the lightsaber conversion work done. I ordered mine from a guy on a web forum, as sketchy as that sounds, but the forum is well-moderated and only people with proven reliability are allowed to sell items there. As of today, there are at least a few kits left for sale. This was a limited run of 200, following a previously limited run of another 200, and I don’t think he’s going to offer it again anytime soon. I purchased the hilt in mid-March, and expect it will be delivered in mid-April. So that’s why I don’t have any posts about making progress yet, I’m still waiting on a bunch of parts including the hilt.
Another, more consistent source of Graflex hilts is Parks Sabers. They offer a kit you can order anytime, however there is often a significant wait while the hilt components are machined and shipped. Think months not days.
The hilt kits come with just about everything needed to make a nice display replica of the movie props used in Episodes IV, V, and VII. Each movie has a some slight differences between the props (example: the clamp card in Ep. IV is a bubble strip, in Ep. V and VII it’s a computer chip). There are also apparently a few differences in the kit from the movie props that I’ll go into on another post, probably after I actually get my kit for inspection so I can see for myself what’s different.
Sound boardThe hilt by itself makes a very nice display piece, but I’m making more than a display piece. I want lights, sounds, excitement! The heart of all that is the sound board. There are a number of options for sound boards with varying capabilities. Since this is my first project, I want to keep it fairly basic: lights for the blade and sound when powering on, swinging, hitting, and powering off. To achieve this, I’m using the Plecter Labs Nano Biscotte v3 purchased from The Custom Saber Shop. As you can see to the left, this thing is tiny!
It drives lights and sound, has a motion-detecting accelerometer, and as of the v3 version also has an onboard Flash on Clash (FoC) Power Extender (PEx) that flashes a dedicated LED when the accelerometer on the board detects a hit. Previous versions of the Nano Biscotte required wiring a separate PEx board for FoC.
The other side of the board contains a micro SD card slot. The SD card is where the board programming file is stored (controls LED intensity settings, sound effect selections) as well as the sound fonts that give the saber life. I’ll do a more in-depth post about this board and some of the other boards that are available later on, I’m still in the pre-school stage of learning about this little wonder.
It wouldn’t be a lightsaber without light! The LEDs used in this project come on a board with three LEDs: two blue and one white. The two blue LEDs will light and color the saber blade, and the white will be used for the Flash on Clash. The three LEDs can be different colors as well, their intensity controlled by the sound board to mix and create a third color (example: Royal Blue/Royal Blue/Red to mix and make purple), which takes away the FoC capability (no white LED to flash). I purchased my LED board from an Etsy seller called SaberBay, but they are also available from The Custom Saber Shop (TCSS from now on).
There are a few things that go along with the LEDs that need to be purchased. First, they’ll need a heatsink. The LED board sits in the heatsink and it dissipates the heat they generate so it doesn’t fry the other components in the hilt. TCSS has heatsinks to go with their LEDs, but didn’t have any in stock when I was ordering everything. So, I ordered a nice looking heatsink from SaberBay along with the LEDs. From the TCSS, I bought some thermal tape to afix the LED board to the heatsink. Another option is to use something like Arctic Silver to provide heat transfer off the board and onto the heatsink.
The LEDs also need resistors attached between them and power. They will suck every bit of power the battery has to offer and burn out very quickly if allowed. The resistors will control the flow of current and keep the LEDs both bright and healthy. Based on recommendations from other builders, I purchased a few 1ohm/2watt resistors from TCSS. Again, I’m at the very beginning of wrapping my brain around how these things work, but there’s a calculation for determining the appropriate resistor for a given LED. Right now it’s just easiest to use an online LED resistance calculator. You’ll need to know the power voltage from the battery, the voltage the LED takes, and the flow of power the LED can accept. The battery (see below) provides 3.7 volts. The blue LED voltage is 3.41v. The spec sheet for the blue LED says it can take 350mA, which would require a different resistor (.47ohm/.5watt). However, the seller says they can take up to 1000mA, which gives us the 1ohm/2watt size. Another builder on the fx-sabers forum tried running his LEDs without a resistor just to see what would happen and ended up melting the solder together on the board! The LEDs still worked after he cleaned up the solder, fortunately, so they’re pretty resilient.
Here I am completely into the unknown. I’ve read people referencing cone depth and travel, frequency response, tonal fidelity, bork bork bork bork. I don’t know yet, I just bought the little speaker everyone said was the best option and fits in the chassis. It happens to be the 2w 28mm bass speaker from TCSS. It’s $6.50, so buy a couple in case you melt a solder joint off on accident.
There’s a sound board and a speaker and they need sounds to play. A saber sound font contains a bunch of individual sound files, each associated with a particular action (power on/off, swing, clash, hum, etc.). The sound board plays the appropriate sound when an action is taken. The main place to purchase sound fonts is SaberFont.com. They’re apparently in the middle of an overhaul and haven’t posted the font I want to use in this project. Fortunately the font creator is selling it directly for now. It’s the TFA Graflex HD font from Shameem Moshrefzadeh. You can get a demonstration of the font (as well as his Kylo Ren font) on this YouTube video.
The battery is easy, it’s an 18650 3.7V Li-Ion rechargeable battery. I got mine from TCSS, but another they are also available at a place called Solo’s Hold. You can also use a pack of 7.4V 16340 batteries, but I went with the 3.7V because the list I followed to start my build had a 3.7V battery in it. Along with the battery, you’ll need an equivalent charger and a 2.1mm recharge port. I bought both of these from Solo’s Hold since TCSS was out of stock. I’ve also found the 2.1mm recharge ports at Radio Shack, though all the ones I’ve gone into have also been out of stock so I can’t see if they’re the same size. AND, I’ve also found them on Amazon for much less, assuming they’re the same thing. I’ve ordered some to see, but they’re apparently shipping from China by paddle boat, since they’re supposed to arrive on or before May 6. Here’s another set I found that’s twice as expensive (an extra $2!) for half as many ports, but has Prime shipping in case you don’t want to wait a month for them.
All of this stuff needs to be wired together to work, and needs to be easily routed around in a cramped space. The recommended wire sizes are 28 and 30 awg. It seems 30 awg is good for wiring the LEDs (further up the hilt) and the power switch (red button way up the hilt) since they have to go through some tiny spaces. 28 awg is good for the power port, battery, and sound. I initially ordered a few different colors of each size from a seller on ebay who ships from China, then a week later realized I hadn’t updated my shipping address on ebay and the shipment was headed to Arizona instead of Colorado. It was $6 worth of wire, so I just reordered, but the initial shipment still hasn’t arrived in Arizona (must be on the same paddleboat as the power connectors), so I picked up some 28 awg with my order from TCSS and some 30 awg at RadioShack.
The 30 awg wire is so thin, it’s amazing there’s copper wire inside the plastic sheath! As an example, the wires inside a standard Cat 5e ethernet cable are 24 awg. The photo up above is a 30 awg wire next to a bundle of ethernet wires.
We now have lights, sound, power, wiring, and a board to control it all, but we can’t just cram it all into the hilt and hope for the best. If any part of the sound board makes contact with the metal of the hilt, it could cause a short and destroy the board. That would be bad. On top of that, the idea is to swing the saber around so it makes noise, maybe do some dueling with another saber to show off the FoC and sound effects. The last thing you want is for your fancy saber to sound like it’s full of junk when you move it around.
The solution is a chassis. I’ll do a separate post on the different chassis options that are available for different hilts, this write-up is just for the Graflex. The Graflex hilt is very popular, so it gets some extra options that aren’t available to a lot of other hilts. In particular, the designer at GOTH 3Designs has created several 3D printed chassis options of varying degrees of complexity. For my first build, I selected the simplest and least expensive option, the Padawan Chassis.
It took about 2 weeks from ordering to get it printed, shipped, and received. It has a place for the soundboard, speaker, battery, and power port. It also contains empty spaces to run the wiring, and includes a kill key for use in the power port. The kill key keeps the power port from completing the circuit with the battery, so it keeps the saber completely powered off. When removed, the battery powers the electronics and the sound board boots up, ready for you to push the activation button to turn on the lights and sound.
One of the hilt modifications I’ll need to make is drilling and tapping a hole for a LED retention screw. I haven’t done my full research there so I still need to figure out exactly what is needed. I’ll update this post when I do.
Another modification will involve tapping two 4-40 holes into the hilt for securing the chassis to it. This is achieved by using 4-40 threaded rods that screw into the tapped hilt holes and fit through holes in the chassis. They’re secured 2/3 down the chassis by either 4-40 nuts or more the aesthetically pleasing option of threaded inserts. I bought a couple of brass threaded rods from a seller on eBay and they arrived dirty. I’ve had to spend some time cleaning the grease off them them so they look nice and shiny, using a toothbrush and vinegar/flour paste. Amazon also offers them but with a 2-4 week lead time before shipping. For the threaded inserts, I ordered a couple of types from Grainger: 4-40 Tapered and 4-40 Straight, so I have some options. They come in packs of 100, so I have enough of these for 100 lightsabers now. Contact me if you want some, we can work out a deal. I also thought getting some lock washers would be helpful, but even the smallest they offer extends too far out of the chassis.
BladeBlades have come a long way from the flimsy plastic tube of the circus saber I mentioned in the first project post. They are now made of polycarbonate material and can withstand some fairly aggressive impacts. There are three different diameter sizes, depending on the hilt’s blade holder section: 1″, 7/8″, or 3/4″. This Graflex kit uses a 7/8″ blade. Blades also come in a variety of lengths, usually from 30″ up to 36″. Length is a matter of comfort, I’ve read that 32″ is a pretty good length for dueling while 34″ or 36″ lengths are more screen accurate. I don’t know yet, I haven’t really seen one in person. I’ll probably go with a 34″ for this project.
Different tip styles are also available, with a round or bullet-point shape, and mirrored or shine-through finishes. It seems the bullet tips are more accurate to sabers in the prequel movies, and the rounded tips are more accurate to the original trilogy. As I understand it, the newer bright LEDs that are available can use the shine-through finish and still light the length of the blade incredibly well, where the older LEDs benefited from the mirrored finish tips to send light back down the blade to make it brighter.
There are a number of places that sell blades with different manufacturing techniques for getting the light to evenly distribute through the length of the blades. I’ll be purchasing this blade from Vader’s Vault, a very highly regarded sabersmith out of Georgia. They have some of the best blades out there, and I’ll be getting a 7/8″ x 34″ blade with a shine-through rounded tip.
Since this is functional saber but also a display piece, I don’t plan on having the blade inserted at all times. To avoid blinding anyone with the very powerful LEDs that are exposed without the blade on, I’ve purchased a blade plug to protect the LEDs and peoples’ eyes, as well as help the saber look cool when powered on without the blade. This particular 7/8″ plug is made by KRSabers on Etsy, but there are a number of other options as well, such as these amazing turbine plugs.
As I stated earlier, there may be more to add here after I get my kit and can examine everything in person. Some things people have discussed changing are the “glass eye” that’s near the top of the hilt, the red button opposite the glass eye, and mylar tape that was used to cover the Graflex logo on the original prop in Empire Strikes Back. I’ll be making the saber that appeared in The Force Awakens, so we’ll see what needs to be done to help it be more screen-accurate.