I have been involved
in boffer combat games
for about eight years
now, and two things
have always bothered
me about the whole thing. First, the etymology
of the word
(knowing that "boff
" is British slang
for, to put it gently, "fuck
"), and second, the fact
that few people
seem to be able to make safe
boffers, at least on their first try
. Since I doubt
that I have any hope
of the weapon
type, I can, perhaps, take some small
step toward a solution
to the latter problem
To this end, I will put down the proper way to make a boffer. These directions are for creating a boffer sword; I may at a later time also present directions for building boffer versions of a pole-arm, spear, arrow, mace, flail, greatsword, and axe, all of which I have had previous success building.
You will first need some materials. I'm afraid these directions assume you live in the United States, and as such, all construction materials are in (obnoxiously archaic) English measurements.
1/2-inch dia. PVC pipe. Electrical conduit works best, generally. CPVC is better if you have a heavy hand. Plain ol' PVC will work in a pinch. Some boffers use a carbon-fiber rod as a core, but as this is a more difficult weapon to construct (not to mention less safe), these directions will stick with the PVC variety. Be warned: most PVC is sold in ten-foot lengths, which can make it tricky for sub-compact car owners to bring home (NB: the Honda Prelude was not designed to transport ten-foot lengths of PVC).
Closed-cell foam. This is the kind of padding one finds used for sleeping mats or inside sports helmets. It can be found as pipe insulation, and usually comes in three-foot lengths, and is tan in color. Make sure you have at least one inch of thickness on the closed-cell.
Open-cell foam. This type of foam can be found used as furniture stuffing. In fact, it is best purchased at a fabric store, although another option is to purchase it in the form of carpet padding.
Duct tape. Or any cloth tape, really. It comes in various colors, which may be handy (e.g. I made two boffer pole arms, covering the "steel" head with silver tape and the "wooden" haft with brown tape).
A hacksaw. You'll thank me for mentioning this when it is time to cut the PVC.
A pair of scissors. Mainly for cutting foam, but also handy for cutting duct tape; ragged edges are detrimental to a long-lived boffer weapon. If push comes to shove, a sharp knife may be substituted.
A yardstick. You could use a different implement of measurement, but the yardstick works best for reasons that will soon be revealed.
Once you have collected the materials, find a spot with enough space to work. You will need about fifteen feet of space to start with, and about ten feet once you get the core cut down to size.
First, decide how long you want your weapon to be. The best way to find this is to hold the yardstick in your hand like a sword, with the low numbers furthest from your hand. Relax your arm and allow your wrist to hold the stick at a natural angle, so the tip points toward the ground or floor in front of you. Now adjust the yardstick so that the tip brushes against the floor when you swing your arm backwards and forwards at the shoulder (not the wrist). Check the measurement where your thumb is; this is the blade length. Hold the yardstick up and measure a couple inches from the bottom of your hand (the side opposite your thumb, unless you are a mutant); this is the length of the core of your sword. Mark the PVC at that length and cut it (NB: measure twice, cut once) with the hacksaw.
Once you have your sword's core, you need to tape the ends, to keep the plastic from eventually digging through the PVC. Using a small amount of duct tape, put a layer of tape around each end, leaving about 3/4 of an inch of tape sticking out on the ends. Tuck this excess into the PVC tube, so that each end is capped in duct tape.
Next, cut the closed-cell pipe insulation tube to the length of the blade. The tube should be slit the long way; open this seam and place the insulation over the core that way (do not try to slide the PVC into the insulation, you'll just tear up the inside of the insulation and shorten the life of the boffer). Make sure that the end of the insulation is flush with the end of the PVC; this will be the sword's tip.
Warning! Duct tape clings to foam in a manner best described as being like a co-dependent teenager to her twenty-something boyfriend. When you apply tape to foam, make sure you mean it. Taking the tape off once it has stuck incurs a high risk that the foam will tear and become useless.
Using a single long piece of duct tape, the length of the blade, tape the seam of the insulation securely; this is best done by sticking one edge of the tape to the insulation, then stretching it across in sections to secure the other side of the foam. Then, take a short piece of tape, about six to eight inches long, and put it over the tip end of the foam and the PVC, taping the two together and smoothing the excess "around the corner" of the end of the insulation; repeat this step again, laying the duct tape down perpendicularly to the first piece.
At this point you will have something that looks something like a sword. Your impulse may be to start making it look good immediately; fight this urge. Put it all together first, then clean up the asthetics.
Cut a "coin" of closed-cell that has a diameter equal to that of the outer edge of the insulation at the tip. Secure this closed-cell coin onto the tip with two pieces of duct tape, using the same criss-cross style described above.
The next step is the thrusting tip. Cut the open-cell foam into a cylindrical shape that matches the insulation blade. Make sure that you have at least two inches of open-cell. If you have carpet padding, you may need to make a number of "coins" that you can stack together for the proper length. Place the cylinder on the closed-cell "coin" at the tip of the blade. Secure the open-cell tip with two pieces of duct tape, using the same criss-cross style described above.
Next, tape around the diameter of the insulation in three places: the end of the thrusting tip, the seam between the thrusting tip and the insulation, and the base of the blade. The first two pieces of tape will likely overlap; this is a good thing.
Now, it is time to look at the cross-guard. The easiest way to make a cross-guard is to take a length of pipe insulation (eight to ten inches long), cut a circular holt going through it perpendicular to its length, and sliding it from the pommel side of the core up to the blade and then securing it in place. There are other guards you can use (e.g. basket hilt, quillons, etc.), but those are for more advanced instructions. Do not use a four-way junction; this fatally harms the weapon's structural integrity.
Once you have secured the cross-guard, you need to attach a pommel. To do this, create a "blade" for the pommel end of the core, only make this blade only one inch long. Cap the end with a layer of closed cell, as with the blade, but you will not need a thrusting tip on this end; it is only padded against accidental bumps. I highly recommend that you do not put a thrusting tip on the pommel with the intention of using it to thrust in combat, because that's a great way to end up damaging your friends.
Now, it is time to make your new sword look better. Using long strips of duct tape, cover the blade by laying the strips the long way. Smooth over the rough seams by covering them with a layer of tape. The actual grip may be covered with duct tape, or grip tape, or any other covering you choose (my favorite is to wind rat-tail (a type of string used for making beaded jewelry) down its length; it takes forever, but you come out with a damn fine-looking grip).
Note: Duct tape is actually rather heavy stuff. Use as little of it as possible on your sword. A heavier weapon just increases the risk of injury to your targets and reduces your speed in combat.
Once you have your shiny new sword, there is one final step to perform before boffer mayhem may ensue. Using the pointy part of the scissor, poke four holes in the duct tape at the base of the thrusting tip. Duct tape is air-tight (it is designed to hold air ducts together, thus "duct tape"), and if there is nowhere for the air in the open-cell thrusting tip to escape, the tip will not absorb the impact, and may generate a bruised rib or similar casualty, albeit unintentionally. Make sure the tip contracts properly.
Finally, do a quick safety check. Hit yourself with the blade. Does it hurt? It shouldn't. Try to feel the core through the padding; if you can, there isn't enough padding.
That's it. Go out and smack your friends silly. If you're lucky, I'll do a node on boffer combat technique.