Luke's Lightsaber

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Before I started studying computer science, I've got my 'maturity diploma' (the secondary school exit exam) in Engineering – computer-aided design. Since I was a kid, besides visual effects, I always loved creating movie props and stuff like that, so when I first started learning how to use a metal lathe machine in high school, I yearned to get my hands on one, just so I could create something for myself. Not the usual boring school stuff, but something fun - a lightsaber, naturally. After ten years of waiting, I finally gained access to a lathe... so here we are.

 

I always loved Luke's lightsaber (originally Anakin's) from episode 4 and 5, but one does not have to be an expert to figure out that to DIY something like that is nearly impossible, if you want to have all the details. I have that lightsaber in my collection now, I know my limits, so I bought a replica of the Empire Strikes Back version. The next lightsaber that came to mind was Obi-Wan's from episode 4, and Luke's from episode 6. Obi-Wan's is a little tricky, though, since it was assembled from real parts... but if I'm not mistaken, Luke's was actually created using a lathe. A perfect choice for the first lightsaber, I think.

Pre-Production

Just like with most of my projects, I started by sketching. This is the phase in which I decide on how many parts I want to divide the lightsaber into, and how it would all come together. Once I have the idea of how I'd go about creating it, I usually create a CAD 3D model, so I can see if there could be any problems with my design, and I get to see how the final piece could look.

 

Day 1

I wanted to create a lightsaber before, so I already had most of the material I needed. I've decided to go with aluminium, which is perfect for projects like this. I didn't get very far the first day. I haven't used a lathe for more than six years, so I've decided to take it slow. Once I get to know this particular lathe, I'll be much faster, no doubt.

 

Day 2

Today was a little bit more productive. I had the handle turned from before, so I continued with the handgrip - the ribbed part of the lightsaber. For the sake of precision, I've decided to mark all the grooves first. This way I'll know that I'm removing the material at the right distance from the face of the workpiece. I did my research, and it seems that the grooves on the original prop are not evenly distributed, and the angles are not symmetric. I don't like it very much, as it looks like someone made a mistake in measurements while turning the piece. I've decided to keep my grooves symmetric and with the same offset. After that, I moved on to work on the 'neck' part. The workpiece was a solid piece of aluminium, so I had to drill it first. I did this because I need to run a threaded rod through it. The rod will hold the whole lightsaber together. Once that was finished, I started working on the emitter (the 'head' of the lightsaber). I skipped one part, because it's made out of copper, and I still don't have the material. Anyway, the emitter is the last part of the saber, so it needs to have a thread inside of it. I didn't have much time left, so I didn't finish this part today.

 

Day 3

Time to finish the emitter. It's not a very complicated shape to turn, so there were no problems. I also started working on its counterpart - the pommel. Turning it on a lathe is not difficult either. BUT, there's some milling involved in making this piece, and I don't have a milling machine... that's what I call a problem. Fortunately, you can do a little bit of milling on a lathe, too. On top of that, the lathe I'm using has a removable tool post, which you can replace with another chuck to hold your workpiece. But I still can't work on it, because I had to order a shaped end mill, and I'm still waiting for it to arrive. By the way, I'm sorry if my terminology doesn't make any sense, I studied this in Czech language, and it's difficult to translate technical terminology. Anyway, apart from milling, the pommel is finished. I managed to screw the 'neck' part up while polishing it on a lathe, so I had to do it again. Not a large setback. After that, I spray-painted the neck and the handgrip black. Once the paint dried, I cleaned the areas that are not supposed to be black. Finally, I put it all together to see if the threaded rod mechanism would hold everything together.