James Hobson, a Canadian engineer and YouTuber based has created a filly functional lightsaber using plasma that can melt through metal. Hobson is known to his YouTube fans as “The Hacksmith” and he has accomplished incredible engineering feats in the past.
In a new video for Hacksmith Industries’ “Make It Real” series, Hobson shows how he was able to create the device. The video has already gathered over 12 million views. The lightsaber is attached to a portable backpack connected to a hilt that pumps out a constant stream of propane gas which. Once the gas is mixed with oxygen, it creates a beam of plasma that looks very similar to the lightsabers from the Star Wars franchise. The device burns at over 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that it can cut right through thick pieces of metal and steel.
In his video, Hobson also demonstrated how the color of the lightsaber can be changed by adding different salts to the mixture. For example, boric acid can make the beam green, while sodium chloride, more commonly known as table salt can turn it yellow. Calcium chloride will produce an amber color, while strontium chloride will turn the beam red.
“Even with all of our new equipment and capabilities, we’re still bound by the laws of thermodynamics. Well, theories say that plasma is best held in a beam by a magnetic field, which, scientifically, checks out. The issue is producing a strong enough electromagnetic field to contain a blade, well the lightsaber would have to be quite literally built inside a box coated in electromagnets, which turns it into a kind of useless science project,” Hobson explained in his video.
The device was incredibly expensive to make, the laminar nozzle alone cost about $4,000.
The lightsaber first appeared in the original Star Wars film and has since appeared in every Star Wars movie, with at least one lightsaber duel occurring in each main film installment. In 2008, a survey of approximately 2,000 film fans found it to be the most popular weapon in film history.
For the original Star Wars film, the film prop hilts were constructed by John Stears from old Graflex press camera flash battery packs and other pieces of hardware. The full sized sword props were designed to appear ignited onscreen, by later creating an “in-camera” glowing effect in post-production. The blade is a three-sided rod which was coated with a Scotchlite retroreflector array, the same type that is used for highway signs. A lamp was positioned to the side of the taking camera and reflected towards the subject through 45-degree angled glass so that the sword would appear to glow from the camera’s point of view.
Animator Nelson Shin, who was working for DePatie–Freleng Enterprises at the time, was asked by his manager if he could animate the lightsaber in the live-action scenes of a film. After Shin accepted the assignment, the live-action footage was given to him. He drew the lightsabers with a rotoscope, an animation which was superimposed onto the footage of the physical lightsaber blade prop. Shin explained to the people from Lucasfilm that since a lightsaber is made of light, the sword should look “a little shaky” like a fluorescent tube. He suggested inserting one frame that was much lighter than the others while printing the film on an optical printer, making the light seem to vibrate.