Fili's Swords from The Hobbit


New Member
I just finished this commission by a very good friend of mine, and I decided I should outline the build here for anyone who would like to follow the process and see how I did it. This was one of my first big replica prop builds, and I learned a ton.

Here are a few pics of the final piece, and then below that I'll rewind to a few months ago when this whole process began:

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First of all, I want to thank my good friend for coming to me and asking me to build these amazing swords. I LOVE their design and I was super excited about them throughout the whole process, even when it got challenging. And believe me, it was challenging.

So it all started with this reference image:

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I had never seen this sword in full detail so this was incredibly exciting. The first thing I thought was "oh my god I want to build this this is so cool." My second thought was "how in the hell am I going to make this handle."

So I went and I gathered more reference to see if I could parse out how this thing was put together. Kult of Athena turned out to be an invaluable source for reference and really allowed me to understand how this handle was constructed. It's not phenomenally complicated, really. What's challenging about it is how geometric it is; it's not something you can easily hand fabricate (especially if you're like me and not yet a pro at non-organic sculpting and shaping), and it was difficult for me for a long time to figure out what the alternative to hand shaping this piece was.

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I was fortunate in that my commissioner gave me several months notice for when they wanted these swords completed, so I was able to take a few months to mull over this handle and how I wanted to tackle it. I'm relatively new to the prop building industry, and am still building my skill set, so for me it was a matter of choosing which method of fabrication I wanted to do, from a list of methods I had never done before. I don't want to say lesser of many evils, but in a sense it was; I had to choose which one I thought I could pick up the fastest and really start cranking these out. I could have made it out of wood, or insulation foam (I actually attempted that at one point and met with no success), or, as a co-worker of mine suggested, I could 3D print it.

3D printing is still a new technology to me - so new in fact that I hadn't even considered it until my co-worker and good friend reminded me that we actually have one at work and employees get a great per gram price to print. So I thought, alright, I'll give this a shot! I had taken a few 3D modeling classes Freshman year of college, back when I thought I wanted to major in game design, so I had a rudimentary understanding of how the process worked. But I didn't have easy access to Maya, which was what I learned on,and I loathe that program with a flaming passion SO, after a little research, I cam across Blender, which I'm sure most of you know, but for those of you who don't: Blender is an AWESOME and FREE 3D modeling program that lets you do a LOT. It's really awesome and you should check it out.

But I had never used Blender before so I pulled up some YouTube tutorials and made a cup, learned some basic hot keys, and thought 'alright this is easy! Let's go make a sword handle!'

This image ended up being my major reference for the handle build. It's a piece of concept art that is great because it shows the handle from multiple angles and gives you great cross cuts so you can see the shape of the handles throughout. It is NOT, however, a high resolution image. So that was something I struggled with.


For those of you who know Blender well, this next part will be painful.

I started this handle with a cylinder.

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I used the subdivide and scale functions to get the basic silhouette of the handle, and then things got messy. I'm a sculptor and NOT a math person. Blender is a math program. I can make all kinds of cool organic things in Scluptris, but if you waltz into Blender thinking you can make the mesh do what you want like you can in Sculptris, you're gonna have a bad time. Take the time to learn Blender, how it works, how the mesh is affected by what you're doing, AND, learn about normals.

Here's what I ended up with after a long time of fiddling and head scratching. The top portion of the sword in particular was very challenging for me as far as how to go about shaping it from the rounded form that I started with.


The top still wasn't right, but my reference was too low res for me to really get an idea of the shape. This is where the Kult of Athena reference images came in handy. Many hours of deleting vertices and recreating faces later, I ended up with this, which was (I thought) the final model that I would use for printing:


I changed a couple of things in this model compared to what I originally started with - I didn't include the triangle details and a lot of the other detailing. That was too much for my noobie Blender brain to handle. So instead, I adapted this model to be able to take craft foam details laid on top of of the 3D printed base. So some parts are smaller, some are elongated to account for the thickness of the foam, etc.

Then it was time to print! With great eagerness, excitement, and yes, a bit of pride, I sent in my file with basic instructions to be printed.

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Unfortunately, this print failed.


6.jpg 7.jpg <---- Abysmal failure.

That was upsetting. I couldn't figure out why it failed so horribly. Then, one of my other brilliant and gracious co-workers took a look at my model and realized that all of my normals were messed up. Basically, the printer was reading various faces as outward facing and inward facing based on my model - but my faces, because of how messed up my normals were, were all flip flopped around, and so the printer tried to connect outward faces that shouldn't have been connected so I ended up with those weird walls encasing my handle.

My co-worker, glorious human that he is, spent an hour going through and flipping my normals and making sure everything was properly oriented. He was an absolute life saver. I cannot impress the importance of learning about normals and how to use a program properly!

So once it was all fixed, it was off to print again!

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And it printed beautifully!

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I made a blueprint of the blade using Inkscape, which is AWESOME, and laid it next to the handle so I could see the overall silhouette of the sword.


Many squeals of excitement were had.

Then it was blade shaping time! The blades were shaped from blue insulation foam. I cut down thick blocks to the thickness I wanted for the thickest part of the blades (how many times can I say "thick" in one sentence) and cut out the basic silhouette using a band saw.

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Then I drew out my details with a sharpie, and started sanding.

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The beveled edge was sanded almost exclusively using some little sanding sticks that I made out of wooden shivs they had in the shop with 180 grit sandpaper super glued around it. They worked phenomenally well, actually. The major planes of the swords were smoothed down using a sanding block and the biceps of another one of my co-workers. That man should make surf boards. He helped me achieve a wonderfully flat plane to work on.

The swords were almost entirely hand-sanded, with the exception of some larger planes that needed to be made that I did with a palm sander.

Then, it was back to the handles for a while, which I'll pick up in the next post!


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New Member
Fili's Swords from the Hobbit Part 2

After working on the blades for a while I switched back to the handles and cranked them out. I used a WONDERFUL product called DryDex, which, if you've never used it, is AWESOME for filling in gaps and flattening planes in 3D printed pieces. I used this and it was a life saver on my sword handles because they had a pretty heavy support system when printed that left a lot of uneven pieces on one of the sides, and I wanted the whole thing to be as flat as possible,

After much sanding and some DryDex and sealing, the handles were ready for detailing.


I wrapped one of the handles in masking tape where I was planning on putting craft foam details and drew with fine Sharpie the pattern for the pieces I would cut out. I pulled the tape and laid it on 100lb printer paper, cut it out with an Exacto, and then traced those patterns in pairs on a sheet of Craft Foam.


Which I then cut out again using an Exacto and super glued into place on the handles:

19.jpg <-- I made a children's toy!

Then the handles were ready for priming:

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Now they look like grown up swords. It was really exciting to see these all one color. This step was when everything really started coming together and looking like what they were going to be.

After the blades were primed I went back to do the final detailing, shaping, sealing, and priming on the blades.


The fullers were carved out with a dremel bit that I used with my fingers. I didn't want to use an actual dremel because the blades aren't super thick and I didn't want to risk carving the fullers too deep and compromising the structure of the blade.

I had some problems with the very tips of the blades because I initially shaped them out of a long block of insulation foam that was slightly too short, so I had glued an extra bit to the top with 12-gauge wire inserts, and it really didn't work. The piece kept coming off when I sanded over it and I ended up tossing it in favor of sculpting a new tip out of Epoxy after sanding the rest of the blade down.

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I made myself an 80 grit sanding stick with a paint stir stick and some super glue and went to down grinding down the Epoxy until I had a shape i was happy with. Then the swords were coated with DryDex:


And once the DryDex dried, they were sealed and ready for priming.

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Everything primed and ready for paint!


I'll cover the painting of these as well as some of the final photos that I took in the next post!


New Member
Fili's Swords from the Hobbit Part 3: Painting

Once the blades and handles were primed, it was time for paint!

All the reference photos that I was looking at to date showed the blades in this sort of warm brown color with some black undertones. Especially the resin casts that I looked at had this color, and I would have painted my swords this way were it not for a remarkable twist of fate that occurred in the beginning of September when I took a break from this project to go to DragonCon.

Satyr Final.jpg <-- I'll probably do a write up on this costume as well.

While there, the friend who commissioned these swords from me sent me a frantic message about how Dean O'Gorman, the actor who plays Fili in the Hobbit movies, was there and wondered if I could get them an autograph.

Thank goodness I did, because the photo that I got signed for them was an image of Fili holding his sword so that it crossed by his head, and you could just see the top of the handle resting on his chest. The paint job was completely different from all of the reference I was looking at.


The handle in this image looks more like metal and has way more depth than all the resin casts I'd seen, and I wanted this piece to be as accurate as I could make it, so I opted to model the paint job after what I could glean from this image.

I started with a gold undercoat:


And then laid a deep blackish brown over the top to achieve that weathered metal look. I also painted the details with silver guache and did some basic weathering over the whole piece before sealing it with a gloss coat.

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But these were still looking a little flat and didn't quite have that worn metallic look that I was after. So I went back in with my gold and a very small paintbrush and dry brushed gold over all the edges in the handles. The silver parts got a little more weathering as well, and then the handles were done.

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Beyond this point I was focused on finishing up the build so I could make sure they shipped out at the proper time, so I don't have any more photos of the painting process.

The sword blades were coated with a dark, dark gray metallic paint. It was actually auto-paint so it looked like sword shaped pieces of a car, which was pretty funny. On top of that I put a few coats of dry-brushed silver gauche (the same that I used on the silver parts of the handles). I went back through and weathered the blades with black paint and an old sock, making sure to get into the fullers and pull out those details in the blades.

All the pieces then got a couple layers of a gloss clear coat finish.

The blades were attached to the handles with Goop, which hardens to a REALLY solid and awesome adhesive after 24-48 hours. BUT it will melt open cell foam, which is what I used on the blades of these swords. The joining was aided by a gel super glue on the flat parts and also around the joining area where the blade and handle met.

The joining of these blades ended up working out, but I was lucky. The foam around the adhesive point did end up melting a little, but what ended up happening was the adhesive melded with the foam and created a reasonably strong adhesion. however, it did leave some odd soft pockets under the layers of sealer and DryDex and paint right down at the base of the blades. I let the swords dry upright so that they wouldn't end up with blades tilted one way or the other, and I think that is a big part of why this adhesion method worked.

I think these blades turned out to be a huge success considering the tools that I had available to me and where my skill set was at the beginning of this project. They are stable and photograph really, really well. But like I said, I learned a lot. I know now things that I didn't know when I started and there are things I wish I had known while doing this build.

Before shipping them I did a photoshoot in our "livingroom," so I'll conclude this post with a collection of those images.

Please enjoy, comment, share, and leave tips! Thank you so much for taking the time to look through my build!

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Active Member
Great build! The part where you went back to the gold paint and retouched the angles really does everything for me - it was a GREAT idea! In my opinion you really succeded at achieving that worn out metal look you were looking for
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