Make a sword safer?
August 6, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Stage Combat Question. Is it possible to take a bladed weapon and render it safe for use on-stage (without damaging the weapon itself)? I seem to recall from my days as a DragonCon volunteer that cosplayer's swords had to be taped* and/or bated (or else the sword had to be peace-tied so as to prevent its leaving a scabbard), but I can't find a description of the safety-making process.

* - "Taped" might not be the right word at all, but it involved covering the edge in a way that left it wide and blunt, effectively.
posted by grabbingsand to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The short answer would be no.

Not in any way that it would still resemble a bladed weapon, and at then what's the point.
True safe stage combat requires proper equipment and an authorized fight director.
posted by French Fry at 12:16 PM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: I'd go with: not really.
First of all: a long, heavy, metal implement is never going to be completely safe. Remember that many medieval swords were not sharp but blunt-edged and wreaked havoc by breaking bones and shattering limbs through their weight alone.
Second: is the sword even designed for actual fighting or just as a decorative piece? Many of the latter are prone to snapping when hit or even swung forcefully. I've heard horror stories of blades coming lose from the hilt and flying into the audience. Make sure your sword can stand up to the abuse and then some.
Third: You could try to make a combat-ready sword relatively safe by taping the edges with many layers of tape; handlebar tape is even better, but looks much worse. If the looks aren't important anyway, I'd look at sites like the SCA or LARPing resources where you can find instructions on making complete, safe weapons yourself (or go to a martial arts supplier and get a bokutō, a wooden Japanese training sword, if the setting allows that).
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2009

A sword with the edge taped can still injure and kill.

Think of it this way: even if you put so much tape on the edge that you triple the thickness, all you've done is to convert a sword into a mace. Maces are still deadly weapons.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: No covering is really going to render a bladed weapon safe for stage combat. The methods your referring to are for people basically displaying their recreated weapons with no striking or what a fight director would call "light duty" which means basically NO CONTACT. The only blades that should be used in a production of any kind are Stage Combat Worthy. These should be used even when there is no contact used in the play because actors are idiots and will almost always treat weapons improperly.
posted by cyphill at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: No, and I speak from experience.

Two years ago I was the stage manager for a production of Eugene O'Neill plays, and there was a combat scene in which one guy wrestled a knife out of another guy's hand. The fight director brought in a knife to use -- it was an actual knife which he said he had sufficiently blunted; the guy who was going to be wrestling the knife out of the other guys hand, director, and I did examine it, and it looked okay to us.

But we all missed one TIIIIIIIINY little spot on the blade that was still sharp -- and during the final dress, the actor grabbed onto it right bang ON that TIIIIIIIIINY little spot, and gave himself a cut so deep that we had to stop rehearsal and call him an ambulance. He ended up with about ten stitches and had to have a brace on his hand for the whole of the run, and the doctor said he VERY narrowly missed severing his tendon. *

Even people who know what they're doing sometimes mess up, and the consequences of messing up in this instance are not worth it.

* For the record: all four of us -- me, the director, the actor, and the fight director -- all ended up apologizing to each other and each of us taking blame for how things shook down, and then all forgiving each other and chalking it up to "shit happened".
We got a more obviously fake knife to use in the show -- meanwhile, the fight director took the problem knife home and finished dulling it all the way, and then he had it engraved with the name of the show and the date and presented it as a closing-night gift to the actor who'd been injured, who laughed his ass off upon receiving it. So it all ended well. But still.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would highly suggest not using a wooden sword unless your performers are well trained in stage combat. One overly enthusiastic swing, and you've got someone with a broken rib.

As for anything metal, bladed, blunted, or taped, make sure you're using quality weapons. If it is made of 440 stainless steel, it can and will likely break and injure somebody. Those blooper videos on YouTube are not freak occurrences. That's what happens when people don't realize how brittle decorative weapons can be.

Unless you are working with well trained actors, I wouldn't advise anything deadlier than spray painted cardboard.
posted by Saydur at 1:04 PM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: Unless you are working with well trained actors, I wouldn't advise anything deadlier than spray painted cardboard.

My ten+ years experience from show jousting (which included some nasty accidents) agrees with you.

To the OP, I can only say what others have already said: if you're going to use the weapons in front of an audience, get stage worthy stuff and make sure to only give them to actors who can keep their enthusiasm in check.
posted by effbot at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2009

If you're looking for a good cosplay weapon, and it doesn't have to be specific to a unique character (i.e - Buster Sword, Soul Calibur, etc.), you can always go with a latex weapon designed for boffer combat. We use them for light contact fights all the time, and they are fine. Yes, you can still hurt someone with them, but you need to be swinging HARD with them to do this (i.e. - either intentionally, or stupid enough that you shouldn't be carrying a replica of anything.)

Some good sources:

I've used these at several conventions and ren faires outside the game I use them in, and most are more concerned that they look real than that they are dangerous.
posted by GJSchaller at 6:40 PM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: And after re-reading the original post, they should make EXCELLENT stage weapons. More than a few feet from the stage, and they will look real. They may not make the classic "shhhhing!" when you draw them, and they require different care than steel, but they will be more than adequate for stage work. If you need further assistance picking one out, drop me a line at - I have a LOT of experience with both brands and vendors of these things.
posted by GJSchaller at 6:43 PM on August 6, 2009

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