Make has a great round-up of five wood gluing tips. I’ve done the ol’ “nail the boards together before gluing them trick” but always thought I was somehow cheating. It’s good to know it’s an actual technique used by others. Not that you can actually “cheat” in props. If it lasts until the show closes, then it’s a good technique.
If all the glues and adhesives out there are confusing to you, Design Sponge has an “adhesives 101” for you. It does a good job breaking down the major types of glues available and what they are useful for. Of course, you should always test the specific glue you want to use first, but this guide is helpful to give you a place to start.
I just wanted to let everyone know that this blog will be going on hiatus until August. I am working on editing my book right now, as well as driving to Santa Fe to work for a few weeks, followed by a quick trip to Italy. I figured this blog could take a break for a few weeks so I can spend as much time on my book as possible; you’ll thank me when it comes out.
So enjoy the following links until then:
The New York Times has an interesting article on prop maker Doug Wright. Wright just finished working on Tom Cruise’s codpiece for Rock of Ages. He works on the weird and completely unique props that pop up in TV and film every now and then.
In our production of King Lear, which is in its last week of performances here at the Public Theater, one of the first props we knew we needed was a collection of dead animals for when the men return from hunting. I knew from doing Timon of Athens last winter that we had nothing in stock, no one in town had anything we could rent or borrow, and you can’t just go out and buy them, so I began trying to make a pheasant.
I began gathering research images and working out a pattern. I worked out the size by looking up average heights and lengths of pheasants, and from photographs where pheasants were next to people and other objects of known sizes. In retrospect, I should have looked at more pictures of dead pheasants; a pheasant has a really long neck. In most photographs of pheasants in action, the neck is contracted so the head appears close to the chest. When the pheasant is dead and hangs limp, the neck is actually a good five to six inches long. You can see I was drawing a bird with a contracted neck which left my dead pheasant looking stiffer than a real one. Ah well, now I know for the next time I have to build a dead pheasant.
Once I had the pattern, I cut pieces out of muslin and began stitching them together. I left one side open so I could fill it with sandbags for weight. Some of the stitching was a little sloppy, which was okay because the whole thing was going to be covered in feathers and small imperfections would be obscured. Continue reading A dead pheasant for King Lear→
A few years ago, I was working on a show which had scenes inside a Starbucks. In the script, the characters talked about being in a Starbucks. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, Starbucks did not give permission for any of the props or scenery to show the Starbucks name or logo. I had to make letters for the sign, and it was decided that in some scenes, the sign would be far stage right and only the “ucks” would be visible, while in other scenes, the sign would be far stage left showing only the “Sta”.
Luckily, there is a Starbucks only a block away from the props shop. There is also one three blocks away. Unfortunately, the one that was two blocks away closed down last year. I blame all these independent coffee shops moving in the neighborhood for putting a number of Starbucks out of business. The point of all of this is that I was close to reference images for this prop.
I had the letters blown up to full scale in the computer and printed them out, using this as a template on lauan. As you can see in the photograph above, I added little wooden blocks on the back to give the sides something to attach to. As I write this, I wonder why I didn’t just cut the letters out of a thicker material, like three-quarter plywood. I guess it goes to show that you can always find a better way to build a prop in hindsight. Nonetheless, this method must have made sense for some reason at the time.
I cut the straight sides out of quarter-inch lauan (which is actually 3/16″ thick), while the curved sides were what we call “wiggle-wood”. I should mention that some of the work was divided up with the other artisans in the shop at the time, such as Michael Krikorian.
This project had one final hurdle. The interior loops of the “S” were too tight of a curve for the wiggle-wood to bend. I ended up laminating several sheets of cardboard together to match the thickness of the other sides. Lots of glue and lots of clamps kept all of this together.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies