How To Build A DIY “SaberStrip” For $30

There’s no denying the original SaberStrip is a very portable and versatile piece of kit. However, at $135 each you might find yourself with other priorities photographically.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip" For $30

I have been curious about this type of modifier for a while and have really wanted to try it out for event photography. Inspired by the original SaberStrip design and the DIY work of my friend Todd Gardiner, I set out to see if I could build one myself. I’m pretty happy with the results of my home-built “SaverStrip” and in the end the project only cost me $27.50 and left me with enough fasteners, fabric, and tape to build several more.

Click on any of the images below to enlarge the view.How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

What you’ll need:

  • (1) 4″ X 48″ Mailing Tube (you may be able to use a 3″ depending on the size of your speedlight)
  • (1) Roll white duct tape
  • (1) Roll tin foil duct tape
  • (1) Door handle
  • (1) 1/4″ - 20 X 1/2″ round head machine screw (shorter possibly if you can find them)
  • (4) 1/4″ fender washers (takes up the slack in the 1/2″ fasteners, more on this later)
  • (4) #8-32 X 5/8″ tapered head machine screws
  • (4) #8-32 nuts
  • (4) #8 washers
  • (1) yard white rip-stop nylon
  • Pen / pencil
  • Razor knife
  • Awl, punch, or drill
  • #2 Philips screwdriver

The photo below doesn’t show the foil tape but it can be found in the HVAC section of most major hardware stores.

diy-saber-strip

Putting it all together…

The mailing tube can be modified easily and has plastic end caps which are fairly sturdy. We’ll use one of these caps later on to make a mounting base for the speedlight.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

You’ll need to draw two parallel lines on the face of the tube to mark your cutout. My very clever wife Susanne came up with the idea of laying the pencil flat on the table and scoring a line. This ensures your marking device can’t wander. Once you have your first line, just roll the tube the same distance as the width of your cutout and do it again. I ended up doing a bit of experimenting to get the width right.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip" How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

I found out via their website that the commercially made SaberStrip is 39″ long. I opted to make mine 40″ long because I was going to have a little dead space at the end of the modifier to give me an area to apply my tape to. The opening is 40″, minus the width of the duct tape (top) and the height of the speedlight (bottom). Mark around the tube as needed and cut out the unwanted strip using a razor knife.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

After cutting, the edges were a little tattered so I edge-taped them with a bit of the white duct tape.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Next we need to line the interior of the tube with foil tape to make it more reflective. The material is pretty easy to work with but I suggest peeling off the backing only a little as the time and work from one end to the other.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Once you’ve got your tape covering all the brown cardboard on the interior, trim the excess off the ends with your razor knife. Very nice!

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

I opted to also apply foil tape to the top cap as well.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

I needed a way to secure the speedlight inside the modifier. Fortunately the little stand that came with the light is perfect. I just placed it on the cap, marked the 1/4″ – 20 thread location, and cut a hole.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Using the 1/4″ – 20 X 1/2″ machine screw and 1/4″ fender washers, secure the stand to the cap.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

I mounted the speedlight inside the tube and tested the balance point.  It was just above the lower section where the light itself sits.  Place the tube on the edge of your table so that it lays flat on the open edge that you cut out. This will make the tube sit flat. Then position your handle and mark the fastener locations.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Using an awl or drill, create four holes where your handle will mount.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Using the #8-32 screws, washers, and nuts — tighten down your fasteners.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Next cut a strip of your rip-stop nylon that is a bit wider than the opening in your modifier.  Using the white duct tape, secure the material to the tube.  I started by securing the top, then the bottom. Then, by applying a strip the entire length of the opening to the fabric only, I was able to stretch the material tight to pull out wrinkles.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

That’s pretty much it! Here’s my first test fire with the speedlight inside.

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

My default test subject: my clown collection (yes, I have one of those).

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

And here are a couple quick shots with the new modifier.  I like the catchlights!

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

How To Bulid A DIY "SaberStrip"

Thanks for checking out my DIY SaberStrip tutorial.  If you appreciate this please like or tweet it. Also, if you create your own please comment and let everyone know how it went. Feel free to include links to example photos!

About The Author

Andrew Birklid is a portrait and landscape photographer as well as a tinkerer based in Seattle, WA. You find his portfolio here and follow his social media on Twitter, Facebook and G+ on their respected links. This post originally appeared here.

  • negroku

    Great tutorial, i made one with same principle but couldn’t get the mailing tube so I use instead a plastic black tube, used to store architectural blueprints.

  • /digsey

    I made the same kind of thing but smaller with a pringles tube… cutting a slot in the lid makes for an easy “push on” speedlight fitting

    • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

      I made a Pringles strip light too, but it was too small for any of my flashes (except an old Canon 420EX that I don’t use anymore). It was too small for LumoPro or Yongnuo flash heads. :-/

  • Didrik Etholm

    I’ve made something similar only with LED strips for constant lighting

  • Ed

    Very interesting project but, truth be told, I’ve never heard of a saberstrip before. What are its uses as compred with more commonly used tools? Thanks.

  • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

    I love how your dinner is sitting there uneaten in a couple of these shots. :-)

    This is something I might try soon, just because it’s cheap, and I can… But I’m curious about the need for the door handle — what is its purpose? Could probably get this closer to $20 or below without the door handle, right?

    (Also, if you own a variable cold shoe, you won’t have to worry about the diameter of the tube so much; it might work even better than the plastic stand that came with the flash.)

    • http://www.andrewbirklid.com Andrew Birklid

      A man’s gotta eat!

      The handle is used to hand-hold the modifier. I built this device specifically for low-light event photography. I just hold the light up with one hand and my camera in the other and fire away. You can easily shoot groups of 4 or so people with this when held perpendicular to the floor.

      The tube diameter in my case was selected to accommodate the size of tube + the side-mounted RF receiver. Truth be told, 3.5″ diameter would have been more ideal but I couldn’t find those readily available for purchase.

      • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

        Thanks for the explanation, which makes sense. :-)

  • Trifilmer

    Maybe I am missing something…how does the flash inside the tube fire? Radio? Optical slave? I am not getting that part of it. Other than that, pretty cool. Instead of a door handle, I would put a stud on it and then be able to mount it to a light stand.

    • http://www.andrewbirklid.com Andrew Birklid

      In this case I’m using the radio triggering system that comes with the Godox V850 speedlights I use.

  • Doug Birling

    4in pvc drain pipe also works well and will probably far outlast the cardboard, I made a few of these and they do work well.

    • http://www.andrewbirklid.com Andrew Birklid

      Doug, true that PVC is more durable. I am going for portability with this design and used cardboard because it is very lightweight.

      • Doug Birling

        there are 2 different types, thin wall which is the kind you would use outside, and thick wall, the kind used inside. If you use the thin wall, it is fairly light not sure if the difference to cardboard.

        I mention, not to argue a point, but to aid others in their builds.
        take care.

        • http://www.andrewbirklid.com Andrew Birklid

          Good point Doug. I have also been looking into frosted acrylic tubes for this purpose. . The unfortunate thing about that material is that the cheapest I can find it is $14 per foot. It sure would clean up the fabrication though — just use sheet vinyl to mask the areas you don’t want to leak light.

  • Jay Scott

    I have to agree with Trifilmer. I was just about to buy the pieces to build one based on a few of my past constructions and the most obvious thing smacked in the face. Where does the trigger attach?

    In my case, I was planning on using it with a SB-28, which has the PC sync port on the side. I wanted to upgrade from my Pringles cans (which was mentioned in the comments earlier) because only my little Sunpaks fit in them and I wanted a larger light source that could be powered by a stronger speed light. I don’t really want to move up to a 4 inch tube, but stay with the 3 inch tube as it will hold a SB-28 very nicely without too much play. My previous strip light made of some vinyl eaves trough had too much play and for portable uses I was always afraid something was going to break.

    I thought about just cutting a hole in the tube at the appropriate location for the cord, but I have permanently threaded screw lock PC sync cords in my SB-28′s because the port is a bit finicky unless it is a very secure cord. Cutting a slot to slide the flash in would greatly affect the tube’s structure and likely make the end cap fit poorly. Any other suggestions or thoughts from anyone about finding a solution to this significant detail?

    • http://www.andrewbirklid.com Andrew Birklid

      The OEM SaberStrip just passes your sync cable through a bushing in the bottom of the modifier. You could do something similar here. In my case I’m utilizing RF so I didn’t have a need for that.

  • http://www.andrewbirklid.com Andrew Birklid

    Here’s an example from a party I recently shot.

  • Todd Gardiner

    Thanks for the call-out.