Jedi News Recommends: Stratagem Sabers

Jedi or Sith you choose the side you want to fight for, but how do you go about choosing your lightsaber? Is it for show, or do you want to attend combat classes and wield the blade for real? Do you want a movie classic, or your own bespoke hilt ornately etched and thing of beauty? Then there’s the big question, what colour should the blade be?

There are people out there who can help you find the answers to all these questions and create you the lightsaber of your dreams!

Startagem Sabers are a company that specialise in the creation of bespoke lightsaber’s for show and duelling purposes. We recently took time out to speak to Zak Moussa and Ion Silental at the spring MCM Comic-Con London to find out more about their products.

Hi there to you both! Love the costumes, please tell us a bit about yourselves.

Ion: I am artist, have BA in graphics design, specialization book illustration. I’m also a Star Wars fan and cosplayer, prop maker.

My tasks at Stratagem Sabers are saber design, etching, product photography, leather wrap engraving and basically all art related work. Oh, and idea generation.

Zak: I have a degree in psychology and masters level postgrad in psychiatric nursing. I am an NHS nurse in east London. I like Faisal and Ion also have a background in martial arts, I trained in wado karate till I got my bb, then moved onto MMA. I practiced kendo and muso shinden ryu.  I love Star Wars and have been costuming and making props for ages.  

Wow, these lightsaber’s are a thing of beauty, tell us how Stratagem Sabers got started?

Ion: Thank you. We try creating our saber as art. We met via “Agents of the Force” Star Wars cosplayer group at MCM London Comic con. Around 2015, we started train together, do choreographed saber fights while wearing our costumes.

Zak asked me, can I etch metal and I said yes. I had experience with etching for art prints, about 20 years. So, I thought up title “Stratagem sabers” and logo for our company and we started our teamwork. Stratagem Sabers started 15th of August 2016.This summer will be 2 years.

Zak: As Ion stated we were both part of the same Star Wars group “Agents of the Force” and one day she shared some etching she did and artwork. I thought to myself wow that is amazing I wonder if I can get her to do that on a saber.

Are you both active members of the Silver Sabres Academy and are these the lightsaber’s that the team use?

Ion:  I train once or twice a week with Silver Sabres. I even started training as an instructor. (Have level 2 certificate) Now teaching my daughter and son basics of saber wielding. Kids see me work on a sabers and ask “Mom are you a Jedi? ” I just smile mysteriously.

Beginners usually use JQ Sabers hilts, but when you start advancing, many students grow out of training sabers and try get customised ones. Saber which are more personal, specially made for them.  And Stratagem Sabers here can help.

Zak: Yeah that’s right we are both members of Silver Sabres Combat Academy. Stratagem Sabers is a JQ Sabers affiliate, we service the London Silver Sabres lightsabers which they use and teach with. As people progress they can approach us for a complete one off custom saber or our small run sabers.

Choosing the design must be difficult for many people, what advice do you give prospective clients?

Ion: Usually advise look at our gallery and tell what they like from there. All our sabers are one and only, none is same. We even if wanted could not make same one, would differ details.

Zak: Some of our clients want clan sabers or hero sabers aka Luke’s Graflex or Vader’s MPP, for this we can convert Master replicas sabers/black series sabers so that they can be duelled with as the stock ones break fairly easily (black spots).

Some customers want ultra-realistic props, so we modify other brands of sabers and complete them as they are normally ordered as kits.

What type of hilts do you supply and how many different choices do you offer?

Zak: So, for our duellers those whom want something practical, we look at their hands small hands won’t do too well on a large saber, so we measure their grip. When we know what the grip is we choose our aluminium blank, this can be small – 1 inch, medium 1 and ¼ inches and large which is 1 ½ inches. 

Then we use chalk or paint and get customers to grab the blank, so it leaves us with the grip, once i have this grip i look at the finger sizes and then i lathe in the groves to match the grip, Ion works her magic on it from there.

For our cosplay customers, they generally approach us with a brief, “I want it to look like it went through a thousand battles” or “I want a katana style wrap with a Luke lower grip and a Yoda emitter”

Are there different grades of blade materials that allow for contact combat?

Zak: Yes, there are display blades, lightweight, medium, heavy grade blades, and neopixel blades, the grade is determined by the wall thickness of the polycarbonate, we and Silver Sabres recommend a medium blade which is 1.5mm wall.

The reason for this is so that there is some flex in the blade when it hits the target the blade bends and diffuses the energy of the impact, like bamboo strong but flexible.

If you duelled with a heavy grade blade it would bruise and break bones as the energy of the impact transitions directly into the object you are hitting and that’s not nice if it’s your sparring partners arm, health and safety first. 

How does the process for construction work?

Ion: Well, first we try find out what client wants. Some know exactly what they want. Some pick ‘master’s choice’ and give me freedom to create something to match their personality. I give about 10 to 20 questions and start sketching. Then few variations or concept art of how saber will look like are sent. What etching it will have etc… Client picks variation they like and then I send drawing to Zak to lath hilt basis, plus other elements like shrouds, emitters, garda etc.

Then parts return to me for etching. I like to incorporate freehand brushwork in my art. Paint with acid resisting paint straight on the metal without any transfer papers. So, line strokes are live, organic. That is well visible in the hilt with Fox and sakura. Where I tried capture in metal sumi-e inspired brushwork. Also because of brushwork final design a bit differs from concept art and what makes design unrepeatable.

After etching is done parts again travel to Zak, for assemble and installs. He 3D prints the chassis to protect inside parts from sliding and shaking. After installation is finished, he does leather wrapping on a grip. Or if leather wrap needs drawing engraved or decoration with metallic foil, travels again to me. Finally, I do nice photo session of saber. We pack it into case, sign card of authenticity and send it away.

Are you able to produce double bladed and the Kylo Ren style with guard blades?

Zak: We can produce almost anything you got the imagination we will make it, we have double ended Maul style sabers, we are currently commissioning a Kylo style cross guard saber for a client. We are working on a Sai style saber too. If you wanted a ghostbuster proton pack lightsaber it would be possible (sadly no one has commissioned one lol)

The colour of the blade is important depending on the choice of light side or dark side. We only ever see blue, red, green and purple in the Star Wars movies, but is there any limit to the colour of blade on offer?

Ion: Think, having choice is very important and we try providing sabers which have more than one colour in one hilt. One day you can use green, other day red. Depending on your mood. Also, there is lots characters which are neutral, not dark nor light.  This especially handy for cosplayers with different characters.

Zak: We set our sabers up to be able to change colour even on our lowest cost saber it comes with 11 colours and flash on clash, this way the user can choose the colour of the blade from red to lilac to green to yellow to pink etc.

On our higher end sabers we colour mix using RGB, so we can mix any colour the same way an artist can make any colour from mixing red green and blue, except in paint colour the primary red green yellow, light mixes with red green and blue.

We also add custom fonts aka the sound effect of the saber we can make the saber sound like Luke’s from ANH or Yoda’s from the prequels. We have even made our own font sound effects to match our sabers.

Are there any premium versions or upgrades available?

Ion: We can craft additional accessories for our sabers. Wooden hand painted boxes to store your hilt safely, pendant kill keys which you won’t loose and can carry like jewellery (that was my idea!), etched clip on holsters for sabers.

Zak: Neopixel is all the rage right now (led strips were “in” a few years ago), it’s a very premium option, the sound card that runs on the saber can start from £20 and go up to £200. The higher end sound cards can have multiple sound effects and fonts, so you can switch between the gentle hum of Obi Wan to an aggressive Maul hum.

Since we design every saber from scratch and budget we can always use premium options like real ray skin same (leather) from Japan on the tuska ito Japanese katana wrap.  

Crystal chambers with real Tibetan quartz that’s hand selected by myself is another premium option, however these can’t be duelled with so it’s not a popular option for our customers as they become “shelf queens” or cosplay sabers.

Have a look at the Neopixel Kylo Ren it’s got all of the above premium options.

Are the blades detachable for costume and display purposes?

Ion: All hilts have detachable blades. Sometimes you need that for safety when carry sabres on public transport too. You can insert blade plugs, to have nice and safe effect of glow. (Never shine with saber into your eyes, when blade removed and plug not in.)

Zak: We also provide blade plugs so when the blade is detached the saber still looks cool.

I did use one of your lightsaber’s during a recent Silver Sabres taster session and I couldn’t believe the balance in weight that they have, it just felt so comfortable. Is there an art to balancing the hilt and blade?

Ion: Oh, that one had shorter blade this is why felt so comfortable. I like to do spins so being short height had blade cut shorter. Adding extra weight at pommel or emitter helps balancing, nothing complicated.

Zak: Balancing is a major part of our sabers when I lathe the final design I need to make sure there’s a balance, so I often incorporate weight management into the design of the saber.

What makes it harder is the fact that the internals also play a part, the motion sensor which senses the effect of the swing needs to also be in the right spot in the hilt otherwise it doesn’t accurately make swing sounds.

Is it possible for you to upgrade a retail purchased lightsaber, customise it and or bring it up to combat standard?

Ion: Yes, it’s mostly Zak who does all conversions.

Zak: Yep converting master replicas lightsabers, this is how we started as a JQ Sabers affiliate and is the bread and butter of our business.

What is your usual turnaround time for an order from start to finish?

Ion: 4 to 6 months. If design is very simple it goes faster, if it is conversion where parts are rare, may take longer.

Zak: Parts … everything that’s not handmade by myself comes from the states if something is out of stock we end up waiting months, the biggest killer is the sound boards these can take 6 months to be in stock.

Are there any new developments that you are working on that you can share with us?

Ion: We often try incorporating printmaking techniques while decorating saber. So, to say new – forgotten old. For example, like using aquatint technique, dry needle, or experimenting with etch depth. Also planning get tools and try engraving someday. Old masters like Rembrandt, Goya, Durer are my inspiration in this.

Zak: We are currently working with JQ Sabers to have some Arduino boards made, can’t talk too much because I already let the cat out the bag mentioning it.

Do you have any convention visits in the coming months where our readers can see your products in action and take a look for themselves?

Ion: I plan to be at MCM London again in October. Will have with me just my personal sabers. Fingers crossed, double bladed will be finished, which I plan to use in unchoreographed display fights.

Have you had any famous clients to date?

Zak: Ray Park (aka. Darth Maul) recently tried my saber and he loved the balance of the saber, he stated it’s the only saber he’s held that was balanced from a martial arts point of view. It’s a shame I didn’t record him swinging it around I was just in awe of his skills.

Thank you so much for your time, we wish you every success and look forward to seeing you both again soon!

Stratagem Sabers have a their very own website and can be found via Social Media on Facebook and Instagram.

Be sure to check them out and if you are thinking of buying your own custom lightsaber, please remember to let them know that Jedi News sent you.

Steve Galloway
Steve was 5 years old when he saw Star Wars for the first time during its first UK cinema release. He considers himself a first generation Star Wars fan and in his own words is a ‘Child of 77’.