The “Dirty” Room





The “dirty” room is primarily a woods and metal working space.  In addition to the standard table saw, radial arm, band saw, etc. of a scene shop a prop shop will have some tools that are more specific to furniture construction like a power miter saw, a wood lathe, a vacuum form, a shaper, a planer, a jig saw, and hand tools that allow for the finer level of detail and props construction seen in a prop shop.  A wide variety of clamps also offer many solutions to the more unusual gluing and clamping challenges seen in prop construction and furniture work. 

    The activity in this shop is furniture construction, stripping, restoration, metal reinforcement, plastics and foam work and carving, and many other activities that generate dust, smoke, dirt, or fumes.  Dirty rooms often have a dust collection system to keep the sawdust generated by the woodworking process to a minimum.  Documentation shows saw dust as irritating to the lungs of many workers and can create a cumulative allergic reaction over time, as well as being a potential explosive hazard.  A dust collection system on tools and a continuous dust filtration system that pulls dust particles from the air make for a safe and healthy shop.  

    Access for loading in raw materials from
an external loading dock or freight elevator as well as the delivery of props from the shop to the stage space is important.  Adequate flat storage for plywood, lumber, metal, and plastics should be provided, as well as organized storage for fasteners and supplies such as staples, bolts, nails, screws, brads, hinges, glues, molding, sandpaper, etc. Fasteners in the prop area also includes more furniture specialized items such as biscuits, table lags, and dowels.  Hardware tends to be smaller and often more decorative in nature than the items found in the scene shop. 


       Wood stocked in the prop shop needs to be more select than what is usually found in the scene shop allowing for strong joints and clear runs on furniture pieces.  Popular, ash, and birch are often used for prop furniture construction.
Pine can be used for framing but it is important to keep knots to a minimum.  Hard woods such as oak, walnut, or cherry are too expensive and too heavy for most prop work but may be used for trim or for turned pieces.  Plywood with a faced surface such as oak-faced or birch-faced plywood offer the look of hardwood with the strength, durability and ease of working associated with plywood.  

          Most regional theatre shops work off a pneumatic system for  powering the various staple guns and nailers used in the prop shop.  If the building is not supplied with an in-house system then an adequately sized compressor must be installed including hard piping with appropriate outlets and gauges.  An adequate amount of electrical circuits and wall outlets allows flexible use of power hand tools such as drills, sabre saws, or routers.  The safety hazard of cords running across the floor can be minimized by the installation of pneumatic and electrical cords that can be pulled down from overhead reels and the installation of floor pockets near stationary tools. 


    Prop shop metal working areas often have a standard MIG welder for most mild steel welding with an aluminum spool gun attachment to allow for construction of lighter weight or structural yet decorative elements utilizing aluminum.  For larger jobs an oxy-acetylene rig for braising metals and cutting is used. 
 Smaller projects utilize smaller propane or map gas torches for sweating copper and tiny butane torches for hi-temp soldering requirements.  Appropriate cutting and finishing tools such as chop saws, portable-band metal cutting band saws, grinders, wire wheels, buffers, pneumatic nibblers for delicate or small scale grinding and metal shaping applications, benders for small scale steel stock, vices, etc. are needed.  A metal table or cement slab for project work with a welding shield screen and appropriate ventilation makes it a safer process. Personal safety equipment such as welding gloves, fume respirators, face masks, etc. should be provided.  Certainly, some prop shops will share welding facilities with the scene shop, but increasingly, prop shops are investing in designated equipment to meet more specialized metal construction requirements.  Stock materials in the prop metal working area are again typically smaller in scale and more delicate than the corresponding structural components in the scenic department, although it is not uncommon for some furniture pieces used vigorously to require steel structural reinforcement from the prop department on par with scenic construction techniques in steel.



Actor’s Theatre of Louisville prop shop- “Dirty room”


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