Sometimes you need to make a wooden wizard staff for your next cosplay, but there’s no way to get ahold of an actual stick to use. Or maybe you need to create a wooden staff that has a very specific shape to match the character design. In these cases, I have found that the best way to mimic the texture of a wooden staff is by using aluminum foil and clay.
Like any other cosplay staff, you’ll use a PVC pipe as the base pole. But then, you’ll build the shape with a wire frame, and create a texture using foil and paper clay. These materials will help to create that natural texture that you need for the staff to look and feel like real wood.
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How to make a paper clay wooden wizard staff
To make a wooden wizard staff, we are going to use a hollow PVC pipe as a base (this keeps the staff lightweight). We’ll wrap wire around the pole to form an organic shape since I’ve never seen a stick in nature that is perfectly smooth or straight. Then we’ll fill in the surface and create more texture with foil and clay. In the final step, I’ll also go over how to paint the staff to make it look like a stick.
- A 3-ish foot long PVC pipe
- 9 gauge wire
- Hot glue
- Aluminum foil
- A large pack of paper clay
- Mod podge (or another primer)
- Multiple shades of brown acrylic paint
- A sponge or rough cloths
1. Add wire around the PVC pipe
Use your PVC pipe as the base for your staff:
- Cut 3 or 4 long pieces of wire. Mine are about 2 feet long, but they don’t have to be any specific length.
- Starting with the first piece of wire, stick one end into the hollow center of the PVC pipe. Twist the other end to form a twisted branch-like shape.
- Repeat the process with the other pieces of wire, bending and twisting the wire pieces around each other until you form the shape you want. We are creating a basic wire frame that we can fill in with foil later, so create a loose structure, rather than tightly wrapped wire.
- After you’ve created a shape for the head of your staff, you still need to add some wire around the pole of the staff. Wrap the wire around the staff, but try not to make any specific spiral pattern. Let the wire bump away from the pole in sections or even wrap it back down around itself to give the pole a more stick-like shape.
- Once you are happy with the general shape of your wire, use a little hot glue to set it in place. Otherwise, the wires will continue to move around while you add the foil and clay. The glue makes it less likely to twist and crack the clay later on after you’ve finished your staff.
2. Fill in the wire structure with aluminum foil
To give your staff shape and structure, you’ll want to use a lot of aluminum foil in and around your wire frame.
- Take your foil and start packing it around your wire. Make sure it gets nice and crinkly as you go since this will help you create a more realistic texture for your staff.
- Make sure you cover the sharp points of the wire pieces so you don’t have to worry about cutting yourself later.
- You can also wrap the foil around individual wires to create the appearance of thinner vines wrapping around your staff or smaller branching-off sections.
- If necessary, use a little hot glue to tack down any pieces of foil that don’t want to stay put. Most of the foil will stay in place once you’ve packed it around the wire, but there will always be a few that like to fall off and need a little extra help.
- Continue wrapping the foil around the entire length of the PVC pipe, creating texture and bumps around the wire you added previously. It’s fine if you don’t get every single inch of the pole covered, but make sure you get most of it.
3. Cover the whole staff with paper clay
Now that the base of your staff is ready, you just need to cover it with a thin layer of paper clay. The clay makes the surface more paint-able, and it makes it easier to create natural-looking lumps and bumps. Once the clay dries and hardens, it also makes the whole staff a lot sturdier and less likely to bend, break, or start shedding pieces.
All you have to do is:
- Take a handful of clay
- Roughly flatten it in your hand
- Press it around the outside of your foil staff
- Repeat until the entire staff is covered in a thin layer of clay
I like to have some very thin areas where the foil sticks through a little. This will give the staff more variety in texture, which makes the whole thing more organic and realistic. I ended up using almost an entire 16 oz package of paper clay for this staff, so you want to make sure you have plenty of clay on hand.
You can use other types of clay if you want, but I recommend paper clay. Paper clay does not need to be baked, and it will harden in the air as the moisture evaporates. The paper clay will usually take 24-48 hours to dry out completely depending on the humidity of your environment.
If you can’t finish the entire staff in one sitting, place a damp cloth or paper towel over the top of the staff. This will keep the clay from drying out completely, so you can continue to work with it tomorrow. Keep the rest of the paper clay in an air-tight container.
4. Prime and paint the staff
Wait until the clay has completely dried before starting to paint it. If you don’t, mold can start to grow underneath your paint layers and ruin your staff.
Before adding color, you need to prime and seal the surface of the staff. This is very important when using paper clay, so don’t skip it. If hardened paper clay gets wet, it goes back to being moldable clay, so the primer seals the surface and makes sure no moisture can reach the clay. Mod Podge is what I use to seal paper clay, but any primer you want to use will work just fine.
Find a rough-textured paintbrush to add 2-3 layers of primer to your staff. As the primer dries, the roughness of the brush will add even more texture to the surface of your staff. You’ll end up with tiny ridges all along the length of your clay.
How to create a wood-like paint effect
I have a whole blog post that goes over my technique for painting wood-like textures in more detail. But this is the basic idea:
- Gather 3-5 different shades of brown. The darkest shade you use is going to end up being the main color of your staff.
- Use the lightest shade of brown you have and paint a solid base layer with the color. Always let the paint dry in between layers.
- Rip up your sponge into small pieces, or gather some pieces of rough cloth. The cloth will be ruined after this, so make sure it’s some scrap fabric or something you’re okay with throwing away.
- Dip your sponge or cloth in the second lightest color and streak it over the top of the staff. You want to make a very thin layer of paint so that you can still see the bottom layer underneath. Make sure to only move the sponge vertically along the staff, so that you create streaks in a single direction.
- Repeat the process with the other shades of paint.
- Use the darkest shade of brown to hand-paint the cracks and details that may have been missed with the sponge.
- With the sponge, add some dabs of the lighter colors to the edges and highlights of the staff.