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Stage Flats


diacong
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We're a small group that stages two productions a year in a well equipped village hall. Currently we have about 15 off 8' x 4' flats in various states of disrepair. All the flats have a hardboard face with wooden batten frames of various thicknesses. For a production the base of each flat stands on the stage floor, the verticals are screwed together and the tops are held in place by stays that are attached to something like an old fashioned picture rail. This makes for a remarkably stable structure.

 

Our committee has agreed that the flats need to be replaced and I've been charged to oversee this. Before blindly replacing like with like I thought it would be interesting to see how other groups make their flats. For example is hardboard the best material for the faces or should plywood be used instead. One consideration is that the flats have to be stored underneath out stage so they can't be too thick.

 

I'd be interested to hear from you.

 

Graham

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I've always used the traditional way of 3" x 1" timber faced with calico.

When I lived in the UK we used these flats for 6 productions a year and I needed to recover them after 4/ 5 years.

Cheap to make and light to handle.

Cheers

Gerry

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Depending where you are (and if you can be quick) I'm looking to dispose of a fair number of our older flats - ranging between a couple of years old and over 20 years in some cases.

We've just decided to replace all of those with new - 3 x 1" PAR frames faced this time with 3.6mm ply (most of the old ones are hardboard). There are a stock of 14 foot (thereabouts) and 10 foot flats at a variety of widths from 12" to 4 feet that you could cut down and reuse easily at your 8 foot height.

 

I've literally just finished the last new one today, and we need to sort getting them to our off-site stores, but will need to clear the older ones out for space. If you can get transport to the midlands in the next couple of weeks (sooner rather than later best) you can have these for free.

Or if anyone else wants to grab some, feel free to shout up.

 

 

 

 

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Having made a set of 8ftx4ft and 8ftx2ft flats on 3x1 PAR timber frames for a local community theatre a year or so ago..... If you do not want to use Calico/Canvas for the facing, use 3.6 or 4mm plywood for facing because it is considerably lighter than hardboard. Staple/screw and glue the frames together, but screw the plywood onto the front with no glue so that the plywood face can be easily replaced if needed. Fit removable pin flap hinges on the backs in consistent positions (top, middle, bottom) so that the flats can be quickly set/struck and interchanged - impossible if they are screwed together. If you can, recess the hinge plates to fit flush with the rear surface of the frame so that the flats can have a second facing tidily added later so that they can be used double sided if needed. These flats are a sensible size for a village hall production and can be safely be lifted and moved by one (competent) person. They can be stacked and stored tightly together face-to face and back-to back - if you're accurate and consistent with the hinge position and fit, the hinges will slot into each other in the stack, reducing the stored volume a bit more...
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... but screw the plywood onto the front with no glue so that the plywood face can be easily replaced if needed....

That bit depends on how often the flats are used and re-painted.

Ours can be potentially given different coats of emulsion 7 or 8 times a year, and after a couple or three years use you will struggle to find, let alone remove, most of the screws.

 

The idea of re-facing flats is sensible IF the circumstances are right.

We've glued & nailed ours this last week or so, which mean re-facing won't be an option, but then our last stock lasted 20 years+ as they were also built solidly.

 

It's a choice to make.

 

 

 

 

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Hi Guys, thank you very much for your replies.

 

Well this afternoon we chucked out some of the clapped out flats so I have no choice but to make some new ones.

 

It seems that 3"x1" PAR is the preferred frame material but how do you join the pieces together? The old flats had various size frames with screws driven from the corners of the verticals into the ends of the horizontals. In principle I don't like having screws going parallel to the grain. I tried repairing/stiffening some of them using triangular metal pales from S***wF*x but found that they were too soft to be effective.

 

Also what additional stiffening if any do people use? One horizontal piece across the centre or going the whole hog and fitting diagonal pieces between a centre horizontal and the top/bottom in the same way as a garden gate is often stiffened.

 

I think that I'll use plywood to cover the frame. I hadn't realised that it was lighter than hardboard. We can't use calico as we have to store the flats stacked on top of each other under the stage and the risk of tearing it is fat too high.

 

I liked the idea of hinges with removable pin to join the flats. I have a router hinge jig so this so it should be relatively easy to ensure alignment and a flush fit.

 

Ynot, thanks for your offer but but I don't think it's right for us for us.

 

Thanks again to you all for your help.

 

Graham

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The flats that I made used screwed and glued lap joints at the corners. You say you have a router available, so it's simple to fabricate a jig to consistently cut the corner joints repeatedly. If you can, use an industrial stapler or nailer to secure the corner joints because you will be less likely to split the wood (and much more likely with screws, depending on size) here. I used one horizontal piece across the centre back which was dowelled (2 per side) and glued to the uprights. Dowelling was used so that there was no need to cut into the uprights and weaken them. Use a plywood face as a template for construction of the frames - it will be cut much more accurately and square that anything that can be done by hand. There was no need to use corner or diagonal braces on the frames because they are stiff enough with the corner joints used and the plywood facing holding it square. If you do use removable pin hinges, make (and keep!) a jig or template so that all the hinges end up in the same positions on every edge of every flat - if you don't, you will not be able to freely interchange flats which defeats the purpose of using removable pin hinges. Once you've made them, plane a small amount (mm's) off the corners of the facings - that way the frame corners take the inevitable knocks and bashes, saving the facing corners from quickly getting smashed up and looking unsightly.

 

As noted above, I prefer to screw and not glue the plywood face to the frame. @Ynot correctly notes that after a few layers of paint, the screwheads securing the face to the frame are unusable. When the facing needs to be replaced it can be carefully prised off the frame. The remaining (full of paint) screwheads are easily removed with pliers, leaving the frame reasonably intact for the next refacing.. Done that!

 

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We recently cut down our stock of 12 foot high flats (which we always painted the top 3 foot black!) to 10 foot high and used a deeper cloth border.

 

Since doing this, we found we did not need to brace the flats to the grid, and just some bracing to the walls was more than sufficient. I suspect your 8 foot flats will be similar.

 

Our new flats are also 3x1 edge on flats, built as Hollywood with ply faces. I too would recommend that you ban MDF and hardboard from scenery, as ply is much easier to work, stronger and lighter.

 

Previously we have holes in the frames so bolts could be used to bolt the flats together, but in practice this was too fiddly to build, so we have moved completely to Hollywood flats, but lashed together as per Broadway. 4 eyescrews per side are screwed in on the inside of the frames at consistent heights, top, top middle, lower middle and bottom, and a length of black sash cord tied to the SR of each flat.

 

It's now a doddle to set up the flats, lashing as you go, and adding any bracing that may be needed for door flats etc. We then joint the flats with 12 inch wide old wallpaper on the front, before wallpapering or painting the flats as required. It's very strong and light.

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Our flats use threaded inserts and thumb screws to attach plates and hinged joins. It's a system we've used for nearly 40 years and works really well, allowing quite large box sets to go up in half a day, ready to be prepped for painting. They're canvas covered, rather than ply faced.

 

Some of the flats have doorways in them, so that a door frame and any one of a selection of doors can be quickly inserted. Windows in flats are built from ply as and when required.

 

 

Edited by alistermorton
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If building canvas flats then triangles of ply can be used at corners for braces.

If single sided ply, or canvas, cheap single handed clamp grips can be used to hold them togetherGetting a few right angles into a set makes a more stable structure (i.e. A chimney breast or bay window)

Or even a bit of 2x1 running along the top and screwed into each flat to make them one unit.

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