Here’s an old prop chestnut which we’ve used during our current production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Let’s say your play requires a switchblade or two. Real switchblade knives are fairly illegal; even if you can find a place that sells them, you often need a special license to purchase it. However, you can buy switchblade combs at many novelty stores.
You can fill the gaps in the comb part with Bondo (or whatever your preferred brand of auto body filler is). Sculpt it into the shape of a blade, but be careful not to get much thicker than the comb; if you add too much thickness, the blade will no longer pop out.
Finish it off with silver-leaf. Again, silver-leaf will add no thickness to the blade (which some paints might), and it will give it the ability to glint and gleam from the stage. It will also be less likely to rub off during frequent usage.
There is no such thing as a generic or universal sword, thus no single drawing can encapsulate all the possible parts and various names for them. The diagram I made here is based off a Renaissance-style rapier, which is what many of us traditionally keep in our stock and use for stage combat. Interestingly, swords in all time-periods and cultures share at least three basic parts: the blade, the pommel, and the grip.
Button – Also known as a pommel nut, pommel bolt, capstan rivet, or tang nut. In some swords, the button is screwed on to the end of the tang to hold the grip on.
Pommel – The counter-weight at the end of the grip.
Grip – Handle
Tang – The hidden part of the blade which the grip is mounted to.
Shoulder – The corner portion where the tang and the blade meet.
Guard – A blanket term for all the parts that protect the hand.
Quillon – Extended portions of the guard.
Écusson – or quillon block. The metal center where the quillons meet and all parts of the guard attach to.
Ricasso – Unsharpened portion of the blade which extends from the grip to the end of the guard.
This is the third excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the previous part on tableware, as well as the first part, concerning furniture.
Weapons form another delightful field for the maker of accessories. Where a sword fight is required it is best to use the modern buttoned foils, and contrive some means whereby they need not be drawn from their scabbards on stage. The use of anything more real than a foil is not advisable. If it is imperative that swords be drawn on stage, a scabbard for a foil may be made from tin piping, built out and covered with leather. Swords used for personal adornment need only be a scabbard with a handle. These may best be made of wood, following some fine model, and the hilt and decorations made in metal. The armourer of the company will do well, however, to consult a book or an encyclopaedia article upon these and all weapons before setting to work.
Spears or lances may be made out of wood. It is a mistake to put on hollow tin points. It is better to shape a point out of wood and silver it. Tin tops are continually working loose and clattering down on somebody’s head. Make lances at least ten feet long, especially where several are carried together. Nothing looks meaner than a feeble lance or spear, and nothing finer than a tall one. Halberds need not be so long, especially if they carry ornate heads. Figure 15 shows typical spear, pikes, maces and halberd.
Bows should be tall and decorative, and are carried unstrung. Figure 16 shows a typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus. These may all be of soft pine or cedar cut with a jack-knife.