In the SCA we use rattan canes, wrapped in tape, to simulate medieval weapons. To put a basic sword together, here's what you do.
1. Get a basket hilt. You can order plastic hilts from IceFalcon or Valkyrie Forge for ~$30, or metal ones from any number of places for ~$45. Most folks prefer plastic.
2. Get some rattan. Frank's Cane usually has the best prices. You want yellow rattan (with the skin on). 1.25 inch is the minimum diameter but I recommend 1.5 for most people.
3. Get some tape. You will need strapping tape (the clear kind with the fibers) and duct tape. You can use cloth hockey tape in place of duct tape, and it looks cool, but is more expensive.
4. Cut to length. A good starting length is just short enough to miss the floor when you swing it downwards. You can get this measurement by swinging a yard stick.
5. Plane down the sides. You can use a plane or a drawknife for this. Be careful to make sure that no part of the stick is less than 1.25" wide.
6. Shape the handle. An oval cross section works pretty well but it really comes down to whatever fits your hand. I recommend against round though because it will rotate on you. I usually use a belt sander for this but knives, files, and sandpaper work.
7. Install a "trigger." A loop of soft leather or nylon webbing, like in a seatbelt or backpack strap, can help you hold onto your sword and also make your blows start a little faster. Fold a piece around your first two fingers, grab the handle of your sword, then screw the material to the stick about 2" above your hand and trim off the excess.
8. Attach your basket hilt. Some metal hilts have integrated clamps. Otherwise:
1. Unroll about 3 feet from a roll of strapping tape and, while holding the end, spin the roll a few times so it twists the tape into a nice rope. Pull tight and cut.
2. Fit the basket hilt over the stick and wrap the tape tightly around where the upper tab is, then cover with duct tape.
3. Repeat for the lower tab.
9. Wrap the remainder of the stick with strapping tape in an overlapping spiral, then do the same with the duct tape.