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The right tool for the job

By Shamus
on Saturday Apr 8, 2006
Filed under:


Earlier I mentioned my backyard fence-removal project. I have three sections of fence down. Huff. Huff. Wheeze.

Sweet mercy this is a pain in the butt.

While I’m doing a job like this I can’t help thinking that I could turn days of back-breaking labor into a ten-minute job if I could just get my hands on a lightsaber. I could lop the fence posts right off with little or no effort. The only real work would be hauling the sucker away. I could also use the lightsaber to chop up the remaining scrap metal so it would be easier to transport or dispose of. Sure, lightsabers are a little dangerous, but are they that much worse than a chainsaw?

If lightsabers were possible, what would they be like?

Well, first off: They would make terrible weapons. A lightsaber is like a sword that acts as both a noisemaker and a beacon. Waving around bright colorful lights is usually a bad idea in modern combat situations. If you’re in a fight, you’re much worse off once you turn the thing on. Unless you have The Forcetm, then you are going to be filled with bullets long before you get anywhere near your opponent.

Pzhhhhhhz! Vwoom. Vrrrwwooooom. Pksh! Mwwahooom. Pxskz! Vrmomwoooom. Mwwahooom. Pksh sizzle!

No, lightsabers would not be weapons: They would be tools.

You could go to the hardware store and get a nice Black & Decker lightsaber, which could cut right through trees or metal beams in no time. It would cost a couple hundred. They would be a bit shorter than the ones in the movies, since you shouldn’t need anything more than 2 feet long unless you’re cutting down some really big trees, in which case you’d need to buy one of those industrial-grade lightsabers. Or, you could go for the inexpensive off-brand at Wal-Mart, which would have a handle made of cheap plastic and the blade would flicker or dim if you tried to cut anything heavy-duty. It would cost around $49.95 and the blade would only be a foot long. This would only be useful for small jobs, since it would be annoying and perhaps dangerous to use for big things like trees.

Handles wouldn’t be made of metal like in the movies. You really don’t want one of these slipping while you’re cutting, so the grip would be made of rubber. All of them would be designed with a safety switch that would need to be held down to keep the blade on, so if you dropped it the thing would turn off instantly. They would also require a key to operate, just to keep kids from playing with them. You’d probably insert the special key at the base of the handle and turn it to enable the lightsaber, and then grasp the handle and squeeze the dead man’s switch to turn it on. Some models might even be set up with two dead-man switches so that both hands were needed to keep it on. This would greatly reduce the primary risk, which is taking off one’s own forearm in a stray movement.

You’d need to wear insulated fireproof gloves for safety, because the stuff you’re cutting is going to get very hot and it’s going to be close to your hand. (Qui-Gon Jinn must have fire-proof hair and eyebrows, judging by how close his face gets to the molten metal of the door he cuts in Episode 1) Safety goggles or glasses are a good idea too.

I can’t imagine how the battery would work because the power requirements are going to be way beyond what the typical house can deliver (particularly through an outlet) and it’s many orders of magnitude beyond what current battery technology can hold. The power required to instantly melt metal is huge. Needless to say, this sucker’s going to be on the charger for a long, long time between uses.

Okay, this post went to a wierd place. Sorry about that. I don’t know how that happened.

UPDATE: Steven made some facinating comments below, be sure to check them out.

Comments (15)

  1. How about one of these? (By the way, they’re illegal in the US, and bloody dangerous no matter where you are.)

  2. …what I shoulda said was…

    We could build a portable light sword right now, or at least semiportable. They have been making kilowatt continuous beam CO2 lasers (IR) for quite a while, and such a beam can be run through a light pipe. So you’d have a generator unit, about the size of a refrigerator, plugged into wall power (with a thick power cord) and from it there’d be a cable (fiberoptic) leading to a cutting head you’d actually use for cutting down trees or cutting pipes.

    And it would be ridiculously dangerous. A kilowatt laser beam can cut people in half, and IR is invisible to our eyes. And like all light, it travels until it hits something.

    They’re used in industry, though. For instance, clothing companies start with a big table where they lay down something like 50 layers of cloth. Then a computer-controlled head goes over the top of the table (which is probably two yards wide and 20 yards long) and cuts out the cloth shapes needed to produce clothing. It uses one of those laser beams and there is a light-pipe connected to the computer-controlled head. I’ve seen film, and it’s cool to watch. It works particularly well with synthetics or synthetic blends, because the synthetic melts at the cut edge and it seals the weave so it won’t unravel.

    But you do NOT stick your hand in to that area while it’s cutting, because you can lose it.

  3. Shamus says:

    I really didn’t know they used lasers this way. That’s amazing. It’s a lot more dangerous than a real lightsaber. Heck, I think your dynamite idea from yesterday was safer.

    The thing that comes to my mind: What is the laser hitting on the other side of the clothes? It must be something VERY resistant to heating or heat damage.

    Looks like I’m still stuck with my low-tech solution: Shovel

    The upside of a shovel is that it’s pretty safe (not counting my back injuries) power-efficient (not counting the energy my body wastes) and quiet (if you ignore my continuous whining).

  4. They also use those lasers with light pipes in surgery. To cut in many operations now, instead of using a scalpel they use a light pen. It projects a small spot of visible light at all times so the surgeon can tell where he’s point it, and there’s a button which switches on the high power IR. One advantage of this is that it cauterizes the flesh as it cuts, so there’s a lot less blood.

    I don’t remember what they use for the surface of the platform under all the layers of cloth. However, I think that it isn’t much of a problem because they control the speed at which the head moves so that it burns through the cloth but doesn’t have much power left for the surface underneath it.

  5. Evil Otto says:

    And of course there will be inevitable lawsuits as some careless parent leaves an enabled lightsaber around the house and kids decide to play Jedi…

    “Look, Bobby, I’m Darth Maul!”
    “Oh yeah, well I’m Obi-Wan!”

  6. Evil Otto says:

    Hmm… weird. It cut off the rest of my comment. That’ll teach me to use brackets.

    Oh well, you get the idea about what happens to Bobby.

  7. Shamus says:

    Hmmm… not sure why it hosed your brackets.

    Thinking about lawsuits: Just imagine the guy who gets annoyed with the dual dead-man switches. He wants to pull aside brances with one hand and cut with the other. So he tapes one down, and then manages to lop off his forearm.

    I bet he’d get millions….

  8. retinaburn says:

    he would get millions, if he survived, and if the defendants did send him a “get well” package.

    “ooh look a package from those snivelling lawyers”

    …unless of course he would have to get someone to open the package for him, which missing an arm is very likely (if such an idiot even had friends). This would mean more lawsuits, and more “get well” packages.

  9. eric says:

    well you don’t need common sense to win a lawsuit. As long as the blasted thing dosen’t come with a warning label saying not to do that, he’ll win. Sooooo…… were can i get one of those, as well as a phone number for a good, and unethical lawyer.

  10. inara says:

    “Handles wouldn't be made of metal like in the movies… the grip would be made of rubber.”

    Part of the grip IS rubber, or at least somthing close.

    “… designed with a safety switch that would need to be held down to keep the blade on, so if you dropped it the thing would turn off instantly.

    Actually, alot of them are.

    “… require a key to operate, just to keep kids from playing with them. You'd probably insert the special key at the base of the handle and turn it to enable the lightsaber, and then grasp the handle and squeeze the dead man's switch to turn it on.”

    NOW we’re talking.

  11. Floppy-wan says:

    Well, the switch on Jedi lightsabers like Obi-wan’s and Luke’s ARE touchplates. Therefore they do operate like a safety switch that needs to be held down to keep the blade on.

    This explains why Luke’s lightsaber’s blade turns instantly off when he loses it in the Hoth Wampa cave.

  12. FlameKiller says:

    Luke did not lose his lightsaber in the wampa cave, it was off to begin with. he pulled it to his hand, cut himself free, cut off the wampa’s arm and ran. he never dropped it and the blade did not turn off. on cloud city darth vader kicks the lightsaber from his hand and then it turns off.

  13. Clay says:

    This of no use but you could of gone to a hire shop and hired a 12inch side grinder that would cut that fence up into little bits in next to no time.

    small 4inch grinder in picture.

  14. Tacoma says:

    Bulldozer rental. Armoring it and crashing through town is optional.

  15. uro says:

    Floppy-wan- “Well, the switch on Jedi lightsabers like Obi-wan's and Luke's ARE touchplates. Therefore they do operate like a safety switch that needs to be held down to keep the blade on.”

    Then in all the Star Wars games you can throw them and they stay on. They also return to you. I think it’s something to do with an ability Jedi Knights have to manipulate an invisible, all-encompassing energy called The Force.

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