How to make the Tomb Raider 2 Dagger of Xian by Stella!
When I began this project, my plan was to kill two birds with one stone. . . er, knife. 😉 I wanted to create something cosplayers would find useful but also a piece I could enter in the Tomb Raider “By Hand” contest on the Eidos forum. For my first time working with paperclay, I think it turned out pretty well. If you try the project yourself or just have suggestions on how it might be improved, I’d love to hear from you.By the way, in case anyone is still puzzling over the pronunciation of “Xian,” it’s “shee-an”. You can hear it spoken here and here.
Finished Dagger of Xian prop
Materials and Tools Needed:
- 3/16-inch-thick foam board (about a quarter of an 18″x24″ sheet)
- Cardboard tube about 1 inch in diameter
- Paperclay (I used about half an 8-ounce package)
- White glue
- Super glue
- Masking tape (not pictured)
- Black duct tape (optional, see step 29)
- Red and black (or black-and-gold) ribbon
- Spray paint and/or acrylic paints – Any color primer, metallic silver, metallic gold, gloss red*
- Brown or black ink (or acrylic paint)*
- Clear polyurethane spray (optional but recommended if you’re using acrylic paints)*
- One 1-inch diameter glass marble**
- Two 1-inch long teardrop-shaped purple rhinestones**
- X-Acto knife
- linoleum cutter with interchangeable blades (shown in step 15, optional but recommended)
- medium-grit sandpaper
- hot glue gun (optional, not pictured)
NOTES: For this project I used paperclay because it’s light but very strong and only needs to air dry. No baking is required. Also it’s fairly easy to sculpt both wet and dry, and it allows you to add layers and fill in cracks with new clay even after it’s dry. If you plan to carve the dry paperclay, as I do here, I recommend using a linoleum cutter with a variety of blades, but you can also use an X-Acto knife, provided the blade is sharp and you work carefully.
*I used spray paints for the main colored elements and added detail with brown ink once the undercoat was completely dry. You could use all acrylics if you prefer, though you’ll probably want to clear-coat the finished dagger with spray-on polyurethane to make it look shinier. If you do go for the spray paint, you’ll only need a little bit of each color. So you might want to choose smaller cans than I show here. I borrowed these paints from work. 😉 Also, if you can find a red glass marble, then you won’t need the red paint.
**If you can’t get a large marble and/or gems for the pommel and dragon’s eyes, you can sculpt these parts from paperclay or polymer clay, paint them and then apply a high-gloss clear coat to make them look shiny.
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I plan to add pictures to the TR2 reference section soon, but meanwhile here’s a sheet with a few dagger images if you need them.
The Dagger of Xian from Tomb Raider 2
- Print out the dagger template here. The whole template is about 17 inches long and won’t fit on a typical sheet of paper. So I’ve divided it into two pieces. Cut out both pieces and put them together so the red dashed line overlaps. Then tape the pieces together to form the complete dagger shape.
- Trace the dagger template onto the foam board. You’ll need two (2) of this shape. Note that the handle portion should be as wide as the inside of your cardboard tube, so you may need to adjust the template slightly. My tube is 1 1/8 inch in diameter.
- Use an X-Acto knife with a sharp blade to cut out the two dagger parts. You can use a metal ruler to guide your knife. Just make sure you cut on thick cardboard or a piece of junk wood so you don’t accidentally slice your table. 😉
- Check to make sure the handle part of each foam board dagger fits snugly into the cardboard tube. If it’s too big, slice off a little bit to make it fit.
- Apply white glue to one side of one of the foam board dagger pieces and place the other piece on top so the edges match. Press them together so you have a double-thick foam dagger.
- Use your X-Acto knife to trim the cardboard tube so it’s a little longer than the handle part of the foam dagger—about 6 1/4 inches if you’re using my template. You want the foam board handle to go almost all the way through to the end of the cardboard tube.
- Apply white glue to the top and bottom edges of the handle of the foam board dagger.
- Insert the handle into the cardboard tube. Some glue will ooze out. Wipe it off if there’s a lot of excess, but a little extra glue is fine as it will help keep the handle anchored inside the tube. Let it dry completely before going on to the next step.
- Use medium-grit sandpaper to smooth the edges of the blade. This will help hide the seam between the two pieces of foam board. Here I left the top edge flat but beveled the bottom edges slightly to resemble a real blade. Don’t worry if the foam crumbles a little. You can fill it in later with clay.
- Now it’s time to sculpt the dragon-shaped guard. Pull off a chunk of paperclay and shove it into the space between the cardboard tube and the foam board dagger. Extending the clay up into the handle helps anchor it and makes the final project sturdier.
- Add more clay, building up the dragon’s head shape around the blade as shown here. Sculpt as much detail as you can in the wet clay. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can carve it out and add more clay later. I’m not much of a sculptor, so I did most of my carving after the clay was dry. But if you feel comfortable working with the wet clay, by all means do.
- Press the purple gemstones into the moist clay where the dragon’s eyes will go. Then remove the gems and set them aside. You just want to make impressions where you’ll glue the gems later on.
- Roll another chunk of paperclay into a ball around the same size as your large glass marble. Press it into the open end of the cardboard tube. Again, if you can press the clay around the end of the foam board handle inside the tube, this will help the clay stick inside the opening. Then mold the clay into a rough cylinder and press the glass marble into it to make a cup-shaped impression where you will later glue the marble. Remove the marble for now.
- Now let the clay dry thoroughly. This will probably take several days. Check it a few times while it’s drying to make sure the clay isn’t shrinking too much. A little shrinkage and cracking is to be expected. But if the dragon’s mouth shrinks away from the foam board blade, press it back into place and secure it with string or a rubber band. Just don’t bind it too tightly or the string/band will leave marks in the clay. Also, be sure to store the unused paperclay in a zip-lock bag or airtight container so it doesn’t dry out.
This tutorial continues on a second page.
This is part 2 of a 2-page tutorial. Part 1 can be found here.
- When the clay is thoroughly dry, you can continue carving the details of your dragon’s head using your X-Acto knife and/or a set of linoleum cutting blades. You’ll also want to smooth away rough patches with sandpaper and fill in any gaps or cracks with wet paperclay. If necessary, add more water to the clay to make it easier to work with and/or wet your fingers and use them to smooth the clay. It’s a good idea to carve and patch a little, let everything dry and then repeat the process. You may need to do this several times to sculpt the head to your liking.
Step 15 – carving dry clay with a linoleum cutter
Step 15a – patching and building up with wet clay
- When your main carving is in good shape, place a dot or two of glue in each eye socket and then place the purple gems where they belong. Use a rubber band to hold them in place while the glue dries. Or glue them one at a time, letting each dry before turning the head over and adding the other.
- Use more paperclay to build up the eye socket and brow around each gem. (Although the clay will hold the gems in place, gluing them first will keep them from rattling around if the clay shrinks when it dries.)
- At this point, you may also want to patch any rough spots along the edges of the blade using wet paperclay. Again, let the clay dry thoroughly before moving on.
- Now finish sculpting the dragon’s head and the bezel at the end of the dagger handle where the marble will fit. Sand everything smooth, brush away any leftover chunks of clay, and wipe down the entire surface with a damp cloth to remove any powdery residue left behind after sanding. Then let the dagger dry while you set up your painting area.
- Spray painting should be done outside on a nice day or in a very well ventilated area. Do not spray if it’s raining or very humid, since the moisture in the air will dull the paint, and it will take forever to dry. Line your work surface with newspaper. Use masking tape to cover every bit of the purple gems so they won’t get paint on them. Trim the tape with your X-Acto knife so it fits precisely. Set the glass marble on a ring, spool or even a small chunk of clay so it’s not touching the work surface and won’t roll away. (Of course, if you were able to find a red glass marble, you won’t need to paint it, so you can skip this step.)
- Spray primer lightly but evenly over the marble and the entire surface of the dagger. You may need to prop up the dagger as you work, or spray one side, let it dry and then turn it over to spray the other. Let the primer dry thoroughly before moving on.
- Now spray the blade with silver enamel. It’s OK if you get a little silver on the dragon’s head. You’ll fix that later. Don’t spray too much at once or the paint will look drippy. It’s better to do a few light, even coats, letting the paint dry and turning the dagger over between coats.
- Spray the marble with high-gloss red enamel. Use a light touch. You can always go back and add additional coats of paint once the first coat is dry. (Again, if you were able to find a red glass marble, you can skip this step.)
- Do not remove the tape that you used to mask the dragon’s eyes. When the silver paint is completely dry, use more masking tape to cover the entire blade portion of the dagger. Again, use your X-Acto knife to cut curves so the tape fits right up against the edge of the sculpted dragon’s head.
- Spray the dragon’s head and the bezel at the end of the handle with gold enamel. As with the other paints, it’s better to do several light coats, letting the paint dry thoroughly in between.
- If your metallic paints don’t seem shiny enough, you can clear-coat the entire surface using high-gloss polyurethane spray. Again, a few thin layers are better than a single gloppy coat. Just be patient and let each coat dry before applying the next. Also be sure to leave the masking tape in place over the dragon’s eyes when you apply the clear coat. I didn’t end up doing this step, but it’s an option. [NO PICTURE FOR THIS STEP]
- When the paint is completely dry, remove the masking tape from the blade and the dragon’s eyes. At this point you can paint in more detail by hand if you like. I used brown ink to shade in the carved spots on the dragon’s face, its nostrils, and the edges of the eye sockets where they meet the gems. I had to mix a little white glue with the ink to make it stick to the glossy, gold spray paint. I also used water-based gold model paint to touch up tiny spots I’d missed with the spray. (I already had the ink and gold paint for painting Warhammer models, but if you don’t want to buy these, you can use brown or black acrylic or watercolor paint mixed with water and a little white glue instead of ink. For the gold, working outside, spray a little gold spray paint on a paper plate or scrap of cardboard and then dip a brush into it and use it for touch-up.)
- Use sandpaper to scratch a small area of the glass marble. If you spray-painted yours red, scuff the bottom where it rested on the prop while you were painting it. Wipe the sanded area clean. Now place a few drops of super glue inside the bezel at the end of the handle and glue the marble in place so the scratched area touches the glue. If it doesn’t stick, use a little more super glue around the inside rim of the bezel, just not so much that it oozes out. (You may want to use a few dots of hot glue inside the bezel as well to hold the marble in place while the super glue dries. Otherwise prop the dagger upright and let it sit overnight so the super glue dries thoroughly.)
- Now it’s time to finish the handle. If you’re using opaque red ribbon, you can skip this step. I found some lovely, slightly transparent metallic red ribbon. So, to prevent the cardboard tube from showing through, I covered the entire handle in black duct tape. You could also use black paint or marker instead.
- Wrap the handle with the red ribbon, covering the entire grip. Try to position the end the ribbon on the underside of the dagger so it won’t show as much. Use a dot of hot glue to secure the end or use white glue and hold the ribbon in place with a scrap of masking tape while the glue dries (as shown below in step 31).
- Wrap a length of black ribbon several times around each end of the handle, where it meets the gold dragon’s head and bezel. If you can find sexy, black-and-gold ribbon, go for it. I just used plain black satin. Again, try to position the ends of the ribbon on the underside of the dagger so they won’t show. Tack the ends with hot glue or use white glue and a little masking tape to hold the ribbon while it dries. If the dried glue leaves a little mark on the ribbon, touch it up with black Sharpie.
And there you have it. Your finished Dagger of Xian. Just be careful you don’t stab anybody at your next convention. Wouldn’t want a rampaging dragon wrecking up the place. 😉
Finished Dagger of Xian prop
STELLA’S ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I’d like to thank FuinurNecrophily and SaschaCraft for inspiring me to make this project. She’s the only Lara Croft cosplayer I’ve seen take on the TR2 Home Sweet Home costume. His wonderful Dagger of Xian papercraft helped me get the right proportions for my template.