This video is from a few years ago, but it’s always great to show off how to make a simple blood knife.
Last week I got a call from Triad Stage, a theatre over in Greensboro, NC, to do some carving for the scene shop. I had done some foam carving in the props shop last autumn, and when another project came up, they thought of me.
They already had a blank cut to size when I arrived at the shop. This blank was cut by the foam manufacturer, and was made of two pieces glued together (it looked like they used a 2-part polyurethane foam, or even just Gorilla Glue as the adhesive). This helped immensely in getting me started, since the piece was already symmetrical and scaled to the size they wanted. I started by dividing the piece into equal pie shapes and transferring the design from the research onto the foam.
The foam they gave me was a 3 lb EPS foam, which was a lot denser than anything I had ever used before. Basically, EPS foam comes in a variety of densities, with 1 lb, 2 lb and 3 lb being the most common. The numbers come from the weight of one cubic foot of foam. So 3lb foam has three times as much polystyrene packed into the same area as 1 lb foam. Of course, EPS is the beaded foam, so it is still trickier to get a smooth surface than it is with either blue or pink foam, but those are not readily available in large blocks like this.
The designs on this style of classical capital are very symmetrical and repetitive, so I really only had to draw out one half of one side, and then just trace and transfer it to the other seven halves. I carved the whole thing mainly with my snap-blade knife, surform, sandpaper, and a big ol’ half-round bastard rasp. I broke out a router a couple of times to clear out some of the deep pockets; the router also helped me cut to a consistent depth around the whole piece.
Since the capital was being placed on a column high above the set and was not going to move or be handled during the show, I opted for a simple coating of joint compound to keep the cost and time down. I basically applied just enough to give it a smooth coating and a nicer surface for paint.
The design on this capital was greatly simplified to allow it to be carved in about half a week. Because it was going to be painted black and be placed high above the set in the shadows, it just needed to hit the high points of the shape so the audience would go “oh, there’s a fancy thing up there.” Or at least, that’s what the audience in my head says after the show.
Welcome to the first full work week of September! I’ve been away all weekend, so enjoy these articles and sites:
The Art of Manliness has a nifty guide on sharpening your edged tools. It deals mainly with knives and axes, but it covers a lot of the basics.
Once you’re finished sharpening your tools, you can find out why your teenager can’t use a hammer. The decline of shop and industrial arts classes are leaving even the most basic of manual jobs with a dearth of skilled young workers.
Air and Space Magazine has a nice little gallery of Vietnam War—era Zippo lighters.
I recently came across The Clubhouse, an online community for model-builders, sculptors, and collectors. It seems to be a good resource for help and information on working with plastics and resins, as well as painting and weathering.
Here’s an old prop chestnut which we’ve used during our current production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Let’s say your play requires a switchblade or two. Real switchblade knives are fairly illegal; even if you can find a place that sells them, you often need a special license to purchase it. However, you can buy switchblade combs at many novelty stores.
You can fill the gaps in the comb part with Bondo (or whatever your preferred brand of auto body filler is). Sculpt it into the shape of a blade, but be careful not to get much thicker than the comb; if you add too much thickness, the blade will no longer pop out.
Finish it off with silver-leaf. Again, silver-leaf will add no thickness to the blade (which some paints might), and it will give it the ability to glint and gleam from the stage. It will also be less likely to rub off during frequent usage.
This is the third excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the previous part on tableware, as well as the first part, concerning furniture.
Weapons form another delightful field for the maker of accessories. Where a sword fight is required it is best to use the modern buttoned foils, and contrive some means whereby they need not be drawn from their scabbards on stage. The use of anything more real than a foil is not advisable. If it is imperative that swords be drawn on stage, a scabbard for a foil may be made from tin piping, built out and covered with leather. Swords used for personal adornment need only be a scabbard with a handle. These may best be made of wood, following some fine model, and the hilt and decorations made in metal. The armourer of the company will do well, however, to consult a book or an encyclopaedia article upon these and all weapons before setting to work.
Spears or lances may be made out of wood. It is a mistake to put on hollow tin points. It is better to shape a point out of wood and silver it. Tin tops are continually working loose and clattering down on somebody’s head. Make lances at least ten feet long, especially where several are carried together. Nothing looks meaner than a feeble lance or spear, and nothing finer than a tall one. Halberds need not be so long, especially if they carry ornate heads. Figure 15 shows typical spear, pikes, maces and halberd.
Bows should be tall and decorative, and are carried unstrung. Figure 16 shows a typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus. These may all be of soft pine or cedar cut with a jack-knife.