Making a Prop Sword Look Real to the Camera
How to construct a fake sword that will appear on film to be the real thing
On one film I worked, I needed a Celtic sword and the director wanted some runes on the blade. Obviously buying a real sword would have been expensive and I couldn’t one at the various prop houses around town that would please the director. I realized I was going to have to create one from scratch.
First I got a wooden martial arts practice sword (these can be found wholesale for around $20). In a pinch, I imagine a wooden staff or broom handle could be used. However, make certain you use a hardwood or the sword could catch fire when you cure the outer layer of the blade.
I cut and sanded down the blade until it was an eighth of an inch thinner than the final sword I would need. When I had the sword the shape and width I desired, I coated the wooden blade with a layer of polymer clay. Polymer clay is available inexpensively at most craft stores. I prefer the Sculpey 3 brand, but FIMO is also very popular. To add the Celtic runes, I found rubber stamps of various characters and stamped the icons into the clayso they ran down the length of the blade.
I baked the sword (it would just fit diagonally in my oven) to set the polymer clay. After sanding the blade to make it look smooth, I used Silver Leaf color of Rub ‘n Buff to make the blade silver. I got Rub ‘n Buff at my local craft store, but you can order it online here:
The sword looked fantastic and got many compliments from cast and crew. I had to keep a sharp eye on the it though, because everyone wanted to play with it. I don’t know how it would hold up for fighting, but such a sword looks very realistic for non-actions scenes.
Further, the wooden core gives it enough weight and heft to look realistic. Sometimes fake swords are made with a foam-core base. That means that when the sword is moved suddenly, it can wangle. I saw this just last night in a big budget Chinese film and it was very distracting.