Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making a Lancet Replica

This post is going to be a bit of a departure from my usual writing. You'll be spared my ramblings about vaccines, law, ethics and censorship. Instead, I thought I would put up a post documenting how I went about making a prop for my Halloween costume this year. Hopefully I won't give away too much about what my costume is going to be before it's time to be revealed.

A good costume is more than just the clothes you wear or a mask. It's also important to pay attention to the details. What kind of props are you going to add on? How accurate are you going to be? What materials are you going to use? For my costume, I really wanted to add on a lancet or fleam, devices that were once used for bloodletting, the belief being that bleeding a patient would balance the humours and heal them of whatever disease they happened to have. In nearly every instance, this was pure nonsense, and frequently dangerous, sometimes fatally so. At any rate, I had a couple options: buy one or make my own. Real lancets were hard to find, fleams a bit easier, and both were rather more than I wanted to spend.

Based on the pictures I was able to find, fleams seemed a bit too complex for me. Not only did I not have the metalworking skills they seemed to required, I just didn't have the tools. The lancet looked much easier, though I did need to do a bit more research on how to add a handle. Some quick googling on how to put handles on knives and I was ready to start. A quick run to the local big box hardware store, then time to get to work.

To start, I picked up some 1/8" aluminum bar stock. Steel would have been a bit more accurate, but also prone to rusting. Also, aluminum is much easier to cut.

1/8" Aluminum Bar Stock - Cheap and easy to work with
I sketched out the general shape of the lancet blade on it, copying the heart-shaped blade above. From there, I drew a long, narrow shank that would extend down the center of the handle. I used a metal-cutting blade in my jigsaw to cut out the shape. It probably would have been much easier to use a hacksaw, since a power jigsaw causes some pretty violent shaking if the piece is not securely clamped, not to mention being able to get more accurate cuts. If you do this with a hand saw, I would recommend using a jeweler's saw or a hacksaw with a relatively narrow blade, coupled with a V-slot bench pin. Just keep in mind, the smaller the saw blade, the easier to make turns and curves, but the longer it will take to cut and, especially with a jeweler's blade, the easier it is to break the blade.

Aluminum cut to shape
I also found an old scrap of pine 2x2 lumber. I cut this into thirds and kept the two outside pieces to use for the handle. I positioned the aluminum piece about where I wanted it and traced around the shank. I made sure to do this on the smoothest side of the split piece of pine so the two pieces of the handle would fit together nice and snug.

2x2 Split, with shank outline traced on one side
Pine is a very soft wood, so it's pretty easy to cut and carve. To carve out the slot that would hold the blade shank, I used an X-acto knife with two different blades: a flat, wide blade and a flat narrow blade. The wide blade allowed me to make vertical cuts into the wood along the shank outline. These are stop cuts to prevent chiseling out too much wood. Then, I swapped blades and used the narrow one to chisel out the slot so the shank fit flush into the wood.

Blade slot carved out of one handle piece
Next, I gave the blade some shape. This is another spot where I was glad I chose to work with aluminum. Find a dense, metal surface to work on. I didn't have an anvil, so I used a steel 5lb dumbbell weight. I used a standard hammer to flatten out the blade edges and create some subtle angles to the blade. This is definitely something to do during the day, when you're less likely to disturb people's sleep! Ear protection is strongly recommended. Once I was satisfied with the shape of the blade, I use a power sander to smooth out the dents from the hammer and further shape the blade. A rougher grit quickly removed the dents, and some 220-grit sandpaper gave it a nice, smooth sheen. Light sanding along the edge and tip of the blade ensures that it won't actually cut anyone, while still keeping the look that it actually could.

Side and 3/4 view shots of the shaped blade head
Once the blade was finished, it was time to set it into the handle. I put a bit of wood glue in the slot, then set the blade into place, pressing it in firmly so that no part of the shaft stuck above the plane of the wood. Next, I spread glue over the whole surface of the handle and blade shaft, set the smooth side of the remaining handle piece against the glue-covered surface and secured the two halves together with a couple Quick Grip clamps, then I left it to dry for 24 hours to make sure the glue created the strongest bond possible.

Handle pieces glued and clamped overnight
Detail of the blade end of the handle
At this point, you may have noticed that the handle is a bit, well, bulky and blocky. To quickly pare down the handle, I turned once more to my trusty jigsaw. After drawing some lines along the handle roughly even with the widest points of the blade, I clamped the piece down and cut off the excess wood, keeping just outside my lines. I put a rough grit sandpaper belt on my power sander and used it to finish taking off the excess material down to my guide lines. I also sanded down the two faces of the handle, then continued sanding with the rough grit paper to give the handle a rounded shape. Finally, some sanding with 120-grit, followed by 220-grit gave it a nice, smooth surface.

Handle sanded nice and smooth; the butt end is tapered a bit
The natural color of the pine just didn't look very nice or finished to me, so I decided to stain and gloss the handle. After protecting the blade with some masking tape, I put on three coats of Minwax Dark Walnut wood finish, lightly sanding with 220-grit paper after the first and second coats. I let the third coat set in for about a day before putting on three coats of Minwax Polycrylic water-based protective finish. Then I removed the masking tape and gave the whole thing a good buffing with a clean cloth. A little of the stain had soaked through the tape and left marks on the blade, but these came off with just a little work.

Here's the finished result:

My home-made prop lancet
I'm really happy with the results. It's a bit longer than the lancet I used as my model, and I went for a much simpler shape for the handle, but I think it looks pretty convincing.


  1. Bravo, sir! Are you going to offer to bleed others?

    Next stop is to go into full cosplay mode.

  2. No bleeding of others. I probably could have made it sharp enough to cut, but I figured just looking like it could was good enough.


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