Lightsaber Etching and Artistry: An Interview with Shadowcrest Design

Lightsaber etching by Shadowcrest Design
Lightsaber etching by Shadowcrest Design | IMAGE CREDIT Shadowcrest Design

It’s hard to believe that Shadowcrest Design, a now popular and established lightsaber etching company, started out as a failure. Dale Sniderhan first started the company to make business logos and corporate design. The idea flopped. Then in 2015, after Sniderhan rediscovered his passion for lightsabers, Shadowcrest Design started evolving into its present day form: a successful and growing lightsaber etching and powder coating company.

SaberSourcing interviewed Dale Sniderhan about his lightsaber etching company, Shadowcrest Design.

How did you become interested in lightsabers and etching lightsabers?
I became interested in lightsabers back in 2011, I believe. It was a round the time I was hardcore playing MMORPG’s and I was really into SWTOR. It really opened up my mind to the idea that not every Jedi had a cookie cutter saber. I still have my first saber. It was an Ultrasabers Manticore. Funny enough it was my first saber etch that wasn’t a practice metal.

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So the etching side of it also plays into the same thing (MMORPG’s). It was 2015 now and I had 2 kids. I just needed something to take my mind off of gaming and kick the habit. I started a company called Shadowcrest Design to make business logos and do corporate design. That didn’t go so well LOL. Then I stumbled across sabers again and Ryan Heller was one of the first etchers I saw. He was to me the reason I started etching. I wanted to make art like he did.

Once a fan, I am glad to say I know him and the other Ryan (lol inside joke) as personal friends now and our late night crazy idea rants really shaped the way etching is done in the community today. Now it is 3 years later and my whole life is etching, or powder coating, or cutting shrouds. It is a dream really.

Can you describe your creative process, from concept to completion?
I should start this out by saying I am probably the only etcher that doesn’t have a “style.” I immerse myself in the art of the idea I am given. The creative process for me starts out with a small or large idea from the client. It could be a game, movie, art, anything. I then research. Research for me can be purchasing the game I am asked to replicate on the saber. I am not kidding, too. If I haven’t played the game or watched the movie, I will. What better way to research then to get drawn into a storyline.

I remember playing through Darksiders 2 and I saw a door. Just a door but it was beautiful. Like as you walked up to it in the game you didn’t see anything else. So I said screw it and I etched that door into a saber LOL. Still one of my favorite etches today. After the idea is done I kind of just [watch] Netflix and design. I need that background noise to sort of drown out everything else. Twenty to thirty hours later (hate to admit sometimes in one sitting) the design is in front of me.

How has your approach to etching evolved over the years? What’s changed and what’s stayed the same?

Lightsaber etching by Shadowcrest Design
Lightsaber etching by Shadowcrest Design | IMAGE CREDIT Shadowcrest Design

This is a hard one to answer. I think Moose can explain it best just by showing you the first design i ever sent him for a Miami Dolphins etch. It was simple because at the time I was using stickers to etch. I would cut out my designs on sticker paper and then put it onto the saber and etch it. It was not a great method.

With the advent of PnP blue transfer paper you were not held back anymore. Really, anything that you want to put onto a saber you can. Funny enough now that I am not held back by a dremmel for shroud design, the CNC machine is allowing me to cut out any shape I want for a shroud. I just did a dragon shroud that came out amazing. The only thing that I think has stayed the same is my acid mixture…Like I am still using the same mixture I started with 3 years ago. Just add more and go. It’s not pretty.

What’s the most challenging and rewarding part about running Shadowcrest Design?
Challenging is the easiest answer I can give. The emails. I am a one man operation and as I become more and more popular the emails become more and more. Some days I sit down to design and I email for 4 hours. It really is taxing, especially when the inevitable “I don’t like it now that it is in front of me” comes up. It happens. The hardest thing I can do each day is to suck up my ego and say “well lets make it right.”

The best part is summed up by a live stream I did a while back where a culmination of 3-4 months of cutting and designing came to the final steps, putting the saber together. I had never done it before but I live streamed the final attaching of the shrouds and people got to see me live actually break down a bit because this piece that I molded from pipes and a generic saber turned into art in front of everyone. It was a great moment and it made everything else going on sort of melt away. CORNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol

What advice would you give to someone considering getting a lightsaber etched by Shadowcrest Design or anyone else that does lightsaber etching?
So if you wanted me to do it I would say have a small idea. It is all we really need and we can have fun from there. Do not be afraid to say no to the first design. It helps us all if we get it right. Everything else should just be fun making your dream saber a reality.

In December 2018 you released a Sith reusable design saber. How does the reusable design saber fit into your larger vision for Shadowcrest Design? When will you release additional reusable design sabers?
So the reusable design sabers is a way to really get my art into the hands of people. That Sith design literally has hundreds of design hours behind that pattern. It comes from the acolyte helmet but getting it right was a killer of a job.

The larger picture of Shadowcrest Design is that even if we are going to do a redesign its going to be the best design. Your not getting a thrown together piece from me just to have it. That does not mean I am moving away from custom pieces it just means that I have a huge oven, if I can transfer multiple sabers then why not do it. So right now I currently have the Jedi and Sith design completed. Over the next 3-4 months I will be releasing 4 more designs. I will also have some shroud kits (pre-cut shrouds) that you can purchase to make your MHS V2 sabers a much cooler saber. You will only need to know how to drill and tap to use these kits. So some minor DIY is needed.

Can you describe an unexpected customer request?
An unexpected request… IDK I try and make everything happen so unexpected is kind of just a wall I have to climb. I got it! A while back I was asked to find a way to have the kill key attached to the bottom of a saber I was designing. I was just going to drill a kill key like he wanted and hang it from the bottom of the saber like a tassel but that just seemed too easy. So I came up with an idea of a locket. Went to Hobby Lobby and I found a see through heart locket that opened and sure enough the kill key fit perfectly in it. Found some leather strands, braided them together and boom he got a badass tassel on the bottom of his saber to hold his kill key.

I want to find a etching request but its too hard because like I said earlier I pride myself on immersing myself into the idea and making a style my style. Though I did do a Stewie Griffen saber like 2 years ago that was pretty boss.

Can you describe one of your favorite designs that was hard to part with?
I think for this saber I have to go back to the door saber I was talking about earlier from Darksiders. That stupid door just spoke to me LOL. I wish I took better pictures back then but I’ll include one for the article.

What’s your favorite lightsaber from Star Wars Canon or Legends and why?
The Starkiller saber… I think that one is canon… are games canon? Personally it just seems like it has so much soul. At least more then we usually get.

What’s next for you?
Next is big! We have a whole line of cosplay resin blasters, helmets and armor being designed now. I will always do sabers, but I am partnering with a new entity to bring amazing pieces of cosplay art to life. So much to talk about. After that I want to start the sky is the limit.

Personally I want to fund and supply props to some indy movies and see about getting my art into the movies. But my grounded forever love will always be working with my commissions to collaborate on some amazing art!

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