Tag Archives: Tools

Black Friday Props Links

David Neat, author of Model-Making: Materials and Methods, has a blog going with all sorts of model making techniques. Posts on painting, mold-making, working in scale, and more are described and shown with ample photographs.

I really like this illustrated chart of hand tools over at Popular Mechanics. The chart itself is good-looking enough to hang up in your shop, while the tools pictured on it give you a great idea of what your shop is missing.

Smooth-On has a ton of great videos over at their website showing how to mold and cast with many of their materials. If you haven’t checked them out yet, start with one of their newer ones on how to make a mold for a replica of an antique rifle.

If you ever wanted to take the time to make chain mail by hand (as opposed to just spray-painting some crocheted yarn), Make Projects has a great tutorial on just that.

Recommended Tools for the Props Person (SFO Edition)

All props people have their own tools they bring to work. Some of the tools are basic necessities that one should never be without, while others are specialty items that you rarely find at any shop. But if you are just starting out, what tools do you need? The Santa Fe Opera provides their incoming apprentices with a list of tools which they are required to bring. Obviously, their shop is well-equipped; these are just the personal tools which every props person should have. Think of it as a base-line set that you bring to every job, regardless of where it is or what you are doing.

The Opera has two different lists, one for the carpenters (who build the furniture and other fabricated items out of wood and metal) and the crafts persons (who do soft goods, casting and molding, and all other crafts). I’ve paraphrased them below.

For the carpenters:

  • tape measure
  • architect’s scale rule
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • slotted screwdriver
  • drill and driver bits
  • hammer
  • end cutting pliers
  • slip joint pliers
  • diagonal cutting pliers
  • adjustable wrench
  • combination square or speed square
  • utility knife
  • 3/4″ wood chisel

For the crafts persons:

  • needle-nose pliers
  • fabric scissors
  • craft scissors
  • tape measure
  • utility knife

In addition, though the shop has some of the following tools, they are so commonly used that they recommend bringing your own if you have them:

  • precision cutting knife (X-Acto® knife)
  • snap-off blade knife (Olfa® knife)
  • bevel gauge
  • cordless drill
  • steel ruler
  • vise grips
  • ratchet and socket set (especially 1/2″, 7/16″ and 9/16″)
  • box wrenches (especially 1/2″, 7/16″ and 9/16″)
  • compass

Finally, while their shop has some safety gear, it is always a good idea to own a personal set of the following:

  • respirator with organic vapor cartridges
  • safety glasses
  • hearing protection
  • leather gloves

Again, these are the tools required by the Santa Fe Opera, and other work sites may require a slightly different set of tools. However, if you are just starting to build up your own personal tool kit, it is a good guide to refer to for the most commonly-used tools in a props shop.

Friday Links

The big story making the rounds in the past few weeks is of the prop maker who built a prosthetic arm for a little boy. Ivan Owen, a Seattle prop maker, began collaborating with Richard Van As, a South African woodworker who needed a prosthetic after losing some fingers. After perfecting their design, they built a hand for Liam, a boy born without fingers on his right hand. I linked to a story back in December about how Owen and Van As first began collaborating on a prosthetic hand. This new story shows how far they’ve come in just a few short months (and it has video of the hand in action).

Some cosplayers dressed like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave a surprise performance to movie goers exiting a showing of Iron Man 3. The costume is basically dark suits and lots of guns, so patrons who weren’t in on the act called the police. Always keep in mind how others may perceive your props when carrying them out in public.

On the flip side of that, an amateur British theatre group found some old grenades to use as props in a show, only to discover they were still live. This story is from three years ago, but it was too interesting not to share.

Make Magazine’s “Workshop Wednesday” continues to provide great information. This week is Ten Tips for Screws and Screwdrivers. The tips are great, except for the ones about which screw head styles are the best (they prefer Torx over Philips). I’ve found screw head styles are almost like religion to some people, and it is practically impossible to make them convert to a different favorite.

Speaking of screws, do you know the difference between pilot holes and clearance holes? Popular Woodworking does.

Good Links for a Good Friday

Tested has another great episode of their talk show where Adam Savage, Will Smith and Norm Chan discuss building an inexpensive toolkit for beginner makers. By “maker”, they mean someone doing small-scale fabrication of wood, various metals and plastics, some fabric and leather, model-making, and a bit of electronics, so really, it’s great advice for beginning prop makers as well. You can either watch a video or listen to a podcast of the show, which runs about 41 minutes long. They have also written down the list of tools they suggest, though it’s a good idea to listen to the show because they talk about how to buy tools and why you should get certain tools as well.

In case you missed it, I came across The Painters Journal, a publication about scenic art that ran from 2003-2010. All 22 issues are available online to read. Scenic art deals with paints, coatings, texture and sometimes even sculpting, so many of the articles are invaluable to props people as well.

Make Magazine has posted ten tips for using a circular saw. They’re all pretty good, though I would add that hearing protection should be worn too, as circ saws are almost always loud little beasts. A dust mask is usually a good idea as well.

I liked this recent article about Nick Ruiz, a theatre carpenter in the San Jose area. It’s simple and probably familiar to a lot of us in the industry, but stories like this are so rarely written.

And just a reminder that you have less than a month to enter the Prop Building Guidebook Contest! Surely you have a photograph of a prop you’ve built, and who doesn’t want a grab-bag of prop making supplies? The entries I’ve received so far look fantastic, so thanks to everyone who has already submitted.

Monday Morning Links

Fon Davis runs a company called FONCO Creative, which makes miniatures and models for film and television. He’s worked on some lesser-known films such as MatrixStar Wars Episodes I-III, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Make: Believe visits his studio and posts some photographs and this video below. It is great to see a fairly young and high-tech company still embracing the use of models and miniatures.

You should see this “Death Row” router table; so-named because it was found in a prison woodworking shop where tools often need to be, um, improvised.

New York Magazine has this snarky look at how terrible the newspaper was in Back to the Future. Slate Magazine than has a rebuttal, calling the critique very funny, but very wrong. Both articles are highly entertaining; you might remember them the next time you need to make a fake newspaper prop.

Here is an interesting Instructable for making your own machinable wax. Machinable wax is a wax which will not melt or deform from the friction of a high-speed rotary cutter; it is useful for trying out a part on a CNC machine before you waste your real material (and it can be machined faster and without wearing down your tools).