The first step in planning for the electrical needs of the prop shop is to inventory the tools used in each area and know their electrical requirements.  Welders, table saws, dye vats, clothes dryers and other large floor units may require 220V support.  It is also important to consider circuit layout and how many tools may be plugged in and being used at any one time on a project.

    For example, in doing casting and molding projects it is common to have a hot plate running to boil water or melt a plastic, a hot melt glue gun plugged in to glue together a mold form, a hot air gun blowing to assist in drying or curing and a task lamp to help illuminate the work area.  Having multiple circuits allows them all to be working at the same time without fear of tripping the fuse or circuit breaker. 

    Planning the layout of electrical outlets is partially determined by building standards but this is usually defining a MINIMUM of outlets.  In planning where outlets are installed, consider the work being done in the area.  Installing outlets at the height of worktables rather than at floor level makes access for plugging easier and the use of an extension cord unnecessary for most applications.  Installing drop down electrical boxes over open working space allows the cord to be retracted into a reel so the cord is not snaking across the floor and creating a hazard.

    As in all things, shops evolve over time and even in a given build the space may be altered to allow for a large project or one that takes special work processes to be successfully accomplished.  Planning in flexibility and convenience for the future should be part of any proposal.  Consider where you MIGHT want a 220V dryer in the future if one is not available now and have the electrical run with the installation of the other electrical runs; it’s cheaper than adding it later.  Add in electrical outlets where you might need them in the future if staff were added or the shop reconfigured.  Plan for what “might” be and not just what is needed for the present.

    Planning safe and adequate lighting allows for an efficient and comfortable work environment. In the best of all worlds, the prop shop should be located where it can receive natural light. Natural light not only provides a more cheerful workplace and makes a connection to the "outside" world with the changing of light as the sun moves across the sky, but natural light is considered the best choice for matching colors and seeing the textures in fabrics... both valuable considerations in prop work. Given the design of theatres and the need to prioritize audience and lobby access, many prop shops unfortunately are situated in the basement of the theatre building or secured deep within the building away from any natural light source. Having natural lighting from skylights or exterior windows would be preferred but when natural lighting is unavailable or insufficient, supplemental electrical lighting must be used.

    In planning the lighting for the prop shop several kinds of lighting should be considered.  General lighting provides a uniform light level across the shop workspace.  Supplemental lighting provides task specific, intense light focused on a smaller area or worktable.  Emergency lighting is used when power is disrupted allowing safe passage for occupants from the darkened room and is required by law, usually installed as part of the building plan.


    When planning the kind of lighting for the shop, consider several factors- cost, illumination, color, and heat.


         Incandescent lighting is good for both general and supplemental lighting.  It provides a true to life, warm color helpful when working with color/texture matching, dyeing, and other paint processes.  Long-life bulbs can last up to 2000 hours, come in a variety of wattage's allowing for flexibility in intensity of illumination, are available in hardware stores, are easy to install.  They do, unfortunately, give off a significant amount of heat and are more expensive to operate than other kinds of lamps.

Placing incandescent task lights on worktables or tools allows a dedicated spotlight of illumination where more light is needed for exacting work such as on a drill press, band saw, or sewing machine.  Woodworking tool companies offer a variety of magnet or clamp based lamps for use on tools typically found in a woods shop.  The purchase of several retractable drafting light fixtures to be installed on the sewing table will supplement the weak light provided by the sewing machine itself.


            Fluorescent lamps provide high levels of general lighting using far less energy (and producing far less heat) than incandescent lamps.  They also last 10 to 20 times longer than a standard incandescent lamp.  Most tubes, however, cast a cold glow making the workplace seem industrial and “flattening” colors and textures.  This is especially problematic in the “clean” and “crafts” shop areas where fabric work, dyeing, and painting occur.  They are also sensitive to cold temperatures and require a ballast to heat the bulb electrodes on start-up.  Standard size fluorescent fixtures, tubes, and ballasts can be purchased at hardware and home stores.  Installation of “color-corrected” varieties can eliminate the flattening problem but are more expensive than standard tubes to purchase.  They do have a longer life than standard varieties so the cost can be justified.


            Compact fluorescent lamps combine the efficiency and low heat emission of the standard fluorescent lamp with the convenience of an incandescent lamp. They can be installed in standard incandescent fixtures.  They are also available in colors that mimic the color of incandescent light.  They should be used in locations where they stay on for several hours as turning them on and off diminishes their effectiveness and they tend to light up slowly. Compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury making disposal more of a challenge.


            Coming on the market in recent years are LED (light-emitting diode) lights.  These are becoming available as general lighting as well as task lighting sources. LED light bulbs will fit in a standard light socket providing an intense warm light similar to incandescent bulbs.  A key advantage of LED light is its high efficiency with a long, useful life and claims to outlast a regular incandescent lamp by more than 30 to 1.  They light up quickly and are not subject to degradation due to being turned on or off.  They fail by dimming over time rather than by abrupt burnout like an incandescent.  LED bulbs are not sensitive to shock, vibration or extreme temperature changes making them handy to have as task lighting on tools.  They generate little heat.  At present, LED lamps are more expensive to purchase than other types of lighting but the pay off is in its use efficiency.  Their long life span makes good ecological sense as well.   A variety of track lights utilize LED technology making them a good choice for the prop shop lighting.


    In making lighting choices, consider purchasing the most energy efficient lamp providing the longest life possible that gives the kind of light needed for the task at hand.  Often a combination is necessary to provide overall general illumination and to amplify for specific task work.  Providing too little light will reduce productivity and create shadows or minimally illuminated areas causing inaccuracy or accidents.  Providing too intense light causes discomfort and eye fatigue.

    Painting the walls of the prop shop area a light color allows the area to have a “wash” of illumination as the light is reflected off all the surfaces (as well as making it easier to see when they need to be cleaned).

                                                Click here to view sub-topics:


             Floor Surfaces               Water                Ventilation/ Dust               Work Flow

Click here to view sub-topics:


             Floor Surfaces               Water                Ventilation/ Dust             Work Flow


Click to see next “chapter”: Health and Safety