Tools and Materials


J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 2000. Chapter 8: Tools and Materials

Tools | Materials | Hardware | Safety Equipment |

-- Tools --

BEFORE USING the POWER TOOLS listed below, a student must have received instruction in the safety procedures that must to be followed. A video, Safety-Power Equipment, will provide this instruction. It is available in the Spafford Art Studios Resource Room. After you have completed the instructions, you must sign the Acknowledgment of Safety Instruction form indicating that you understand and will follow the safety procedures required with each power tool.
  1. Radial Arm Saw
  2. Table Saw
  3. Miter Saw
  4. Sabre Saw,
  5. Portable Circular (Skill) Saw,
  6. Portable 3/8" drill

1. What are the four basic steps in building and covering a flat?

  1. Measure and mark the lumber,
  2. Cut the wood,
  3. Assemble the flat frame, and
  4. Cover.

2. What tools are used in flat construction?

Steel Tape

"Speed" Square

Carpenter's Square

Claw Hammer

Utility Knife

Staple Gun

50' Steel Tape

Wrecking Bar
  1. Measure and mark
    1. Steel measuring tape,
    2. Pencil,
    3. Combination square, Tri square or Speed square.
  2. Cut
    1. Saw -- ( Radial-arm or Miter saw).
  3. Assemble
    1. Carpenter's (or framing) square,
    2. 16oz Claw or Rip Hammer and Clinch plate, or
    3. Cordless drill with a #2 Phillips Head bit.
  4. Cover with muslin or canvas
    1. Utility knife,
    2. Staple gun.
  5. Tools used in the set-up and
    1. 50' Steel Tape to layout the ground plan on the stage floor,
    2. Carpenter's Square to insure the set corners are square,
    3. Hammer or
    4. Cordless drill to assemble the flats on stage.
  6. Strike
    1. Hammer to pull out double headed nails,
    2. Cordless drill to "pull" drywall screws,
    3. Wrecking (or Crow) bar to pry apart the scenic units.

3. Which saw, a radial arm or a table saw, is best for ripping lumber?

Table saw.
Link to an excellent Web Page on the safe use of a table saw.

Steps for ripping a piece of wood with the Table Saw

  1. Set the rip fence for the desired width;
  2. Put on your safety goggles;
  3. Turn on the table saw;
  4. Gently push the wood through the saw, let the blade do the cutting;
  5. Make sure the wood is tight against the fence;
  6. Without letting go of the wood, pick up the push stick when the end of the piece of wood reaches the edge of the table;
  7. Use the push stick to gently push the wood completely through the saw
  8. Turn off the saw; and
  9. Wait until blade stops spinning before removing the scrap.

    For cross cutting?

Radial arm saw.
Link to an excellent Web Page on the safe use of a radial arm saw.

Steps for crosscutting a piece of wood with the Radial Arm Saw

  1. Put on your safety goggles
  2. Hold the piece of wood against the fence with your left hand (if your are right handed)
  3. Turn the motor on;
  4. Grab the handle with your right hand (if you are right handed) and slowly pull blade through the wood;
  5. After the cut, push the blade back behind fence;
  6. Lock the blade in place;
  7. Turn the motor off; and
  8. Wait until blade has stopped turning before clearing the scrap off the work bench,
Miter Saw
Another major power tool commonly used for cross cutting lumber is the miter saw. It is fast and accurate and can be also used to make miter cuts in molding, The miter saw has replaced the radial arm saw in many small scene shops.

Steps for crosscutting a piece of wood with the Miter Arm Saw

  1. Put on your safety goggles
  2. Hold the piece of wood against the fence with your left hand (if your are right handed);
  3. Grab the handle of the saw with your right hand (if you are right handed);
  4. Turn the motor on by pullin back on the "trigger;"
  5. Slowly push the blade into the wood;
  6. After the cut, release the "trigger;"
  7. Let the saw return to its upright position;
  8. Wait until blade has stopped turning before clearing the scrap off the work bench.

4. What is the difference between a hand circular saw and a

A hand circular saw, also known as a Skill saw, is primarily used for making straight cuts in plywood.

    saber, or jig saw?

A saber saw is used to make curved cuts.

5. What power tool is used to "drive in" a dry wall screw?

A cordless drill with a #2 Phillips head screwdriver bit.

6. What is are the two major disadvantage with a cordless drill?

(1) The battery goes dead (usually when you need it the most) and (2) there is not nearly as much as power as with a corded drill.

7. What additional tools are used in building, legging and assembling a platform?

Electric drill

Wood Bits

Rachet set
  1. 3/8" Electric hand drill with 3/8" wood bit to drill holes for carriage bolts,
  2. Socket set or
  3. Adjustable-end (Crescent®) wrench to tighten the nuts on the carriage bolts.

8. What are the primary tools used by the production electrician?

Adjustable End

  1. 6" (or 8") Adjustable-end (Crescent®) wrench to hang and focus the lights,
  2. Screw driver to repair a plug, and a
  3. Utility knife (or paper cutter) to cut the gel (color media).

9. Which hand tools have the highest disappearance rate?

  1. Adjustable-end (Crescent®) wrench,
  2. Steel tape,
  3. Screwdriver .

-- Materials --

10. What type of wood is normally used in flat construction?

White pine or spruce.

11. What is the actual width of a 1x4?

3 1/2 inches.

    The thickness?

3/4 inch.

12. What is a board foot?

A piece of lumber which is 12" wide, 1' long and 1" thick. By definition, a 1x12--1' is one board foot. 1x stock is normally priced by the board foot so it becomes necessary to convert linear (or running) feet into board feet to determine how much your lumber order will cost.

    What is the formula for converting linear (or running) feet into board feet?

(Linear_feet * Board_width_in_inches) / 12 = Board_feet.

Below is a simple JavaScript program which will calculate Board Feet.
Enter the number of linear feet of lumber needed, Select the size of lumber (1x4), and Click the Calculate button.

feet of = board feet.

13. How many board feet are there in 1-1x12--16'? in 1-1x4--12'?

14. If #1 grade white pine is $4.21 per board foot (in September 2007), how much would these two pieces of lumber cost?

Below is a simple JavaScript program which will calculate the cost of lumber.
Enter the number of linear feet of lumber needed, Select the size of lumber (1x4), Enter the price per board foot and Click the Calculate button.

feet of = board feet.

at $ per board foot will cost dollars.

15. What size lumber is traditionally used for framing stock and supporting legs in platform construction?


16. How is 2x4 stock priced?

By the running foot.

17. At $.46 a foot, how much would 20 pieces of 2x4-16' cost?

18. How, and where, is plywood used in the theatre?

3/4 inch, 5 ply, plywood is used as the flooring in theatrical platforms.
1/4 inch, 3 ply, plywood is used to "profile" a flat and as corner blocks and keystones in flat construction.

19. What is Luan and how is it used?

Luan, also known as Philippine mahogany, is an inexpensive, thin (1/4") flexible, 3 ply, plywood commonly used to cover hard flats.

20. What is the standard size of a sheet of plywood?

4x8 feet.

21. Define: 3/4, 5 ply, Int, AD

3/4 -- The sheet of plywood is 3/4 inch thick.
5 ply -- It is composed of 5 layers (ply).
Int -- The glue which holds the layers together is water soluble (designed for interior use).
AD -- One face of the sheet is excellent (A) and the other side is poor (D).

22. What are the normal widths of a bolt of muslin?

59" - 72" - 80" - 108" - 120" Since our widest flat is six feet, our scene shop stocks 80" wide muslin.

23. How many yards are normally found on a bolt?

50 yards.

24. Where can scenic muslin be purchased?

Scenic muslin (or canvas) is purchased through a theatrical supply house such as Norcostco or StageTechnology.

25. How is scenic muslin priced?

By the linear yard ( 3 feet).

26. At $3.80 per yard, how much will a bolt of 80" wide muslin cost?

-- Hardware --

27. What is the standard glue used in the theatre?

White casein glue, better known as Elmer's® glue

28. Where are drywall screws used in the theatre?

To a large extent, 1 1/2" and 2 1/2" drywall screws have replaced 6d and 8d common and scafolding nails in scenic construction.

29. What is a carriage bolt? Where is it normally used in scenic construction?

3/8 inch carriage bolts are traditionally used to assemble platforms into larger units and to secure the legs to the platform's rail.

30. List two common pieces of hardware which can be used to assemble rigid platforms into a unit.

  1. 3/8" x 4" carriage bolts
  2. 4" C clamps

31. What type of casters are normally used on a platform-wagon?

3" rubber wheeled swival casters

32. How many casters are needed for one 4x8 wagon?

Six. The traditional spacing between casters is 4'.

33. What type of door catch is normally used on stage?

Magnetic or friction cabinet catch.

    How well does it work?

Not very well.

-- Safety Equipment --

34. What safety equipment should a theatrical shop supply?

Safety goggles

Ear Muffs

Dusk Mask

Work Gloves

Hard Hat

  1. Eye protection: Safety goggles and "over the glasses" safety glasses.
  2. Ear protection: Earmuff and/or soft foam ear plugs.
  3. Lung protection: Dust (particle) masks and Half-mask respirators. Unfortunately, respirators or expensive and must be fitted to each "employee." They are not interchangeable.
  4. Hand protection: Work gloves and disposable latex gloves.
  5. Head protection: Hard hats which meet ANSI Z89.1-1997 requirements.
  6. Fall protection: Body harness, laynard and tie-in points Fall protection should meet ANSI A10.14-1991: Requirements for Safety Belts, Harnesses, Lanyards and Lifelines requirements
  7. Basic First Aid Kit: Adhesive bandages (Band-Aids®), antibiotic ointment, tweezers, burn ointment, sterile gloves, sterile dressings
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Last updated: September 24, 2007
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