The only upside to wrapping presents is maybe, just maybe, you’ll finish the roll of gift wrap and be left with a cardboard tube ready to become an imaginary lightsaber. But with a few hidden electronics inside, Joel Hartlaub created a self-extending cardboard saber that doesn’t require much imagination at all.
We’re nowhere near the end of the long road that started with the initial reveal of the lightsaber in the original Star Wars in 1977 and hopefully ends with us all running around with glowing laser swords one day. That ‘one day’ is probably still a long, long time from now but we’re slowly making progress. In addition to lots of toy sabers that feature plastic telescoping tube segments to recreate the igniting blade effect, Disney itself has made some impressive progress with its own extending lightsaber prop for use in its parks exclusively by cast members.
Hartlaub, a popular YouTube maker who’s created everything from a hot glue web shooter to a reverse toothpaste tube that can suck up messes, wanted to build their own lightsaber, and one made from cardboard to recapture the childhood joy of swinging a tube around like an aspiring Jedi, but with some modern upgrades.
Using a combination of 3D-printed and metal parts, Hartlaub created a reinforced but covert structure that could be hidden inside a paper towel tube featuring motion sensors and a soundboard triggering lightsaber effects played through a 40-millimetre headphone speaker as the saber was waved around.
The most impressive part of the custom build is a hidden blade that automatically extends at the push of a button made of cardboard — or at least looks like it is. Anyone who’s ever recreated Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s epic final battle aboard the Death Star knows that cardboard lightsabers break very easily. To create a blade with added strength, Hartlaub actually used a coil of spring steel that extends into a long tube when released, and covered it with paper packing tape to make it look like it’s made from cardboard.
The effect is very convincing, and thanks to a clever button-activated spinning mechanism also hidden inside the cardboard hilt that releases the blade by simply loosening a single screw, the saber revealing its self-extending blade is always a surprise to those who don’t know its secret, and a very satisfying one.