Thursday, August 30, 2007


I came across (during a search for something completely different), a site that teaches some elements of 3D Studio Max using Lego's. They are using version 8.

I tried out 3D Studio Max on version 3 ( I think), and it can be a nice tool. Its more useful for design than technical production, but at the time it worked well with Autocad. Though, I particularly thought the site was intriguing because I use Lego's when I teach AutoCad. I like them because they teach basic 2-d commands, are easy to draft and thus help with showing various ways of drafting the same object, help with accuracy (stacking them on top of each other shows if you make a spacing error), and can be easily extruded into 3-D. And they are great for learning 3-d as well.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Neon, Neoflex, Rope lighting and more

Neon signs and diffuse light boxes are both items that make their appearances onstage. Real neon isn’t a great idea on stage and older products just really couldn’t imitate the real deal with an authenticity – especially in terms of light output. Now there are 2 different options – LED Neon (I found it at Platinum Lighting). It comes in 6 colors (at varying prices). The cost ranges from 11 a foot (red) to 52 a foot (white). The alternative is Neoflex Flexible LED. Same basic idea, comes in 7 colors, and starts at 13 a foot. You can also check out Neoflex at:

I have to say its funny how time passes by. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that rope lights came out, and how they slowly fell in price. Now lots of people have them for Christmas lights, and the blue lights are common in a lot of theatres for backstage lighting during shows. And now of course you can get the LED ropelight so its even brighter.

As for light boxes, between bouncing light off of reflectors for diffusion, Christmas lights, rope lights, and a variety of LED options, there always have been a variety of options. Hotspots are always a problem – individual bulbs, Christmas lights and the like all tend to create a box with differing intensities (which can be worked out, but it takes planning and a lot of light. Diffusion is definitely always needed. I have used sanded plexi, as well as frost gels, but last night on HGTV they built a box using fluorescent bulbs and vellum. I think it would be an interesting experiment to do plans of Plexiglas that have different treatments (sanded, sanded with frost, frost alone) and then different types of lights behind. Like a large divided grid where you could see each configuration first hand.

At work day to day it is hard to find time to experiment. There is not general money available to provide materials, and show budgets are tight as well. Plus in the middle of a production you often don’t have the time to try 3 or 4 different ways of doing something, you have to pick something you know, or are reasonably confident of and move forward. When I was getting my MFA, it was a disappointment that there wasn’t more time to experiment. The production pressure was the same, and if anything the financial situation was worse. I think academia needs to balance real production work with theoretical and experimental work better.

Colorblind Check

Every now and then the subject of colorblindness comes up. Usually it is in terms of drafting (whether or not printing in color is a good thing or not), but web pages also make the list when discussing whether or not someone who is colorblind can see the page.

If you have a site you can find out if it passes the "colorblind test" at

Monday, August 27, 2007

Variety of web sites

Some more links for you to browse:
A good source for technical theatre related books. It has a pretty well rounded collection of books, though I wouldn't say it was a complete listing.
This site has a wide variety of links catering to technicians. The page is slow to load, but does include some good sources.
This page is an information page hosted by a rigging company which deals with primarily ships rigging. Nonetheless, the information is valid for theatrical use.
Based in New Jersey, yet shipping anywhere Dykes Lumber offers a variety of molding profiles. You can see their catalog and download drawings. Dykes can be useful, as occasionally designs (especially ones from the city) will specify Dykes profiles.
Last but not least is a site hosted by thermal foams that has a variety of PDF's available about foam. Thermal foams itself, is a great company in which I often ordered custom cut EPS foam when I lived further east than I do now.

Fabric Stretchy Sculptures

You know you never notice something and then you do it and then you notice it all around you? It often happens right after you buy a car, and then suddenly it seems like your car, in your color is everywhere. Well, in this case its about stretchy spandex sculptures. While I did use spandex about 7 years ago in a production (though not quite as artsy, it really wasn't a common theatrical fabric. Then last year a production used a spandex like material to do some organic forms, and the next thing I know they are everywhere- you can even buy them preformed. I suppose that part of the new popularity is that you can project and light them in very interesting ways (and it doesn't make your whole audience cough).

Rosebrand sells fabric which distinctly lists stretch factor (in both directions if needed), as well as whole scenic elements. If you want to get a little more fancy check out Pink inc.
Though, while these are fun, I still think buying some fabric, a variety of fabric clips, and a few hours with some friends and a ladder may be the best way to go.


If you haven't been to Rosco Laboratories website, you need to check it out.

The site provides lots of information - from MSDS sheets, to how to paint faux surfaces, to how to square and size a drop (mostly on the tech info page).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bricks, bricks, bricks

Bricks (and stones, and other architectural textures) are a common scenery dilemma. There is hardboard that can be bought with a variety of patterns (often even available at the local lumber company), there are vacuum form panels, you can cut them out of foam (rout them out then go over with a heat gun, you can cut grooves in the foam with a heat knife) or you can cut out a billion squares out of a variety of materials and then shape them, then apply to a substrate (of which homosote give a nice, but very messy effect). What would be interesting would be a side by side comparison with a variety of different methods, all covered with a similar paint treatment. Of course the issue here is that just as there are a hundred ways to cut out the bricks there are another 100 ways to seal / and paint it (foam coat, sculpt or coat, super 88, flex glue, and so forth).

Below are a few links with a variety of brick options. It is not an exhaustive list by any means, but a few sites that I have located in my current search to find flexible bricks that would hold up in an environment filled with water and little kids.
In case you would like to build your own vacuum form table.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

cirque photos

Check out behind the scenes pictures of "Ka" in Vegas at
From, they have some story about the mechanics, but not as much as I would have liked to have seen.

They also reported on "Love". It can be seen at


Rigging Reference Chart

I am a firm believer in having lots of information accessible (hence, of course, this blog). Thus, I like handy reference material like charts. I came across a chart today that is worth a look. You can find it at:
Its a rigging chart that shows information related to cable clamps, slings, turnbuckles and the like.

Additional resources can be found at the following links.

Free PDF.

Not a PDF, but does list common breaking strengths.

Formulas and other links. Has links for free rigging software.

You can't beat clancy's website. It has alot of great information available.

And for purchases, Bill Sapsis is on the top of the list for rigging supplies.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Screws and Bolts

Check out this site:

The site talks about thread count and pitch and has some useful charts. What I like best however is the printable PDF thread gauge. There are a variety of tools that I think it is nice to have around the shop for information like a drill index guide (so your bits always get returned to the right spot), and this guide, printed (and maybe even laminated!) needs to join the ranks.

By the way, Bolt Depot, the site where the threat gauge is at also has a variety of other printable PDF's. Will get you to that site.

Also, at the same site is a chart describing metric us grading.

In short, the Bolt Depot definitely cuts it as site of the day.

Happy surfing.


Gage it is a gadget that would be handy to have around the shop. And, it isn't even expensive (1.95 plus shipping). you can find it at You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page. Basically it measures nails and bolts, small pipes and the like.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Colored MDF

One of the most exciting parts about work right now is the amount of new materials and techniques that I am able to use and learn. Earlier today I came across a product made by Great Lakes MDF called SpectraTech color mdf. It is available in a variety of panel sizes (up to 5'x16') and comes in 9 colors including black. It can be sanded and refinished (for the scratches that always happen) and the color goes all the way through the material. I think it would be a great material to try on a stage floor.

More information is available at:

Vectorworks viewer

Vectorworks has a free viewer available for download for people who do not use the full program. Available at, it can be downloaded and installed on your computer. It allows you to open and view files from versions 9-12. It doesn't do conversion from vectorworks to autocad, but it will allow you to see the drawing as it was in the original program (conversion between formats sometimes causes formatting issues).

Pipe Fittings

When you are working with pipe it is a real chore to thread the end to accept standard threaded couplers and flanges. Also, you have a limited array of fittings available. Enter Kee Klamp and Hollaender. Both have a wide array of fittings that slip onto the pipe and tighten down with a set screw. They are great, totally reusable, and worth the investment (it is however, and investment as they can easily run 25 each, meaning that to build a first project can run you a couple hundred to start out). There are engineering specs available for both so they can be used for load bearing structures.
Also, looking at what they use them for is a good way to get ideas.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Here is a product that I might have to get:

The word is that it works really well, but you have to follow the directions carefully. While useful in theatre (RP screens for instance), this seems like a must while I am camping with my 3 large mutts.

Yardage Charts

If you ever recover furniture, you may know that estimating fabric can be a chore. Thankfully a variety of yardage charts for common styles of chairs and couches. A PDF version can be found at

DI Upholstery has a separate website for chairs and couches which you can get to at
Has a variety of chairs, couches, foot stools and the like as well as slide shows about the business.

Easy to make drawers

An alternative to making drawers is metabox. Its basically a drawer system that eliminates the hassle and difficulty of making cabinetry. you attach a bottom plate and from plate to the metabox hardware and your off and running with a drawer. It installs into preexisting cabinetry as well. The link listed above has a variety of PDF's about metabox available (as well as other products).

I think its an interesting idea. I know when I build storage projects around my house I always avoid drawers because I don't like the hassle of all of the hardware and joinery. Of course my excuse is that my home shop doesn't have the capability of the fine joinery (rabbit joints, planers, etc) that I would like to have to do the job right.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Proburger is an alternative to cheeseboroughs or mega-couplers. They have half couplers and snap couplers which are interesting alternatives. I particularly think that the snap couplers could be useful for rigging frames directly to battens. A black finish is also available. TMB also has a variety of other theatrical products.

Mega-Couplers have a wide range of products including one that threads directly to a pipe which is great for booms. You can check them out at the 2nd link below.


New Haven Moving Equipment

I just got a catalog from New Haven moving equipment today. They have more locations than just New Haven, they are in multiple large metropolitan areas. They stock moving equipment for movers, but they also rent equipment. While some of their equipment is beyond the need of most theatrical endeavors, they do carry (and reasonably priced) j-bars - or lift levers as they call them. They have two styles - one with rubber wheels and one with steel, in three different sizes each. They even have a reference section in their catalog that discusses the rigging capacity of their webbing.

All in all its a site worth a look:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Flexible Molding

Every now and then, there comes a time, when you have a set that needs molding and there is a curved wall. When that time comes a good place to start looking is Flex molding, Inc. Their rule of thumb is that a piece of 3/4" material can bend to a 12" radius. The moldings can me machined, cut, manipulated and painted. They also have a great catalog of molding shapes on their website which is in and of itself a useful resource.

Other resources:

Plywood Cylinders, Tubes, Columns & Curved Corners

While I have often used sonotube for scenic purposes (its economical, easy to find, comes in a variety of sizes including huge diameters - I once used 1 for a castle turret), sometimes sonotube isn't the best choice. First, it isn't always a consistent product - the diameters and thickness of the materials can be off relative to other pieces for instance. And, while sonotube is strong, it isn't structural.
The above website hosts a range of plywood cylinders in several lengths. While cost is always relative, they are reasonable prices. Tape Ease as a wide variety of veneers, laminate, and edge banding as well. hey also have hand and power tools to work with the products they sell.

Tapeease also has MDF corners that are curved.
This site has fiberboard tubes - in circular shapes, but also other shapes as well.

Other resources:
This site also sells caps for the cylinders.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Every time I open a catalog it seems like there is a new product that makes a job much easier than a previous method. Or, once an idea for a piece of hardware catches on you see a plethora of types available.

The first example of this is cable guide clips. While stretching drops vertically can be done in a variety of relatively easy methods, keeping it from hour glassing and stretching it horizontally was always harder- especially depending on your space. Cable guide clips are a good solution for this (assuming that you can get a decent amount of vertical tension from your cable). A minimum amount of room is needed and a fly line could still fly if needed (though perhaps a beefier version of the clip with a bearing or glide would be better for that purpose.

Another product that you now see versions of just about everywhere are clips that squeeze your material on one side and then have a hook or hole for you to tie to on the other. In Rose brand they call them Holdon (with mini and maxi versions), but you can find versions of them everywhere. I suspect that it would be an interesting project to gather a variety of different models and test them against each other. Nevertheless, they are much nicer to use visually than the classic spring clip, though I doubt the spring clip will disappear from theatres anytime soon. Besides, they are still the best at holding drapes.

Last but not least, I thought the bongo ties and the stretch-n-hook ties were nice (also in Rose brand. A reusable solution for alot of places that zip ties are often used.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Rose Brand and Shop Supplies

No shop is complete without a Rose Brand catalog ( or 800.223.1624). They have a variety of just about anything and its a convenient source. The other nice thing about their catalog and site is that they explain, and give out info about many of their products.

A couple of things I noticed while browsing through the catalog this morning was a layout protractor that is 36" wide by 18" tall. I know when I have laid out odd shapes that would have been a convenient way to accurately layout precise angles. In fact, the difficultly in layout in angles is so problematic that it is often side stepped by alternative layout methods.

The square grid kraft paper also caught my eye, but its a little pricey at 120 a roll. With the availability and financial feasibility of plotting now, it seems cheaper (depending on scale of course) to actually plot a given layout instead of laying it out by hand on paper. Both technical require pouncing and / or transfer to the lumber or material it is applied to, so the savings isn't there.

In a similar vein, it is like the caster donuts they sell. A set of 4 is $29. Pretty expensive for a small shop considering its basically scrap plywood. Even with labor costs to fabricate the blocks, 4 would cost less than 29 for a set. In shops big enough for a CNC router, the cost would be minimal as you could cut a whole sheet at once. Yet, if you compare the price to the cost of the hamper, 29 more so they stack and you don't have to deal with it doesn't seem bad either.

So you have multiple variables. At what point is it more efficient to buy a part versus make a part. Time (labor costs), costs of materials, costs of specialized tools (like a CNC router) are all components. Not much of a budget, but lots of available labor equals a choice much different than having some budget, but a pressed timeline. A shop I worked at once watered down all of the simple green to clean steel, and then paid people hourly to clean the steel with the watered down cleaner. Weighing the cost of a gallon of Simple green against the hourly rate of the carpenters meant that this supposedly budget saving trick really meant they paid more money out (in terms of labor), and had less available time to do other projects. But it defies the simple logic that making the cleaner stretch further is a cost savings. When money is available there are different types of questions... Time becomes the most important factor. How many projects are in the shop, how many loose ends, who is available.

I know that some think it is perhaps silly to spend time thinking about these things, but I disagree. There aren't rules that work in every situation that guarantee a best choice. A small shop with no time may want to find the money to purchase something that will make their production schedule easier. A busy shop may build something they could purchase to keep people busy during a slow period. To idly dismiss all of the options based on preconceived notions, or past experiences is the danger here, as only then can you be sure that it isn't necessarily the best option to fit your shops needs.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Flooring material

I recently came across an interesting sample material for flooring. Its basically a tongue and groove plywood laminated on both sides with plastic /UHMW like material (technically it is high density polymer ethylene). It is made by Viking ice ( and it is used for skating. It lists on the site that it can be adapted for trade shows, and dancing , but It seems like it could be useful for more than just that. Like, for instance, it seems like it would be good for automation, and possible rigging applications as well. It comes in 4' squares, and grooves together with a plastic tongue.

I do wonder what they use to glue the laminate together because for tracks and such for theatrical purposes, flexibility in size would be a requirement.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Shelf Shark Orgainizer

As I am settling into my new office and new home after moving and changing jobs, I get the opportunity to reorganize. I found these "shelf sharks" online:
I have mixed thoughts about them. They would be easy to make a shop - built version, but they look a little clunky to me. But it is a neat idea nonetheless.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Clear PVC

While it has been possible to get a variety of colors, including clear acrylic tube, I stumbled upon clear schedule 40 pvc pipe. It is completely compatible with the off the shelf fittings available in white and gray at any Home Depot / Lowes etc, as well as having a variety of clear fittings available as well. It is made for situations where they want to visually monitor the flow.

A PDF of the product is available at:

An additional site to reference with a larger line can be found at:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Automation Direct

Besides having a great catalog of useful automation products, (and reasonable prices) Automation Direct has a list of automation terms and definitions. Also on their site is a cute game that teaches bits about automation and their products.

Check it out:

J W Winco

Site of the day:
Its a good sight, with some applicable products. I particularly like the range of available toggle and hold down clamps.