So, I’ve had a lot of folk asking what kind of glue/foam/paint I use, so I thought I’d do a wee post on all the different things I use to make LARP weapons and props.
The materials I commonly use:
Fibreglass rods – The most common type of core that I use for weapons is fibreglass. I’m under the impression it’s pretty much standard (at least in the UK). It’s a little heavy, but you can get it in tube form for weapons larger than like 36in. To be honest, I don’t know that much about cores though. I go to Sean at Skian Mhor Lrp Suppliers and say ‘I want to make x number of x size weapons’ and he cuts the right sizes for me! So, if you want any more info on which thickness to use, I suggest pinging Sean an email or giving him a call. He’s really friendly!
Carbon fibre rods- Carbon fibre is a lot thinner and lighter than Fibreglass. It’s also more expensive. So thin weapons like rapiers, or weapons you would like to be a bit lighter and quicker, I go for carbon fibre.
Sean’s website shop doesn’t have them in stock, but most of the time they are able to post their products out to you, so it’s worth giving them a call even if they don’t have it in stock on their website. (And no, he isn’t paying me for advertising! Lol!)
Contact adhesive is the most common type of glue for use gluing cores and plastazote and pretty much anything else. I get mine from Screwfix, although B&Q does it as well, just Screwfix is a little cheaper and also right next to my house. Always always remember with contact adhesive to put a THIN layer on both sides, leave until you can touch it with the back of your hand and not stick to it, and then press them together. You won’t have any wiggle room with it either – it bonds on ‘contact’ so make sure you’re in the right place before you stick. Those badboys won’t come apart unless you slice them again.
I’m also told that Wickes own brand Max Strength Contact Adhesive is good, and a bit cheaper than the Evostik stuff, but I can’t attest to it as I haven’t used it.
Hot glue is good for smaller pieces and detail. The glue goes from very transparent to more opaque when it’s dry, and although it’s quite hard, it can also be used to do rivets or small bits of detail. To do rivets, or other things where a wee drop of glue might look good, I usually put the nozzle of the glue gun against the foam and squeeze a lump of glue without moving the nozzle. When there’s enough glue, gently pull the nozzle away and trail the glue around the droplet, letting the stringy bits that’ll be attached to the glue gun settle into the hot glue before it starts to harden. That way, you can keep the droplet smooth rather than having a pointy bit at the top from pulling the nozzle away.
Oh, and don’t burn yourself! The nozzle will be hot. Shouldn’t have to say it really, but the number of time’s I’ve burnt myself…
Plastazote LD45: Plastazote is the standard foam (as far as I’m aware) that’s used for making LARP weapons (in the UK, at least). I’m told you can use camping mat or something too, but I’ve never tried. It comes in a variety of thicknesses, most common ones I get are 6mm and 12mm, because the fibreglass rods I have are 12mm, and 6mm tends to be what I use for wrapping weapons and doing the outer two layers of swords and things, because 5mm is the minimum thickness of foam for non-striking surfaces. (Don’t take my word on that, it’s just my understanding. Check if you’re worried). I also have some 24mm (I think it’s 24… It’s big anyway) which is quite good for like axe blades and things, but not really much use for anything else. Shields are normally 2 layers of 12mm. Sheets normally come in 2m x 1m and trust me, a sheet is plenty if you’re just making things for yourself as a hobby. Unless you’re making big shields, in which case it’s not so big…
Upholstery foam– I use upholstery foam for either – big bulky things that I would use it to bulk out and then wrap it with thinner, smoother foam to give a nice surface. (See what I did with the Stag Skull Hammer and the Trollball head for more details on that). I personally pick upholstery foam up from The Foam Centre in Glasgow (although it’s not as cheap as you’d think!) When I lived in Leicester I think there was a stall on the market that sold it, similarly in Peterborough. So have a check in markets and things if you don’t have a foam shop near you. I think places that do upholstery and stuff might have some as well. Upholstery foam is an absolute nightmare to carve. It’s soft, and blunts blades after like 2 cuts. No kidding. Nightmare. I’ve cut myself more times cutting it than cutting plastazote, and I hardly ever use it. So be careful. You can glue it easy with contact adhesive, but hot glue probably isn’t a good idea.
If you’ve any uncovered upholstery foam on your project, beware that the latex will soak into it and give it a heft, as well as not giving you a very smooth finish. You can coat the foam in a layer of contact adhesive first to minimise that though. Like plastazote, you can get upholstery foam in a huge variety of sizes, and most places are happy to cut it for you to take home 🙂
Other detail/ helpful things
Cloth tape – From Skian Mhor Lrp Suppliers, I’ve not been able to find anywhere else to get it (though I’m sure there are some out there). It’s a fabric tape with sticky on one side, and it’s perfect for use podding the end of cores and for securing the core along the length of the weapon. It’s also good for reinforcing weak points on axe or hammer heads, and manages to stay flexible even when it’s been coated with contact adhesive – something I’ve realise that a simple bit of cloth instead doesn’t (bummer! – It was a lot more solid even though the fabric was thinner than the cloth tape…)
String – Yep, just plain old string, but not the heavy blue synthetic stuff – I’m not sure how that’d work with the glue and such. I find it’s really good for vines and stuff because you can manipulate it a lot easier than say hot glue or anything. Coat the area in contact adhesive, and then spread the contact adhesive along the string and you can just pretty much stick it on as you want to.
Pyrography kit – I got mine from Hobbycraft ages ago because I wanted to have a go using it with leather and wood, then heard that another manufacturer used it to make woodgrain (until then I’d been using a scalpel, which is cool, but time consuming and ends up a little angular). When I got it, I had a go with it on foam and found that when I dragged it across, it left a rough ridged sort of line behind it. I didn’t like it. Looked rough and rubbish. Had to cut around it with a scalpel. But then, a couple of months later, I decided to experiment again. Turns out that it has to be SUPER HOT and then it glides through the foam easy peasy.
You can carve on details, wood grain, pretty much anything that you like. It takes a bit of precision, because it burns the foam so easily one slip and the foam’s permanently scarred. It also makes the edges where it’s burned a little more stiff than the rest of the foam, so I try not to use it too
much on places where folk will get hit. It’s not a big deal, but it’s there if you pyrography a large area. Also – Its FRICKIN’ HOT. Be super careful. I haven’t yet (touch wood) burnt myself more than touching a bit of foam that was still hot, but it would be REALLY BAD. So, keep your fingers away.
Tip – When you carve the detail in, then ‘stipple’ the paint on not getting in the grooves, it’s a lot easier to get the clean-cut detail like this. I don’t reckon I could do anything that neat with just paint.
Air compressor – I spoke a little about how I decided to get this when I was making my Stag Skull Hammer, but essentially, it was really big and really awkward and I could not stand the thought of like 9-10 coats of latex on it by hand. I just couldn’t. So I went and bought this air compressor. It’s amazing. I love it. I could write a whole love-poem post to my air compressor. The difference between air compressor/spray gun combo and by hand is so huge it’s not in the same universe. I love it. Awesome. I don’t know that this one is the best for the job but it certainly works great for me. I had to buy a hose separately, but I got it from Screwfix along with the thing, so they’ll be able to advise what kind you need.
Air compressors are NOISY AS ALL HELL. Like, seriously. They’re noisy. I live in a flat and have to do my latexing out on my landing because my garage is too far away and has no power. My neighbours must hate me for it. I do it for a couple of hours during the day but apparently you can hear it streets away, so I can’t start too early or go on past like 4-5pm when folk get in from work. I’ve only had one neighbour complain ever though, and at that point I took it inside and had it in my bedroom with the doors closed. That stifled the noise, but they get VERY hot, so I have to keep the windows wide open which is usually okay. Just make sure there’s nothing covering it and that it has plenty of ventilation.
Spray gun – My first spray gun was THIS Suction Feed Spray Gun one, but it was awful. Got blocked after ten minutes. Hard to clean. Just a nightmare. It worked for a little while, then I had to go back and buy a new one because I just couldn’t clean it enough. However, at that point, someone suggested I try a gravity feed one instead, which Screwfix also did. When I changed to Gravity feed it was like the sun shone out of its sexy little nozzle. Pure amazing. It hardly ever gets blocked – so long as I clean it out properly after every use and use tweezers to get anything out of the nozzle, because you can’t quite get into it to clear it otherwise. I have had to buy 2 new ones, but thats in a few years. Mostly because I didn’t clean them enough and left them for a few weeks/months and just couldn’t clear the nozzle. My fault though, not the gun’s. They’re about £20 though, so once a year or so really isn’t that bad even if you are lazy like me and don’t clean them right. Anyway. Yes. Gravity feed gun = bliss. Non-gravity feed gun = Poo. You don’t have to water the latex down or anything either. Just mix latex + paint and away you go.
Other bits and bobs –
Sandpaper, hacksaw, scalpels, craft knife, hot glue gun, vinyl gloves, Knife sharpener.
These are all pretty self explanatory.
The only thing I’d say is that when using sandpaper start with the lowest number (coarsest) first, and work your way up to the highest number (finest).
With the gloves, latex ones stick to the latex on weapons a little, so I don’t use them. Vinyl or nitrile will be fine though.
I prefer No. 11 scalpel blades, but there’s loads of different types so feel free to experiment and see what you like best.
Knife sharpener works well with craft knives but not very well on scalpel blades. Craft knives are only £1 from Hobbycraft, but they do blunt really quickly when cutting foam. I couldn’t live without my knife sharpener. It’s saved me god knows how much money.
Liquid latex is one of the most important products for making LARP/foam props, weapons, shields etc. I get mine from Skian Mhor, but you can get it in Hobbycraft and other artsy stores too. It’s expensive! So buying it a bit more in bulk really is worth it. Paying for 1litre at a time from a shop will cost you a fortune.
For painting – Use acrylics or poster paint mixed into the latex. For detail I do it 1-1 latex to paint, but for the base black coats I use a lot less – because there’s plenty of coats for the colour to get solid. When you use acrylic, I find you need a lot less paint to latex, but there’s a chance with acrylics that the pigments will react badly with the latex and make it rot. I’m reliably informed that this is mostly only the case with acrylic metallic paints, but I still prefer to use poster paints for most of the colouring anyway. Its a lot cheaper too compared to acrylic.
For detailing, it’s possible to get far finer detail painting when you mix enamel or acrylic paints with isoflex and brush it on. It’s finer and easier to get fine detail – but isoflex wrecks brushes so I tend not to do it. It does look swish though.
Isoflex special primer – Isoflex gets brushed on (thinly) after the weapon’s been all painted and finished. Make sure you use thin layers because it has a tendency to drip and there’s no fixing it if you get a drip when it’s already dry. 1-2 thin coats does it most of the time, but on weapons with no leather handle I usually put more where the weapon will be gripped. I don’t know if that’s right or not but its worked for me! Also – wear protective gloves and a mask. Isoflex is NASTY. Don’t get it on you or breathe it in. Also, ventilation! Don’t ever sleep in a room with freshly isoflexed weapons etc. It’s dangerous. Seriously.
Don’t let two isoflexed weapons touch. They bond for life. Kinda like marriage but even more permanent. And make sure you don’t accidentally end up with the black stuff. You need clear.
Silicone Lubricant Spray – When the last layer of isoflex has had preferrably 8-12 hours to dry, spray it generously with silicone spray. This protects the weapon and takes the stickyness out of the isoflex stopping them from sticking to things/each other. Feel free to re-spray your weapons with silicone whenever they need a little pick me up.
For wrapping weapon/shield handles I use old leather jackets that I’ve got over the years from charity stores. They’re usually relatively cheap for a LOT of leather, and they can be really good quality too. Contact adhesive the leather down onto the handle, and then wrap some very strong thronging or twine around the handle to secure it and make it look prettier.
Important Motivational Medicine – IRN BRU!
Phew! That was rather epic for a post, but I hope that it’s helpful. As with everything I write – I’m not a professional. There’s every chance things I’m saying are wrong or have better ways of doing them. If you’re ever in doubt, get in touch with one of the professional companies. Skian Mhor, Medlock, Tallows…
If I think of anything else I’ve forgotten, which is likely, I’ll update this. If you have any other tips or materials you use, feel free to leave a comment and share the