Clarification / Scope
There are many different types of foam swords. These range from cheap dollar store kids toys to high quality replicas and LARP Weapons. Here, we are focusing solely on LARP Swords or boffer swords. We are not including lower quality junk swords that just happen to be constructed out of foam. You will find a lot of these if you search on Google or Amazon. These would fall outside the scope of this article and outside the scope of the site.
Foam Sword Categories
Foam swords are also called boffer swords. They also include latex weapons. They are used for LARPs but are also used for battle gaming and reenactments.
There are four main weapon categories that these swords are grouped into. The categories are boffer weapons, heavy boffer weapons, latex weapons, and padded weapons. There is a huge amount of variety among all of these types. People create things using wildly different methods. Different organizations each have different standards for things such as the materials that can be used, the thickness requirements for padding, and overall how things need to be constructed.
Let's start with latex weapons because these are the coolest in my opinion. These are way more popular in Europe but are starting to to increase in popularity in the United States. I can’t even imagine why they wouldn’t become the most desired option overnight. The only downside I can think of is that the could be cost prohibitive, particularly if durability is important.
These are molded foam swords. They use latex rubber. They are airbrushed and given a coating of latex. They are made to look very realistic, definitely more so than standard boffer swords. The shapes are more accurately modeled to resemble real metal weapons. The paint also goes a long way towards making them look realistic. They don’t include heavy padding. It is relatively light, so you can’t just go around hitting people hard. They require more care when striking. You can’t just nail someone as hard as you want. If you don’t have that level of control, maybe don’t use these swords? You might need something with more padding used in combination with protective armor.
When we say boffer sword, we are really referring to a specific type of weapon. There is still a large amount variety even among boffer weapons but the term does not refer to just any foam weapon. It is more of a subcategory. A boffer sword is generally constructed using specific parts. A piece of PVC pipe is used as the core of the weapon. This is basically the main shaft that everything else is built around. A layer of protective foam is placed over the PVC core. This is usually either pipe foam or a pool noodle. Both work great and are easy to fit together. The final step is to wrap it with duct tape. This holds everything together and creates a very durable, practical weapon that can be easily wielded without having to worry too much about breaking it. If the layer of duct tape is ripped or punctured, it is easy to patch it up with more duct tape. These aren’t always the prettiest or most decorative swords but they work great. In unarmored fights, you can’t hit your opponent very hard. You still have to be careful. These are very common in LARPs that involve touch combat but not hard striking.
Heavy Boffer Swords
OK, so these are similar in concept to regular boffer swords discussed above. The main difference here is that the PVC pipe core is reinforced. This is usually done with strapping tape. This adds increased durability and also kind of holds things together if the weapon does break. These are used in full power, hard hitting combat. You are meant to hit hard with these. Combatants are also expected to wear appropriate armor. This doesn’t mean that they just wear a little bit of lite armor. You can’t wear decorative armor either. You need fair amount of relatively thick armor and it needs to provide actual protection because you are going to get hit. The SCA was noted as using heavy boffer weapons but their requirements have been changing. I’m not sure exactly how you would categorize these but you can see some examples of their instructions here:
OK, so that name doesn’t really help to differentiate these from other foam swords but it is considered a distinct category. This refers specifically to weapons used by the American battle gaming movement. These are kind of like normal boffer weapons except for a few very big key differences. First of all, these swords use at the very least double the amount of padding when compared to boffer swords. Beyond that they are normally constructed out of either carbon fiber or fiberglass cores. This results in lighter weapons. The surfaces that actually come into contact with a target must also be covered with cloth to prevent scratching the opponents skin (if they don’t have armor). These weapons are basically designed so that you can hit people and not worry about anyone getting hurt. This is what they are made for. It is kind of nice to not have to restrain yourself. You can just go right ahead and wallup your opponent. These are more geared towards actual combat rather than LARPing and acting out the motions of combat. As with boffer weapons, these don’t look as pretty or decorative as latex weapons.
Construction and Forging
You can buy some pretty decent foam swords online. This is probably the way to go if you are looking for latex weapons. It probably saves money constructing your own weapons but I wouldn’t view this as the primary reason for doing so. The real reason to build your own is because it is fun. You get to feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only that but when you carry your own custom built sword, you will always have that great feeling of knowing that you are carrying something that you made yourself. The ability to customize, decorate, and pretty much do things your way is a huge benefit of DIY boffer weapon construction.
A wide variety of different weapons are constructed for LARPing as well as for other medieval combat sports. Among these, a wide variety of swords are in use. You can pretty much either buy or construct just about any type of awesome LARP weapon you might want. The internet opens up doors for people to buy a huge variety of things you just wouldn’t be able to find in regular stores. It also gives people ideas and instructions for building their own. Groups of people with similar interests have been brought together through the internet. This has resulted in way more options than would have been available in the past. There is just so much available out there now it is amazing. You can build or acquire all sorts of swords whether you want a claymore, short sword, long sword, or some type of fantasy sword, you can take your pick. You can customize in any way you like and probably find other people with things you never would have thought of otherwise.
Each group will have its own standards and requirements. Not everyone follows these requirements. Many people may build weapons for home use among family and close friends. They will tend to be less organized and not follow strict guidelines. A lot of people just build whatever they feel like so long as everyone is OK with it.