Tag Archives: steel

Diner Stools

Earlier this year, I was the props master on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Triad Stage. The set, designed by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, was a Pittsburgh diner in 1969. Among the various components were thirteen matching diner stools, the kind that spin and are bolted to the floor. It proved impossible to source that many stools within our budget, so I decided to build them.

I designed the main support in two parts: an inner post made of steel that would hold the seat and be bolted to the floor, and an outer post that would sleeve over and appear to be chrome. I welded the inner post out of box tube and quarter-inch plate. I added a small length of pipe to the top so the seat could spin freely.

Welding the structure
Welding the structure

I cut the outer posts out of PVC pipe and wrapped them with silver Mylar.

Wrapping chrome onto PVC
Wrapping chrome onto PVC

The flange at the base was a plastic bowl I found. I drilled a hole through it and wrapped it in Mylar as well. The bowl and PVC both slipped right over the steel posts, and I cut some wood spacers to hold them in place.

Installing the poles
Installing the poles

I built the seat in two parts which could be screwed together after upholstering it. The top part had a block underneath that slipped onto the pipe base and allowed it to spin freely. The side part masked this block and provided a place to attach the vinyl fabric to.

Once upholstered, the seat could slip right onto the steel post. The underside of the seat had a piece of UHMW that the steel rested on, so it could spin with as little friction as possible.

Seat prior to fabric
Seat prior to fabric

A good portion of the upholstery was accomplished by Keri Dumka, one of my artisans on the show. My apprentice, Victoria Ross, also did some upholstery and aging on these stools.

Here is one of the stools; twelve to go!

Single stool
Single stool

Though it was very time-consuming constructing all thirteen of these stools from scratch, the end result was pretty stunning. It looked like we plucked a diner straight from the Hill District and plopped it down in the middle of our theater.

Stools around the bar
Stools around the bar

Forging Ahead with Props

Stormbreaker – Avengers: Infinity War – MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED – If you’ve seen the new Avengers film, you know that Thor gets a pretty awesome new axe. And if you watch “Man at Arms”, you know they forge famous pop culture weapons from real steel. So buckle up as the team at Baltimore Knife Company fabricates this mythological axe/hammer combo fit for a god.

Hong Kong Court Convicts Props Master for Possession of Fake Cash – A judge in Hong Kong has convicted two film crew members for possession of fake cash from a film. Though the bills were clearly labeled as film props, and were not even attempted to be used as real currency, the crew members were still given prison sentences. This is a chilling verdict for members of the Hong Kong film industry, which is seeing more and more interference from the Chinese government.

“Costume-making Is Dying. We Can’t Get the Skills.” – The head of costumes at the Royal Opera House in London is finding it hard to staff her shop with skilled artisans. I have heard similar rumblings in the world of props. Despite the rise in hobbyist prop makers, actual professional positions are getting harder to fill. Do we, as an industry, have an obligation to train the next generation of prop artisans?

An Award For The Best Prop? – Aurelie Gandilhon asks why there is no category in any of the major performing arts awards for best prop.

New Behind The Scenes Look At The Art And Practical Effects Of ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’! – Check out all these photos and video of the animatronic dinosaurs used in the new Jurassic World films. Even though they do a lot of CGI replacement for the final film, they still build full-scale dinosaurs for filming.

Blacksmithing

This past Saturday, I headed out to Efland, NC, where Dick Snow was teaching blacksmithing. It was another meeting with the Alamance Makers Guild (the same group that visited Roy Underhill’s shop last week). I’ve done various metalworking projects before, but never straight-up blacksmithing.

Dick tends the fire
Dick tends the fire

Dick had his coal forge fired up that morning. He also has a propane forge. He was telling us that while a propane forge does not need tending like a coal forge, a coal forge can get much hotter. You need that extra heat if you ever want to forge weld. We weren’t doing any of that, though; our lesson that day was making nails.

Cutting the rod on a hot-cut hardy
Cutting the rod on a hot-cut hardy

Dick teaches nail-making to new blacksmithers because it encompasses three of the basic techniques used in almost every blacksmithing project; drawing the steel out into a taper, cutting it to length and hammering it to give it a head. In the photograph above, you can see him cutting a red-hot rod on a hot-cut hardy. Sometimes called just the “hardy”, this tool is basically a wide cold chisel that sits in the anvil’s hardy hole. The tool sitting on the left of the anvil is the nail header. Because the nail is tapered, it only fits through that square hole to a certain point. You cut the rod a little above that point, then smash it down with the hammer into a mushroom-shaped head.

Dick teaches Ben proper hammer technique
Dick teaches Ben proper hammer technique

I would say the trickiest part of blacksmithing is all of it. I usually think of metal as the material you use for precision machining, and other materials are used for more organic and artistic construction. Blacksmithing, on the other hand, is where metal is used like a fluid, sculptural material. Even something as simple as making a nail is difficult to do consistently, at least at the beginning. I made about 6 or 8 nails, and none of them matched each other.

Refreshing the fire
Refreshing the fire

I’ve often thought it would be cool to use hand-forged nails in the furniture I build. You can find plenty of plans to make your own forges online, all the way down to a tiny brick-sized forge which can only make nails.

Hammering out a taper
Hammering out a taper