At this point, PAX is so close that the proximity is inducing all sorts of anticipatory grinning. Man, it has just been far too long since my last convention…
Creating the Red costume has been fun all-around, but creating the Transistor sword was especially enjoyable. Thermoplastics + careful alterations = awesome futuristic sword, and you can’t really go wrong with that. My inner 12-year-old squees every time I see it. Hell, were it not for the low-ish ceilings in our house, I’d probably play with the sword at every given moment.
As the namesake of the game itself, it makes sense to put a little extra time and attention into the sword. While it’s not especially difficult to assemble, there are some potentially tricky components of the Transistor depending on the materials you decide to use. If you’re trying to closely replicate the source material, the blade of the Transistor needs to be at least translucent, though the trailer video depicts it as being mostly transparent.
|Image courtesy of Supergiant Games|
Speaking of shaping your plexiglass, let’s dive right in and talk about how you go about doing that. Rule #1 of working with thermoplastics is always be mindful of the temperatures being applied. Every single incarnation of thermoplastic is flammable and has a high likelihood of warping/cracking/otherwise losing structural integrity when the heat turns up. In the case of plexiglass, that magical temperature threshold is 170 degrees Fahrenheit (76.67 degrees C).
Pssh, that’s a pretty high threshold Kel. Why would you need to worry about that?
Because friction. You know, that thing you’ll encounter while shaping or drilling your plexiglass.
170 degrees creeps up pretty quickly once you start applying a fine edge. If at all possible, stagger your work with the plexiglass to accommodate pauses. I took advantage of this
unending winter and set my tools out in our unheated sunroom to cool every 30-60 minutes or so. A quick touch or smell test will give you an idea of when to take a break. If the surface you’re working with is warm or you’re starting to get acrid whiffs of petrochemicals, you may want to focus your efforts elsewhere for a little while.
Wait wait wait. Let’s back up here. You’re talking about tools, but what should I be using to shape the plexiglass?
That will honestly depend on the thickness of your thermoplastic. For sheets that are 1/8” (0.32 cm) or thinner, you can shape with an Exacto or other very sharp utility knife. Simply draw your desired cuts on your surface, then score with your knife. Once you get about a third of the way through the plastic, a little pressure will cause it to snap exactly along your desired line. The video below provides more helpful hints. After this, polish the edges as needed with steel wool or very fine grit sandpaper (700 or finer). For plastic thicker than 1/8”, you will need to use saw blades that are explicitly designed for use with acrylics. Same goes for any drill bits you may want to employ, regardless of the thickness of your plastic. Most hardware stores sell both the blades and drill bits; just look for ‘for use with plastics/acrylics’ on the packaging.
After you have your plexiglass in your desired shape, it’s a matter of creating the hilt and decorating the blade itself. I made the base and hilt from sheets/dowels of birch board, which I cut to emulate the triangular shape in the reference images, then added bits of foamstock for the circular details and actual grip. Birch is great in that it’s strong, lightweight, inexpensive, easily shaped, and readily takes paint. Any standard acrylic will serve for the purposes of this prop. I mixed a gray we had left over from a bout of mini-painting with a basic black, then added a deep gray fabric paint that had a lustrous finish to it to give the impression of metal. It took about 3-4 coats of the mixture to get even coverage on the birch pieces and 2 coats for the foamstock.
Special note about using birch wood: for this project I purchased pieces of birch from a craft store, not a hardware store. Why? The wood that's usually up for sale in a craft store has been pre-treated for crafting (specifically for taking paint), whereas wood from a hardware store is usually in a fairly raw state. If you end up buying raw birch, you may have to spend extra time sanding and treating the wood before it's ok to apply paint. Michael's, AC Moore and most big-box crafting stores do sell birch board (usually in very manageable sizes), so I'd recommend buying from one of those if you're planning on using wood for the hilt/handle.
Drafting the design on the blade ended up taking the better part of about 6 hours, though if you’re less inclined to agonize over every curve and angle you could easily do so in about 2. Using the reference images, my T-square, and a random assortment of household objects that happened to have circular bottoms, I approximated the trademark forms in pencil. Another bonus to ordering plexiglass online is the fact that your plexi will arrive wrapped in protective papery covering. This will not only keep your acrylic pristine while you’re working with it, but can act as a custom stencil. Once I was satisfied with the look of the pattern, I carefully scored over the pencil with a very sharp utility knife, then peeled back the wrapping to reveal only the sections of the plexi that would be painted. You could just as easily use the stencil to etch into the plastic rather than paint, it’d just be a matter of personal preference. Acrylic paint tends to work well for this; just be sure to read the label to check that it will adhere to plastic. As plexi is inherently very smooth, you’ll likely need to apply 3-4 coats of paint to get even color coverage.
Once the designs had been painted, it was a matter of attaching the components of the hilt. As mentioned earlier, you can use a drill for this so long as the drill bit and screws are appropriate for use with thermoplastics (both TAP Plastics and ePlastics sell these if you’d like to spare yourself a trip to the hardware store). If you are using a drill, I highly recommend creating pilot holes for your join points. The last thing you want after carefully drafting, scoring, and painting/etching is to have the plexi crack or be otherwise compromised. If the notion of potentially cracking your thermoplastic is terrifying to you, there are a wide variety of industrial-strength adhesives that will work on acrylics and wood alike. Both crafting and hardware stores will carry these, just pay close attention to the “will work on the following surfaces” listing on the packaging. The one downside to using adhesives is that almost all of them are absurdly toxic. Be very, very careful when using them; always work in a well-ventilated area and follow all the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter.
|A distinctly feline brand of 'help'|
The Transistor itself pulsates with light when it converses with Red during the course of the game. If you're adhering to this portion of canon, then LEDs are your best bet. LEDs are perfect for this in that they are cheap, come in just about any size or shape you may want, can be battery powered, and, best of all, emit no tangible ambient heat. I bought a box of these, removed 6 blue ones from their respective plastic cases, then mounted the circuits into the hilt. If you're making a blade that's meant to be presented from only one side you can mount these directly onto the plastic. Operating the LEDs is as simple as flicking their switch.
I'm putting the last few touches on the sword and the rest of the costume with the intent that everything will be