We just closed Deathtrap at Triad Stage. Anyone who has done or seen the show knows it has quite a few tricks, not to mention all the set dressing. One of the projects I madeÂ for the show was a piece of firewood that could safely be used to beat someone to death. I put togetherÂ this videoÂ showing the process from start to finish.
I started off borrowing some techniques from LARPers; they build weapons out of foam intended for actual combat. I tried wrapping closed-cell foam around a piece of PVC, but that was too hard to hit someone with. I ended up using a core of polyurethane upholstery foam with three pieces of closed-cell foam around the outside.
The foam I used was a mix of anti-fatigue mats from Harbor Freight and Silly Winks foam from the craft store. Some people call this EVA foam. It’s more likely to be XLPE foam. I don’t think there’s enough of a difference to worry about, but it’s one of the things I’m investigating for the second edition ofÂ The Prop Building Guidebook.
To get the texture on the inside parts of the foam, I went over the whole surface with a wire wheel. Next, I scored the foam with a knife in the direction of the “grain” of the wood. One of the great tricks with this kind of foam is that when you score it, you can run a heat gun over the surface and the foam will open up, turning the scored lines into beveled grooves.
For the bark side of the log, I cut and tore apart chunks of thinner Silly Winks foam and hot glued them to the surface. I roughed them up with a surform and a knife; you can see that part of the process pretty well in the video.
Everything was coated with a layer of Rosco Flexcoat. This sealed everything in and gave a nice even layer to paint on. And as the name suggests, it remained flexible when dry.
When you watch the video, you will also see me adding some torn strips of paper towel with the Flexcoat on the bark side. This gave it a touchÂ of texture and made it feel a bit more organic.
The whole thing was painted with a mix of scenic paint, acrylics, and Design Master, all of which remain pretty flexible when dry. We got the thing out on stage, and the lighting made it look very red, so I gave it another few coats of paint to make it look more realistic under the light.
Under natural lighting in the picture above, it looks very theatrical, but on stage it worked very well. The actor was able to beat the other actor without injuring him, and it produced a wonderful dull thud as he did so.