Building a Sword Cane

by Ian Abbott

As with most things, building a sword cane came about by accident, both literally and figuratively. In the past, I'd been asked for a sword cane a few times, but never had the time to put one together, so the idea of keeping one in stock lay dormant.

Then, whilst I was recovering from a knee injury last year and supporting myself on a cane that I had built, I happened to mention the sword idea to J.P. Fornier, the Fight Master. He promptly dived into the pile of goodies and produced a rapier blade, now I had no excuse.

The canes that I already had were built up from hardwood dowels, tapered and sanded, with brass handles and tips from the Lee Valley Tools. Taking this as a jumping off point, I decided to modify one of the Lee Valley handles to carry the blade, combined with a hollowed out stick.

I began with the handle. Now a rapier has a threaded tang, but I felt that to see the nut stuck onto the top of an eagle's head wouldn't look quite right, so I first machined up a hardwood plug to fit snugly inside the hollow head. Then I drilled through the centre and filed the hole to fit the blade's tang, finally cutting the metal thread off flush with the end of the plug.

To attach the blade to the handle, I poured epoxy into the head, then pushed the hardwood plug in, forcing the glue to flow up the centre hole and around the sides; I then pushed the blade tang into the hole, again making the epoxy fill all cavities before cleaning off the excess.

Because the Lee Valley cane head screws into a brass collar and I needed a push fit into the cane, I carefully filed the threads from around the base of the handle, leaving just a little slack, in case of any slight misalignment later.

The cane itself was made from a piece of nice straight fir that I had in stock. I used fir for several reasons: the grain looks beautiful through a nice stain, it is light (important for the actor) and the wood is relatively easy to machine. The only thing that I don't like is that the grain works unevenly.

I began by ripping two lengths of wood about 1 1/4" square, and an inch longer than the blade, facing what were to be the mating surfaces on the jointer. Alsos using the jointer, I tapered the outside three faces of each piece to the approximate dimensions and taper that I required. This is fairly simple, and can be done by resting the big end of the piece to be planed just after the cutters and lowering the other end down to the bed and pushing through. Some juggling is required, but the results are worth it. If a jointer isn't available, then free handling through a table saw works quite well.

The reason for tapering the outside first, is that when we cut the inside groove, it will follow the shape of the outside, thus the taper of the blade. I use the table saw for this, setting the blade up to dado a groove, working frosm each side in to the centre.

Because a rapier blade isn't symmetrical, one half of the stick must be dadoed deeper than the other, so that the head of the cane will sit centrally on the top of the stick, also some clearance must be left to allow for the fitting of a retaining spring.

When I was satisfied that the blade would sit snicely into the shaft, I glued up the two halves with epoxy, taped and clamped them and put the whole thing into the furnace room with the blade and head for 24 hours to harden.

The retaining spring is made from a piece of steel banding, bent into an arc with a retaining lip and epoxied into the top of the cane so that it rests on the flat side of the rapier blade.

To start shaping the outside of the cane, I first pushed the blade into the hole, with the brass ring in place below the head. Using this as a template, I marked around the outside of the ring in pencil, to give me the diameter and location of the top end of the cane. The Lee Valley Cane heads come with a brass bottom tip; as this is rather small, I mark the bottom of the cane to the outside diameter of this brass piece.

To shape the outside down to an octagonal shape, I first machined the corners using the shaper or power planer. The power planer seems to work best on fir; it doesn't rip the grain up the same, perhaps because it runs so much faster. After the planer, I used a spokeshave to bring the whole thing down to a fairly smooth tapered cylinder, finally sanding down along the grain using 80 grit, then 120, followed by a 320 white paper in the palm sander.

To fit the top brass ring, I set the table saw fence to the required distance (including the blade width), which is the collar depth less the amount that the handle sits inside, and the saw blade height to the thickness of the collar material. I then just free handed the top end of the wood around and across until I had a nice smooth reduced end, ready to epoxy the top ring in place. To ensure a good fit, I pushed the blade home to centralize everything while the glue hardened. (Don't glue the blade in of course.)

To fit the bottom tip, I glued a dowel into the hole in the tip, then fixed the brass tip to that, using plenty of epoxy, so that it oozed out and filled the joint.

I finished the wood with two heavy brushed on coats of Light French Walnut stain, followed by two of gloss varnish. The dark grain looks really nice against the glow of the brass eagle's head handle.

To protect floors and actors, I fitted a grey rubber cane tip to the bottom.

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