Just a short update, but today I picked up the 3D print of my swept hilt.


I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and seeing it in full size is really interesting. It’s definitely a great feeling to see something you’ve made, given an extra dimension.


In my hand, for scale.

But beyond seeing it go from SketchUp to a piece of plastic in my hands, I have the feeling of seeing it go from a picture of a historical artifact to something I can hold in my own hands, in real size, without worrying about tarnishing a priceless piece of history.

And I think that’s the power of 3D printing that’s on display here. It allows anyone to get a hands on experience with something historical, or to make something historical and distribute it to the rest of the world. I could make this after several weeks of playing around in SketchUp, imagine what a real pro could do. The possibilities are very exciting.


And with that, I have completed the journey I have set out on, and there are three models waiting in the Download page.

span_glamour swept_glamour pap_glamour

It’s been an exciting and fun journey, and I can’t say it’s really over. I think I’ll try my hand at creating other things to 3D print as well, as it’s fun to think in three dimensional space.

While I await to get to see and touch the 3D printed versions themselves, I hope that if anyone has stumbled along on this page, then they can say they have learned a thing or two about 3D printing, rapiers, or SketchUp. The fact that you could learn about historical artifacts or cutting edge technology in one place is really fascinating to me, and one of the reasons I think digital history is an interesting field. It’s the exploration of history through technology, but vice versa, as well. Thinking about the artifact, then how to recreate it in software reveals interesting things about the software itself, and I think it’s a great way to learn a new tool.

For those of you who are reading this, I hope you try to do something similar. I began knowing only how to make simple boxes and squares in SketchUp, and I think you can see how much I’ve developed as a SketchUp user by just looking at the progression of quality in the hilts themselves. I’m sure that if I can do it, then anyone can as well, and if you do, I hope that some of the findings I’ve posted here are helpful to you.

I called this a journey, and if that’s what it was, then thank you for coming along with me!

Getting “Hole-y”

One of the features that seemed most daunting to me when beginning, was the unique guards on the Pappenheimer with the holes inside them.

To create the initial guard, it was a matter of creating a dome, then flattening it and getting it into the general shape I wanted. Then I copied it and placed it underneath, and connected the edges to make a solid.

Nice and solid

Nice and solid

Off to the side, make a rectangle large enough to fit whatever pattern you’d like to “punch out” from the piece you just made. Then, on that rectangle draw out your pattern using circles, or any other shape you’d like to try. After drawing out your pattern, use the Push/Pull tool to raise it high enough so that it can go through and intersect your guard, while leaving the rectangle NOT intersecting the guard. Afterwards, make a group out of both this rectangle and the guard, so that you have two groups.


Move the rectangular group underneath the guard, but make sure the pattern is intersecting the guard. Then, select both groups, right click, and select Intersect Faces -> With Selection. This will create edges for you wherever geometry is intersecting. Afterwards, select both groups again, but this time select Explode. This will remove your groups and leave geometry.

Now, one by one, delete the pieces that were attached to the rectangle, and sticking through your guard. Afterwards, delete the face that was created from the outline of your pattern. Note that the inside is hollow. Delete the piece directly underneath it to create a clear hole. Select the internal faces that create the hole’s edge, and flip them to create a solid. Repeat this for the entire guard. There may be small areas where the intersection wasn’t 100% clean, but these are usually minor and can be fixed with a few lines.

There you have it!

There you have it!

Now just triple click your guard, and you are set to make a new group.

“Smithing” the Curves

All of these rapier hilts have a lot of curves in their designs, and when first approaching SketchUp, it’s not immediately obvious how to create a curved object. So here are some of the things that helped me out.

The Extensions

Again, some extensions were very useful to me. There are three that I can think of:


This tool allows you to make more natural and intricate curves, more easily than with what is provided with SketchUp, which is just basic arcs. While I didn’t use it for the Cup hilt, it was invaluable in creating the Swept and Pappenheimer hilts.


This tool adds a number of default three dimensional shapes that can be created. Out of these I found the “Dome” to be the most useful, to cap off round “holes”.


This tool allows you to take any group you’ve made and bend it to an existing curve. I used it to create the hand guard on the Swept hilt.

The Processes

First of all, look at the shape you are trying to recreate, and try to divide it into a few curves that you can recreate with the Bezier Curve tool. When creating a Bezier Curve with the extension, you select two points that you are trying to connect, and then you get to select the angle and intensity that each end rests at. Guide points are extremely valuable for making it clear where you want these points to meet.

Creating a Bezier Curve

Creating a Bezier Curve

It might not be likely that you can create your desired curve with just one bezier curve. Luckily, the tool snaps to the three axes, and if it is attached to an end point, it can snap to the tangent of that point, creating what appears to be a single, smooth curve.

Creating a single, large curve

Creating a single, large curve

Of course, this is just a line. We’d like to take this into the third dimension, since our purpose is 3D printing. Create a circle perpendicular to one of the end points. Then double click your curve, select Tools -> Follow Me, and click on your circle.

Creating a solid curve

Creating a solid curve

You might need to reverse the faces to make sure they are white on the outside, indicating that it is solid, but now you have a three dimensional curve.

This curve has a pretty harsh ending, so let’s put a dome on the end of it. Using the guide tool, measure the radius of the circle, in my case it was 0.174046″. After you’ve installed the Shapes extension, go to Draw -> Shapes -> Dome and set Radius to your measured value. I’ve found setting Segments to 6 usually matches up with the default circles. The dome is created about the origin, and you can move it to one of the end points using the move tool. Then, view it on the side and rotate it 90 degrees to cap off the curve. Afterwards you can delete the internal face to get a solid again.

A perfect fit.

A perfect fit.

The Pappenheimer Hilt

I’ve finished the Italian Swept Hilt, and as soon as I get confirmation from the 3D Print Operator that it’s printable, I think I’ll add a Gallery and Download page to this blog.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

Meanwhile, it’s time to start work on the third and final style of hilt I want to work on, the Pappenheimer. This style is of a German origin, and rounds off the Spanish and Italian styles previously done. As before, I started the search on Wikimedia to get a picture of a real rapier of this style.

Teardrop Pappenheimer Sword

Teardrop Pappenheimer Sword

Afterwards, I pursued the wider Internet again for an accurate replica with a large amount of measurements available. The source I used for the Italian Swept Hilt style was really good, so I hoped to find something similar. Jackpot!

The styles aren’t identical, but they bear some noteworthy similarities. While they’re not identical, they have similar styles and should be a good base to start work from.

Italian Swept Hilt

Now that I’ve made some good progress and learned quite a bit on how to properly create objects for 3D printing in SketchUp, I’ve decided to begin working on the next style I’d like to re-create: The Italian Swept Hilt.

Using the Wikimedia page for rapiers, I found some pictures of the style.

A picture of an Italian Swept Hilt from Wikimedia

A picture of an Italian Swept Hilt from Wikimedia. This one in particular caught my eye.

Of course this page has the same problem as before, there are no measurements, and not a lot of pictures detailing different angles. So I performed a web search for Italian Swept Hilt replicas which brought me to this review. On there are many pictures from a variety of angles, lots of measurements, but best of all:

This is almost exactly the same design!

This is almost exactly the same design!

As you can see, it looks very similar to the one posted on Wikipedia! This makes it a great base for my SketchUp model.

Looking at this design, and as someone who wants to save time, I immediately look at some of the similarities. And there are quite a few, the cross guard is fairly similar albeit shorter, there is a guard over the hand across from the grip, and there is the round piece over the blade. I was expecting some commonalities between the blades, but it seems like between at least this design and the Spanish Cup Hilt, there seems to be a base that can be worked from.

With the new knowledge of SketchUp I’m armed with, I’m excited to get going on this new hilt.

Getting Solid: 3D Printing, SketchUp, and You

Since the intention has been to 3D print the models I was going to make with SketchUp, I started discussing 3D Printing with the University of Waterloo’s 3D Print Center. I attached my in-progress file for the operator there to take a look at it, when I got the news.

My file wouldn’t print properly.

I re-opened the .skp file I was working in, and made a few modifications around the parts the operator indicated were causing problems. I sent back the modified file.

Same thing, different places.

Clearly this is a huge problem, what’s the point of making a 3D printable model that can’t 3D print!? So, deep breath, take a step back, and tell yourself, “alright, I’m not doing something right.” Then, ask  “what am I doing wrong, or how can I do it right?” So, off to Google I go, and find a very helpful site, that I really should have read before I started anything:

So in an attempt to summarize some of that, here are the biggest take aways for me:

SketchUp Extensions

I recently did a presentation on my project and one of the aspects of SketchUp I praised was the ability to extend the base capabilities. There is one that is pretty much essential to 3D printing with SketchUp.

SketchUp STL

The .stl file extension is the most widely used file format for 3D printing, so being able to save your model in a format that is understood by 3D printing software and hardware is essential. This extension just includes an option to export and import .stl files of your 3D model. This is what I used to send files to the 3D Printing Operator.

Solid Inspector

This extension adds a mode that highlights problematic edges and areas in your model, and gives you a guideline of what to do to make it “solid”, which is necessary for your model to 3D print properly. If it’s not solid due to internal faces or geometry, this could potentially cause the 3D print to interpret your file in strange ways. What was happening with my files in particular was that sections would be printed in the support material that would eventually get dissolved, instead of the normal plastic. This would have caused problems with the final piece.

Back to Basics

On top of all this, the way I was constructing my model was really incorrect. Sure, it looked good on the surface, but as our mothers and PSAs have told us, it’s what’s on the inside that matters. To finally get my file in a state that could be printed properly, I went back to basics and built it all over, but this time using groups.


When you select a group of edges or faces, you can right click, and you’ll find an option to “Make a Group”. (Protip: Triple click to select all faces and edges that are touched by a piece of geometry) The advantage of groups is that when you move them, even if you intersect any edges or faces on the outside, it leaves the group untouched. If your selected geometry isn’t grouped, then SketchUp tries to intelligently intersect and merge the shapes. This sounds great in theory, but computers still aren’t really good at the whole “original thought” thing, and can result in things you don’t want. Plus, after it happens it’s a pain to move it again without moving a bunch of other pieces in the model.

Solid GRoups

An example of a Solid Group

An example of a Solid Group

Just groups alone make it a lot easier to work in SketchUp, but what is this solid business? As outlined above, an object needs to be “solid” to be 3D printed. In SketchUp, if you enable to Entity Info window (Window-> Entity Info) clicking on a group will immediately tell you whether it’s solid or not.

Once all your groups are solid and arranged how you want them, you should be able to export to STL, and you should be ready to print!

Getting Started

So now that the blog is set up, let’s get started.

The Plan

Since it’s hard to get a lot of angles from photos of primary sources, I will be looking to replicas to get some measurements and photos of different angles.

The general idea I’ll be going for is to get a total measurement for a rapier. This should give me a sense of scale, and using some math I should be able to get some measurements and figures to work off of to create in SketchUp.

The Plan in Action

Since they are the simplest, I plan to start with a Spanish style cup hilt rapier.

As mentioned previously, there are only two pictures of this particular piece, so I went searching for a replica that is made for sale. I found this site in particular: Looking at the Spanish Cup Hilt Rapier we find some measurements: 48″ overall and 42″ blade length, giving 6″ for the hilt. This seems a bit small, and looking at the photos we can see why. The blade continues through the cup, so we’ll need to figure out that distance as well. We have a 12″ width, so we know how long to make the cross guard.

I loaded up the image showing the full length in Photoshop and got out the ruler tool and made some measurements.

Length in Photoshop Length in Inches Conversion Ratio
Total Length 1400 48 29.17
Handle Length 151 6 25.17

Since the perspective changes in the photo, the conversion ratios differ. To get a decent estimate for it, I averaged the two to get a value of 27.17. I measured out the full hilt in Photoshop with a measurement of 237, and applying this ratio, that gives us a total length of 8.8″.

Using the same methodology we get a measurement of a height of about 2.8″ for the cup height, and we can use that as the radius to get a total width of about 5.6″.

So far the methodology seems to be working well so far. Using these measurements, the first part has been made: The cup itself.

SketchUp Screenshot


I hope to continue to use a similar method for the rest of the hilts I will be working on.

En Garde, World

As part of my evaluation in the University of Waterloo’s Digital History course, I am required to create a final project. For my project, I have chosen to create models of rapier hilts, with the end goal of 3D printing these models to allow historians and non-historians alike to experience the past in a tactile way.

I will be working from references found on wikimedia or on other places in the Internet. To create the 3D models, I will be using SketchUp. And of course, I am using WordPress to run this blog.

The purpose of this blog is to keep track of the ideas, and inevitable issues I have while undertaking this endeavour. In the end, I hope the posts are informative, and ideally can give others who would like to try to recreate historical objects for 3D printing to have some methodology to start from, and knowledge of pitfalls to avoid.