Category Archives: How-to

Guides to building props or using certain techniques and materials

Making Your Paper Props Shine

Have you ever struggled with making your paper props authentic? We all know that they can be an overwhelming and intimidating part of the prop master’s job.

Well good news! This month S*P*A*M Member Natalie Kearns joins our S*P*A*Minar team to take a look at the variety of paper props that may come up and will introduce some tips and tricks to give your props an authentic look while still meeting the demands of stage use. While this presentation will be geared to early-career artisans, freelancers with tight budgets, and those still learning the world of props, there will hopefully be some new tips and tricks for everyone who is interested in learning more about the wide world of paper props! So join us and register now!

When: Sunday, July 18th at 8pm EST
Where: From the comfort of your home!
REGISTER here!

We are once again requesting pay-what-you-can donations to support this S*P*A*Minar programming. All money collected will be used to offset webinar operation costs with additional funds going to our annual grant program for early career prop people. Suggested donation amount is $3.

Donations can be made via PayPal Money Pool here.

Registration will remain open until 6pm EST on June 20th and a link to the Zoom S*P*A*Minar session will be sent out to all registered attendees 1 hour before the start of the webinar.

All S*P*A*Minars will be recorded, and the video will be shared on the S*P*A*M YouTube page the week following the event. Videos for all previous S*P*A*Minars can be viewed there as well.

Flier for event with the same text as in the post.

Is This a Dagger I See Before Me?

In this Month’s S*P*A*Minar, Thomas Fiocchi, resident Props Technologist at Ohio University and creator at Fiocchi Swords will give us an introduction on how to make stage safe combat weapons in our prop shops. I know we say this a lot, but you really don’t want to miss this one!

When: Sunday, June 20th at 8pm EST

Where: From the comfort of your home!

REGISTER here.

We are once again requesting pay-what-you-can donations to support this S*P*A*Minar programming. All money collected will be used to offset webinar operation costs with additional funds going to our annual grant program for early career prop people. Suggested donation amount is $3.

Donations can be made via PayPal Money Pool here.

Registration will remain open until 6pm EST on June 20th and a link to the Zoom S*P*A*Minar session will be sent out to all registered attendees 1 hour before the start of the webinar.

All S*P*A*Minars will be recorded, and the video will be posted to the S*P*A*M YouTube page the week following the event. You can also view all the previous S*P*A*Minars there for free.

Flyer for "Is this a dagger I see before me?" Text reads: A Spaminar introduction on how to build safe stage combat weapons in your prop shop with Thomas Fiocchi of Ohio University. Register for the webinar now! Sunday, June 20th, 8pm EST.

Props You Can Make at Home

Header image which summarizes the information as blog post.

How do you build props when you have no shop, few tools, and basic materials?

In this month’s S*P*A*Minar, I will show you some tips and techniques to build props cheaply and safely right in your home, with materials you can buy locally.

When: Sunday, April 18th at 8pm EST
Where: From the comfort of your home!
REGISTER here: http://bit.ly/PYCMAHregistration

With this S*P*A*Minar, we’re also doing our first-ever giveaway! One lucky attendee* will win a copy of my new book: Prop Building for Beginners: Twenty Props for Stage and Screen.

We are once again requesting pay-what-you-can donations to support this S*P*A*Minar programming. All money collected will be used to offset webinar operation costs with additional funds going to our annual grant program for early-career prop people. The suggested donation amount is $3.

Donations can be made via PayPal Money Pool here: https://bit.ly/SPAMinarMoneyPool

Registration will remain open until 6PM EST on April 18th and a link to the Zoom S*P*A*Minar session will be sent out to all registered attendees 1 hour before the start of the webinar.

All S*P*A*Minars will be recorded, and a video will be shared on the S*P*A*M Youtube page the week following the event. You can watch all previous S*P*A*Minars there for free.

*Attendee must be present at the S*P*A*Minar to win.

Midcentury Bar Cart

For Triad Stage’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few months ago, I needed to find a very specific bar cart. The scenic designer, Anya Klepikov, provided me with a research image of a stunning midcentury piece that was uncomfortably out of our price range. It had some challenging aspects to it, but I knew I could build it myself for a fraction of the cost.

Clamping the pieces
Clamping the pieces

I built the table out of a mix of oak boards and oak plywood. For the thicker pieces of oak, I laminated several pieces together.

Assembling the top
Assembling the top

In the research image, the table of the cart splits in the middle, and a black melamine leaf is added to make it longer. Ours didn’t need to do that, so I just built the top as a single piece. It was a single sheet of plywood covered in two thin pieces of nice plywood, with a piece of melamine in the middle. The edges were strips of hardwood to cover the plywood edges. I couldn’t find black melamine, so I used white that I spray painted black.

Attaching the lip
Attaching the lip

Each end had a curved breadboard with a raised lip. It took a bit of finessing to cut the end of the plywood and the breadboard so they fit together perfectly.

Attaching the lip
Attaching the lip

I cut and shaped the raised lip as a separate piece before attaching it. I routed all the edges, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit the router on if the lip was attached. Once it was glued on, I did some hefty belt sanding on the end to smooth everything and make it appear to be one solid piece of wood.

Rounding the edge with a router
Rounding the edge with a router

I clamped a rail on the bottom so I could round over that edge as well, with the rounded edge fading out gradually.

Milling the joints
Milling the joints

Because the legs were both round and tapered, they needed a flat surface to attach the apron and shelf to. I built a jig for the router to mill a flat area perpendicular to the ground. The apron pieces could then be doweled securely to the legs.

Glue assembly
Glue assembly

Before gluing, I fit everything together dry to make sure my measurements were all correct. When you have round tapered legs, it is very easy to make a mistake between the length of the top apron pieces and the shelf apron pieces; everything needs to be exact to keep the whole piece square and sturdy. Once everything was fit properly, I disassembled it, added glue to all the joints, and clamped it all back together.

Preparing to stain
Preparing to stain

After one final sanding over the whole table, it was ready for staining. I used a tint from Minwax called “Gunstock.” I sealed it with a coat of amber shellac. When it dried, I rubbed it down with #000 steel wool, then added a second coat of amber shellac, which was also sanded with steel wool. The whole table was then wiped down with Pledge Furniture Polish. This not only removes the finest dust particles, but it imparts a thin layer of wax that helps give the surface a bit more shine.

With stain and shellac
With stain and shellac

The photo above shows off the sweet curves which the piece has.

Completed bar cart
Completed bar cart

When I shared images of the completed bar cart with Anya the designer, she realized she wanted brass leg caps added to the bottom. I wasn’t able to find an exact cap to fit the legs, so I coated them with a thin layer of epoxy and painted it with brass spray paint. It gave the same effect as brass caps, but with far less work.

Bar cart on stage
Bar cart on stage

The bar cart was the only piece of furniture on the whole stage, so the extra work to make it perfect was justified. It was a nice piece to build for my last show as the full-time props master at Triad Stage.