Tag Archives: thermoplastic

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.

Vacuum forming one of the telephone bases

Vacuum Forming on Zero Dollars

I am currently working as props master on Crazy for You at Elon University. In one of the musical numbers, twelve showgirls dance around the main character while talking on the phone. The show is set in the early 1930s, so that is twelve candlestick phones needed (all of them painted pink). If you’ve ever had to get candlestick phones, you know that the real ones are prohibitively expensive, and even the replicas are too expensive when twelve are needed. I decided I would make them all (which is what most theatres do).

Most hand-built candlestick phones I’ve seen have a pretty simple base, and I wanted to try for something a bit more interesting and realistic. Since these were just being used during a dance number, the dial didn’t need to work. It looked like I could sculpt the base as a solid object and than just vacuum form twelve copies. The only problem? I don’t have a vacuum forming machine.

Vacuum forming one of the telephone bases
Vacuum forming one of the telephone bases

I ended up assembling a very small and fairly weak vacuum forming system out of tools I already had and scrap materials which were laying around. Other than my time, the cost was free. I was able to make all the phone bases I needed though the process was a bit inelegant at times. I like what vacuum forming can accomplish, and I think I may spend some more time (and maybe even some money) making a more usable vacuum former after this show opens, but it was nice to be up and running without too much investment on my part.

I have posted an Instructable on how I built my free vacuum forming machine if anyone else is interested in how this all works. I also have a video of how it works and what it looks like when it’s being used:

Good Links for Friday

I have some good Friday links for you this week.

Movie Scope Magazine has a nice interview with Grant Pearmain, the master designer at FB-FX Ltd. They are a UK-based shop making props and costume pieces for some pretty big films. Some recent projects include the upcoming Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman. Past films include John Carter, Kick Ass and Prince of Persia. It’s a great article. I wanted to highlight one quote in particular, dealing with why props will still be needed in a world of CGI:

“So we were supplied with CG models that were the same as what will be in the film—and those are milled out by computer, and then those milled models are finished off by sculptors here, who put all the fine details on, all the skin, and put a bit of expression into them. And then they’re moulded and cast out here and painted up to be completely lifelike so that then we have some very lightweight but very convincing aliens that can be picked up and moved around on set under the lighting, and positioned where they need to be for eyelines.”

Playbill has a great video up showing designer extraordinaire Donyale Werle going through the variety of found objects and repurposed materials she and her team are using to upgrade the set of Peter and the Starcatcher as it moves uptown to Broadway from its successful run at NYTW last year.

Drama Biz Magazine has an article by Mike Lawler on “The Eco-Friendly Theatre of the Future“. It is a good summation of some of the pioneers of sustainable theatre practices, as well as where the industry is (or should be) headed.

Speaking of eco-friendly, the Broadway Green Alliance has a Pinterest of upcycled crafts they’ve found on the Internet and pinned to their Pinterest pinboard.

I have also been hearing about Arboform, which is a biodegradable thermoplastic made from wood by-products and other sustainable natural materials. I put together a Storify about it, called “Liquid Wood.” Today is all about using hip websites, I guess.

Miracle Materials

Though I’m knee-deep in Shakespeare in the Park at the moment (tech starts next week!), I’ve been looking forward to a slower pace this summer and a chance to experiment. Below is a list of some new materials I’ve come across lately that I’ve been wanting to play around with.

Inventables has a whole smörgåsbord of strange and interesting materials for props people. Squishy magnets, translucent concrete, aluminum foam, waterproof sand, rubber glass… I can go on and on, but the site begs you to just peruse everything for yourself.

Styrofoam has been a big boon to props artisans, but it brings with it a host of environmental concerns, both in its manufacturing (it is a petroleum-based product) and in its disposal (it will not bio-degrade for thousands of years). I’ve recently come across a foam made from mushrooms and bio-waste (technically, it’s made from the mushroom roots, which don’t contain spores and allergens). It seems promising as a potential replacement for some uses of foam, though I haven’t gotten my hands on a sample yet to test it out. Eben Bayer, one of the inventors and founders of the company, gave a TED Talk called “Are Mushrooms the New Plastics” where he goes into further details.

Along the same lines, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are turning chicken feathers into plastic. It’s still a ways from being a usable product, but you can expect a whole host of non-petroleum-based and biodegradable plastics to be popping up over the next decade.

Shapelock is a new thermoplastic which becomes moldable at low temperatures (150°F). If you’ve ever used Friendly Plastic or Instamorph, this seems like similar stuff.

Finally, Sugru has been getting a lot of buzz lately. It seems similar to epoxy putty in its use and application, but it is a silicone, so it remains flexible, soft and waterproof.

Paulsen's portable thermoplastic cement dispenser

Who invented the hot glue gun?

The hot glue gun is one of the main tools in a props person’s arsenal. Some people love them, some despise them, but at one point or another, all will use one. They can also be referred to as hot melt glue guns and hot melt adhesive guns. They use sticks of hot glue, or hot melt adhesive, thermoplastic adhesive, or thermoplastic cement, depending on your preferred nomenclature.

So who invented the hot glue gun, and how did it come to be? If we Google the phrase “who invented the hot glue gun”, we find the following results:

Google search for "Who invented the hot glue gun"
Google search for "Who invented the hot glue gun"

The first few results list “Robert Brooklyns” as the inventor. Let’s see what a Google search on him turns up:

Google search for "Robert Brooklyns"
Google search for "Robert Brooklyns"

When I did the search, Google returned around 83 results. All of them basically parroted the same sentence. Basically, one site (Answers.com is my guess) made this completely uncited statement, and it has been echoed throughout content farms and superficial sites across the internet. No one with this name shows up in a deeper search through books or patents, which seems surprising, given how important the hot glue gun is.

You may have noticed in the first image that a result shows up with an obituary for George Schultz, whom the Boston Globe calls the “inventor of the first industrial glue gun”. According to the Globe, he founded Industrial Shoe Machinery in Boston in 1954, which he sold to 3M in 1973. Somewhere along the way, he invented the Polygun, the “first industrial glue gun”. 3M manufactured hot glue guns under the name “Polygun” until 2006, when they changed the name to “Scotch-Weld”.

The earliest related patent I could find for George Schultz was for an Apparatus for Dispensing Thermoplastic Material. It was issued on June 2, 1971.

George Schultz's glue gun
George Schultz's glue gun

The diagram shows a glue gun with a trigger, but the glue is held in an internal reservoir rather than fed through as sticks. While Mr. Schultz was certainly the inventor of a hot glue gun, he was hardly the inventor of the hot glue gun.

The Wikipedia article on adhesives has an uncited claim that thermoplastic adhesives were invented in the 1940s by Proctor and Gamble by a man named Paul Cope. Again, this becomes hard to verify, because innumerable content farms merely copy the Wikipedia article, and most of the search results are variations of this same initial claim (many have the same exact wording). At least we can find evidence that Paul Cope was a real person who worked at Proctor and Gamble. He even filed a number of patents having to do with improvements in packaging. Whether he had anything to do with thermoplastic glues seems to be a moot point, as mentions of thermoplastic adhesives can be found in literature and patents much earlier than that, as far back as 1907.

Perhaps the earliest proto-hot glue gun was this Plastic Extrusion Gun created by William R. Myers and Albert S. Tennant in 1949. The device was created for melting plastic and extruding it onto fishing hooks to manufacture fishing flies. The plastic was fed into the device as ribbons rather than as sticks, and it did not use thermoplastic adhesive. Regardless, many of the parts and components of a modern hot glue gun are there, and later inventors referred to the Myers and Tennant plastic extrusion gun quite a bit in their patents.

Myers and Tennant Plastic Extrusion Gun
Myers and Tennant Plastic Extrusion Gun



In 1965, Hans C. Paulsen, working for United Shoe Machinery Corporation, was granted this patent for the Portable Thermoplastic Cement Dispenser. It predates Schultz’s invention by six years.

Paulsen's portable thermoplastic cement dispenser
Paulsen's portable thermoplastic cement dispenser


That December, Popular Science ran an article about this glue gun, named the “Thermogrip”. The article proclaims “A black plastic pistol with an electrical heating element and an aluminum nozzle that extrudes hot-melt glue is one of the newest tools for home and shop.” I find the Thermogrip notable for its use of glue sticks and for the fact it was marketed and sold to home users, as opposed to previous glue guns which were tailored for specific industrial processes. I would consider this to be the first “hot glue gun” in the sense which we are most familiar today.

As with any invention, it is perhaps futile to try and trace its invention to a single person. The hot glue gun relies on a number of parts and components, such as the development of thermoplastics, the evolution of plastic extrusion guns, and the societal need for a portable device which accomplishes all of this. The modern-day glue gun we all know and love has any number of features and improvements which were not present in the earliest iterations.

That said, the hot glue gun was certainly not invented by a (perhaps imaginary) man named Robert Brooklyns, and hot glue was not invented by Paul Cope. This goes to show how easily an unverified claim can infiltrate the Internet. Remember kids, more search results in Google does not equal more reliability. An unsourced claim is still an unsourced claim even when it shows up on thousands of websites.