They say that part of a padawan’s Jedi training is to build a lightsaber. But why settle for building an ordinary lightsaber, when you can build a Darksaber. Also, I’m a true beskar loving Mando fan so there wasn’t a question on which lightsaber I’d build. With that said, last year in preparation for SiliconSJ 2021 I decided to build my own Darksaber and share my build with you all here. So, let’s get into the build!
Not attempting to reinvent the Darksaber
Firstly, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and design my Darksaber from scratch. Since I already own a 3D printer, I’d decided to go the 3D printing route. With that in mind, I didn’t want to have to design my own 3D printer files, which is a thing in itself. So doing a little searching, I found Adafruit’s DIY Darksaber Build by the Ruiz Brothers. If you’re not familiar, Adafruit is a NYC based electronics manufacturing company that design their own electronic circuits geared at learning and maker (self-built/self-made) projects. The Adafruit Darksaber build provides 3D printable Darksaber prop part designs, as well as a guide on how to use their electronic products to build the Darksaber yourself. If you’re interested, and serious about building your own Darksaber, I recommend you check out their detailed DIY Darksaber Build which you can find at the link below.
3D Printing was “my way” to building the Darksaber
I don’t think 3D printing is the way to build a Darksaber, or any other lightsaber for that matter. You can certainly find other ways to build a light saber, but as I said above, seeing as I already have a 3D printer it was an easy decision for me. To start, I began by downloading the 3D printer STL files from the Adafruit build here, and prepared them so I could print them on my 3D printer, which is an upgraded version of the Ender 3 3D printer by Creality. On Amazon, they now sell a new version of the Ender 3 (Ender 3 V2). If you’re looking to buy your own 3D printer I suggest doing some research, a good place to start is at All3DP, they have a buyers guide here.
Here are some photos of the parts I 3D printed based on Adafruit’s DIY Darksaber build above:
I printed all the parts in PLA (Polylactic acid) 3D printer filament because I’m most familiar printing using PLA, but you can certainly use other materials like ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). For more on the types of 3D printer filament you can check out this article by All3DP.
I chose to print the Darksaber hilt using black filament, since the hilt itself is all black. This is so I wouldn’t need to paint the hilt, or so that it would require light painting later on.
For the Darksaber blade, Adafruit didn’t share exactly which filament they used in their build, at least at the time I was planning to print my Darksaber. So I had to do a little searching. In particular I wanted to find a good transparent/translucent 3D printer filament in PLA. For the blade I chose SUNLU Clear PLA Filament 1.75mm, 3D Printer Filament Transparent PLA which you can buy from Amazon.
It took around 2 weeks of my time to print and collect all the parts above. Note I didn’t print everyday, the two weeks is over how many days I performed the printing, and not the summed (actual) time it took to print all the parts. Also, note that the actual 3D printing time for the individual parts ranged from 30 minutes, for smaller parts, to around 2 hours for larger parts.
What’s great about 3D printing is that once you set it up, it just prints independently, allowing you to work on other things. So while all the parts above were printing, I got started on the electronic parts and programming.
Venturing into electronics and programming
It was really great not to have to figure out all the electronic parts that would best fit this build. Also, not to have to figure out how to program the electronics from scratch. Adafruit did a really good job with their DIY Darksaber build. But, even with the step-by-step guide on how to wire the electronics and code provided by Adafruit, it still required some work to put together.
For one, I highly recommend buying the soldering tools Adafruit recommend to use, if you don’t already have them or similar tools on hand. I’ve done some soldering in the past, but I am in no way a soldering expert. The Stick Vise, Pana Vise Jr and Helping Third Hands tools allowed the soldering process move along much smoother than I had anticipated. I had no issues following the steps in the wiring guide (here, here and here), but I do have to say it did require some hand eye coordination and soldering skill (which I had some experience), even with the tools below. Also, I do recommend always using safety equipment like eye protection and/or gloves, where appropriate.
Heat shrinking tubing is a must! You don’t want your positive or negative leads connecting – better safe than sorry! Also, adding the cable connectors to the ends of the wires so that the wires can be easily removed, was a nice touch. It really made it easy to connect or reconnect parts together, e.g., being able to remove, plug-an-play like, the cables from the electronics board when I needed to (especially when I needed to remove the LiOn battery). See my wiring and soldering work, below.
Additionally, I recommend you buy extra mini oval speakers. The wires are tiny and very easy to pull, cut and break. There is some skill involved with carefully stripping the insulation and soldering the ribbon to the tiny wires of the speaker. I cut a wire too close to one of my mini oval speakers and had to redo it. The final, soldered and wired, mini oval speaker shown below.
If your budget allows for it, I highly recommend following the build that makes use of the Adafruit Feather nRF2840 Express board. It was so cool to be able to change the colors of the Neopixels on the fly wirelessly. It also provides for potential software upgrade plans in the future. A wired up and soldered NRF2840 shown below.
Neopixels are amazing! I will say though that soldering them is a bit tricky. For example, watch out for that polarity when putting the Neopixels back to back. See my completed NEOPIXEL wiring on the Adafruit Feather NRF2840 below. Also, by this time I had already transferred the Adafruit Circuit Python code into the NRF2840 by following the guide here and here. At one point I though, the Circuit Python program wasn’t working. After some troubleshooting, I found I didn’t copy the files to the NRF2840 board correctly. The moral of the story, at least from my experience, is that you should just download and use the files (drag and drop) from Adafruit website itself.
There were a few more hoops and ladders I needed to workaround building the above, but suffice it say it all worked out. If you end of working this build and have questions, feel free to reach out or try the Adafruit forums. I found the forums to be useful when I needed it.
Building a full-sized Darksaber blade
One thing I noticed with Adafruit’s original Darksaber build was that the Darksaber blade was a bit short for my intended application. I definitely wanted a full lightsaber blade length. Upon comparing the original Adafruit Darksaber blade length to a lightsaber I had at home, one of the ones you can buy at Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge, I found it to be around 33% shorter.
With that in mind, I decided to build on top of the Adafruit DIY Darksaber Build and extend the Darksaber to my preferred length. Now, this was a 100% personal preference and was also not a straightforward process (as you’ll see below). Most people, I believe, will be totally happy with the original Adafruit Darksaber build as is – especially if you’re building it with or for a youngling in your life.
So I basically got the Darksaber blade from Adafruit. Used software, Slic3r, to extend it 33%. Saved those files and create 3D printer files and printed them. Below you can see some photos of the 3D printed extended blades I built.
Also, one of the trickier parts of this build was attaching all the blade parts together! If you check the slideshow photos above, the last photo shows the screws and nuts I used to hold all the blade pieces. Now if you’re building the original design by Adafruit, e.g., the regular sized blade, I recommend you check out the 3D printing page of their build here. They have a really cool 3D animation showing how the screws and nuts fasten together to keep the blade pieces in place. Now Adafruit did not seem to give any explicit detail on which M3 screws and nuts they recommend to use, but those are pretty standard. The screws I used can be found on Amazon here. I used nuts with a locking mechanism, which can be found also on Amazon here.
Now building the extended blade, I did have to create my own 3D printer file. If you’re unfamiliar with 3D printing, the file format used is called an STL file format. I haven’t shared the file here as it’s not exactly a perfect design, the holes I made to insert the screws and nuts aren’t perfectly aligned. This was actually my first time to remix another person’s STL file, so my goal was more of functional over form and I sorta made it work along the way. Another thing to note is that, as I describe below in more detail below, PLA isn’t strong enough to take the weight of the extended blade. So I definitely needed to add some kind of structural rigidity to my extended blade, the solution I ended up with is explained in more detail below (e.g., using two pieces of custom cut polycarbonate).
I also decided to install the Neopixels into the blade, and wow! Did it glow. I was super impressed. See below:
Now that I had all the parts I needed to put it all together: hilt, blade and additional darksaber blade cover. The parts together, the Darksaber is shown below:
Let’s see it in action:
As I explained above, I found that the blade built on PLA alone was not rigid enough to take the extended blade length. So I needed to find a way to extend the blade but without stopping the light from glowing.
I decided to work with a local plastic cutting vendor and sandwich the PLA blade between 2 layers of polycarbonate. I chose polycarbonate because it was strong enough for the length and thickness I needed for the blade. I hade a couple pieces of polycarbonate cut to the darksaber design. Below photos show the cut pieces of the polycarbonate beside the blade. The third photo shows the blade with the polycarbonate installed and glowing. It looked good to me!
Here are some zoomed in photos of the polycarbonate attached to the Darksaber blade. Also, as shown below, I used two layers of polycarbonate on each side of the Darksaber blade to reinforce the blade.
As a bonus note, using the NRF2840 allowed me to wirelessly control the color of the darksaber blade. The NRF2840 was definitely worth it. Pretty impressive. See below:
Finally, all the pieces looked great, I bonded all the pieces together with an adhesive recommended by the plastic vendor. Below is the final blade:
And there you have it! My self-made Darksaber build. It was so much for to make, but also a lot of work. I hope you enjoyed this build as much as I did putting it together!
Have you made your own lightsaber? Have you tried the DIY Darksaber build by Adafruit? What was your experience making your lightsaber like? We’d love to hear how your build went, or if you have any experience or tips to share from your own build. Please feel free to share them via the comments below.
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02/07/2022 UPDATE: I updated the above to reflect the how the blade pieces are held together. I also added photo under the “Building a full-sized Darksaber blade” to show the screws and nuts I used to hold the blade pieces in place.