Making a Gas Pump Nozzle Lightsaber: An Interview with ‘Octane’ Creator Wiley Abt

‘Octane’ gas pump nozzle lightsaber | IMAGE CREDIT Wiley Abt

Star Wars fan Wiley Abt recently decided to convert a broken gas pump nozzle into a realistic lightsaber. Wiley set out to create a functional, trigger-style custom saber that lights up and makes sounds. SaberSourcing interviewed Wiley Abt about the quirky lightsaber project.

How did you come up with the idea to make a broken gas pump nozzle into a custom lightsaber?
There’s a few answers to that, so I’ll just put them out in order: It started with taking the pump home just to take it apart and find out how it worked. I’m naturally curious about machines and such. Of course, in the back of my head through the disassembly process was a little voice saying “Make a lightsaber, just do it. It’ll be fun!” and once I had the thing apart I saw there was plenty of space for the electronics if I got creative.

I did have to drill a few extra holes, which you can see in some of the pictures, and find a way to get the speaker into the regulator cap, among a few other things. By the point I was thinking about all of that, I was invested and I just couldn’t let it go. I had to turn it into something usable one way or another.

Also in the back of my head was the idea of a “trigger saber,” something I had read about on Wookiepedia years ago, and then could never find again. As far as I know it’s not canon, but the idea was a lightsaber with a more unstable blade that could be turned on and off almost instantly, often for sneaky tricks in the midst of combat. While most of the sabers we see in the movies, Dooku’s in particular, have a dead man’s switch that turns off the saber when dropped, the trigger saber takes it a bit farther. That idea stuck in my head, and I tried to make it into a reality here. It didn’t quite work that way, but more on that later.

So I guess the short answer is that the opportunity presented itself, I had a random thought that stuck, and then I took the hurdles along the way as a personal challenge.

The Octane bears a passing resemblance to the Ezra Bridger lightsaber-blaster hybrid. Is the slightly similar appearance intentional or a coincidence?
Purely a coincidence. The inspiration for this saber was wholly disconnected from Rebels, and I only realized the similarity much later when a friend pointed it out to me. I love Ezra’s first saber for a lot of reasons. I like the kit-bashed aesthetic of it, and I love the idea of a saber/blaster hybrid. That being said, I actually intended to not have the hand-guard at all in the first iterations of the design. Then I realized I needed the hand-guard for proper stability for the trigger, and to protect the trigger/plunger mechanism that pushes the internal switches. So, it wasn’t intentional, but I’m certainly not complaining, and I love the comments I’ve been seeing comparing the two.

‘The Octane’ gas pump nozzle lightsaber (left) and Ezra Bridger lightsaber-blaster hybrid (right) | IMAGE CREDIT Wiley Abt (left) and Lucasfilm/Disney (right)

How does the weight, maneuverability, and functionality of The Octane lightsaber compare with other lightsabers?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. It’s very heavy compared to the other sabers I own. Unfortunately, you can’t choke up on the grip, or use two hands to mitigate the weight. Almost all of the weight is in the front of the saber, above the handhold. The curve, sharp as it is, and not in a convenient place to fit in the palm can get very awkward. However, if you like heavy hilts with a balance point ahead of your hand, it works. Likewise, while the curve is awkward, it leads to some very interesting angles and changes in direction mid-swing for the blade.

It’s definitely finicky, but I intend to practice, and duel, with it until I’m as comfortable using it as any of my others. As for durability, well, I’m not worried about it breaking during any of those duels. The body is pretty much solid cast aluminum, and with the rubber protective cover, I’m not concerned about any battle damage it may receive.

The Octane is the second time you’ve done a lightsaber electronics install. What was your first lightsaber install and how did installing The Octane compare?
The first one was a Saberforge Outcast, also with an NBv4 [Plecter Labs Nano Biscotte V4] soundboard and a Tri Cree LED module. The builds are actually very similar. The Outcast has a chassis, but no charging port, and only the one switch. The Octane has a charging port, no chassis (until I design and print one that will work) three switches (one external, two internal,) and a whole lot of weirdness in its internal arrangement. For example, The Octane isn’t an empty tube; it has all the housings for the mechanical parts that make a gas pump work. It’s just not designed to fit a battery, speaker, soundboard, LED module, and all the wires and goodies in between. A whole lot of cramfu went into the Octane that I didn’t need for the Outcast.

Worth noting, I started working on the Octane around the same time I started putting together the Outcast. Once I figured out where everything would go in the Octane, I switched my focus to the Outcast so I would have one successful NBv4 install under my belt before getting even more complicated.

Can you describe some the most challenging aspects of The Octane install process?
Figuring out how to make the internal switches behave correctly. Spoilers, I didn’t. At least not completely. Part of my idea when working on the saber was to have as many of the original mechanical parts of the pump included, and functional, as possible. The big one is the plunger connected to the trigger. When there’s no pressure on the trigger, the plunger holds pressed a couple of limit switches under the speaker. Those two switches, one for the LED and one for the speaker, cut those parts out of the circuit, ideally without cutting power to the board. In the case of the speaker, it works. Not so much with the LED.

The original vision was to press the external button to turn on the saber, and then have the trigger turn on and off the LED and speaker, effectively bypassing the boot up and boot down sequences of the board. That didn’t work quite as planned, so Instead of that fancy feature, the Octane has a dead man’s switch. Even with this partial success, getting the switches to work, while not getting any wires in the way, and getting all of it soldered together with enough slack to still dismantle the saber later if needed was definitely the biggest challenge.

Any plans on modding the hilt further by adding greeblies, etchings, wrap, weathering, etc.?
I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t have any concrete plans for it either. With the saber set up as is, I can’t remove all of the electronics without cutting wires. While that’s not much of a problem, I’d rather not start cutting up its guts too soon. That being said, I do have two more gas pump nozzles ready to be converted, so I may make some different cosmetic choices with those. In the mean time, I’ll probably beat it up sparring while I figure out how I want to modify it.

What’s your favorite lightsaber from Star Wars Canon or Legends and why?
Tenel Ka’s saber. Hands down. Pun not intended. I love the idea of housing a lightsaber in a rancor tooth. It appeals to the paleontology side of me, especially since I’d like to do something similar with a human femur cast. Tenel Ka’s saber is unique, novel, says a great deal about her character, and looks beauitiful every time I see it illustrated.

What’s next for you?
Well, I have the next two gas pumps, a [Master Replicas] Mace Windu lightsaber conversion to finish, at least 10 hilts in varying stages of installation (mostly empty) a new blade diffraction film I’ve been tinkering with, and the ungodly horror that will be thick walled 3/4″ blades. I have no clue which of those things really counts as “next” since I tend to bounce around between projects. Even so, I’m going to enjoy every second of the ride, no matter which stop comes up first.

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