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Free standing staircase

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by Tenor05, Jan 10, 2009.

  1. Tenor05

    Tenor05 Member

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    Any advice on building a free-standing staircase? We're doing Sound of Music. I'm planning on using stringers going up six feet (or so) to a short platform that will lead out of sight to a ladder off-stage. The staircase will ideally be able to be struck. How do I make a structure like that stable enough for two to three people to use at once? Or is there a better design that I'm overlooking?
     
  2. theatretechguy

    theatretechguy Member

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    If I'm understanding you correctly, what you're probably looking at is a rolling unit of some kind on a wagon with a locking mechanism (either a friction brake, locking wheels or a slide-bolt that secures to something else). Question, is this the interior staircase that's later used for the "So Long, Farewell" number? Or is this a staircase for the outdoor "Veranda" scenes? The set for Sound of Music is difficult because it most cases it has to completely go away for certain scenes (like the opening number). There are some tricks I've done with the show - never having the house set leave the stage and doing everything else downstage with drops and other set pieces hiding the house.

    There are some really good books on building stairs on your local Home Depot which can help a lot with the measurements, especially if you're doing something curved or ornate.
     
  3. jessamarie6

    jessamarie6 Member

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    As long as your platform is sturdy, a staircase the length you are talking about should be able to be supported by just the two side stringers (if your staircase is much wider than 4' I would strongly suggest a third stringer in the center).

    I just saw a production of "Our Town" in which staircases that were simply stringers and treads hooked into the platform (think hog's trough off the platform and back of stairs rests in that). They were able to lift the stairs out of the slot and move them away very quickly and smoothly.
     
  4. Tenor05

    Tenor05 Member

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    I'd likely use the stairs for the "So Long, Goodbye" scene. If I can figure a way to incorporate them into another scene, that'd be cool. However, my fear stems from the possibility of the entire unit swaying as actors get higher on the steps. I'd likely create a wide staircase, so the suggestion of three stringers is great. Thank you. Should I be concerned with instability? Would I need legs that outreach from the sides for additional support, similar to a cherry picker? (And while we're at it, what exactly are those legs called?)
     
  5. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    Diagonal braces in the structure will eliminate swaying.

    Also, with a height of 6 feet, you may need to consider a railing.

    Joe
     
  6. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Stability of the unit is going to be determined by a couple of factors:
    Width of staircase.
    Width of wagon.
    Height of staircase.
    Materials used in construction.
    Bracing.

    If you are making a 4 foot wide staircase then your wagon should really be a minimum of 6 feet wide.
    Construction technicque of the staircase has a lot to do with things as well. If you build it as a "real" staircase with the stringers knotched to accept the treads and risersit will be stabile but may not hold the capacity of all the Von Tropps at the same time. Using a 1/2" thisck material for the risers will greatly improve the stability of the unit and reduce the need for as much cross bracing underneath, as the riser essentially add lateral shear strength to the unit. You may want to construct the stringers ot of 3/4" ply. a lot of times I will cut out a stringer traditionally, then laminate that to an uncut peice of plywood the same width as the peice I started with for the stringer. This only gives you 3/4" to screw into on each side of the treads and risers, but it adds a lot of strength the to outside of the stringers. Unless my stairs are narrower than 24" I always add a center stringer.
    Railing isn't even a question, any stair over 3' needs to have a railing, unless it is an element specifically designed in a manner which prohibits.

    The big factor in swaying etc, and the weakest link in the stability game is going to be your casters, their placement, and you locking scheme.
    The casters need to be placed as far away from the center line on the unit as possible < but you need them in the center of the unit as well. >
    This will allow the unit itself to act as it's own Outriggers which is the word for the arms that come out the side of a cherry picker, Genie, Back Hoe, Canoe, etc, etc.
    When you lock down the wagon on it's spikes it ned to really lock down if it's sitting freen on swivel casters it'll just slide around like Snoopy on Ice.
    If you can build a Pnuematic or Hydraulic system to lift the unit onto is casters, then move the unit into place then drop the pressure so the unit is sitting on it's own framing, that would be best. If Not, then perhaps some good old fashion Improved stage screws and stage screw cleats could be your freind.
    Sorry I got long winded and had to walk away, now I back,
    If all this makes sense to you, hurry to your local Psychologist, If not feel free to fire back with more questions.
     
    lwinters630 likes this.
  7. cheef

    cheef Member

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    You may want to think of using a secular staircase. They have a much more stable base if built correctly plus they have a great appeal and look. We did one a few years ago with banister and everything that was about 7’ high. here is an A-CAD of it.
     

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  8. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    I built two moving staircases over the summer. I want to say they were 3' wide and 7' tall. We had pnematic cylinders on each corner to use as brakes. When these were in the down positon the piece was very solid, when they were up... not so much. They also have zero-throw casters on them so the pivots where set in a bit. They worked great, and did what they needed to do.

    http://vansandtdesigns.com/wordpress/?page_id=30&nggpage=2
     
  9. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    I apologize. I can't help myself.:oops:

    Does anyone else find it ironic that a TD at a Baptist Bible College is advocating a secular staircase?

    /end hijack
     
    lwinters630 likes this.
  10. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Hmmmmm, I was wondering about that myself. :twisted:
     
  11. cheef

    cheef Member

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    That is great! That is why we use Spell Check.
     
  12. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    To be honest.... I was trying to figure out what a secular staircase was... and then wondering how a staircase leaves a religion...
     
  13. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    Certainly not something Led Zeppelin would write a song about...


    Joe
     
  14. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    "We are climbing Jacob's staircase",.... Hmm doesn't have the same ring to it.
     
  15. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    Quick question. I've built at least a dozen staircases and I've built them a dozen different ways. I'm closing in on a favorite design but I have some questions.

    I am building pair of staircases to a platform that is going to be around 72" tall. I'm planning on building the stairs to be 48" wide and using three stringers. 2 Questions

    1. The last staircase I had built used 3/4" plywood for the steps. Is that alright or should I up it to something more substantial?

    2. I want the area underneath the steps to be empty, am I good with just using three 4x4s to support the high side, or do I need middle supports?

    Bonus question. These are for Anything Goes. Any suggestions for building handrails and banisters that are made of wood but look like the metal rails you would expect on a ship?
     
  16. kicknargel

    kicknargel Well-Known Member

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    With 3/4" treads, they're going to need to be supported, either by making the risers structural or with framing. With 1 1/2" treads, they're stiff enough to be supported by the three stringers alone.

    As far as unsupported span, it depends on the width of the stringers. I don't have a rule of thumb I'm comfortable typing into the internet. I'd say you could build them, load them to their max possible use (including the live load of dancing) and check for deflection to decide if you need an additional leg.

    We've done handrails by building up routed profiles of MDF (or Trex if you need to bend).
     
  17. FatherMurphy

    FatherMurphy Active Member

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    If the pipe railings need to be curved, plastic irrigation piping is something to consider. It doesn't do tight bends, but it can make things like spiral stairs easy.
     
  18. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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  19. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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  20. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    I'm not so worried about my ability to figure it out, but to get my students to make 6 of the same thing 100% identical is a tricky thing. I just might give it a shot though.
     

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