So the first several write-ups will involve props from the Dragonlance book series. If you're not familiar with it and you like fantasy, I highly recommend picking up Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first book in the trilogy that sets the stage for all 100+ books of the franchise. In Dragons, you meet a band of motley adventurers (as often happens) who become known as the "Heroes of the Lance" for their deeds. Among them is Tasslehoff Burrfoot, a member of an incorrigible halfling-style race, Kender, that often carry a weapon known as a hoopak. Part walking staff, part slingshot, and part musical instrument, the hoopak is an iconic weapon from the books, and so I took great care to create what was in my mind's eye when I read the many, many ... MANY books of the Dragonlance world.
The hoopak consists of three basic parts. The main portion is a wooden staff with a 'Y' shaped crook at the top end. The crook has a sling stretched between the two prongs. The bottom of the staff sports a metal shank, for hiking and for stabbing enemies. I just got a lathe, and that would work perfect to make the shank. My wife would have to fashion the sling for me, since I have absolutely zero sewing skills (okay, so I can sew a band patch to my hoodie, but that's hardly top notch work). For the staff, I could go out into the woods and search for an appropriate branch, or I could fashion it myself. I opted on the latter due to "time constraints" and, though I invested more than 20 hours creating it, I contend that it may have taken just as much time to find a suitable branch in the wilderness, or maybe not have found one to my liking at all.
I had a length of 3/4" 480 psi pvc piping lying around that would work perfect. I liked that it was 480 psi because it meant that the walls were thicker, and this would be a boon when I began engraving later on. I used my compound miter saw ("chop saw") to cut off two roughly equal lengths, each with 48 degree angles. Then I matched the two angles to form a 'V' and superglued the two together. This created a point, but not much surface area to glue to the longer, straight section of pipe so I cut off the tip so that the resulting cross section would match the diameter of the pipe, and glued the 'V' to the top of the staff. Finally, I used a bit of Apoxie Sculpt to blend and reinforce the joint. Apoxie sculpt was also used to plug the two ends of the 'V' pipes, and the entire construction was given a light sanding to assist with painting later on (PVC and pretty much all plastics don't take paint well unless there's something for it to "grab" onto).
The problem with PVC, when you're trying to replicate Mother Nature, is that it's very uniform. My plan to combat this was to cover areas with Apoxie Sculpt to create knots and holes, and also small patches of bark that would bulk out the form in random areas, to break up the shape a bit. I feathered any of the sculpted areas so it would blend in well with the surrounding bare PVC. I placed basic forms first, and then went back in with rubber tipped sculpting tools to add bark textures and tease extra elements from the sculpt. Apoxie Sculpt has approximately two hours of work time once it's fully mixed, so be prepared to work in small amounts, and to completely finish a specific area because you can't take a break and come back later. After two hours it begins to harden and after 24 it's rock hard, sandable, and machineable.
I made sure to sculpt past the upper ends of the prongs, to mask the clean cut ends of the PVC. This hoopak has been in service for some time, so to give it a slightly older appearance, I sculpted the bark to extend past the "meat" of the branch a bit, as if some shrinkage had occurred over time.
I also figured such an item wouldn't remain in the hands of a Kender for so long without a bit of embellishment. While Kender don't have much sense of personal property per se, I figured carving one's name into a prized weapon was appropriate. (Authenticating Details, as one English Professor put it. If it works in literature, it works in propmaking. It's the little things that sell a piece's place in reality.)
After I'd sculpted a few sections with the Apoxie Sculpt, I took a step back to look at the progress and realized that even with all my sculpting, the staff still appeared far too straight. If I'd waited to see this later on in the project, it may have been too late because the Apoxie Sculpt would have made things too rigid. Luckily it was still early on. So I got out my trusty heat gun and started heating sections of the hoopak and gently bending it this way and that. I only wanted subtle bends, and I tried to bend the staff in opposite directions to keep the overall shape relatively straight. The result was far more convincing.
With my knots and bark patches sculpted, and my whole staff elegantly bent, I still had tons of real estate that was merely bare, flat PVC. My plan was to use an engraving bit on my rotary tool (Dremel) to finish the bark texture between sculpted areas. My only concern with this plan was that the transition between engraved PVC and sculpted clay would be too obvious. Actually, my original intention was to NOT sculpt the bark textures into the clay, but to leave that work for my Dremel as well, for consistencies sake. A test with my sculpting tools convinced me of this route, though. When engraving a bark texture, you don't want to be too formulaic, however, nature does follow certain rules. The grain of wood tends to curve around knots and holes, and while you want the with of the strokes to be somewhat uniform, Mother Nature also loves variation. This was tedious work, and I took a break probably every foot or so until I was finish. I also made sure to carry my strokes into the already existing grooves of the sculpts so that they blended seamlessly together.
The problem with engraving the PVC is that it left behind these annoying little burrs. You could pass back through your line in the opposite direction that you carved it, but this would take you forever, and it only removed about half the burrs. I tried running a stiff wire brush both with and against the grain, but this only met with mixed success as well. What finally worked, and worked beautifully, was a wire wheel tip for my rotary tool. I had to keep a light touch when I used this, because it would remove more material than just the burrs, but otherwise it was an astounding success!
During my breaks between engraving bark, I decided to get started on making the hoopak's shank. Thanks to a wonderful tip from the incomparable Bill Doran of Punished Props, I'd been collecting any extra resin from castings in plastic cups. One of these served as the blank I used to turn the shank. Lathing plastic is so much more forgiving than wood. There's no grain to contend with, and no chunks of wood flying at your face (make sure you still wear your facemask! There will still be plenty of plastic shavings headed at your eyes)!
The outer diameter of the PVC was an odd measurement, and none of the spade bits I could use to bore a hole into the shank fit quite correctly. What I ended up doing was using my scroll saw to cut small darts out of the bottom end of the staff so that the sections could flex inwards when the shank was slipped on. This made for a very stiff and sturdy connection.
With basic construction done, it was on to the painting phase. The whole staff got a primer coat of white (and it was at this point that I was finally convinced that everything blended together well). Normally I would wet sand the primer coat to get a truly smooth finish, but this is supposed to be wood, so a little roughness was just what was ordered. After the primer, the whole staff got a coat of brown, and then it was misted with a series of different shades of brown, to build up layers. If you're painting a living being, or something that used to be part of a living being, layers are important. The colors of blood, fat, muscle, and other tissues show through your skin because it's slightly translucent. The same is true of every living organism. After the staff, the metal shank got a good pass of weathering. This thing has been stuck into gods know what, from the forest of Qualinesti and Silvanesti, to the scaly hides of Draconians, so I kept it good and dirty. After paint, Trena sewed up a sling and the job was complete!
That's it for my first write up on this blog. Thanks for reading! If you're interested in more of my work, like our Facebook Page. I post progress photos as regularly as possible.
Build write ups of props, accessories, and other costume/cosplay related projects of the Goombah Squad
From Patterns to Paint
Hi, my name's Johny, and I'm the propmaker for the Goombah Squad Cosplay group. Here you'll find build write ups for my various personal projects, as well as commission works.