Tag Archives: knife

Make a Switchblade

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.

Switchblade Comb
Switchblade Comb

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.

Fill the gaps of the comb with Bondo
Fill the gaps of the comb with Bondo

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.

Switchblade comb, or knife
Switchblade comb, or knife?

Shakespeare for Community Players: Weapons

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.

Figure 15: Typical spear, pikes, maces, and halberd
Figure 15: 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.

Figure 16: Typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus
Figure 16: Typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 63-64)

Weapons Storage

I received a question last week about how various prop houses store their weapons. First, there’s how they should be stored. Every prop house I’ve worked at, and every one I know of, keeps their weapons locked up. The depth and breadth of rules and regulations dealing with weapons, theatrical or replica, varies incredibly amongst states, cities, municipalities, and institutions. Locking up is the least you can do.

But I digress. The question was geared more toward the logistics of weapon storage. Props storage is a never-ending compromise between the ease of locating a specific object with the need to cram as many objects into a limited space.

Continue reading Weapons Storage

Prop guns

There’s an interesting post over at Controlbooth.com about the correct handling of prop guns.

What makes this a success is that we SEVERELY LIMIT who touches the guns, how, where, and when. Guns are NEVER ‘dry fired’. That is, fired without a live round in ’em. In our world, if you pull the trigger, you are doing it for real every time. If you’re not doing it for real, your finger does NOT even go inside the trigger guard, and there will still be no live round in it. If the weapon fails to discharge, you DO NOT get to try again. You re-holster it, and move on.

This is, of course, important stuff for every props person to know, especially with a number of incidents that have happened in the past year, which are also linked to from this site.

Knives are another prop where safety is important. About a month ago, I ran across this article: Actor slices neck on stage in prop mixup.

Hoevels, whose character was to commit suicide, had been given a real blade instead of a harmless prop, London’s Telegraph newspaper reports.

As he collapsed with blood spurting from his neck, the audience started to applaud not realising Hoevels was not acting.

The Santa Fe Opera has at least one knife or sword in every show. Drew Drake, the former head props carpenter, taught me that whenever the props supervisor, run crew, or a stage manager placed a blade on your work table, you should drop everything you’re doing and immediately dull the sharp edge. By doing that, you ensure that you don’t forget about it, or worse, you leave it for later only to find someone has taken it off your table and brought it up to stage without checking the blade’s sharpness.

If you don’t have proper safety procedures for dealing with weapons on stage, then you have no business using them. There are already enough things in theatre that can cause injury.