March 18, 2016

Hotaru's sword from Samurai Deeper Kyo!

Hi there everyone!

For a long time now I've wanted to cosplay Hotaru from Samurai Deeper Kyo and, as you may know, I've already got most of the cosplay done, yay! :D I think SDK is a pretty underrated series and even though I read it more than three years ago it's still one of my favorite shounen manga and the urge to cosplay from it hasn't withered away, which just further shows that I really enjoyed SDK and it left an impact on me. Some of my cosplay impulses come directly after I've finished a series but then they just die out in a couple months at best – but with SDK even after all these years I'm still super eager to finally get to start working on a cosplay from it! I just really enjoyed the story, all the characters, the art style...

This is the only official colored manga artwork that
I found that shows Hotaru's sword completely.
On 3rd September 2015 I started the making of the sword notice how long ago it is! I wrote on this post every time I did some progress during my "woodwork" class (aka 'redesign' and 'furniture renovation') in school, which I had approximately once per week, except during school breaks/vacations or when I was sick. Note: this is gonna be a rather lengthy post.

I was in my woodwork class in school and when I had to think up a project that I wanted to do Hotaru's sword quickly came into my mind. I saved some references on my cellphone, fetched a suitable plank from what school happened to have available, drafted the sword's shape onto the wood by using one of my unfinished other katana swords *coughmasamunecough* as a base. I left the sawing for next time as I didn't find the kind of saw in school that I had gotten used to and wanted to use; I went to borrow one from my stepdad on the Saturday that followed.

Back in class I cut out the sword from the plank; it didn't go quite as neatly as I had hoped. I hadn't used said saw in a couple years so I had forgotten how it was to use one of these. I didn't make any horrible mistakes but things just didn't end up as straight as I ideally would have wanted. I cut so gay! 
I took a file and started filing down the dagger end of the sword first. My arms were hurting so much after I was done sanding and filing for the day, hallelujah.
The next time I sanded and filed some more on the dagger and then I did the main blade part. Before I left class I put some filler putty on areas that had holes or cracks in them.

I apologize for the crummy cellphone-quality on most of the photos ahead; I didn't have my SLR camera with me in school during this project.

After I had started sanding the "dagger" side and put filler
on all the spots that needed it.
The next time I came to class I had a short panic moment – things had been moved to new places and I couldn't find my sword anywhere! For a moment I thought that someone might have thought that it was just a scrap plank and trashed it. D: Luckily I found it lying on the "coffee break table", lol. 
I started by sanding the filler putty smooth, wham! I then took a piece of plywood from the scrap pieces box. I drew the circular tsuba on it and two pieces the same size of the handle; I wanted to thicken the handle so that it wouldn't be the same thickness as the blades. I also wanted to thicken it for a better and more comfortable grip.
I sawed out the plywood pieces and glued one side of the handle pieces to the, well, handle. OH LORD THE SCHOOL'S GLUE BOTTLE. It's so stuck that I had to use all my force to squeeze minimal amounts out of it
– it was horrible lol. Took forever. ._. I swear it felt like over half of the glue had hardened inside the bottle...
Oh well, 10 minutes of glue squeezing later (and a red face and hurting hands) I had glued one side in place and put pressure clamps on. 

Glue added and pressure clamps on. Notice the tsuba on the table.
Next up I put some filler putty on the tsuba too; it had gotten a fair amount of "cracks" (aka the top layer of the plywood had peeled off while sawing) and I accidentally got a dent on the edge that had to be filled in too. I put plenty of putty on it and put it on a clamp to dry as well.

Tsuba put to dry after adding filler.
Next time I came to class I was horrified – everything had been moved again and a loooot of stuff was gone. I saw that my sword was lying on the table where I had left it but the tsuba and the other handle add-on piece were missing. My first instinct was to dig in the cardboard box on the table and in it I found a lot of sand paper and my handle piece. Thank God. I guess it helped that I had written my name on it before I left last time, otherwise someone might have thought that it was a random scrap piece... Now I just had to find the tsuba. I remembered that I had left it to dry on the clamp but when I cast a look at the clamp I noticed that it was open and nothing was in it. I went and asked the teacher if he had seen it and he thought that someone might have thought it was just a trash piece and thrown it away. We both started digging in the big box on the floor that was filled with scrap pieces of wood; we dug in it for several minutes before giving up. 
I looked around everywhere possible and didn't see a trace of the tsuba THE HORROR STRUCK ME. What is someone really had thought that it was just a random trash piece that no one used? D:
I went to ask this one older guy, who seems to be a "helper" but not an actual teacher. I got it implied that he was the one who had been moving stuff around and yeah, I described what my missing piece looked like to him. He looked at me for a few seconds and then his face did this kind of I-just-had-a-revelation-and-now-I-feel-guilty expression, as if he remembered seeing my tsuba and putting it in the most horrible of places. Yeah, probably there.

Guessed it?
Yep, dumpster diving time.

The trash hadn't been taken out and so we still had the hopes on our side or that's what he said. We probably spent like 10 minutes digging through all the trash bags before I finally hear a voice shout "hey you, boy, I found it!" and I look behind me and see this guy holding up my tsuba with a satisfied grin on his face and a trash can next to him. I thank him, he pulls some jokes and I go and sand down the filler areas with sand paper. After that I fetched the drill and made several holes in the middle; the rest of the class I spent carving, filing and sanding the tsuba hole so that I could thread it all the way down the blade, into place.

Tsuba with the hole fixed. I added some more putty to even out
some pressure marks from the clamp as well as cracks that appeared
while making the hole itself.
Oh, and I also sanded down the excess dried glue, on the handle, that had spread past its intended place. I then glued the second plywood piece on. It's not a problem to sand down dried glue with sandpaper!

This shows the glue spill from the first add-on handle piece before I sanded it down.
When both handle pieces were glued on and dry I took a file and started filing the corners of the handle, so that it would be more rounded and thus provide a more comfortable grip. I sanded them smooth after the rough file work.
 
Handle rounded (it barely shows on this photo) and testing tsuba fit.
After this I went home to buy the termoplastic holy grail of all cosplay prop makers – Worbla's Finest Art! Yes, now the time had finally come for me to try out this material that everyone has been gushing about for years! *u* It feels so good to finally get some studying money so that I can afford ordering Worbla from Germany...

Back at class I put gesso on the tsuba because I wanted to give it some extra base coatings; the rest was to be primed after I had done the worbla parts. So yeah, time to try out worbla for the first time ever! I must admit that I felt all kinds of "holy shit I hope this won't be hard" and a case of kuumotusta but yeah, once I had measured, drafted and cut out the pieces I needed I just turned on the power of my heat gun (borrowing from stepdad is da best!) and prayed to the cosplay gods that I wouldn't commit some disastrous nooblord maximus.

Worbla pieces added – success!
Thankfully this was a very simple and newbie-friendly first project for learning how to use worbla. I only had to wrap some approximately 2 cm wide strips around and blend in the seams. I didn't do any screw-ups and I'm quite satisfied with the results for being a first-time. :) After this first experience I already figured out a lot of how worbla works and now I'm even more excited to do some bigger projects!
Oh, and to blend in the seam/overlap so that it "disappeared" I thought for a while what to use and so I went to dig around the garage... and I found this little tool that proved to be mighty useful:

much clean. such wow.
It's for school use though, so what did you expect?
I used this metallic spatula thingy to make the seams (aka where the worbla overlaps with itself) flat, move and push the edges, flatten it out etc. It worked wonders!
Next I thought about ways to smoothen the worbla out; not like I mind the texture that much but I wanted to try to at least make it a little bit less noticeable. I took some really fine grit sand paper and sanded it carefully although I'm not sure if it actually made a difference...? Oh well.

Worbla gets a bit paler by sanding...?
Next up I went to buy some spray primer because heck yeah, why not? I would have preferred white but the store only had gray so that had to do. My school has discount prices to this one store so I get things a bit cheaper if I buy from there so, eh, who cares about the color in the end since it's just a primer? :DD I regret not knowing about the discount earlier because I bought paints from this store already last year...

Primer in a spray can!
I started painting my sword and, err, of course I'm not patient enough to do like a billion thin coats so I sprayed on a closer distance than recommended to get better coverage quicker. Am I the only one doing this all the time? I really shouldn't do this crap. Well, if anything I noticed that the excess paint was very easy to spread out with your fingers and it didn't leave any signs of where it had been before. Flawless blending, frick yeah! o/
I didn't get to finish priming though because out of nowhere I saw that a spot that had been just nice before now had the wooden grain sticking up. I just took the grain and ripped it off, added some filler putty and left it to dry. Damn you derp wood for prolonging this project now, why didn't you show yourself earlier? ._.
Oh, and guess what? The next day, when I had fixed that grain issue and continued spray priming, well, more surface derps showed themselves and I entered "fuck this shit"-mode and put filler all over the damn thing! I was really sick of having to constantly backtrack and delay my progress because uneven surfaces galore yeah, it happened many times during this project but I just didn't bother to mention it each and every time. It's annoying how much more noticeable those fuckers get once a coat of paint goes on; really sticks out like a sore thumb.

Filler added all over the place and put to dry. Priming incomplete.
(notice my mad balancing skills!)
So yeah, once more I had to pause the priming to put some filler putty to cover uneven/faulty areas. But because I put filler on both sides of the sword (except on the handle) at the same time I had to put it to dry in a way so that neither side was touching anything. This made me position the handle on a tip of a table and then put wooden blocks on it, to act as weights, so that the center of balance would change and fit my needs.
The next time I came to class the filler had of course dried so now I just had to sand it down. I was super careful to make sure that the filler blended into the wood so that it wouldn't be obvious, once the paint was on, where the filled in spots started and ended. But even though I triple-checked and everything there was still two small areas that I had missed when I once again resumed the priming work. Oh and guess what? I've almost used up the whole spray can just for this sword alone, goddammit! xD But yeah, those two misses were minor enough that I just drowned them in some extra coatings and then it was pretty okay, lol. I got lazy. I also noticed that putting filler putty on top of worbla (to even out bumps, overlaps etc) is a thing! :D

I had winter break and didn't get to work on my sword for a while. When I finally got back to school I had to go and buy some more silver spray paint because I noticed that my trusty can was pretty much empty, boo. Much to my dismay the brand I had been using had been changed and the newer replacement one, that the store now carried, seemed to be of a slightly darker shade. I thought that it couldn't be that different so I went ahead and bought it. Fuck me. :) Okay so, I started painting my sword as per usual, everything looked fine in the dim garage light when the paint had been freshly sprayed on. But guess what? When the paint had dried I noticed that it was way too dark and dull/matte to pass for a blade. FFFFFUUUUU--
Nothing to do than backtrack and go buy paint from another store and yeah, that totally means a store that doesn't give me the school discount price. Fuck my life. :) My other option was to pray that there happened to be any leftover spray paints at mom's from the days when I still lived there and did my early cosplay prop projects...

I found an almost empty can of silver paint at mom's which I took with me to school; I also took with me my own old silver spray paint just in case there was a little left (it sounded empty). All along I was praying that there would be enough spray left to allow me to be able to paint both blades on the sword. I started shaking the cans and first tried my luck with the seemingly-empty-one-from-home and there was enough left to cover one side of the dagger part. Ooooookay.
I stared at disbelief at the other can that I had picked up from mom's it barely felt like it contained much more than the one I had just used up. I pressed the nozzle down and........ nothing happened. It was as if the nozzle was stuck and wouldn't go down. Oh, great. ._.
I went and asked one of the teacher assistant guys and he proceeded to joke about sticking something sharp into the can again, to check if there was spray left, to which I responded "OH NO YOU DON'T" and then we both just laughed. In case someone doesn't know what I'm referring to then go and read about my foam explosion adventure here. x) But yeah, he totally did shove something sharp into the can and luckily nothing exploded this time – just a small burst of spray paint came out. :D But the problem was that the nozzle was still not working and yes, I had tried using all three nozzles from my other spray cans and neither of them worked on just this one can that I needed right now, urrgh.
I went to look around and found a spray can that belonged to someone else so yeah, because I'm a sneaky bastard I stole borrowed its nozzle and ermahglerb it worked! I was about to jump with joy because I could finally get to paint this damn thing!

The blades are painted silver, the rest is untouched since priming.
Much to my surprise the can I brought with me from mom's actually contained enough spray for me to be able to paint both blades completely and even, almost, do two full coatings. So yeah, there was actually enough spray left and I thank the Cosplay Gods™ for that.

I took with me the sword home after the spray painting – now the only thing left to do was to paint the non-blade parts (handle, tsuba, habaki) by hand. But as per usual I had a ridiculously hard time trying to find some red glossy and/or metallic paint that wasn't spray paint! I found this weird really chunky-looking paint called Inka Gold in the color Lava Red (fitting!) in the bookstore shop in town and, even though it felt a bit overpriced, I decided to try it. I couldn't find anything else (unless I bought online but that would mean stupidly high shipping costs) and I noticed that it was a German brand so yeah, I thought that at least it can't be shitty because German stuff tends to be good quality.

Painting preparations done. The plastic spoon's other end
I used as a spatula, if anyone wonders what the heck it was for. :'D
Turns out that the super chunky paint is actually a water based metallic vax paste that you rub on by using either a sponge or a soft cloth! Fancy shit. I tore a piece of fabric from a worn-out bedsheet because I didn't have any sponges and yeah, it worked just fine. I had to use one of my stiff makeup brushes (lol but seriously, I had nothing else that would work) to paint some spots that needed pin-point precision or were impossible to reach with the clumsy crumpled fabric.
Good thing with the vax paint is that it dries really fast and that, because of its thickness, it will easily cover up flaws and uneven spots! The bad thing is that I noticed that, even after it has dried, that if I touched the painted areas the paint would rub off slightly and leave fingerprints. So yeah, now I needed to get something to seal it with too. Great.


Because I didn't have any sealer nor varnish at home I had to go fetch some as well. I first thought about seeing if the bookstore carried the specific varnish for the Inka Gold paints but they didn't so yeah, I had to get something else. I found some all-purpose glossy varnish in another store called Tokmanni (it's a mix-store selling dry foods, sodas, toys, clothes, power tools etc) that I decided to try. I've actually never used varnish before so yeah, I guess it's high time to start eh?

Glossy varnish that I used.
The varnish did the trick, wohoo! o/ Now I only needed to wrap the handle and I can finally call this project complete!
I had bought 1 meter of red fabric bias tape during early March 2016 and, luckily, it was just enough if I wrapped it a certain way. But when I was about to start wrapping the handle, with some help by Sacchan, I noticed that the trusty glue I've had since at least 2012 had dried out. :'( Damn it. So yeah, with no Karlssons klister to save me (that's the name of the glue) I had to go and ask to borrow stepdad's hot glue gun instead – which I got!
Sacchan came and visited again a few days later and we did some teamwork because I needed an extra set of hands for the gluing mission. We basically did it so that I was the one carefully wrapping the bias tape (had to wrap very specifically for it to be long enough) and giving Sacchan directions on where to apply the hot glue, little at a time. So yeah, I was the wrap master and she was the glue master. xD It took us a while to finish but at least it worked out well and nothing went wrong ~

Finished SDK Hotaru sword!
Sorry about the crummy final mirror photo, it doesn't really do it justice. :'c The tsuba and the habaki parts have a metallic shine but it just doesn't want to photograph well, lol. My sword also ends up looking overly neon red on some other test photos that I took after finishing it, ugh. I hope it will behave on cosplay photoshoots and con photos etc; it's not really flattering when it ends up looking way brighter than it actually is...

I can admit though that I'm not completely 100% satisfied with this sword. I did some early parts of it a bit too hastily (sanding and spray painting, mainly) and because of that it's not as neat as most of my other props – it's things that doesn't really show from a distance but I can easily spot them with my naked eye but, then again, I know where to look. *shrugs* Also, because of being impatient or non-observant I several times had to backtrack and add filler or sand something smoother etc; it was really annoying to have to go back and patch up stuff you either lazied out on (because you thought it was ready but it actually wasn't) or somehow missed. It sucks to have to sand down imperfections after you've already primed and started doing the final painting on something because you didn't notice them during the original sanding process... ughrrr. >_>

Note: I finished this sword and Rentarou's gun at the same time, but I decided to publish the gun post first even though this Hotaru post should, chronologically, have been published first. This is the reason why I in this post, for example, mention going to buy varnish even though in the gun post posted before this one I suddenly had varnish already (because I had already bought it while this post was still an unpublished draft). xD I'm mentioning this just to clear up any eventual confusion! Oh and yeah, Hotaru's sword was the first cosplay prop I used both worbla as well as varnish for.

Thanks for reading! Hotaru wig and makeup tests coming later!

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