I saw a discussion about wands, and I wanted to offer my $0.02.
I find it almost sad that some people have the most incredible costumes - hand-sewn robes, perfectly movie-accurate accessories... and wands that look like they came from an elementary school arts and crafts class. What's really sad is that it's actually very easy to make your own hand-carved wooden wand.
I carve my own wands. Yes, the wooden dowel approach will create a functional wand that you can wave around, and as long as nobody looks too closely, it'll fill the requirement. However, it's very easy to carve your own wand from solid wood, and with some time and effort, you'll have something completely unique that you created yourself. I've carved nearly 50, and have sold most of them. You don't need a lathe. You don't need fancy foreign woods. And the only supply you need to start is a jackknife.
**WARNING**: If you're a young person, ask your parents BEFORE using a sharp knife. Or, if you're an adult who just doesn't seem to have the best eye-hand coordination, then this activity might not be a good idea for you. I don't want to be held responsible for people chopping their fingers off. Madam Pomfrey will NOT regrow your fingers for you.
Find a straight length of live wood. Yes, this involves going into the forest, looking closely at trees, and finding a suitable piece of wood. You'll want at least a 16-inch length to begin. Maple or birch works nicely for beginners, or any moderate hardwood (no pines, no spruces, no firs). I recommend against oak for beginners. It's extremely hard to carve. Strip the bark from the stick, and begin whittling. (You'll want the knife to be very sharp.) Use photos of wands from Alivans or Whirlwoods for inspiration, but (obviously) use simple designs if you're new to whittling. When you've carved out your wand, let it slow-dry by loosely wrapping it in a plastic bag. As it dries, it will try to curve. GENTLY, bend it against the natural curve with your hands so that it dries straight. (It will bend easily when it's still green wood, but as it dries, BE CAREFUL or you'll snap your wand.) You'll have to adjust it several times. When it's dry, sand it., Start
with medium-course sandpaper to smooth down the bumps, and then use fine sandpaper to make it nice and smooth. If you use ultra-fine buffing paper, you can literally polish the wood to a natural shine. Once you're done sanding, you can keep it as it is, you can use a spray-sealant (varnish, polyurithane, etc.), or you can stain it.
This is definitely a case of practice-makes-perfect. Your first wand will probably suck. Mine did. It was too short, it had a horrible curve, the design was poorly balanced, and the handle didn't fit my hand. Now, I carve some amazingly intricate designs, and have sold my wands for up to $140 at Harry Potter conventions, just peddling them out of my backpack. And as for the price of materials... I bought myself the jack-knife once, plus a sharpener. One can of spray-varnish or sealer costs about $6, and it will do over a dozen wands. Stains... I blend my own, and you can use almost any colour. I even stained one with strong black tea, and another with red wine.
Woods that I've used:
Ash, Aspen, Beech, Birch, Black Cherry, Blueberry, Dogwood, Fire Cherry, Holly, Lilac, Maple, Oak, Poplar, Willow
Anyhow, that was my solution to the question of adding a wand to a costume. If anyone here decides to try it, please let me know how it goes for you! And I can answer any questions you might have. Good luck, and happy carving!
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