Thursday, January 29, 2009

Valchromat - Colored MDF

While bidding a current project I have been introduced to a new material - Valchromat. This is an MDF sheet (4x8 or 6x8) that is through colored. It is advertised as 30% stronger than MDF and water resistant, color fast, and a "green" material. Since when it is scratched it can be repaired since the color goes through it, it is similar to some of teh solid surface countertop products (like corian). A sheet will set you beack about $120 each, with a $40. packing charge per 40 sheets. If there was a black I think it would be an intriguing stage floor product. However, it is available in yellow, anthracite, blue, brown, green and red. You can check out a PDF of the specs here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Seth Godin posted an interesting link about creativity. basically he states that what may be creative for one person, may actually not be very creative at all by another stand point. He uses the example of a police officer solving a crime with what looks like to be creative methods from the outside, but is actually a very formal technique. Then he likens creativity to stretching the edges, which like an old sweatshirt, you may have to push further and further to be on the edge.

Why bring this topic up here? I think sometimes stagecraft is like an old sweatshirt. You enter the industry - you get your shirt. You poke around the edges, you work creatively. Then you settle in on techniques and processes that tend to work, and you get comfortable and stop pushing the limits.

To take it even a step further, I would even say that collectively the industry has a shirt, with alot of different people poking around at the various edges. You have some people on the very edge creating and trying out the latest gear and ideas, and you have some in the middle staying stable, and in a holding pattern. The catch here is twofold. Not only do we as an industry need to be at the edges, but we need to do so collectively. This is why I believe in the Tech Expo, and Yale's Tech Briefs, and why I try to post here. Only by sharing information, and making it apart of the common knowledge available can we continue to push the real edge. Otherwise you'll have some guy in the middle wildly poking at the seam on their edge, while that same idea is pretty boring to others around him. Point is, the more we grow as an industry, the more we need to lay down the path for others to follow. So much of what we learn is learned on the job by respected people in the industry and is passed on orally. We take so much of our normal construction techniques for granted I think it is sometimes hard to identify new ideas. But I challenge you all to document, write up, blog, or otherwise submit ideas, techniques, and solutions.

You can submit ideas to the Technical Production Commission here. Also, don't forget the Answer Box section of Stage Directions, Yale Tech Briefs, and the Tech Expo.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

lumber storage

Toolcrib had a post recently about lumber storage that I thought I would pass along. You can check it out at:

The post has photos and rough plans of multiple storage solutions. I also thought that the rack / panel saw could be a potential space saver for my shop in the garage. Though, I would be wary of the wheels.It would have to have a very positive locking mechanism for me to think the cart safe and practical to use in that manner.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I wanted to post a couple of updates.

First, for the custom tool chests, I have updated the blog to show the company and link to their site. The company is Matco.

Also, I have enabled comments. I have always intended comments to be available, but evidently there was a second place I had to enable to get them to work correctly.

Lastly a few additional comments on drafting and autocad, picking up from my last post.

-When I taught AutoCAD there were two things I always told my students. There are numerous ways to do every command, and theatrical use of AutoCAD barely scratches the surface of the programs true capabilities. Following that was that AutoCAD builds on itself in every version. While a button or a pull down menu may be different from one version to the next, or one users set up to the next, text entry hasn't failed me yet. The downfall, is that sometimes you can take or leave the added features.

-More directly to the last post, I have a little better understanding of life before paperspace. I started on R14, but really got into the groove in 2000, and soon after, the 2002 version. Paperspace was introduced in R11. From then to R14 annotating in Paperspace was very different. You can take a look at a tutorial here.

Since I learned the more in the newer versions, I am used to the ease of those versions. And, I have if from other users that date back to R13, that annotating in paperspace is the way to go (He doesn't have much choice either way - its the drafting standard where I work). So if you haven't done it, you should try!

Friday, January 23, 2009

AutoCad Text

Beth Powell on Bethscadblog (9/19/08 post) wrote an entry on writing text in model space versus paper space. She acknowledges the controversy, but I was very surprised by her opinion. First, she says that most people use model space unless the info goes on all layouts. I do the opposite (depending on 2D or 3D) mostly, though if it was project specific text that would apply to all title block I would use other options.

Secondly, she allows that scaling text is easier than it used to be, as is controlling what you see in each viewport in paper space with the freeze function.

Finally, I think the telltale line is "While I have always dimensioned my model in model space". For those who put text in model space she says that "it turns out that users may have just been taught to dimension in paper space or to have simply not known any other way due to lack of more formal training."

My thoughts:
-Despite who easy rescaling your text is, why go to the extra work. If you do your text in paper space its always the right size. i can't tell you how many times I can look at a printed drawing and tell that the text and annotations where done in model space because they are different sizes when different scales have been applied on the same page.
-One of the beautiful things about paper space and good layer control is that you can draft items on top of each other. Your maso floor line can be under your flats. When you do your layouts you freeze or thaw the correct layers, and everything separates out correctly. If you dimension in model space you have to either create multiple layers of dimensions (which when in model space would end up getting turned off instead of frozen for clarity) so that you can turn on the right ones on paper space. This adds confusion in model space, demands more careful layer control, and/or turned off layers.
-Third, frankly, I can't really fathom putting text on a 3-D drawing in model space, and expecting it to transfer correctly to the inevitable multiple layout views.
-Yet, in interest of being completely honest, I will admit that on a quick, simple, "napkin sketch" I will put text and dimensions in model space. But for those drawings I don't usually bother with a title block at all, or use paper space.

While I hate to disagree with Beth because her blog has lots of great stuff on it, I can't be convinced of her arguments against paper space.

Opinions? Let me know!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Toolmonger (can you tell I like this blog?) had another product that I really like. This time the product is Speed Shims:

The shims come in a book and you can shim 1/32" to 1/2" with each book. Even better, they are adhesive backed, so they will stick where you need them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Speeder Ratchet

Over on the Evolv Tools website they sell a unique ratchet. You can use it normally, or in tight locations the handle can be reconfigured by pulling it out and allowing it to spin (like a hand drill). It caught my eye (through Toolmonger) because I thought it would be particularly useful for casters.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Magnetic Catches

I have been browsing the website for Magswitch. They have a variety of products that would be useful in our industry. Of particular are their magnetic switches which can be activated by engaging and damaging the magnet.

Their product line also contains a variety of material handling options - lifting, hooks, magnetic clamps and such.

Take a look at what they have to offer at:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Custom Tool Chests

Ever wish you could design your own tool chest. One of the nice steel ones (though some of the wooden chest types are pretty amazing too), with multiple drawers, and cabinets? You can at Matco

You can select from a number of colors, black or chrome trim, drawer configuration, sizes, and additional compartments. The result of my custom box was cool - but I won't be purchasing it soon with a $18,000 price tag.

Of course if you need to fill the new tool box up, Matco also sells a variety of tools.

Check out the site and see what you would dream up!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cut List Programs

I was browsing Toolcrib this evening and found a blog entry about cut list programs (see link below). I thought it was worthwhile for a couple of reasons. First, while probably too time consuming for general shop use, it could be useful when using critical resources. Like for special prop piece that needs a $100 a sheet material.... Second it reminded me of our cnc machine that does this automatically (I learned this after I spent several hours arranging an entire job into 4x8 squares since the machines I had used in the past didn't have that feature). Third, it is actually an interesting thought process, both in the thought required to layout the materials in order to reduce scrap, and in cutting the material. For instance in the article I refer to below, there is a definite order in which you would want to cut the materials to ensure straight cuts.

Two concerns - one, which is compensated for within the program, is cutting thickness. Secondly, in critical applications I would be concerned about grain orientation. While this wouldn't matter in some situations, it can be critical in others.

Friday, January 16, 2009


The past couple of days, with almost a 1' of snow, makes me appreciate the I-Shovel!

I think that I may prefer remote control over the randomness (like the vacuum). While it wouldn't matter to me what path a vacuum cleaner takes, it does matter to me where the pile of now ends up, so having additional control would be appreciated. On the other hand, I wonder if it could be done through sensors - allowing the machine to know a "home" spot that is where the snow should end up.

The other thought I have when I see stuff like this is that theatre technicians should be doing more of this wacky, fun stuff. We have the capability to design and build automated pieces. Perhaps not fully robotic or with as many axis of motion, but experimenting with fun, non-theatre specific ideas can free us from a rigid set of technical design constraints. Plus, having experimented with other technologies we can extrapolate the knowledge gained into more effective technical design solutions.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

M12 Hackzall

Milwaukee has a new tool out that would make a great shop tool. It's a battery operated sawzall. But even better than that is that it is shaped in a way that allows it to be easily handled and get into tight spaces. Its 11" long and with the battery it weighs 2.6 pounds.

You can check it out for yourself at:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Attic Dek

On tool monger, they posted a blog about Attic Dek; an open panel made for spanning joists to create a storage location or walkway. They claim they are lightweight, and are gray, with a thickness that suggests recycled materials. They support up to 250 pounds and come in 2 sizes- 16"x16" and 16" x 24".

The panels could be a reasonable choice for shop built storage or scenic pieces. At a price around $2 a square foot plus the ease of installation means that the total cost is very reasonable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Google Ads for Non Profits

Google for non profits offers "Google Grants". This is part of their AdSense program, and if you qualify for a grant you will have an ad appear when the relevant key words are searched. Considering how much I surf the web to see whats going on in the theatres near me - I could see how a google ad could be useful!

Check it out at:

Monday, January 12, 2009


Every year at USITT there is a session on great free / open source software. This should make the list for 2009. I came across it while researching Ponoko -Inkscape is a vector based program similar to adobe illustrator or corel draw.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Custom Printed Fabric

Spoonflower ( offers custom printing on a quilting weight cotton. Its $18 a yard plus shipping, but you can buy a "fat quarter" and a sample swatch as well if you don't need the full yard (44" x 36"). At first I was ready to write this off- they only have one fabric type, can only print up to 3 yards at a time, and at $18 a yard I wasn't sure it was such a great deal. But that price isn't bad, especially for one-off runs in small sizes. They print at 150DPI, so it probably isn't photo quality, but it does seem unique. Something to keep in mind for a one of a kind prop or costume pieces - or even a textured wall-paper.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I have been browsing through Ponoko. Ponoko is a craft centered site where you can get plans for making stuff, sell plans, or sell craft items. It is sort of a cross of a craft centered ebay and make magazine. There are some unique offerings:
An MDF wine rack:
A Pen catapult:
And a robot (from instructables, so there you go):

After browsing for a while, there is much more to the site than I first realized. You need to download their starter pack, then you can design an item, choose materials. They will cut / tool the pieces and send them to you. You can assemble and then make adjustments. The project can then be sold, if you want to others as a plan or kit. They have a range of acrylics, a few wood types, and some sheet metals, and they laser cut the pieces. I was guessing the laser cut for cost reasons, and since many patterns are very intricate.

I could see several theatrical uses - prototypes, custom props, and model building. If you have a cnc machine, you might not see as much value, but in a typical theatre it could be a great solution. As always with cnc / laster/ waterjet parts, the time is in the drafting - drafted correctly and well thought out the actual set piece or prop goes together easily.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

V-Block Clamp

While I am on the streak of clamps, I thought I would mention this clamp as well. They look like they would be very useful for clamping pipe for drilling or milling purposes.

On the other hand, I think I can easily envision a shop built product that could be done easily and economically.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Speaking of clamping, Toolmonger also blogged about a universal clamp. This clamp has a variety of holes (60) in which you can place pins, and these pins act as the clamp. This provides a clamp that will work with any shape! While a little pricey, I think it is a novel idea.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Magnetic Gluing Jig

Toolmonger recently had a blog post showcasing a model gluing jig (

It looks like a cool idea for building model set pieces - though if you worked in a particular space often enough, I think cutting sheet steel to the ground plan of the facility may open up a variety of interesting ideas as well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Molding Cloth

I believe I have mentioned Rose Brand’s molding cloth before (if not check it out here: I just came across 2 more products that are very similar:
Foss Shape (
Wonderflex (

Both of these materials require heat to activate, with the Foss Shape material requiring a higher temperature. These materials are recommended for “headpieces, sub-structures, ornamental effects, masks, props and scenic materials.” The materials cut easily, and will bond to itself as well as other materials, and can be sewn.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Another year has come and gone and I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on the past year.

It’s been a year of learning, (which I hope I can always say). There have been some exciting projects that I have been involved with that led to some interesting research. Also, it has been very interesting to branch into film / tv and museum work. It’s interesting both in the similarities, some subtle (and not so subtle) differences, and some different materials. Working to get some of our automation control system UL/ETL listed has also been quite the experience.

USITT in Houston was great, and I have been working on USITT related projects for the upcoming conference in Cincinnati – and I hope to see you there!

In my kick of investigating the ways toys can be used as valuable learning opportunities, I have moved into solar panels. While not really practical for theatre, we have been doing a number of green exhibits, as well as a science museum exhibit about sunlight. I was surprised by the low cost of solar panels these days – and who knows – I could easily see solar power being used (at least in part) in remote out door performance spaces.

As far as seeing shows, being in Chicago has opened up the opportunity to see lots of fabulous performances, in a variety of genres. On the Broadway series, Avenue Q was as much fun as I expected. Dirty Dancing was novel in projections and lighting – it was very cinema like – much more so than I ever imagined possible. Elsewhere, Contraption from the Neo-Futurist was a lot of fun. Columbinus from the Raven Theatre was a great piece of theatre, as was, though for very different reasons, Million Dollar Quartet.

Looking forward to the upcoming year I hope to continue to come here and share my thoughts with you, to learn more and to share that as well, and to see more great Chicago theatre.