Tag Archives: box

Ancient Cherokee Box

Our final production of the season at Triad Stage was a new piece called And So We Walked. Written and performed by DeLanna Studi, it recounts her journey to walk the Trail of Tears with her father and rediscover her Cherokee roots. The show itself is traveling around the country for the next few weeks before another full production at Portland Center Stage next spring.

The show takes place in both the real world and a theatrical dream world, and one of the props I built was an ancient burned box which held secrets. We determined the size and shape in various devising sessions and rehearsals, so I simply made another box out of nice materials to match a rehearsal version I had already made.

Constructing the box
Constructing the box

The carcass was constructed from half-inch poplar I bought at Home Depot (my planer was broke), with a piece of plywood for the bottom. The top wanted to be vaulted, so I ripped a number of slats from quarter-inch poplar, beveled the edges, and glued them together to make the vault shape.

Attaching the hardware
Attaching the hardware

Once the top was all glued together, I ran a belt sander over it to transform the faceted surface into a smooth curve.

The hardware was a mix of stuff from the hobby store and pieces I had in stock from other boxes I had built. A lot of this decorative brass box hardware comes straight from China, so you have to wait a few weeks or even months to get it shipped. Whenever I order some, I get several options and extras so that I slowly build up a stock to use on projects that have too tight of a deadline to wait for the shipping.

Burning the outside
Burning the outside

The box is described as “burnt”, so my next step was to burn it. I used a basic propane torch you can get at the hardware store. I charred the whole outside of the box, and allowed the flames to go to town on a few areas to really break up the surface.

Once it was cool, I removed all the charcoal with a wire brush. I sealed it with shellac to keep any charcoal remnants from staining the actress’ hands or white costume.

In the areas which burned away the most, I applied some grey crackle paint to simulate the charcoal I had just brushed away. The box is also described as having deep scratches, as if some mythical being had been trying to claw it open, so I added those with a grinder and Dremel.

Painting the inside
Painting the inside

The inside received a wet blend of various acrylics to give it a deep red aged appearance that suggested blood. I dry brushed a few other colors, including some metallics, over the outside to help accentuate the imperfections and texture.

Ancient carved box
Ancient carved box

During tech, the director really liked the way the scratches looked on the box and wanted some more. She asked for some Cherokee patterns to be engraved around the edges as if some primitive creature had carved them in by hand. Once I added those, the box was complete.

Friday Prop Links

Happy Friday, everyone! For those of us in the middle of holiday shows, whether NutcrackerChristmas CarolTuna Christmas, or what have you, I hope it’s going well. I have some fun things from around the internet you can read:

Propnomicon has been doing some research into early shipping crates and packaging, and has shared some of the discoveries made. It may be surprising to see that manufacturers were shipping products in corrugated cardboard boxes rather than wooden crates back in the 1920s.

A short article of note tells how 3D printing is finding a home in Hollywood. Of course, regular readers of this blog already know this, but it is still interesting to see specifically how and where prop makers are using 3D printing technology.

La Bricoleuse has an interesting post up about the parasols her students made in her decorative arts class. Now I know many props masters do not consider parasols to be a “prop”; I’m sharing it because Playmakers’ props assistant (and good friend) Joncie Sarratt has a stunning diagram of the parasol she had to create for their production of Tempest.

Finally, Kamui Cosplay is poised to release The Book of Cosplay Armor Making with Worbla and Wonderflex. I haven’t seen the book yet, but if it is anything like her tutorials, it’s sure to be a very informative look at working with various low-temperature thermoplastics.

Box Elder Boxes

Welcome back, everybody! I hope the holidays went well. There is a lot of great stuff on the way for this blog as we count down to the release of The Prop Building Guidebook, one of the first guides to building props to be published in a decade, and one of the most complete ever.

Today, I wanted to show off some boxes I made as Christmas gifts. These were done awhile ago, but I did not post them because the recipients read this blog. It was interesting working with “nice” wood and building an item the “real” way, because it makes you realize how many shortcuts you can take in prop making, and how much you can get away with when an object is only viewed at a distance from the audience.

Not that the props I and others make aren’t well-made; frequently, they are sturdier and more polished than many items you can find in the store. But there is a difference when the item you are making will be held up close, and any joints that are a bit proud can actually be felt, or an errant glue drip on the inside will be studied closely.

Four boxes made from box elder.
Four boxes made from box elder.

I used an exceptional piece of box elder for these boxes. You can see in the open box above, the inside is completely unfinished. The polyurethane coating adds a bit of contrast and depth to the surface, but otherwise, that is the natural color of the wood. The red streaks comes from a fungal growth. Box elder is rarely harvested commercially, because it grows in flood plains. Many people do not realize it can look like that on the inside, so they just burn it as firewood or turn it to mulch when they need to get rid of a box elder tree that has fallen down or died.

I found my pieces at a local sawmill that specializes in salvage lumber. The sawyer had rescued a bunch of box elder trees when the park services cleared a riverfront. My wife and I saw this wood at a wood show awhile back and were asking questions about it. The next day, we returned to the show and the sawyer had set aside some particularly bold pieces of the box elder for us.

A box made from box elder.
A box made from box elder.

I used a piece of walnut for the bottom and as an accent around the lid opening. The boxes were cut entirely on my table saw. As I mentioned above, I finished them with a few coats of polyurethane; specifically, I used spar varnish because it imparts a lot of UV protection. The red coloring will actually fade away when left in direct sunlight, which would be a shame.

Last Friday Sites

Just a reminder that tomorrow from 9am to 10pm at the Holly Hill Mall in Burlington, NC, is the first Burlington Mini Maker Faire. Check it out if you are in the area and you like making things. The mall parking lot will be hosting a D.A.R.E. carnival that day too, so after you look at the robots and wood lathes, you can ride a cocaine-free ferris wheel.

A career in theatre props” is a well written article about Antony Barnett, Head of Props at the Royal Opera House. It discusses what he does as the lead prop maker at a very busy shop. It is also interesting in telling how British prop makers learn their craft and get started in the business.

Sad news out of Brazil; Tiago Klimeck, an actor playing Judas in an Easter Passion play, died from an accidental hanging during a performance. The article, while light on details, does mention that authorities think “the knot may have been wrongly tied.” The only safe way to do a live hanging is with the rope attached in the back to a harness under the actor’s costume. The loop of rope in the front should be incapable of holding any weight, and should be able to break away when the slightest bit of weight is applied. In other words, there should not be a knot that can accidentally be “wrongly tied”; there should not be any knot. Though this story may remind you of the accidental hanging of an actress in a Halloween haunted house last year (the girl lived), in that case, the noose was never intended for live hangings. It was simply a prop “used for visual affect” (I am not sure why articles on accidental hangings all need grammatical errors).

I just came across this, though it is from 1996. Patrick Tatopoulos is the maker of monsters from Stargate (the film), Independence Day, the John Cusack Godzilla film, and many others. Visual Effects Headquarters has an interview with him and a look at how he got started and what he has accomplished.

I missed this on the first go-around, but in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, Popular Woodworking Magazine has posted free plans and instructions to build the deck chairs used on that infamous ship. It’s a complicated and involved chair, but it looks like a fun project if you want to own a piece of history (or if you are doing the musical Titanic).

Christopher Schwartz has posted the first chapter from Bernard Jones’ “The Practical Woodworker” on building crates and packing boxes. Crates and boxes seem like an easy item to construct, but the endless varieties and methods to construct them make them a good first project for a budding carpenter. Besides that, we build a lot of boxes in props, and even complicated forms have elements of box construction somewhere in them. This chapter does a great job of showing some of the more popular standards for box and crate construction.