Tag Archives: illustration

The Halbard

Halbards of the Christian Middle Ages

“The halbard may be derived from the German Halbe-Barthe; half battle-axe; or from Helm, casque, and Barthe, battle-axe; or from Alte Barthe, old battle-axe: in Germany and Scandinavia it dates from the earliest centuries of the present era, though it was not known in France until the Swiss introduced it in 1420.”

The Halbard
The Halbard

1, 2, and 3. Three kinds of halbards, somewhat like the ranseurs, eleventh century.

4. Swiss halbard, fourteenth century.

5, 6, 7, and 8. Four German halbards of the fourteenth century.

9. Swiss halbard, beginning of the fifteenth century.

10. Swiss halbard, end of the fifteenth century.

11. Swiss halbard with three-pronged hammer, end of the fifteenth century.

12. German halbard with three-pronged hammer, beginning of the sixteenth century.

13. Swiss halbard, middle of the sixteenth century.

14. German halbard, sixteenth century, engraved and gilt, a very handsome weapon.

15. German halbard, sixteenth century.

16. Venetian halbard, end of the sixteenth century.

The illustrations and descriptions have been taken from An Illustrated History of Arms and Armour: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, by Auguste Demmin, and translated by Charles Christopher Black. Published in 1894 by George Bell.

Though halberd is the preferred modern spelling, this article uses halbard, an accepted variant.

Good Friday Links

David Neat starts us off with making smooth shapes from Styrofoam. He’s dealing with the real-deal Styrofoam here, not that white bead foam stuff. And sure, this article is over a year old, but it has some really useful techniques.

Bill Doran has a helpful video on adding rust to your props. Ninety percent of the time when I show a completed prop to a designer, they say, “that’s great… once we age it down a bit.” Knowing how to weather, age, distress or generally tone down props is an essential skill for a props person, and adding rust is one of the ways to do this.

Make Magazine takes a look at some Maker-Friendly hardware stores from around the US. It’s a fascinating look at the vast array of materials a store might choose to stock, as well as a sobering reminder of how awesome hardware stores used to be to those of us whose only local options are Lowes and Home Depot.

I covered some basic stitching for fabric in my Prop Building Guidebook, but if you get into embroidery and ornamental stitching, there is a whole other world of ways to manipulate needle and thread. Tipnut has some great vintage illustrations of ornamental borders and the basic stitches to make them happen.  It’s a relaxing project for when you are bored in tech and the designer wants the napkins to be “fancier”.

Finally, here is an article called “The Most Important Lessons in Woodworking“. Robert Lang uses his experience cutting plugs as a lesson in woodworking in general, and I think this lesson can be expanded out to prop making in general. It’s not just about how to use specific tools or techniques, but how to approach your whole project in the most efficient and easiest manner possible.


Common firearm actions

Illustrated Firearm Actions

Let’s face it; guns are frequently found on stage, whether in straight plays, musicals, operas and even dance. The use of certain guns can instantly convey a lot of information about period, geography and even character.

If you are a gun novice, it can be helpful to learn some basic terminology and categories. Even if you cannot find the absolute perfect gun, you can at least be in the right ballpark and not have something wildly anachronistic or unrealistic on stage.

For the first bit of terminology, I’ve put together an illustration showing the most common actions of both long guns (rifles, shotguns and muskets) and handguns (or pistols). When a firearm is capable of holding more than one round of ammunition, it needs an action to clear the spent cartridge and load a new one in place. The following is by no means an exhaustive list of all actions, but you may never need to know any others unless you start delving into the more esoteric and unique firearms used throughout history.

Common firearm actions
Common firearm actions

Bolt action – To eject the cartridge and load another round, a small handle is manually lifted, pushed forward, pulled back and dropped down. Bolt actions are most commonly found on the M1903 Springfield, which was the standard infantry rifle for the US from 1903 through World War I, and is still used by drill teams and color guards today.

Pump action – This action is typically associated with shotguns; the handigrip is pumped back and forth to eject a cartridge and load another one. On rifles, it is sometimes called a “slide action”.

Lever action – Most famously used in Winchester rifles, which were used by Western settlers in the US in the late 19th century (ie, “The Wild West”). Lever action rifles remain popular for modern-day sportsmen and hunters.

Break-action – The weapon “breaks”, or hinges to expose the breech. When this happens, the spent cartridges are ejected, and new ammunition can be manually inserted. This action is universal in double-barrel shotguns, and can be found in various rifles and pistols as well.

Revolver – Most commonly found in handguns, though the rare revolver rifle can be found scattered throughout history. A revolving chamber holds several cartridges; when one bullet is fired, the chamber rotates to line the next cartridge up with the barrel.

Semi-automatic – A semi-automatic refers to any pistol or rifle which automatically ejects the spent cartridge and loads the next round of ammunition when the gun is fired (not to be confused with an automatic firearm, which continues firing as long as the trigger is pressed). Most modern firearms for military and law-enforcement are semi-automatic.

Specimens of Fans

Prop Drawings from the Shakespeare Rare Print Collection

I came across some interesting prop-related illustrations in  a series of books called The Shakespeare Rare Print Collection, which was published back in 1900. The first shows a performance in progress on the stage of the Red Bull Playhouse circa 1672. I’m not really sure this is a Shakespeare play, since the drawing was made during the Restoration Theatre period well after his death.

Red Bull Playhouse
Red Bull Playhouse

You can see some minimal hand props, like a cup and a lantern, as well as plenty of swords and musical instruments. The picture shows a complete lack of furniture though, as well as any sort of scenic element.

The other illustration shows specimens of fans “as referred to in the notes on the Merry Wives of Windsor.”

Specimens of Fans
Specimens of Fans

This drawing was made in 1786. It is fascinating how much variation there is in such a seemingly simple hand prop.

Property Room

Backstage at Booth’s Theatre in 1870

The following illustrations are taken from an 1870 book about the backstage areas of Edwin Booth’s theatre in New York City.

Property Room
Property Room

The book has this to say about the property room and adjoining armory:

The “property room” gathers within its fold a marvellous curiosity-shop; helmets and tiaras, mitres and swords, crowns and masks, gyves and chains; furniture of the past and of to-day, “cheek by jowl;” griffins and globes, biers and beer-cups, coffins and thrones; decorations for the garden, the boudoir, the palace; furniture for the salon or the hovel—a multitude of things, in fact, more numerous than can readily be catalogued. The “armory”, if not a collection of such strange things, is interesting, and looks as if we were wandering through some ancient tower or castle rather than “behind the scenes” at a theatre.


Because the illustrations are so charming, I thought I would show a few more.

Scene-Painters' Room
Scene-Painters’ Room

The book also does the great service of giving the names of all the backstage workers at that time:

We must give large credit for all the complete features of this theatre to Mr. J. L. Peake whose inventive talent constructed the machinery; to Mr. Withan, whose skilful pencil gives us pictures of such rare beauty; to Mr. Deuel, whose tase and research provide all those many accessories of furniture and properties, so often necessary to give illusion to the scene; to Mr. Joyce, who reproduces with historical accuracy the costumes of bygone periods; to Mr. Dunn, the carpenter, without whom the play were naught; and to Mr. Kelsey, engineer, whose care and watchfulness contribute to our safety and comfort.

The stage - setting the scenes
The stage – setting the scenes

The property man’s full name is James P. Deuel.

Originally published in Booth’s Theatre. Behind the Scenes. Illustrated, by OB Bunce. Reproduced from Appletons’ Journal. New York: Henry L. Hinton, 1870.