Last week I attended the 25th conference for the Society of Properties Artisan Managers. It was hosted by a number of Chicago theaters this year, so I got to tour some of their spaces. First up is the facilities at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, located on the Navy Pier.
Over the summer, while the theater was dark, I had some time to organize my shop and execute some larger projects. One area I focused on was my tool storage, which has always been a bit improvisational and haphazard.
The cabinet itself began life in the scene shop to organize their hardware and supplies. A few years ago, they removed it to build a better solution, so I snagged it for my own shop. I also added the pegboard along top.
This past summer, I tore out a lot of the shelving in the bottom and replaced it with more custom pieces. I prefer my tools and supplies to be visually “out in the open”; I find it difficult to deal with things in drawers or behind closed doors. My feeling is that “if I can’t see it, I don’t have it.”
Of course, securing the tools is another thing. I may add doors on the front to lock it at night, but during the day, I would still keep it open. My shop itself is kept secure, so I haven’t had things walk off with this kind of setup.
I like using pegboard to organize tools because it allows me to see what I have and it takes up very little floor space. For tools like saws, files, and rasps, it also prevents the edges from becoming dull and dinged, which is what happens when they are stored in a drawer and other tools are constantly thrown on top of them. I would probably use more pegboard if I could, but this was the largest piece I found in the shop.
The tools are roughly organized so that similar tools are kept together: measuring tools, cutting tools, assembly tools, etc. If you are looking for a mallet, and you find the hammers, you know the mallets will be close by. Accessories and consumables are also stored in close proximity to their tool; drill bits are near the drills, and sanding discs are near the orbital sanders.
Most of the smaller paraphernalia is kept in plastic bins, but I made some custom organizers for Dremel bits, router bits, and my tap and die set. Again, keeping router bits and taps in a bin would ding up the cutting edges as they rubbed against each other. Dremel bits just become a nightmare when you start mixing them together into one giant container.
For the future, I may add even more dividers so that the power tools all have their own “cubby”; it would be great to determine which tools are missing just by glancing at the cabinet and seeing an empty space. I may also add labels and trace out the outlines of the tools on the pegboard. I find its easiest to keep things clean if every item has a specific location that it returns to.
Do you want to share images of your tool storage? Shoot me an email, or leave a comment on my Facebook page!
Whale, whale, whale, what do we have here? Stephen Kesler shares step-by-step photos of a life-sized humpback whale he carved out of foam. And you thought your prop was big? Even if you never have to sculpt something this large, it is still a great primer on sculpting foam in general.
Every time I watch Adam Savage organize his workshop, I think, “hey, that’s what I do.” And then I learn some new trick and realize my shop can be organized much better. In this video, he builds these mobile carts for glue and paint supplies. Now I need to build mobile carts for supplies.
Dj3r0m Cosplay Props has this awesome war hammer from the Skyrim video game. From the process pictures, it looks like the whole thing was carved and assembled from MDF. Impressive. The paint job is pretty stunning, too.
Village Theatre put together this great infographic showing the amounts of consumables that go into a run of Crimes of the Heart. Anyone who has done the show can attest to the large amount of shopping that needs to happen for that production. Of course, they missed the apples, sugar, bourbon and the paper that gets torn up.
Happy August, everyone. While the “regulars” still have some summer left, those of us in theatre are already gearing up to work on all the new shows for the fall season, not to mention those of us in the academic world getting ready for the new school year. But there’s still time to read about props stuff on the internet, so enjoy the following:
Priceonomics has a short history of fake money in the movies. It delves into some of the more high-profile cases of fake movie money making it into the real world, and the resultant crack-downs by the Secret Service. It goes into detail of some of the rules of using money on film and how the top prop houses modify their fake money to follow those rules.
Casey Neistat has a new video series on his studio, and his first video shows his red box system of organization. He’s an independent film maker, but his system solves the same problems that prop shops have: how to save a little bit of everything, but be able to find it quickly.
Adam Savage has spent over four years painstakingly recreating the Mecha-Glove from the Hellboy film. Tested has a video where they talk with Adam about all the various processes and challenges of building this complex piece.
Finally, Credits has a great piece on building The Guardians of the Galaxy. Though it only briefly touches on the props for the film, it does delve into a lot of the physical and design work that went on in a number of the departments. Plus, it looks like a really exciting film.
We have a bit of a break during the summer at Triad Stage between when the last show opens and the new season begins. It’s the time we spend cleaning and organizing the shops. We’ve been busy in the props shop doing a pretty big overhaul with building new shelving and storage spaces, and moving around where things go. Organizing a props shop can be a challenge, since props people want to save every bit and scrap they come across. I thought I’d share some pictures of various shops I’ve been in to show how others have tackled this problem.
The first picture is actually from the scene shop at ACT in San Francisco, but props shops need to store and organize hardware as well. It’s pricey way to store things, with tons of metal shelving and matching bins. But it allows everything to be separated out while allowing you to find anything just by visually scanning the room; nothing is tucked away.
Childsplay Theater in Arizona uses the full wall approach, where a whole wall is covered in shelving from floor to ceiling and filled with bins. You can see boxes and bins of all sizes, as well as plastic tubs, baskets, and loose items. It’s very modular, allowing one to change what is stored there if you run out of one type of material and decide not to reorder it. It also has the benefit of displaying everything you have available without hiding anything away.
The Berkeley Rep props shop takes full advantage of using every square inch of their tiny props shop. A mix of open shelves, bins and drawers fill every hole in the wall.
Various cabinets and shelving units are tucked in every corner to keep every spare area utilized. I’ve found that if you don’t designate uses for all the out-of-the-way areas of a shop, they end up accumulating piles of random items and scraps in a big heap. Likewise, if you don’t have a bin or shelf to put a thing away in, then it will always be in the way, and you will always be moving it around.
Here is part of a shop of a Broadway prop maker in New York City. He is also using the “every square inch” approach in his tiny shop, though he has opted to keep everything out in the open, rather than in bins and boxes.
Props shops seem to naturally accumulate little metal file box cabinets over the years, and Milwaukee Rep has put them to good use. With bins, you can carry the whole bin to wherever you need it in the shop, whereas with drawers, a prop maker doesn’t have to hunt down a missing bin that someone else has taken. It’s a matter of preference which you use, though many prop shops have a mix of both.
I liked these drawers underneath the chop saw in the San Francisco Opera. Adding storage under tools and machines is a great way to use space, especially if you can store the materials and equipment associated with that tool.
The tool and hardware cabinet at the Public Theater was in a weird area, so a custom storage area was built by the shop. The angle in that corner was not square, and the walls sloped backwards as well, so any ready-made shelving or storage units would end up wasting precious space.
Here is the opposite side of the Public’s tool cabinet. With the right organization and storage, a shop can hold more tools, materials and supplies, and yet have more open working space than a poorly organized one.
How is your shop organized? I’d love to see pictures. Send them my way.