LARP & Cosplay Weapon Making materials
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
So, I’ve had a lot of folk asking what kind of glue/foam/paint I use for making my LARP and Cosplay weapons and shields, so I thought I’d do a detailed post on all the different things I use. It's also applicable for non-LARP props.
My Etsy shop is always evolving with new products and I'm open for commissions too - Check it out HERE if you'd rather buy something than make it yourself.
The materials I commonly use:
Cores (Fibreglass, Carbon Fibre and PVC pipe)
Glues (Contact adhesive and hot glue)
Foam (Plastazote, EVA foam and Upholstery foam)
Consumables (Cloth tape and Leather)
Details for each item below, and next I'll be popping up a blog entry about the main tools that I use I just couldn't live without.
A noteable material missing from this list is thermoplastics such as worbla or wonderflex. I don't use those very much for props or weapons because it's very hard, but I hope to cover it in the future for more armour/ costume related posts.
The most common type of core that I use for weapons and shields is fibreglass rod or tube, which is pretty standard (at least in the UK).
It can be a little heavy, but the tube form for weapons larger than like 36in is lighter. Because cores are so important for the safety of a weapon, I'm happy to admit that 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! There's no shame in taking advice from people more experienced than you.
Getting the wrong size can make a weapon too heavy, too whippy or otherwise unsafe. 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.
I get these from Skian Mhor as well, and as I said above Sean is probably best placed to tell you which size/thickness you need.
PVC pipe is NOT suitable for LARP weapons.
I use it mostly for cosplay weapons because it's cheap and easily accessible quickly from B&Q and Screwfix.
I also use it a lot to make a frame for building larger props on, such as my giraffe and the Galoshan's puppets which were pretty much entirely PVC pipes and foam.
It comes in black and white, as well as various diameters for how rigid or flexible your prop wants to be. For example, the giraffe body was very rigid, but its neck was flexible to give it a bit of realistic movement.
You can heat bend it into curves, or flatten it to facilitate bolting through. It has to be pretty hot to bend rather than fold and there's a fine line before it starts melting but the possibilities it brings makes it worth the effort.
Importantly, this stuff is glorious.
It sticks pretty much anything to anything and it's the best and easiest to get hold of glue for plastazote that I've tried.
It also comes in spray form, which is brilliant for large areas. It's not as effective, however, so be sure to use it in two layers that dry in between, and make sure it's not sticky before you press them together.
I get mine from Screwfix, although B&Q does it as well and you can order it online too.
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.
TIP- 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.
Hot glue is good for smaller pieces and detail, but sucks for large flat areas because it can be slow and bumpy.
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 on foam.
However, its HOT. Depending on the glue gun, some come with a low and high setting, although I find that the cold-melt guns aren't really worth bothering with. The only time they're better is for gluing polystyrene as they're less likely to melt it.
TIP- 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.
Plastazote is the standard foam that’s used for making LARP weapons (in the UK, for any Americans or other countries, your rules might be different so please check with a local group for more info).
It comes in a variety of thicknesses, most common ones I get are 6mm and 12mm, because of the standard fibreglass rod sizes I've used. Thinner foams are amazing for details but not so useful for the main weapon itself. Shields I make are normally 2 layers of 12mm.
I usually get my plastazote from Paulamar because it's very local in Glasgow and supplies a huge variety of colours, although I've also got it from Skian Mhor too although they only do black (I believe). The price difference isn't really notable though.
Sheets of plastazote normally come in 2m x 1m and are relatively expensive in comparison to EVA foam so I normally only use plastazote for LARP rather than cosplay or theatre.
It does come in a vast range of colours, however, which is a big benefit for projects that might not even need painting if the base is the right colour already. It's definitely something to take into account, but the colour is immaterial for LARP weapons, because they're coated with latex anyway.
TIP- Plastazote is heat-formable to a pretty good degree. With a heat gun, it's possible to set the plastazote into curves and even domes. That's brilliant for shield bosses, I form mine into a large acrylic half-sphere but I've also used a pot.
TIP2- If you run a heat gun over the plastazote, it smooths out any fluffiness from sanding and heat seals the foam to make it easier to latex.
Upholstery foam is great for bulky pieces for LARP, as well as (surprisingly) upholstery, and so many other uses.
It doesn't have a very smooth or sandable surface, so I often wrap it with thinner, smoother foam to give a nice surface. You can also use a surform to shape it, although it leaves it very rough.
Ordering upholstery foam online for delivery is my preferred option, because it's bulky to transport and cheaper that way. There is a Foam Centre in Glasgow that are super knowledgable and happy to advise however.
It comes in various densities and thicknesses.
It also blunts blades really fast. I use a retractable craft knife and a knife sharpener to save on scalpel blades and it works really well. An upholstery foam cutter is amazing, but I've managed to do without it a lot of the time.
You can glue it easily with contact adhesive, and hot glue is a little more fiddly. Ideally, you want to use spray contact adhesive.
TIP- Uncovered upholstery foam will soak up latex and can make it really heavy. A layer or two of spray glue helps to minimise it.
EVA foam is similar to plastazote in a lot of ways, but is much more applicable to certain projects.
It is a LOT cheaper. I get mine from Poly Props Ltd and they're absolutely AMAZING, with a huge and ever-expanding variety of products from foams and glues to paints and primers.
Poly Props EVA foam comes in various thicknesses, and densities. The price increases with the density, with craft foam being the cheapest and also the softest, to CF100 the most expensive and incredibly dense.
The higher density foam is amazing for a smooth surface, and also excellent at holding its shape. CF100 is the best foam I've ever used, but the cost means that I've been using a lot of craft foam.
Craft foam is brilliant too, and super cheap, but it has its limitations.
The Poly Props website has a huge amount of information on the different foams, it's worth having a look.
B&Q also do EVA interlocking foam tiles, which are great if you don't need a large, flat surface area, and it's possible to pick it up locally rather than wait on a delivery. However, it's got a pattern on one side which isn't great for gluing, so make sure to sand off the shiny surface before using any sort of glue on it.
4. Other Consumables
I get mine from Skian Mhor when I pick up plastazote but a roll lasts me quite a long time.
It’s a fabric tape with one sticky 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 or latex.
Leather/ Pleather/ Suede
Most useful thing for making handle grips because it's durable and comfortable.
It comes in lots of colours for customisation and can also be dyed.
Contact adhesive glues is really well, as does hot glue.
Phew, that was a long post!
There are probably things I've forgotten, but I hope that's been useful to someone, somewhere. Let me know if you have any tips!
Next, have a look at my post ESSENTIAL HAND TOOLS FOR PROP MAKERS, which is quite a lot too!
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Thanks for reading!