Making Flats?

Hey, is there anyone out there who can give me some info on how to construct flats?

I am interested in canvas covered (I believe they are called "soft") flats.

We need to build a 12'x6' flat with a window in it for an upcomming show and no one at my school has ever buit one before.

Any info or directions to where I can find info would be helpful.

-Ben :idea:


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
This is a prime candidate for the other members and silent majority - especially the students out there to answer.

Think Wolf, I and others doing this sort of thing for a living would be best off PM'ing you with our own thoughts if any, and only adding a post in here to correct info. Agreed?
:!: :?: Well Im a high school student and have only used soft flats once and that was a play in 8th or 9th grade. I would start out my getting four 1 by 4 boards. Two that are 11' 9 and a half " and two that are 5' 9 and half ". The reason being is that dove-tailing the frame will give it more strength. By dove-tailing the boards the dimensions of the smaller cut boards will give you the full 6' by 12' dimension. (dove-tailing is when you place one board on the inside of the board that is at the top of it and perpindicular and on the outside ot the board that is on the bottom and perpindicular to it.) Place the two longer boards on the wide side parallel with one another then place the two shorter ones perpindicular to the longer ones. Place one of the 12' boards on the inside of the 6' boards and screw it in with 1 to 1 and a half inch screws. On the other side of the 6' boards place the 12' board on the outside and screw them in the same way. (you might want to predrill where you want to screw to prevent the wood from splitting.) Then go to the other side of the 12' boards and on the one you put on the outside of the 6' board now put on the inside of the other 6' board. Then place the other 12' board on the outside of the other side of the 6' board and screw them in. Now you have the basic frame.

Now you will want a 6' 1by 4 board to screw in across the middle of your frame. Simply place one end square on top of one of your 12' 1 by 4's and then put the other side of the 6' 1by 4 on the other 12 footer and screw them in with one or one and a half inch screws.

Now get your canves, cut it about 6' 2" by 12' 2" and paint it how you want it and draw the window where you want it. ( the extra two inches is to hold it in place and fold over the edges.) You can cut the window out with either a box cutter or sharp scissors. Now stretch the canvas over the front of your flat ( the side that doesnt have the 6' one by four board going across it.) The best way to do this is to screw one corner of the canvas into the matching corner of the frame and then do another corner and screw that corner in. Then do the other two corners the same way. When you have the canvas stretched take the sides and about every six inches or so screw in another screw throught the canvas into the one by four boards.

Now you will want to get half or 3 quarter inch ply wood. Get two 1' by 1 foot pieces and cut them in half diaganoly. This can me done with a jigsaw or a radial saw. you will end up with four pieces of this. One piece goes on each corner. Square the edges of the playwood with the square edges of your flat. Now screw the ply wood through the canvas and into the 1 by 4 boards. Do this on all corners and your flat will be much sturdier. You should have you flat now and it should be ready to go. You can paint the canvas after you put it on the frame if you wish. Any questions email me at [email protected]


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Not a bad start to explaining things. Think that it could have used some editing, checking of terms and stuff, but definately you are in the running and extra credit will be given for it amongs the judges I am sure.
And thus the first one in the running for the swag, and only 10 days left post your answers.

More important, you attempted to help someone to the best of your ability, who asked a question. Given that, I'll send you a prize anyway win or not. Wait until the contest is over, than directly PM in sending either me Brian Ship or DVS Dave a address to mail the freshly swiped swag that is sitting on my desk at work, and I will send it to you that shirt if you win, and at least the first person prize if not both. Don't know what I'll send you yet, if it's not a winner's prize yet, but might be something better yet. At least, heck what bands do you listen to and want the crew shirt for, that's easy tour swag to get in most instances.

Dave, Wolfe, JoJo and I have all been talking about bribes for tech people and how easy it is for us to get swag, and how nice it is to get it while in school. Me thinks this is just the start. Agree Dave?


Benevolent Dictator
Senior Team
CB Mods
Fight Leukemia
ship said:
Dave, Wolfe, JoJo and I have all been talking about bribes for tech people and how easy it is for us to get swag, and how nice it is to get it while in school. Me thinks this is just the start. Agree Dave?
Definitely... swag is good stuff and you don't get virtually any swag at the high-school level...

Great post, the_marching_penguin!!

I look forward to reading how our other members would go about making flats!!


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
the_marching_penguin, as your prize, I just snagged the fresh out of the box Matchbox 20 Fall 2003 Tour/Upstaging Lighting & Transport shirt. It's grey/blue with red writing on it. And long sleeve which makes it more valuable. Will this suffice as prize in being the first person to post a reply?

I trust that you are about a Large??? or are you X-large, XX-Large or super huge nightgown for normal people large?

Unlesss a few more people post a very late - how to answer in helping Light-er_12 with his question soon, it looks like you will also get the Martin Swag shirt. Cut off time is 10PM EST Sunday Night. I have now written 32 pages that will be posted later on how to do this step by step citing 10 sources from 1931 to 1995 on the subject. Certainly some college student that had to build a soft flat in class could whip out a page of directions in a few minutes.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
The following will be a preliminary "how to" and guide on building soft flats. It's a week in the making, and over three days in editing.

In posting it on the forum part of the website, I hope to get comments on changes, other ways to do things, details I leave out, etc. Anything will help in making this guide as thorough as possible for the greater good of all.

Yes it is long, but in reading hopefully you will understand why.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Introduction and Terms

Making the Frame for a 12'x6' Soft Flat with a window:

Starting Materials:
(2)1x4x12' #2 or better Pine
(5)1x4x6' #2 or better Pine
(2)1x2x4'-3"' #2 or better Pine
(X)1x4xUnknown length #2 or better pine for window supports
(1)1/4"x2'x4' grade BC or better Plywood
(1)Wood Glue
(1#) #6x3/4" Narrow Profile Flat Head Phillips Wood Screws
Asstd. Tools: Sand Paper of at least 80 grit, a 16' tape measure, Speed Square or try-square or both, pencil, framing square, safety glasses, & power tools including a table saw capable of accurate cuts in making the plywood keystone and corner block shapes with a miter gauge, another saw capable of 90° and 45° cuts in lumber and the plywood, a belt sander using at least 60grit paper, and a cordless screw driver/drill capable of clutch settings, with a #6 countersink bit and driver bit.

Layouts of where to install fasteners and general guidelines for keystone/corner block sizes is based off the sizes listed in the Backstage Handbook 3rd Ed. By Paul Carter. The book and description posted here for building flats is meant to be a supplement to what other books and live instruction on scenery will offer on this most basic unit of stagecraft subject, and not as a replacement for either. All colleges offering basic stagecraft classes should require every person attending the class to learn how and build at least this one item. There is a reason for both the instruction and the hands on. An excellent text on this subject that is still on the market is The Stagecraft Handbook by Daniel A. Ionazzi. This will present one way of doing this but certainly not the only way. Scenery for the Theater c.1971 is the most well known and respected text on the subject and is still published also but very expensive. Another text on soft flats to look for and is recommended by the above book would be Philip W. Barber’s “Scene Technician’s Handbook.” For every one book on the subject, there is uniformly at least one different technique of doing this but some main commonalities and goals to it. Almost no two books on, much less programs teaching the subject even those written within the same period of time or geographically in the same area and using the same materials such as glue type, recommend or use the exact same techniques. Nor will I. “Not only do they differ in details, but methods recommended by some authors are denounced by others as serious errors. To relate in detail all possible variations would require multiplying the length of discussion many times.” (Stagecraft c.1978) This is the reason why most texts on the subject only present one or two methods out of simplicity but recognize that there are more.

I will attempt to provide an overview of techniques and tips used from 1931 to today or at least the differences in them as an overview plus my own steps unique to my experience for the best overview of options, results. Changes presented follow differences over the years in technology and materials used. Because of this, the subject I present instruction on is going to be longer than normally presented due to the amount of things covered in detail. Such detail should help supplement that which is normally covered in person or during a proper training course on stagecraft. In my view, while long, the details will provide better training and instruction in adaption of the reader’s own skills and style and hopefully understand the reasons for the methods and goals common to all similar construction. Try to keep up with it for details even if more in depth than might be wished for the best understanding of what to watch for and other methods to consider. After consideration and experience with the technician’s own method and style developed over time and experience, some things I present and devote more time too such as the care taken to get all edges sanded and very flat can be done differently or left out. All texts would agree upon such a goal. There are many ways to do this. Once you learn and understand a base style of doing it, your own style can use as much or as little as presented.

The layout of materials and size of the lumber making up this flat specified, is specific to this 6x12 flat in addition to being meant to be a set of in-general standards, and in details about constructing soft flats. The tips posted here hopefully will act as a base for constructing other flat sizes and constructions off of this general size and type. Such advice and techniques I present are meant to supplement, but can never replace real world construction needs for the project or supervision and training for it especially where the use of tools is concerned. In other words, while all attempts to be very thorough in describing ways of soft flat construction, what to look for and notice, it is no substitute for trained eyes on the project giving personal instruction.

There are a hundred other ways to join lumber and build scenery, and many of the tips outlined here do not follow or at least cite differences to standard techniques such as not using 1x3 lumber for the flat which is the main industry standard. Instead and out of simplicity, I advise switching to using 1x4 lumber in being readily available as a precut size in long lengths and providing a larger surface for the back set keystone and corner blocks to fasten to which will not weaken the joint’s strength. A second reason I present in the use 1x4 lumber is, short of ripping clear sections of it down from 1x12 stock, finding good structural sections of 1x3 sufficient in length and strength much less cost will be more difficult today than in times past. In general the grade of lumber used today is not what was used in the past. C-select (that is advised for construction in the old days) is not the #2 construction grade pine currently very available and cheap. With the advent of the home center that supplies most theater shops today, and the industry in general using a 1x4 construction grade as stock sizes of lumber. It is easier to conform to that standard. Given this cost effectiveness and less strength overall on the lower grade of lumber, the size of the lumber needs to compensate for it to get the same results in my opinion.

Another difference in style which can be contested about but is presented, is how the fabric is trimmed on the flat. In general, most books giving more detailed and professional instruction on the subject will advise the fabric to be back set from the edge of the flat. Some others will recognize that method and also support wrapping the fabric all the way around the side of the flat as an alternative with its own advantages. For the most part, only manuals that are providing a superficial look at the subject will advise the fabric to be trimmed directly to the trimmed edge. I on the other hand was taught another different style early on with its own advantages and disadvantages. I will try to present four ways of attaching and trimming the fabric and present the benefits and shortfalls of all so they are all known about and considered.

A Rail is the 1x3 or 1x4 top and bottom board on a soft flat. It is the only board that is the true length in an overall dimension of the flat. It prevents the stile from coming loose due to locking it into place, and provides a smooth one-piece/no seam surface to slide or “skid” the flat across a floor without damaging the end grain of a stile in doing this. It also provides a lumber joint free edge at the top of the flat to end the wall with.

A Stile is the 1x3 or 1x4 side board on a soft flat in providing the height and support for the mid-section of the flat. It is installed between rails and supports the toggles. This is one of the most important framing members on the flat to ensure it’s not using warped wood due to its overall length. It is joined to the rail by way of corner block. Normally this joint is a butt joint to the rail - top and bottom with a corner block, but it can also be a half lap or mortise and tenon with perhaps even pegs locking the tenons into place for ease in disassembly should the flat be desired to be collapsible. Such a flat should otherwise be glued into place for a very strong construction. Other joint techniques and details of joints will be presented below.

A Toggle is the 1x3, 1x4 or even a 1x6 ladder rung like inner support and structure of the flat for hanging molding, pictures and windows on the flat in addition to supporting and spreading the stiles. The Toggles are installed between the stiles on a flat with keystones but sometimes corner blocks. Toggles often are installed at approximate 36" to 42" on centers between them for extra strength. Most texts state distances between four and six feet between toggles, and for minimum serviceable strength on a 10' tall flat, only one is required. - Theatrical Set Design c1969 I do not recommend this especially was 1x3 lumber to be used. The toggle is joined to the stile with a keystone in a butt joint. Mortise and tenon, or half lap joints dependant upon the type of scenery and construction needs for the longevity can also be used especially for double-sided flats.

A Diagonal Brace is a 1x2 or 1x3 diagonal framing member similar to a toggle which acts as a sway brace for flats over 3' in width. One each is installed between the stile and the top rail and the same stile and bottom rail. Both share the stile of one side in common. Their normal location is starting at about the middle of the flat running on a 45° angle diagonally to the stile. There is normally only one set of them installed on the flat, as opposed to one set per each of the corners. It is very important not to install diagonal braces on opposing corners because it will only prevent sway in one direction not both. If there is a door, both diagonal braces are placed on the top rail, otherwise, there should be one each above and below the flat and off the same stile.

If well attached, the diagonal brace is a lumber member in compression or tension that will prevent force to the flat that would send it out of square above the support that a corner block would provide. This is a very important framing member, and one that are frequently left out, thus why soft flats develop some wrinkles or fall out of square. That in addition to problems with the wakening of corner joints in such a case, the only thing preventing sway. The brace must be both cut properly and supported properly, if not in this case installed into the stile and rail with alternative joint. This member since it is not used for cross dimensional strength, only tension and compression is allowed to be of smaller lumber to cut down on space and wight. The smaller dimension will also make it easier to be accurately installed

A Window brace/stile or “Lintel Toggle” (for lack of an actual term for it), is a 1x3, or 1x4 vertical rail is a sort of toggle running between two toggles or toggles and rail plus saddle/sill iron in the case of a door. It is used as vertical support for the rough framing of a window of a door opening in a flat. It is installed in the same way as toggles, but depends upon the window size needed. Keystones or straps back set 3/4" from the opening are the usual means of attachment. Glueing of such toggles used for window support is dependant upon needs for its future adjustment in accommodating other window sizes.

A Window support brace is an optional support of 1x3 or 1x4 having no proper term but is a supporting member or post for the frame of a window to pick up some of the window’s weight. It should not cut thru a toggle in going to a rail, or it will cause support problems to the flat’s structure. This vertical load-bearing member can be installed on the center of the window or opposing/frame sides of the window and in line with the lintel toggle. How many and where they are located depends upon window size. The support brace on high windows can be run between toggles so as to have both toggles below a window carry the weight of a window, but is normally run between toggle and bottom rail. The window support brace does not take priority over a toggle and should if there is a toggle between it and a bottom rail, never allow the toggle to run all the way thru the flat’s toggle. This will be explained further below.

A Keystone is a 1/4" plywood support for attaching the toggle to the stile and frequently also used for inner toggle or brace supports. This support block is similar in shape to the top stone in a Greek archway, and gets its name from that shape. The block as referenced in “The Backstage Handbook” has dimensions’ 1/4" thick x8"x3.1/2"x2.3/4" using 84° Angles for its sides. The purpose of this block’s sides in being sloped are so that on the stile, attachment fasteners attaching the keystone to it are more dispersed. This decreases the chances for splits in the stile from fasteners too close together. The smaller dimension of the keystone attaches to the toggle part of the joint. It’s more narrow so as not to have the block gets hung up on or snagged on scenery given the needs of the opposing side large enough to distribute fasteners. The grain on this plywood should be cut so the grain is running lengthwise with the 8" length opposing and perpendicular to the seam in a butt joint.

Plywood like lumber is strongest in the direction of its grain on the outside surface. Some texts specify that a keystone is best not glued to the lumber to leave it possible for the toggle to be moved as needed. - Theatrical Set Design c.1969. On stock non-window flats, toggles should be glued into place out of strength and rigidity requirements, any extra supporting toggles needed for attachment of pictures for instance, when they fall outside of the normal position of a toggle can be temporarily attached to the frame later without need for moving the main toggles in the frame. Other texts such as Stagecraft c.1978 note that use of a keystone proper is not necessary. As a variation to the traditional design, corner blocks can be used throughout. This on small lumber such as 1x3 or 1x2 for the diagonal sway, will provide more surface area to fasten the splint with especially when the block is back set from the edge - see below. Stagecraft also notes that corner blocks are easier to manufacture, and easier to keep in stock. A problem with a flat without keystones is, in modifying and cutting the flat for a window or installation of a second toggle near to one that is already installed. At this point, the corner block would have to be removed which could damage the flat, or at least cut away to make a flush edge. A corner block, to its benefit is not only easy to keep back from the outside edges of the flat, but also still support the toggle properly even if back set from the window or door opening edges of the toggle should a reveal need to be mounted directly to the flat. Both keystones and corner blocks used to attach toggles have advantages and disadvantages. A corner block attaching a 1x4 toggle to a 1x4 stile is unnecessary, there is enough surface area to attach to. On smaller frame lumber, the corner block on its butt joint will have the advantage but possibly be in the way at times.

A Corner Block by the “Backstage Handbook” is of 1/4" plywood and 9" on its short legs, thus a little more than 12.11/16" on the long length of the isosceles triangle. Sizes ranging from 12" to 8" are the size range frequently used. The larger the block on smaller sizes of lumber frames, the more support it will offer. It’s grain when installed needs to be perpendicular to the butt joint. It is also normal on all splints/blocks to put the best face of the plywood outboard so as to reduce chance for splinters or damage to it. An alternate and otherwise recommended way of cutting corner blocks is to cut and install them so that plywood grain is at a 45° angle to the joint. This 45° will provide more both vertical and horizontal support to the corner, provide more strength in attaching to the stile and provide a bit more strength to the plywood part of the block that is not attached directly to the lumber. This would be especially advantageous if the corner block has a hole for lash line in it. Cutting a corner block on an angle will require more lumber and more thought in cutting it, but is a better method overall. Installation of corner blocks is best done with a traced pattern of the rail and stile atop it so it is assured that fasteners will not be placed too close to an edge or end of the board. Like with all splints/blocks, follow the nailing pattern well published in most books on the subject including The Backstage Handbook with details about how close to the edge to apply them below.

A Strap is a replacement for a keystone block for the inner flat supporting members best to be attached with. It’s a rectangle instead of keystone shape of 8"x2.3/4" size. The purpose of the equal sided support as opposed to just using keystones for everything is to allow reveals and other window or door supports to be installed without the edge of the plywood getting in the way. Also if wrapping the edge of the frame and its back with fabric, the fabric being wrapped around the inside of the flat might develop a wrinkle when it got to the wider 3" part of the block as it crosses the seam. The width dimensions of this 2.3/4" block have been weighed against dispersing the screw’s fastening it in deciding that maintaining a ½" to a 3/4" gap between block and edge of the frame for the fabric is best. A corner block if properly installed and back set can frequently be used in place of a strap for extra support.

A half strap is similar in width and length to that of a strap, except that it is used for attaching a diagonal brace to the rail or stile of the flat and thus needs its ends clipped off at a 45° angle. It’s a trapezoid in shape. The inner dimension of this otherwise 8" x 2.3/4" strap is 4" after cutting the corners of the strap for use as a half strap. This is sized 1x3 diagonal brace board. A 1x2 brace would need a more narrow strap. Substituting corner blocks for normal half straps, especially the 6" legged scrap from cutting corner blocks with the grain diagonal or 45° is a stronger solution. It will provide more than enough support with distributing the fasteners and providing enough surface area to the seam, especially for thinner say 1x2 lumber.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Lumber and Joinery

Lumber for the flat:
Use nominally sized 1x2, 1x3 and 1x4 lumber in at least #2 construction grade or better such as clear pine of “B” or better and “C” Select for best results. Though 2x2 lumber might have as many square inches of lumber, avoid its use on scenery of this type, it will be less strong in providing structure than a 1x3. Construction grade and clear pine will often be referred to as Ponderosa Pine, Southern Yellow Pine, or what is frequently just called White Wood. Back in 1946 as per Modern Theater written in that era, such lumber as yellow pine and Douglas fir would be third choices to Northern or Idaho White Pine or at least Sugar Pine - none of which is currently most likely to be available at your local lumber yard. For this reason, and the fact that construction grade pine even will often have less of a standard to its quality available than 15 years ago, 1x4 lumber will be the better choice in widths than 1x3 for the same strength and quality when only #2 construction or common grade is to be used. True clear pine lumber is very rare to the market and expensive. Much less finding one with a tight grain in it’s cut for the most strength. Many places have switched to poplar lumber or plywood for this quality reason. It might but probably will not work as well for economical soft flats especially where finding up to 16' sizes of it is concerned. This up sizing of the lumber is given the added weight of 1x4 framing instead of 1x3 framing is not going to be much of an issue. See table 6.1 and 6.2 of Scenery for the Theater c.1971 for details about lumber available for use and advantages and disadvantages to them.

The boards on a soft flat need to be as straight and clear of knots as possible especially on the stile and rails. Do not accept cups, checks, other than tight knots of less than 1" in the dia. at most, or especially other lumber with problems such as sap leaks, mold spores or dry-rotted wanes in the lumber, all of which will very possibly seep thru the fabric or paint covering of the finished product. Bad lumber used for your flats will provide a bad end result and the lumber will not be as strong or hold up to as much abuse. This flat needs to be of as best premium grade lumber as you can afford, pick the best cut around problems to make smaller members if you want it to last.

It is frequently cheaper to purchase clear pine 1x lumber in sizes such as 1x12x16' and in bulk, and rip on a table saw down to the stock and special widths that you need. Allow your lumber to acclimatize to the work shop or stage for two to seven days in neatly and well-supported stacks that allow for air flow before using it, especially if the lumber bought has been stored out doors. If your lumber is too fresh, it can warp as it dries making a once square and straight walled flat warped and split after it dries. It’s not the easiest way to work with deliveries, or in keeping a shop stocked with constantly arriving but fresh lumber, but is the best when used for specific projects like this. 1x3 Lumber while classically used for up to 5'-9" by 14' tall flats, today can be more replaced with 1x4 lumber as in the cutting dimensions for this 6x12 flat. (After 5'-9"x14' in size, 5/4"x4" lumber is recommended for larger or a ceiling flat framing if not 1"x18 ga. welded box tubing - Theatrical Design & Production - Gelette c.1987 ) The 5'-9 normal maximum width is traditional to rail car door openings and otherwise is a stock size for the maximum normal transportable size of lumber. It is also the largest width that can be achieved with normal 6' wide fabric coverings. A 6' flat being only 3" more than normal should not be a problem in size for normal 1x3 framing, but would be better if a larger size of lumber such as 1x4 were used to make it up for strength given fabric wider than that size can be used to cover the flat, otherwise a 5'-9" wide flat should still be considered to be maximum width.

Checking for warped boards can be done with the eye along its length to some degree. If it is necessary to be more accurate, one can lay the board on a flat surface and observe if it is touching the surface on all sides of the board as you rotate it from side to side. You can even try to slide a piece of paper under the board all along its length to see where high points are. This should be done on all four sides of the board but the accuracy of paper slid beneath the lumber should not be necessary. Alternatively, the board can be laid on a surface and a line traced on its edge. The board is than flipped over and matched up to that edge to compare if it’s true. This method unless your lines and alignment of the board is very exact will probably not work very well. Either of the latter tests would be considered a form of an end for end tests. It is similar to some of the steps used to check if a level is level, a construction square is square or if a saw is out of alignment given slightly differing methods of doing this “end for end” test.

On a 12' piece of lumber, there should be no warp to it more than 3/16" at the center which can be easily bent back to straight. Lumber with dog ends, hockey stick ends or warps closer to the edge should not be used. Instead they can often be used for shorter boards especially toggles that are not supporting windows - given the warp across the wide part of the board and not bowing out and will lie flat. In using such lumber with a warp for a stile, make sure that both stiles are not warped very severely and especially that they are not pointing in the same direction across the flat or toggles will not be able to correct for the warpage - the flat will have bowed sides off to one direction and not line up with other flats. Try to avoid using warped boards overall, but if warped lumber is to be used, you should put the warp toward the center.

The most warped lumber can be used for diagonal braces given the 45° angles can be accurately cut in compensating for the warp or when necessary for toggles given a true right angle to the stile, 90° edges on the entire board can be achieved - not just the end of the board. The best way to do this is with a long rip fence on a saw which extends for at least three quarters of the length of the board to be cut, and not just a short fence such as on a power miter box that will give a square cut to the end of the board but not one that is square in compensating for a warp in it. Square to the length of the board not it’s warped ends. Cut lumber must also be properly supported or long lengths of it can easily develop a slight upward compound angle when cut which will also not be square in providing a truly flush butt joint. Lumber with large knots, especially knots near the edge of the board should also be avoided. If such lumber with small tight knots needs to be used, it should be placed toward the inside of the flat and if possible cut off in making shorter boards. Avoid the area of such knots when fastening to it. Stagecraft c.1978 recommends using a square to verify the cut of the lumber at this point before installing it in the flat. I recommend making sure that your saw is true in the first place by the end for end test method mentioned below because it will be much easier to make square on both straight and warped lumber and be more accurate to verify.

If possible, do not use used or old lumber. While it probably has done all the warping it’s going to do unless soaked and moist, it tends to be dry and will split much easier in general even after the fact. Any fasteners missed in clearing old lumber for a second time in use can seriously damage a saw blade and possibly injure the user of the tool. If necessary with used lumber, run a metal detector, or stud sensor over the area to be cut to ensure there is no metal left behind, and sand or surface plane any paint or old glue off the surface or the glue will not bond as well. Old lumber also will not allow glue to absorb as well into its poors or take paint the same as fresh lumber. Dirt on the old or used lumber will also prevent glue from sticking to it. Just as importantly, do not mix old and new lumber, both to be on the frame to a flat. They will have different moisture contents and absorption ratios, and Norm from This Old House would give you a more than usual cross-eyed look in not taking care. Lumber and adhesives are a complex science, but as long as you follow simple rules, you don’t need to worry about the complex parts to it. While fresh lumber might shrink some, the old lumber will not as much - this can wreck a seam. Short of scrubbing your old lumber to remove dust and dirt that seep into poors, than letting it dry sufficiently to absorb the glue, or planing and sanding the boards, than wetting and cleaning them, they will not readily accept fresh glue bonding to it as easily as fresh lumber. Even with worked on but old lumber, it will not as readily accept glue in the same way as fresh lumber. It is a bad idea to mix the two with woodworking. This mixture of fresh and old lumber can cause splits, warps and problems in the framing if the two are mixed. It is possible to use old and even pre-painted lumber for flats and other things, but in general, it is not wise to mix new with old, or to use old lumber on this size of flat or any flat. Use the old and used lumber for other things that do not require all components to work as if one.

Other lumber:
Do not use what is frequently referred to as a “Super Strip.” Such lumber - frequently spruce, is not dried to the same extent or is as lasting and forgiving in quality and strength. They might seem nice looking in the store, but will not stay that way. A super strip if used, when it dries will very possibly shrink more than normal, split where fastened and warp far too much after it is dried and installed. It is also often cut to a smaller than normal nominal size and is frequently sold with rounded edges that will not help in joining flats. While it is cheaper, super strips for framing a flat are not a good substitute. Do not use Super Strips for framing or other things besides as intended.

Fir lumber is a good alternative to pine and very similar to it if not better in often having a tighter grain structure. Douglas Fir and Hemlock Fir are usually just as forgiving as pine in use, absorption of moisture that keeps it alive, and they are for the most part stronger but more expensive. However it is probably not wise to mix pine with the fir in places that might seem wise such as the fir on the stile and pine for the rest. Shrink ratios and moisture absorptions will not be the same causing parts of the flat to decrease in size more than others. These differences can be something that might be noticed on a finished flat, given the goal of a smooth and even front finish. Construction of a quality flat is an investment in time. While by current construction techniques it possibly will not last as long, you want to keep in mind it’s re-usability and overall life balanced against the man-hours and materials you will put into its construction. The frame of a flat can be reused thru many re facings of the muslin given quality workmanship. This might be something to keep in mind.

Do not use hard woods such as poplar, oak, maple or other materials - especially cherry or box wood. Its weight will be more and when dry, such lumber will frequently chip and crack easier due to it’s density and hardness. Such materials also will be harder to use and construct with. All hard woods can be used, but are not as easy or recommended for stock scenery. Poplar and possibly redwood being the possible exceptions to hardwood lumber soft enough to work normally. Your flat very probably is not going to need to last 100 years, so there is not a good reason to use premium grade hardwood lumber especially if it is going to be covered with muslin and flown. Due to its larger density thus weight and lower flexibility hardwoods unless specifically engineered will be cost prohibitive and heavy. Oak soft flats might be a good concept, but are not necessary for normal stock scenery.

Plywood for Keystone and Corner Blocks:
Plywood is necessary for the supports/blocks to this flat, but on a soft flat which by its design is not as strong in engineering design strength as a hard flat, plywood rails, stiles and toggles are not recommended. They are not as strong linearly as lumber due to the cross grain, and the components will weigh more than the flat is rated for. In this 12' length, plywood is not as able to retain its moisture content necessary for linear strength and will need to be spliced with an equal size in thickness and overly long splint to extend its length. Plywood in combination with pine for other framing members, due to the 1/32" less thickness will not allow a flush surface without a lot of work to bring the lumber down in thickness to match. Plywood, especially 7-ply poplar lumber might be a serviceable alternative for pine in a professional hard flat used for industrial shows, but for a soft flat with rails on flat not on edge -, it will not suffice as well in strength or durability for a soft flat. Don’t use plywood for soft flat rails, toggles or other parts.

Use 1/4" to 3/8" thick MDO, AC, AD or BC plywood for keystone and corner blocks. Such plywood is ideal for the required support and strength necessary for this style of flat. MDO plywood while not normally used for such things as a soft flat and probably overkill will be the most strong material generally available. When figuring for thickness and strength, that paper face on double faced MDO plywood can for the most part is assumed structurally to be the next size up in thickness due to quality of materials making it up and added strength that paper face to it. For all intended purposes, 1/4" double faced MDO plywood can considered be as strong as 3-ply normal 3/8" plywood in strength for this use. The question on a soft flat is in cost effectiveness. Considering the span of this 6'x12' flat, how much added support is a thicker or better quality plywood going to add to a joint, given the already extreme flex in the 12' or 6' span of a 1x4 much less 1x3? Short of making an extreme strength say 3' square soft or hard flats with lumber on flat rather than on edge, MDO plywood probably will not be necessary and be a waste of money unless readily available and for free. Double faced MDO plywood as opposed to normal plywood is the actual thickness and not nominal 1/32" smaller dimension of other plywood. This is from the heavy paper face which helps in its strength.

As mentioned, plywood due to its thinner layers holding moisture and breathing with a cross grain, in addition to lots of glue and pressure between layers, plywood defiantly has a different movement or shrink ratio to it from lumber, as it breaths. Use fresh plywood for your blocks in a similar line of reasoning to that of using fresh lumber to at least allow for the most absorption of glue and shrinkage similar to that of lumber. Movement on plywood is almost nominal dependant upon the grade and thickness of layers as opposed to normal lumber. Yet and what would offend Norm, in scenery and especially soft flats, you still need to glue the plywood to the frame if you want that butt joint to be strong. Such joints as opposed to furniture meant to last a few hundred years when of good quality, on a soft flat such joints have a limited life span and structure to them. Glueing the joint, while limited in life before it loosens or splits lumber attached to it due to movement in the frame or breathing of the lumber it’s, is the strongest possible way given the butt joint normal to flats.
All lumber in drying and shrinking is mostly perpendicular to the linear grain strands of parts of a flat such as the stile. Plywood does not have a single direction of its grain. It will not shrink or swell as much other than possibly in thickness.
Another reason besides fire resistance and warpage to paint or at least flame proof and seal all parts of a flat is to keep and seal in the moisture content of the lumber so it does not keep adjusting to the humidity. At least as much.

Lauan Mahogany plywood is nowhere close to a nominal 1/4" or 7/32" thick, it’s much less - closer to 3/16". Nor is Lauan as strong. AC grade plywood is usually made out of fir plywood, BC grade plywood is usually made out of pine plywood, in addition to other details about it’s grading such as materials used and glue type. Think about that verses what is inferred by it being called Lauan Mahogany. Any idea about what type of lumber is used such as a hardwood, and one that is not going to be as strong given its thickness and grade, or as pliable even if often it’s not actually mahogany in the plywood? If at all possible, do not use lauan for your project. It’s best to use type BC or AC 1/4" plywood if possible. If you want to build something “that will last,” build it out of normal plywood, otherwise, use of the Lauan will normally be cheaper overall and should suffice if it’s what your budget will allow, but such materials will not be as strong or long lasting. Look at the end grain of Lauan verses that of plywood. The layers of lumber on lauan are less in quality and in number than that of real plywood, and for this size of flat, much less the supports of any flat, you can use the extra support of proper plywood on a butt joint.

Masonite”/hard board, wafer board, MDF. and particle boards are an even more poor choice than even lauan for this keystone or corner block supporting material. Simply put, don’t use any of them for this purpose. The materials that make them up are by far structurally what you should not be using. Look at where the grain of the materials - if any, in putting the strength of the grain across the seam. On a 12' tall by 6' wide flat, having a block taking up and preventing the movement of a joint, much less on any soft flat, it requires real plywood not saw dust or chips of lumber that are glued together and pressed. They will also add weight to your flat due to the glue and fine granules of saw dust being more dense than normal plywood. Very little impact resistance or flex in such materials, it’s just really smart to avoid them for anything but what they were intended for.

Modern steel straps such as the hurricane strap or nailer plate while useful in 2x4 housing and deck construction for the most part also will not form as strong of a joint as a plywood block laminated to the framing lumber of the soft flat. It might be possible to use steel plates of a minimum of 18ga, but for the most part they will be more expensive to use, and less strong or durable in this situation as compared to plywood keystones and corner blocks. This would be unless they were only there to lock into place another means of support for the joint such as a half lap, mortise, dowel or even biscuit joint. This strap in combination with a biscuit joining technique (see below) however could show some promise and might have already started to make its appearance in the industry. Straps without supplemental support will quickly suffer from metal fatigue at the joint. Another downfall of using such straps would be that it will not be possible to countersink it or the fasteners attaching the strap to the frame and they could scratch floors if the flat is moved while face up. Pan head screws would be substituted for flat head screws, if not specific other nails, but without glueing the strap to the lumber with adhesive that bonds to the surface of both the lumber and the metal, such as liquid nails, contact cement or epoxy, the strap will never fully prevent the joint from loosening even with an alternative joint such as a biscuit.

Different and other joints useful for framing soft flats:
Normally such joints in modern soft flats are butt joints with corner blocks and keystones, but they can as above be done in other ways as long as tight, strong and supported properly. What type of joint used depends upon the necessity for the extra work in the end product, how long you wish the flat to last and how good the skill at doing more advanced joints. A weak, cut too deep or cut too wide and loose half lap or mortise joint for instance is going to be by far less strong than a simple splinted and glued butt joint. A normal butt joint should last for at least 10 years of normal use. After that it’s a question of the cost effectiveness of the soft flat in paying for the time and materials invested in construction for weighing the value of more complex and time-consuming types of carpentry. Butt joints as supported by splints, are normal to today’s theater given the advent of plywood and quality glue or fasteners. More extravagant joints for the most part now are unnecessary except for specific applications such as on a double sided/faced soft flat, or possibly flats that will need stronger framing methods. An alternative to using a toggle, especially on a double-faced flat is to use well supported threaded rods to adjust for and retain the tension between stiles by way of turn buckles and inserts into the wood, but this method adds to weight and is difficult to install.

The mortise and tenon jointed flat will require special techniques, tools, time and skill for its construction, but probably last longest. Depending upon need and effort desired to put into the flat’s joints, or how thin/flat, especially if double faced or pocket doors in rail sliding, flats used on hinges or flown this joint would be superior to others. It has if well-made enough is the only type of joint that does not require glue to hold the materials tight together given pegs or screws are used to lock them into place. In this way, the joint is able to be taken apart later if needed. It is best glued for strength in addition to such fasteners, but does not require keystone and corner blocks other than for added reinforcement. Such lumber used for this type of material needs to be stronger than pine and is possibly best off being oak due to the slenderness of the lumber in this application. Such a joint on #2 pine would require keystones and corner blocks if not larger ones for the added strength.

Half lap such as cross laps, end and middle laps and others similar to it in joining two boards together by halving their thickness at the joint each cross can also be very effective joints to use. They will be less strong in all directions than a mortise and tenon but easier to do. While safe to do this joint on a flat with pine, it would be best done with premium grades if not fir lumber. This joint will also be effective for the pocket door, double faced, hinged or flown flats, but would be best if supported by keystone and corner blocks in making up a mortise and tenon style reinforced joints and having the lumber such as on the stile sandwiched between layers.

The soft flat that needs to be constructed with half lap or mortise and tenon methods can be very difficult to properly do accurately and easily short of a properly adjusted radial arm saw with a dado blade for a half lap and a chisel Mortising drill bit and drill press with a rail jig plus the above dado assembly for its construction amongst other things. Experience and scrap lumber to fine tune settings will also be required, but once a properly equipped shop is set up for doing so, the process will not be overly difficult or time consuming.

Miter joints such as are frequently used for molding can also be used for the stile/rail joint given some adequate bracing for it, but in general, this method is rarely used since if the joint loosens it will force a sharp edge and a prying apart of the flat which will cause substantial damage to it. It unless notched or half lap is the preferred technique for attaching a diagonal brace, but not for much more. This joint can especially not be depended upon for operating, hinged or flown flats.

Another possibility for a strong joint to supplement a standard butt joint, but not as substitute for the above types in double faced panels, is the use of a biscuit joint-supported seams with corner block support. This would be especially effective for extra joint support for sliding/operating, hinged flats that need to be durable but cost effective. It also might be good to use for hanging flats that have some weight to them such as windows and doors to provide extra support to the keystone and corner block supported butt joint. This technology is probably too new to have been attempted or used much so far in becoming an industry standard, but should work very well on common #2 grade lumber as long as it is supported as normal with keystones and corner blocks. This is given it will work with 1x3 lumber, otherwise 1x4 lumber for soft flats would have to become the standard.

This biscuit method would be similar in stile to that presented in Modern Theater c.1946 p.240 which advocates use of corrugated fasteners under the corner blocks. Such a method could still be done, especially easily with a pneumatic corrugated fastener gun as long as they were properly installed so as not to split the lumber, but is difficult to do properly and limited in usefulness on soft pine or fir lumber.

A pre made and probably sold separately “Shoe” was a mortise block that would fit any size of properly cut toggles to fit into it as the tenon. This would provide an easy and store-bought way of attaching mortise and tenon toggles especially on a double-faced flat without need for special tools or techniques, or need a keystone to reinforce the joint. This shoe-supported toggle could than be moved as necessary in adjusting for windows etc., or removed from the flat and used on future ones or as a picture support. The shoe was screwed to the stile so it became flush and self supporting for sway without further need for a keystone. Such things are possibly no longer available but appear very similar to a drafting T-square, in shape with the square edge reversed to meet up with the stile. See Stage Design c.1985 p.198 for a drawing of one.

Other joints such as a spline scarf etc. are also options but short of scarf joints to make two pieces of lumber into one long one. None will be very useful or easy enough to make effectively.
The one joint that would not work well due to the location of it and application of the joint on the side grain of the lumber and close to its edge, is a dove tail joint. It would be difficult to install, and questionable in strength or effort needed to make it.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Design and Construction of the frame

Draft and/or draw out your frame, and check dimensions twice using math, your brain and tape measure before you start cutting and installing such things.
As stated, this is a 12' tall by 6' wide soft flat as per normal construction of such a thing - even if larger in width than normal, but it also has a window inside of it. For easy transport, a carefully designed hinged wall which has two flats hinged together but has a single piece of fabric covering the face of the two will enable the flat to be folded for transport but no visible seam much easier. Another possibility is a loose pin hinged and Dutchmen-covered seams and hinges that might be easier to construct. Given one can deal with extra seams - one each above and below the window at each corner, four flats can be made to encase the wall if the window is large enough to merit it. This would do away with a large flat housing a window all together. There are other options as necessary.

The window dimension desired is unknown at the moment and thus any inner support locations are subject to change as needed once that window design, and it’s specific requirements are decided upon. This would need to be known before any lumber is cut. A center mounted 48" wide by 72" tall double-hung window that has an actor climbing thru is going to require a slightly different framing than that of a window that’s an arrow slit in a castle wall which measures say 4" wide by 24" tall, and nobody is going to be climbing their way thru it. Another question is the position of the window in being at what height, and what position it has in relation to the center of the flat. There are lots of other factors such as rough opening requirements’ verses reveals (normally lumber attached to the window to make the flat look thicker and wall like as an opening), and other stock flat questions such as the normal height of toggles that will demand design of this wall as it would require of any component of the stage.

Be the design on a napkin or autoCAD, such things as a flat need to be prefigured and not winged and hacked out. Say that window has a chubby Falstaff climbing thru the window (as a not too accurate but figurative example). Even given the window will have extra supporting members for the window, in it’s construction and reveal, the flat will require some extra work to ensure if nothing else that the fabric below the window does not wrinkle as the frame deflects due to the weight. Instead of using a light weight 1x3 for a toggle, perhaps a 1x6 might be the best option given the stiles are beefy enough to transfer the weight. Instead of not supporting that window opening other than with larger toggles, perhaps given a fat Falstaff climbing thru a wide window, that flat needs a set of really supporting members going from the toggle under the frame of the window to the bottom rail. Than of course, the design could be a window screen-covered picture window such as in Hedda Gabbler’s parlor, than it does not carry any real weight beyond the weight of the window. What structure to supplement the toggles is necessary need to be pre engineered into the design. You do not have to be in accuracy down to the true length of that diagonal sway brace in cutting it to a 45° angle, but should be able to note the general and working heights required for toggles and size plus general length of the main framing members which can be later cut to fit.

If this wall is part of many and to be flown, you need to consider things like hinges and hanging irons with the general structure in addition to whalers, stiffener battens and other horizontal supports. Another question is if it is to be vertically supported by the floor such as by stage jack tip jack or stage brace, much less if the wall needs to be moved with or without its supports. If the walls need to be moved hardware for doing this must be preplanned into its construction. Hardware such as loose pin hinges and lash line cleats, much less if it needs to be hinged from the front with hinges countersunk into the frame. If this window is part of a flown flat wall, how it’s constructed could be an all together different story as to your need for weight savings verses’ structural strength and where supports are placed. Perhaps if a permanent show and one that are flown, a more mortise and tenon style would be better along with better grades of lumber. If the set is to be transported or live an expected life of a hundred years, a similar style of frame but in real 1" or thicker thick fir lumber that’s both keystone and corner blocks, and mortis and tenon would be more useful. It’s all in the design and production needs.

Where a toggle goes could and should be very much be dependant upon chair rails, picture rails and other things designed into the set or other stock flats that this flat matches up to and needs to become similar to. Hang a window flat and it still needs to mount similar molding to that of other flats. You need to have similar braces and toggles to it. Building scenery is not just hacking together boards. It needs to fit a pattern and design standard. Time spent in its construction designs will ensure you are not wasting time and materials at it.

As a designer of this flat, it is necessary for you to also determine what style of fabric covering it will be used because they all have different shrink ratios and in general techniques for how it is applied or cut. See Below.

In the case of this soft flat, its overall dimension is 6'x12' and the fabric for it will be cut flush to the front and back set by 1/4". How the fabric is installed is important to be known during the initial design phase. If the fabric is only on the face of the flat, than your flat can and should be full size. If the fabric wraps around the sides and/or back of the flat, the fabric will account for a slightly wider overall dimension to the flat due to the folds in it’s corners and fabric thickness. This might not be a large amount of extra space the flat will require but across a 30' stage, those extra thicknesses might add up where accuracy is needed. Deducting 1/8" from its components for overall height and width will also have the added bonus of allowing it’s members to be cut from a single board and not end up with one shorter due to the cut on a board that is already the length desired, such as a pair of top and bottom rails can be made out of the same board when a deduction is made due to the saw blade’s kerf/thickness. You now would be able to cut the 6' wide toggles 5'-11.7/8" and deducted 1/8" off the rest of the components. It is preferable to have your flats slightly smaller in width than larger when exact dimensions matter and this might be a good solution to the problem.

Was this flat to have fabric wrapping the edge, Top and bottom rails would now measure 1x4x5'-11.7/8". Stiles will have a 3.1/2" deduction off each end for the rails, and a 1/8" deduction for the fabric. They would measure 1x4x11'-4.7/8". The toggles can be 1x3 if not supporting the window, or 1x4 lumber as a stock size. Their length would be 5'-4.7/8". The overall length of a 3' diagonal brace would be 1x2x4'-3" as a starting maximum length than need to be cut to fit the exact space dependant upon toggle placement. This 1/8" deduction idea is not a normal or standard stock scenery practice but might be worth looking into. If this is done, permission should be sought by those in charge of the theater to alter from the norm.

The more normal dimensions used in the example below and to be used with a normal soft flat would be the rails at the width of the lumber, in this case 6', the stiles at the height of the lumber, minus the width of the rails, so in this case they would measure 11'-5" given 1x4 lumber making up the flat. In this way, toggles would measure 5'-5" wide. With careful cutting, 12' long lumber can still be used, have its factor length edge taken back some to give a fresh and straight edge to them, and all toggles and rails can be made out of the same boards. In this case, you can cut a toggle and rail out of one board. If 1x3 lumber is to be used, be careful to pre measure it’s width before figuring out what dimensions to cut the lumber at because widths on 1x3 lumber can vary anywhere from 2.3/8" to 2.3/4".

Cutting and measuring of similar pieces of lumber should be done at the same time if stop blocks on a saw are not used. Measure the first board, in this instance a stile by deducting the width of the rails, or better yet lay down the two rails on one end place the stile perpendicular to them. Take a tape measurement from the side of rail to the point on the stile which is 12'. This will ensure that any discrepancies in width on a stile will not affect the true length of the flat. It might be easier to use scraps from the rails to do this. Such scraps can also be placed before a stop block preset for 12' to ensure the proper length is cut. The same technique can be used for the toggles in using scraps from the stile for the toggle’s length. Another option given lumber that is the same width, and a goal without stop blocks, but to ensure lumber is cut to the same length, is to place both similar boards into the saw, verify that the edges that are not to be cut are lined up with a speed square and cut both at once to ensure they are the exact same length. Always use the same tape measure for the same components of a flat. Tape measures are individual in how much any one of them will be off, how much play will be in the hook or how much out of square/true it is. One tape measure to another will usually not achieve the exact same dimensions especially with cloth tapes.

Layout and Construction:
Construction of this flat requires a smooth flat surface without any seams or other obstructions across it. The floor if flat makes an optimum surface especially for a flat this wide. However there is a good chance that it will become damaged so construction of the flat on a good floor would be unwise without some plywood and perhaps plastic laid out over it for protection and leveling.

Mark the location of the toggles on the stiles, and lay out the pieces into their general locations. Look at cut lengths and joints between the boards and replace anything necessary which does not have a good and flush corner, or sits at a different thickness to a member it will be attached to. If possible, you should pay special attention to and check the board’s ends provided by the saw mill. Do not trust them to be square, they have been known to be off. Where necessary, cut your own ends which will expose fresh grain that is free of splits or in being overly dry for gluing. Verify that your saw is also giving a true 90° angle by way of accurate square or an end for end test on a piece of plywood. Cut the plywood, draw a line following that cut, than flip the board over and see how close to the line it is. Most saws will allow for micro adjustments to its settings to compensate for this.

In cutting the blocks on the table saw, a panel cutting jig for it would be the best way of cutting the keystones and corner blocks. Read a table saw or woodworking book on making such jigs, than once it is set up, such a jig can be saved for future work. If there is not time or ability to make a table saw jig for the splints, use of and extending for support, the saw’s bevel gauge will be necessary to cut the angles safely. Remember in this instance to adjust the rip fence on the saw so that it does not extend past the mid point of the saw blade. Otherwise when pushing with the bevel gauge or stick - depending upon which side the bevel gauge is on, and having the plywood ride the rail, it is very likely that once the plywood reaches the mid section of the saw, it will bind and even shoot or kick back the splint back at the user. Notes on cutting the lumber, if you set up a proper saw table, be it a radio arm saw, a miter box, or other, it should have a long side table and fence to ensure such lumber is well supported and kept perpendicular to the blade, such a table can also have stops mounted on it to ensure that the lumber will be all the same length no matter how many pieces are cut.

As for saw blades to do all of this with, use a other than construction grade cross cut 42 tooth cross cut saw blade on the 1x lumber if you want a clean cut. Due to its thickness, it should not be necessary to have fewer amounts of teeth on a saw blade for a quick and clean cut, that few teeth will instead rip up your lumber as it cuts it. The more teeth, the smoother the cut, but the more chance it will burn as it cuts because it takes longer to cut. A good balance such as a 60-tooth 10" chop saw blade would be fine for this thickness. You also get what you pay for on saw blades in general. Those blades up in the $60.00 starting range will last much longer, stay sharper, and have fewer problems with buildups on the blade causing it to dull, and in general give a better cut. For the table saw blade on ripping lumber, it should be a good carbide rip blade due to the amount of time it will spend inside the board and operating temperature it’s working at. For thin plywood, any blade from a veneer cutting saw blade to a finish cross cut blade would give a much cleaner cut than that of a normal crosscut blade as long as you send the material thru at the proper and slightly slower speed. Saw materials with good sides down amongst many other tips that require training for.

With the boards in their rough but unfastened locations, check the thickness of the boards as they meet up with each other, and for warps, twists and other problems. An idea might be to fasten the boards making up the flat once the butt joints are glued temporarily to a work table or the floor with drywall screws, finish nails with slightly exposed heads for pulling them later, or 6d or under sized double head nails from the mid - non blocked sections of the flat so that they stay in place, square and with joints tight to each other while working on the support blocks. (Stagecraft handbook c1995) Use of a 24" framing square can help in this assembly. Replace warped or twisted lumber. If the thickness of components is 1/16" thickness in difference or more, they should also be replaced or at least reversed and looked at for possible use on the other side of the flat. Place the lumber with it’s best and most smooth side down so that fabric installed on it will not show any problems thru the fabric. If difference in lumber thickness is not much, the joint can be sanded flush on the rear of the flat, each board to each other with a belt sander as long as it will allow the face of the flat to be flat and splints placed over the rear of the flat to lie flush. Otherwise if the lumber is not of uniform thickness, once the splints are on, any discrepancies in the thickness will show up on the front finished side of the flat and be very hard to remove. Other sanders such as a rotary or random orbit sander, much less a power planer can be used as necessary, but only with more effort as this is not their primary function for this application and they can dig into the wood or cause it to become off. Also make sure that the rail does not exceed the stile in length by more than 3/64" or the sides of the flat will be bowing inward and the flat will be difficult to make perpendicular later. Some sanding of the end grain of a rail might be required and necessary for neatness, but too much sanding can throw it off.

When using a belt sander, keep it moving, do not allow it to sit in one place and dig in. Also, let the sander’s weight do the sanding. With a lot of pressure on the belt sander, it is far too easy to damage the motor, or make what you are sanding become un level by just a little more pressure on one hand than another. The hands support the sander and provide a bit of weight to it, not much more. Keep the platen - that flat plate on the surface of the material to be sanded. Do not try to sand with the tension wheels or space between them and the platen. Keep the belt moving across the surface linearly to it as well as with its length, and for normal purposes you want to sand at a 45° angle to the grain. Sanding perpendicular to the grain will cause the sand paper to dig into the wood faster, and probably too fast. Sanding parallel to the grain will not sand as fast and if not kept at a low speed, might burn the wood. For the application of sanding a little off the one board when making it into a butt joint, 60grit sand paper will probably be the right grit to use. You can use 50grit, 36grit, even 24grit, but would need to be really careful or the tool could dig into the surface too fast for you to control it. Sand the joint with slightly differing thicknesses by orbiting around the area and feathering out the depth that you cut into the thicker board so there is not a recess where you sand. Watch the pattern of scratches the sand paper is leaving in the lumber. When the scratches at the joint match up and there is no gap between them, it’s a flush joint. Watch also at the joint for those scratches to ensure that one side of the joint is going flush and thus deeper in cutting than the other part of it.

After the joints are flush and the same thickness, glue the butt joint surfaces together. This is not the most strong of joints, but the glue will help hold the flat together and tight to the extent such a joint will allow in being supplemented by the plywood splint afterwards. Gluing the butt joint while not specified in most texts will help to some extent, enough if properly applied, and not too thick, to keep the frame rigid, at least a little more than just with a splint/corner block. See biscuits above for a second technique worth looking at to help in keeping the frame extra rigid and long lasting. Do not use white glue for holding lumber to lumber. It has a thinner holding strength, moisture resistance to break down, and absorption rate into the lumber’s grain or poors. Never just put a bead of glue onto a surface because it will not distribute itself evenly across the surface of the joint causing the surface area to have less of it bonding together, and will be too thick. Spread the glue evenly across the surface to be attached with a paint brush or other tool such as a putty knife or shim. Glue is best when it coats the surface with a 1/32" thickness or slightly less. More than that and there is too much glue as with just putting a bead of it down above, that glue in the joint will not properly bond the materials together. It is permissible to slightly water down the wood glue to help it spread better, but watering it down by 1/4 or more will make it too thin and not bond correctly. 1/10th thinning would be preferable as an amount. Always blow off and/or brush off the surface of the lumber and plywood after cutting it, especially before gluing it or it will have trash in the way of getting a proper bond. For things such as corner blocks, it might be easier to trace the shape of the splint on the frame and spread the glue on the frame rather than attempting to get it just right on the back of the plywood.

If making more than one flat to the same size or similar sizes, once the first flat is built, before the first one is moved, screw some blocking to the corners so the next flat can be placed in the same locations without necessitating as close attention to keeping subsequent frames square. Verifying every other or every third frame is still square should be all that is required especially if all lumber were cut at the same time and stop blocks were used for the saw table to ensure all lumber is the same length. Such a table set aside for only making flats, with pre made or easily set up corner stops and even cinch plate, and when not otherwise abused, is very useful for quickly making easy and accurate flats if a scene shop has room for it. Otherwise a few horses with plywood splinted together to be just larger than the flat, or a few shop tables clamped together should suffice especially if they are slightly larger in size than the flat you are making.

Once all joints line up and are flush and the same thickness at both the top and bottom of the flat and glued, use a tape measure to measure the cross dimensions on the corners of the flat. Cross corner measuring is necessary to ensure that the frame is square. For this length of flat especially, if not all flats under construction, cross corner measuring will prove much more accurate. Other methods like a carpenter’s square or the ‘3,4,5' method will not be as accurate but can be used for mounting internal framing members. Remember to use the same tape measure and not two for checking if square unless it can be verified that both tape measures are giving the exact same dimensions. Also be sure to verify that the cross measurement is aligned and read from the same side of a tape measure or it can be off by up to 1/8". Accuracy needs to be to about the 1/32" in accuracy especially on long flats or it could mean a flat that is up to 1/4" out of square given the length.

Once square, check again the joints for how square and tight they are. If reasonably tight, glue the corner blocks using the same technique for spreading glue onto the corner blocks as with the lumber on its butt joints. Work quickly because the thin layer of glue will dry far too fast to pre glue what is not ready to be fastened yet. Remember that the grain of the corner block needs to be at least perpendicular to the joint, if not with its grain running diagonally to it. The corner block will also need to be back set from the outside edge by 3/4" to 7/8" in allowing for the fabric to be installed and stapled without necessitating it’s wrapping over the top of the block which can cause wrinkles, or in leaving space for hinges and other hardware to be at the corner of the flat. Such offset from the edge dimensions can be easily transferred to the material with a combination square, compass or mortise gauge or line marked on the lumber by scrap board placed on edge and flush to edge of the stile. Installation of the corner block should go on the opposite side of the line with the line showing to allow a bit of extra clearance for flats. The most important reason for the back set blocks is for attachment of other flats perpendicular to and attached at the rear of this one. If you have blocks in the way of another flat butting up to its rear, you will have a 1/4" gap between flats that can be seen from the front. Some older texts and methods will note the corner blocks should be spaced only 1/4" from the top since with full length 14' to 16' foot flats there is no need to stack other flats onto the tops of flats, much less install sections perpendicular to it. Doing this it will add extra support, but this will also prevent the flat from being used in any direction such as horizontally in its future. (However, even there it is better to set them back by about a quarter of an inch, to prevent the plywood from catching on irregularities in the stage floor and splintering when the flat is slid along. - Theatrical Set Design c1969)

Use a #6 size counter sink drill bit to pre drill 11 holes into the plywood corner block as they appear in the Backstage Handbook page 278, or other guides on the subject. This will provide the proper amount of holding power of a corner block to the lumber below it and help to ensure that nothing becomes loose or splits later because of too many fasteners or not enough of them to hold the plate on enough. As a general rule, all screws attached to lumber should be spaced back from the end of a board by one inch, and all screws attached close to the side of a board needs to be away from it by 3/8" or there will not be enough strength in the board to prevent it from splitting. Groups of three fasteners will hold the joint tight both vertically and horizontally as opposed to only holding it in a line as if a hinge with two screws.

Be observant of where subsequent screws are in relation to other ones as they screw into the lines made by the grain of the lumber and plywood. In general, a screw or other fastener acts as a wedge in going into the wood. Attach a second screw into the same line of grain already weakened by one wedge and it doubles the chances of splitting the lumber - especially if dry. In lumber do not attach two screws in that grain closer in proximity than two inches to each other. In plywood, it should not be closer than an inch. Screws should be no closer in hitting parallel grains than ½" in cross grain proximity to others, or it could also weaken the board. These are all notes for what is called staggering the screws or nails.

Ensure that the drill bit part of the countersink is adjusted for no deeper penetration into the flat than 11/16". It is said that 80% of a screw’s holding power is in the tip of the screw, I don’t know how much faith I would put into this but it’s best to have as much gripping power on the screw as possible. Countersinking and pre drilling helps to ensure a screw will not split the wood, and ensure it will go in all the way, but that pre drilled hole should not extend past the tip of the screw, nor should it drill all the way thru the lumber. The depth of the counter sink part of the bit needs to be just short of the head’s diameter of the screw. Otherwise it will allow the screw to sink too far into the lumber if too deep, or not far enough if not countersunk enough. Be very careful to get the depth right with a countersink bit, and occasionally clean out the pulp and saw dust that will otherwise fill up the grooves and slots on a bit, before such blockages make it harder to drill.

The best screws for this application would be #6x3/4" zinc plated flat head, normal or narrow profile, #2 phillips head, wood screws. A normal flat head top will require the countersink, the narrow profile while it will not provide the holding power should only require pre drilling and not countersinking the hole to get the screw to go in flush. Screws should go into the lumber with a 1/32" recess below the surface of the plywood. No more and no less. If more, the screw will not hold the plywood in place as well and the tip of the screw will possibly pop out the front of the flat and if other than a concrete floor, attach the flat to the surface below it. If the screw is not slightly recessed into the hole, during normal use when the flat is placed face up on stage and slid, the screw will dig its way into the floor and scratch it. The proportion and type of threading on this specific type of screw for its length, will provide the best holding power above any others for this application. Since there is a pilot hole used in this application, blunt tip verses pointed, even sheet metal screws if similar should work.
A 3/4" drywall screw, even if corse threaded will not provide sufficient holding power or prevent the screw from stripping instead of digging into the lumber. Such screws might be fine for holding cardboard to lumber, but not much use for anything else.

In the past, all soft flats will have had their keystones and corner blocks attached to the frame with clout nails which were specifically designed for theatrical applications. Such nails are cut instead of wire shank, has a chisel shaped instead of a pointy tip and is low in carbon content. The nails otherwise would be similar in appearance to a carpet tack except that the tip of the nail is meant to be driven into and thru the lumber, it than hits a steel plate called a cinch plate which is placed on the other side of the flat, than bends or even reverse direction like a hook back up into the lumber it was driven into. In other words, this nail, once driven into that steel plate called a cinch plate, will lock the nail and thus splint permanently into the lumber. It is very important to drive the chisel tip of the nail perpendicular to the grain of the 1x lumber it is to be driven into or the lumber very likely will split instead of be cut thru by this type of nail. Driving the clout nails into anything other than an at least 3/16" thick steel cinch plate, such as a concrete floor will normally not be effective in making the nails become flush to the face of the flat should the nails chip the concrete and not rebound and be flush because of it. Cinch plates are very necessary but should not be too thick or the lumber will be harder to keep square atop it. With such nails, the joint might loosen some with time of the lumber around it deteriorates but the nails will never come loose unless their tips are forced to straighten out. The blocks they fasten will never come off even if the glue completely fails and clout nails can often be re hammered tighter should the lumber shrink or be damaged. 1.1/4" Clout nails while difficult to get are still available. You must re square the frame between the first and second nails on one board, and the first and second nails on the board the corner block is attached to, on each corner to verify the flat is still square. If not due to the hammering, the flat could be shifted and knocked out of square or the joint having been moved. After the corner block has at least 4 nails in it, it should remain square for subsequent nails. If clout nails are not flush to the face, after the frame is constructed, the cinch plate can be put under the keystone or corner block with the flat face up, and the tip of the nail can be hammered deeper into the lumber. Be careful to not overly hammer the lumber or it could leave a viable mark on the finish surface. Waffle head hammers also should not be used on the tip because they might damage the nail, but can be very useful to drive them into the keystone. For preventing this, clout nails as per Stagecraft c.1978 p123 are recommended to be driven into the plywood one or two blow past what seems far enough. This will ensure that they are fully cinched and probably also counter sink the head so it cannot scratch floors when laid face up.

Essential of Stage Scenery c1972 mentions another way Scenery Nails of mounting/nailing keystones and corner blocks to the flat. It would not provide as strong a joint, but they were easier to remove and did not require a clinch plate. Such nails could be used for temporally installing a toggle on a flat, or other temporary braces that were meant to be removed - remember drywall screws were not on the market yet - much less much in the way of Phillips head screws of any type at this point, the most automatic screw driver that was available for slotted screws and square head lag bolts was a Yankee Screw driver that took some work and training to use. Given this, nails would probably be faster and easier to use. Also mentioned for use of old style screws for joining the scenery are both a pilot hole and use of small finish nails or wire brads to keep the block in place while turning the screw. This should not be necessary with the more parallel shank to modern wood screws. Such nails were described as “3/4 inch long coated head nails” (Essentials p111). These nails are slightly under described it would seem and I have never seen a product currently on the market under that description. Possibly some sort of joist hanger nail, or short length of a ring shank drywall screw nail would work for this purpose, roofing nails while short will have very thick shanks and very hard to countersink heads.

Do not use any other type of nail for soft flat splint blocks. They will not have the holding power in this thickness of lumber, probably split it, and wiggle loose with time.

The more modern, quick and easy method currently most used to fasten a keystone and corner block to a soft flat is with a pneumatic “M” sized gun using the proper air pressure and 18ga. 3/4" long x7/16" web staples. Other types of pneumatic staples such as the 1/8" web narrow crown type will not hold the block sufficiently and be of too small a wire size in preventing the splint from failing. Other pneumatic fasteners will have similar problems with either going in flush, or properly bonding the splint to board. When using an “M” gun, you want to ensure that the web of the staple, or the bridge between its legs is installed in a direction other than parallel to the grain or it will not hold properly.

An alternative method for fastening the blocks to the lumber would be to use #6x1" black oxide coated, bugle head, coarse thread, drywall screws and cut off the tips so that they don’t poke thru the front of the lumber. #6 Wire size of screw shank because the larger #8 thick screw might split the lumber in being too wide for the thickness of the lumber and proximity to the edge of it. Also, the extra sheer strength of the #8 screw is not necessary for this application. Black oxide coating because it allows paint to stick to it more readily and such a coating adds an extra surface hardness for strength to the screw, over screws with zinc or a galvanized coating to them normal for an exterior grade screws. Coarse threaded screws are necessary for this short length of screw because a fine thread will very likely strip with a power tool driving it in. The depth of pitch on the screws is going to increase the grip thus holding strength of the screw into the lumber in compensating for its shorter length. If installing by hand, a fine thread should suffice, but otherwise they tend to strip in lengths under 1.1/4" too easily. Bugle headed screws are a type of flat head with a more gentle slope to the head which adds to the holding power on the surface of what is being attached over that of the holding power of a normal flat head screw. This bugle head however more requires the countersink because of its slope than a normal flat head, in this short of a screw not having as many threads into depth to pull it into the lumber. Finally, on a drywall screw, what type of driver head it uses, Phillips, square drive, Robertson etc. is not very important because the screw once installed will not be required to be removed.

The reason you need to cut the tip off a drywall screw is that the actual thickness of the material you fasten is going to be 31/32" thick. Plywood is 1/32" thinner than its nominal dimension. By the time you recess the screw into the splint another 1/32" it’s going to be sticking out the front of the flat by at least 1/16" or often 3/32". Good enough to cut you, fasten the flat to the surface below it, and cause problems with laying fabric on the flat’s face. If you can find a 7/8" drywall screw, it might be optimum, otherwise cutting off 1/16" to 3/32" from the tip of a drywall screw should be sufficient to ensure it will not pop out the front of the flat, but still have enough threads on it, unlike 3/4" screws, to properly fasten the corner block to the boards below. Since you have a pilot hole, and threads behind the cut tip to ease in and grip the lumber and thus force the blunt tip into the wood, there should not be a problem with the screw going into the lumber. In this case, the screw will act as per a blunted tip nail in cutting it’s way into the lumber instead of splitting the lumber as it enters. In cutting into the lumber, the screw should grip just as well in counteracting the 80% of the tip holding theory because those cut fibers will wedge the screw into place and prevent its removal just as sufficiently. Sanding the surface of the flat in getting rid of screw tips popping out can lead to marks that will show up on a faced flat, and also the exposed metal of the screw might rust causing corrosion to the wood around it and potential rust marks to show thru the fabric of the flat. In addition to that, as the wood shrinks, those sanded flush screw heads could become raised again. Cut the screw tips once they pop out of the flat, or before you insert them into the lumber with hardened steel dikes or carpenters pinches. A carpenter pinch is designed to cut the softer steel on a nail, not that of black oxide coated drywall screws. In other words, normal tools used to cut them might develop dings on the blade surface. Precutting the tips on screws will if they pop out the front of the flat ensure that the sharp tip will not rip up the sand paper used to flatten them down. You might not be able to otherwise grip the 1/16" tip of a screw sticking out of the lumber with the pinches.

If you are not concerned about rust, and are able to sand the face of the lumber with say a 120grit belt sander paper, than an even better option might be to use #6x1.1/4" drywall screws of course or fine thread for attachment of the blocks. In this way there will be extra length extending past the surface of the lumber to grab with pliers, and fold to break them about flush to the surface, than sand them. This method will provide a screw with the maximum holding power, but it is counteracted by the possible damage you can be doing to the lumber grain around the screw as you attempt to break the screw. It might be more wise to cut the screws than attempt to break them, especially near the edges where that abuse to them could cause the screw to split the lumber. In belt sanding screw tips, remember to watch the scratch marks of the sand paper on the wood to see when the screw tip is flush. Keep the sander at a 45° angle to the lumber for easiest observation of the scratches and to keep the sander moving linearly across the screw tip or the screw will cut up the sand paper by wearing it too much in one area.

Cordless drills or cordless screw drivers are the best tools for installing screws into keystones and corner blocks. Corded drills do not have torque/clutch settings and are thus difficult to ensure the proper depth every time. If you do not have a cordless drill with clutch settings, drive the screw by hand, with a ratcheting screw driver, even a Yankee screw driver. Any such method will be otherwise preferable to a drill especially when used with a countersink bit and pilot hole which can be drilled out with a corded drill.

Set the clutch of the drill to about a #3 setting and do a test screw with a, for the most part fresh battery to check it’s depth. Adjust as necessary with other test screws until you have the bulk of your screws going in at the same and proper depth. The clutch setting should pop when the screw is in place and the right depth or tension, or as necessary, just before it. The screws should not go in too deep or you will have to sand them. As the drill’s battery is used, especially on old batteries or lesser quality ones, there will be a drop off in power which very likely will cause the clutch to go off sooner than it should. This is normal, do not adjust the clutch to allow for a deeper screw or your settings will quickly become off. You can finish driving the screw by hand later or if the drill is variable speed, finish driving the screw at a low speed afterwards with a fresh battery. Do not use the drill in high gear. Low gear will give a more uniform speed and a charge that will last for a longer length of time. It will also ensure that the screws are not going in too deep before they activate the clutch when it is turning at 400 RPM rather than up to 1,750 RPMs. This all is especially important if your drill is 12v or less in voltage. A higher voltage drill might be able to drive a ton of screws in high gear without it wearing down the battery too much, but it is still going to be harder to ensure the proper depth or clutch activation given the speed.

Frequently when you install a fresh battery in the drill, it will make the clutch setting drive the screw a bit deeper than it should due to the higher than normal voltage coming off the battery. Be aware of this possibility in running the drill at a slower speed to watch the depth and manually stop it as necessary. You can also adjust the clutch setting down one notch to compensate for this because it will become readily apparent when the overcharge bleeds off. Another option for use here would be to use Phillips drywall screw shooter collar tips in the drill, which will by nature of their stop, prevent the screw from being driven in too far. Such bits are a little more difficult to see what you are doing, but can be of use when learning or having trouble ensuring the proper depth. Install the first screws when using a fresh battery along the sides and corners of the flat so that it is easier to get at anything that pops thru the front and needs to be sanded. Such places will also be more likely to be masked by molding and Dutchman seams.

Another cause of your drill at times stripping the screw or otherwise not driving it in far enough is improper orientation of the drill to the screw and holding the tool in the wrong way. From the tip of the drill to its rear, imagine a axis line that the tip revolves around. That line needs to be the same center line as that of the screw or the tip will not have enough surface area in contact with the screw to drive it well once it gets to the end of the screw where more force is required. Have someone watch you drive screws to ensure that the driver is perpendicular to the surface you are screwing because it is very hard otherwise to see when you are doing it wrong without a lot of practice in doing it right. Extend that center line from the screw thru tip, and all the way out to your shoulder. Driving screws short of lots of experience requires your shoulder to be in line with the axis of the drill. Otherwise keeping your shoulder behind and in the direction of force will keep the screw going in straight and help give the proper amount of force to the screw to drive it. Depending upon what type T-Handle or Pistol Grip drill you have, it will also require different ways to hold the drill in the hand or with the second hand to help. Get instruction on the proper way to hold a drill.

What is called an Anti-Cam Out, type screw driver bit will also help the driver grip the screws in driving them in. 2" Anti-Cam Out Power Bits that have a recess for gripping into a bit holder, when coupled with a power bit type counter sink bit will ease and speed the entire operation. Otherwise, if you use hardened tips, they will last longer. Once a Phillips bit seems to be rounding off and gets shiny, it is going to become more difficult to get the screw in all the way without stripping them. You get what you pay for, with cheaper bits, you need to change them sooner.

If any screws break, remove the broken off head of the screw or it will fall off later and probably stop a scenery wagon from moving, and leave the rest of the screw in place. It will not be sufficient holding power to attach the splint, you need to replace it with another screw, but otherwise the threads of the broken screw will not cause any problems unless it forced the splint to raise above the lumber. This could be and should be corrected by a hammer because the splint needs to be flat to the lumber.

Next attach the keystones to the toggles in the same glueing, screwing and back setting from the edge way similar to the method used for corner blocks. It might be necessary to remove any nails or screws temporally holding the opposing stiles in place and to use a bar clamp to push or pull the frame a bit to make the toggle fit if the lumber is warped some. If the lumber is warped or bowed outward, the tendency of the lumber will be to force the joint apart. This should only be done after the corner blocks are in place. Attach any window support members necessary to support the window with their straps. Strap length might need to be longer if your window as above is going to weigh some and be operated or climbed thru so that a window support brace kind of like a leg can be installed directly under the window side brace to directly transfer the weight downwards and pull some weight off the toggle attachment to the stile that otherwise would be carrying all the weight. If the window does not weigh that much, it might only be necessary to install a support brace/leg directly under its center to carry the weight. In which case strap length would be normal. In supporting the window, it might also be wise and necessary to install a brace atop the window between toggles to add some support above the window.
Actual dimensions for the lumber used would much depend upon the size of the window intended or installed in the opening. If fabric is to wrap the window opening, you must deduct at least 1/16" from the dimension given the inside corners of the material are cut away to prevent an otherwise necessary wrinkle or fold. In addition to the 1/16" for fabric, you should add at least 1/8" all around the window size so that the window unit fits into the opening without a problem. Most stage window units are much similar to the window units available pre made and drop in that are offered at home centers that are shimmed into the rough opening and screwed into 1x4 or 2x4 blocks that are screwed onto the back of the toggles or braces for support and a wider attachment surface. Other types of windows require a bit more external bracing to them for wider reveals and face frames, and because of this will also require a larger rough opening and possibly supplemental support for the window in addition to that of the flat’s frame.

A doorway will be much similar to that opening in a window except that the two legs of flat to the sides of the door need more bracing to the above door section, and there is a reduction in overall height in the flat for the saddle or sill iron that acts sort of like a threshold, but in this case keeps the doors legs spread as if a toggle.

Finally, re square the frame with a tape measure and adjust as much as possible back to square, than measure for and cut the diagonal brace to fit. It’s easiest to be careful when installing the keystones and corner blocks so as not to move the frame, or at least if you think you bumped it out of square, to just stop and re square it. Attempt still, to verify the flat is square and correct it as possible, this is your last chance. The diagonal brace is easiest to simply lay over the top of the flat’s stile and rails, verify the angle with a speed square or tape measure to the corner - in being the same, allow room for the half straps not to hit keystones, and mark where the brace needs to be cut. Cut it at a 45° angle on both sides, glue it into place and attach the half strap again in the same pattern as laid out in the Backstage Handbook.

One note about using a 1x2 or 1x3 lumber for toggles or diagonal braces that will necessitate modification to the width of a keystone or half strap is that with less width in the plywood, the joint is going to have less plywood crossing it. A 1.1/2" wide section of plywood crossing the seam for a 1x2 brace is not going to give much support to the seam. A 8"x2.1/2"x1.3/4" keystone on a 1x3 toggle might be sufficient for a smaller flat, but will not be for a 4' wide flat. Instead of using the standard splint shapes, for smaller lumber braces you can use scaled down corner blocks to provide proper support to the seam. Normally and why braces are sized down slightly smaller than the outside dimensions of the lumber it holds together, you do not say, want anyone using the splint for a handle or tie off area because it could weaken the support. On a corner block however, there should be enough lumber crossing the seam, and surface area attached to the lumber that this will not be much of a problem.

Other options for building the flat which is not standard but can be done, are in reducing the 3/4" thickness of the toggles and various other braces to say 11/16" when they are not required to have openings or structures attached to them such as for a window. This will reduce the weight some and reduce the surface area of lumber touching the fabric that if the fabric is not stretched properly around, could show thru the surface of the fabric. Frequently as the flat gets older the fabric between the supports will stretch slightly and show the supports that are still stretched and often supporting the fabric when paint seeps thru it and bonds the fabric to frame. This especially will show diagonal braces that are otherwise hard to mask by molding and Dutchman. So reducing the thickness of a diagonal brace, and not fastening it to the muslin might be an option. On larger flats such as on anything 3' and wider, those unsupported lengths of fabric without direct attachment to toggles would be more prone to stretching and sag, not to mention it unsupported would be more likely to have problems with tearing and ripping. I do not advise reducing the thickness of the toggles in this case, but it might be a good idea for the diagonal brace. One final problem with reducing the thickness of toggles is that if you go to install anything from a picture hanger to molding across it, the fabric is going to show either a space behind it given fabric stretch, or you will need to shim the brace back up to its needed thickness so as not to have a bunch of warped trim all over the set. This is all also more advanced technique in flat building. When learning it’s too many details to attempt to do properly. Instead, it’s easier to keep to a all 1x4 framework or a 1x4 and 1x2 for the diagonal brace, in the frame.

In addition to this 6x12 flat being about the maximum size it can be in size which will also allow it to fit thru a door way and maximum in size for the strength of the lumber used for it, something to consider about it is that the extra width will also necessitate a wider, more expensive run of muslin than the normal 54" wide seamless muslin that would be good for the normal width for a 48" wide flat. Your fabric will need to be at least 76" (81") wide unless you plan on having seams that will be difficult to mask short of molding covering it. This would be a good reason stock flats are normally only 48" wide. The wider the flat, the less seams it has, but the more it costs to build, much less, harder it is to move the flat around corners or transport in general. The weight of the flat also can cause it to warp if not stored properly making it a waste of money. All that said, it’s still going to be a few less seams to mask, and much quicker to install them due to there being less of them in number.

Allow the flat to dry once all its braces are on at least a few hours without moving it or working on it further. Than drive any screws not fully countersunk the rest of the way in, or sand them with that 120grit paper as needed to be flush. Hand sand with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper all surfaces on the rear of the flat, to prevent slivers and splitting. Once dry, and the back is done, flip the flat over and look at the seams on the fabric to verify that they are flush and flat. If joints at this point are not absolutely flush, you should slightly sand them flush with a say 80 or 120 grit belt sanding paper. It shouldn’t require much work to the joints if care was taken on the rear of the flat in making corners flush and built right. The more sanding and prep work to the flat you do before the fabric is on, the better the end result. Keep in mind the angle of sanding. In this case it should follow the grain of the lumber with the sander moving laterally and all about the area of the seam, to ensure it does not sink in too deep for the little amount of adjustment that should be required. Don’t forget to blow off or at least brush off any dust across the entire surface of the lumber before you add fabric to it. Also, should any screws pop out of the flat’s lumber, sand them flush as well and perhaps consider adding some primer or Killz to what you sand so it will not rust with subsequent layers of fabric and glue/paint that might keep the untreated metal wet long enough to rust. Probably not necessary, but if you have a lot of them to cut and sand, it might be worthwhile to paint and treat them. Remember in sanding, that the goal is for a smooth surface and it’s better to have a surface with a few discrepancies which are covered, than something with an over sanded or worked on area. Complete work to the front by lightly hand sanding all surfaces so the edge of the lumber cannot cut into the fabric over time or with stretching it over the surface. Daniel Ionazzi in Stagecraft Handbook p122 recommends routing the inside edges of a soft flat to prevent the solute of the lumber framing behind the muslin from showing thru when scenery is brush painted onto the flat. This routing should be done with no larger than a 1/4" round over bit, and is an effective idea to prevent this and wear on the fabric.

Something that might be wise to do at this point before the fabric goes on, would be to rig it for hanging, fastening or hinging as needed. This is absolutely required for hung flats, and in general a good idea for other hardware that needs to be permanently mounted to the flat. Thru bolted hardware is necessary for safe hanging, and hardware that would be unsafe should it rip out of the flat. Each hanging iron requires at least two out of four holes to be thru bolted. Due to close proximity of holes in hardware, thru bolting more than that can weaken the lumber it is attached to. Larger sized hardware can have up to three, but other holes in the hardware should be attached with wood screws. A #10-32 T-Nut with 10-32x3/4" flat head screw would be the normal means of safely fastening hardware to the flat. The T-nut must be properly countersunk into the lumber for it to disappear and use of thread locking compounds on the screws would prevent them from loosening. A 7/8" forstner bit, if memory serves is the proper size and type of drill bit to use for this application because it will not splinter lumber or over widen a hole as it goes in. Use this over that of a paddle or other type of drill bit, and counter sink the hole before attempting to thru drill it. This thru bolting method will provide a much safer mounting of materials than otherwise using flat head machine screws on the face of the lumber that will be drawn into the wood when put under tension and thus loosen up necessitating cutting the fabric on the face of it to tighten the screw again. Also, there will not be any screw threads sticking out the rear of the flat to snag other materials. Should the hardware need to be removed at any point, the T-Nut should stay in place for the next use of it without popping out of the scenery or otherwise being noticed. Consult a scenery construction book for more details such as where to install the hardware. If such hardware needs to be installed after the scenery is covered in muslin, T-Nutting should still be done in the same way except the hole needs to be counter sunk slightly deeper so the hole can be covered with wood glue reinforced Water Putty or Bondo, than sanded flush. Such extra work can be done for T-nuts installed under muslin, but should not be necessary given a properly countersunk hole.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Covering and Finishing the Flat

On fabric, muslin fabric comes in bleached and not bleached. Not bleached will absorb water, starch, paint and glue slightly better because it’s not already saturated. Bleached fabric in addition to being more expensive, will also due to the bleaching process be less strong or available in wider widths. The fabric is also available in differing weights of material which would be it’s overall thickness. This weight will have an effect on how smooth the fabric is, also how much tooth or holding power and stretch it will have. Something that’s as smooth as linen well due to the proximity of threads to each other and thread count, shrinks to conform to a flat differently than something that is rough, less refined and has larger holes between threads. The heavy weight 128 to 140 thread count fabrics are fabrics with a better tooth to it and larger shrinkage, thus the fabric you want to use because it will also be stronger. It has been a long time since I faced a soft flat so any further info on the subject is off what other people advise on the subject or is listed in books about it.

Other flat covering fabrics that are available will be slightly less in shrinkage.
An alternative to muslin would be linen canvas as listed in Stage Scenery c.1959 and Theatrical Design and Production c.1987, it is the most expensive of the coverings, “is remarkably strong and does not snag or tear easily” as muslin. It also has a similar canvass weave similar to artists’ canvass. Its weight is 12 to 16 oz per square yard. This type of canvass does not shrink very much. Cotton Canvass is a good substitute for linen canvas due to its similar properties and weight at 9 to 16 oz, and much less expensive. This is the preferred fabric used for platforms and ground cloths. A final light weight alternative similar to cotton canvas would be Cotton Canvas Duck. It’s also cheap and easy to find on the market in very wide widths. Five to “eight-ounce canvas is normally used for most scenic work.”

Ways of attaching the fabric to the flat:
There are four ways of attaching and trimming the fabric even if the same fabric. . These fall into two main categories that will also affect some how the flat can be best constructed, how much experience and help is required to cover it, and the flat’s overall finish.

The first method would have the fabric cut on its ends flush with the front of the flat after it’s dry. Attachment of the fabric is as per normal with glue placed on the front of the flat, stapled than trimmed to the edge when dry. This method is useful when the lumber on the frame will be exposed and thus enable a better and less noticeable edge if not covered as a seam. Such flats if tight to each other and distance or painted wall decorations are right such as a vertical wall paper finish. Dutchmen on such flats may not be necessary.

A second type of installation of the fabric will be similar to the above but have its fabric ending and cut away 1/4" from the edge. The fabric is cut when wet so the fibers are cut and pushed down into the lumber so as to reduce the chance of it fraying or peeling but will be more difficult to mask the recess if used close up and without texture to the paint. It might also have some problems as above with peeling up should the glue be reactivated by paint or moisture, but there will at least be less chance of it peeling loose after contact with other surfaces such as other flats butted against it. This problem can become especially problematic with Dutchman or other seam hiding techniques used since the edge of the fabric is exposed to the glue. Aligning the selvage edge to the edge of the flat in this method is still the easiest method for covering a flat in keeping aligned, but wood does not take paint as well as fabric and these back set edges of fabric might hinder the finished product’s quality. This is the method that will primarily be further described below.
Both above methods will allow the rails of the flat to preform as designed in skidding the flat on the floor, and be easier to butt up against other flats. The major advantage of this second method over the first one is with the fabric recessed from the edge all around, there is less chance for abrasion to peel, fray or snag the fabric at the edge of the frame.

The next types of covering have the fabric stretched around the sides and back of the flat so no front face edges can come loose, and the narrow edge of the flat can be painted and exposed in an outside corner without a more noticeable wood to fabric seam. Both types of flat can also be repaired easier on the edges without problems hiding the repair, or the fabric can be trimmed flush to the front later when the edges wear. That fabric wrapping the edges however is also more susceptible to damage from being pushed or walked upstage and materials rubbing against its edges than fabric only on the edges.

The third type of flat has the fabric wrapping the edges and trimmed to the rear of the flat. The glue is applied to the top and sides of the flat first, than the fabric is stretched and stapled. The fabric no longer needs to be aligned to the edge of the flat as per the first two covering styles, but requires 3 to 4" wider fabric to cover the flat properly. On a less than 5'-6' flat using 6' wide fabric this should not be a problem. A bead of non diluted white glue to the side of the flat, in addition to the diluted glue on the face, and some extra glue to a folded fabric on the corners will help keep the fabric there long after staples are removed. The benefit is that there is a larger glue surface stretched around a corner to help prevent the fabric from coming loose. It’s also a bit easier to stretch and fasten this way without wrinkles developing but takes more practice in not over stretching the fabric and working on two edges at the same time. This method of covering will have almost as many problems as the first method with edges of the fabric coming loose with handling, but in most cases will be covered by adjoining flats and non diluted glue holding it better. The disadvantage is that there are now folds in the fabric that is difficult to mask and hold tight to other flats, or keep attached in the 3/4" area available to hold the edge down.

The last style terminates the fabric on the rear of the flat and is more or less similar to the classic style of stretching drapes or a drop over a hard frame or ground row. The more surface area for glue plus two corners for added friction makes it easier to make the fabric stay tight and in place no matter how wet the front gets, and least likely to have a edge that needs to face outboard coming loose since the only edge that can come loose is on the rear of the flat. It is harder to both stretch and pull, than staple the fabric to the back, but in addition to stapling fabric to the back, and given the fabric will be glued and having staples later removed so they do not rust or come loose and cut people, you can both fasten to the side and the back of the flat with full strength glue. Than once it’s dry, it is just a question of roughly trimming the flat 3/4" or more in from the edge. If there is not sufficient glue holding the fabric down, and the fabric is too long, this style can loose it’s adhesion easier but is easier to repair or cut shorter without having to be neat. The major disadvantage to doing flats in this way is they will not form as tight of an outside corner to other flats given the material both on the side and the back, and various folds involved with it that are much harder to keep tight. In doing this type of soft flat, it is easiest to attach the tops and sides first, than flip the flat over and glue and attach the rear. Cutting away the extra fabric at the rear corners instead of folding it can be easier and make it more flush. After the fabric is applied and staples removed, a further skim coat of glue can be applied to the fabric to give extra adhesion and wear. Since scenic paint will not be used, glue can coat the top of the fabric. This fabric will require 6 to 8" of extra fabric added to the width.

Scenery has gone back and forth in how this has been done. Theater Art c.1931 p.122 advocates stretching fabric on the long edge, than the short edges, and trimming it to the front edge. On the adjoining page however, it shows pictures of the flat with fabric up side down having nails attach it from the rear such as on a picture frame.

Since the flush trimmed method of covering a flat is the one that is used more, it will be the one presented for the most part with only notes for doing the other method such as cutting the frame slightly smaller, as side bar notes to the main part of the info.

Note: 5/16" staples are probably the most efficient staples to use in attaching fabric to flat. It’s length should be sufficient to support the fabric as it is stretching, but not too long so as to make it over difficult to remove them after the glue is dry as is needed to prevent the staples from rusting or coming loose and causing injury to those handling it.

From 1959 Stage Scenery p.84: “The process of covering a flat frame with canvas or muslin is one of the most critical steps in building scenery. Should the covering material be stretched too tight, there is a danger that the frame will be pulled out of alignment by shrinkage of the material when it is painted. Should the material be too slack, the surface of the flats will billow and shake each time a set door is opened or closed. Being conscious of these two possible faults is the first step in avoiding them. The normal steps in covering a flat frame are as follows:
1. Place the frame, face up, on the template bench, saw horses or the floor. Saw horses if extended to the width of the flat, or use of one per end will and at least one set of them per five feet makes it easier to work on the surface overall for this and will not hurt one’s back.
2. Unroll enough canvas to cover the length of the frame plus 2" or 3" overhang at each end. Cut or tear the canvas to this length but do not attempt to precut it in width. If the flat is much smaller than the width of the canvass, or muslin, it should be cut down in size to one approximating 6" larger for ease in working with it.
3. Preliminary tacking is required to hold the canvas to the frame so that it is free of wrinkles while it is being glued in place. Align the selvage edge of the canvas with the outer edge on one stile. This selvage edge provides a straight line to base your fabric off of. Depending upon how noticeable that selvage edge is, it might be necessary to not use it in some cases or it could make for a noticeable and showing seam on the face of the flat. Tack it at 1'-0" intervals along the inner edge of the stile with 4-ounce upholsterer’s tacks. (Tacks are the classic means of attaching the fabric. Today staple guns, especially electric types will be more useful. Hammer type staple guns given the flex to the lumber will probably be counterproductive. Keep the web of the staple per perpendicular to the direction the flat is pulled at or the fabric once tensioned will possibly rip at the staple. Substitute tack for staples herein.)
4. Move to the opposite side of the flat. Starting in the center, pull the material snug and tack to the inner edge of the stile. Working from this center point pull the material snug and at a slight angle toward the ends of the flat and tack. Make due allowances for the shrinkage of the material when it is painted. Since Muslin and canvass for instance has different shrinkage ratios, some testing or tinkering with how much stretch is required, or what tension when it does stretch will pull out of its fasteners or warp the frame and thus needs less tension when stapling will be needed. Small semicircular wrinkles will appear around the heads of the tacks when the material has been pulled too tight. (On a 4' wide flat, the muslin should just brush the work surface underneath it - Theatrical Design and Production c1987) Adding a slight angle in stretching towards the ends of the flat as the fabric on the stiles is pulled will help prevent wrinkles once the fabric on the rails is pulled. (It is best to keep staples or tacks as symmetrical as possible between sides of the flat to ensure the fabric is properly aligned and does not develop wrinkles. It is also good to keep in mind that after the center of the flat is installed, all stretching of the fabric should be done in reference to that center point in addition to opposing sides. As progression is made along the stile, fabric is more and made directly away from and at a larger angle from the center point. “This is called puling on the bias.” - stagecraft c.1978 it will ensure that no wrinkles develop between staples even if installed parallel to each other on opposing sides.) (“All covering fabrics shrink as they dry after being painted. If the canvas is pulled very tight, the shrinkage will at best cause a small unsightly cup to develop around each staple; at worst, the flat frame may be pulled out of shape. If the canvas is left too loose, it will not be taut enough even after shrinking. Ideally just enough sag should be left so that when shrank the canvas will be smooth and flat. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict how much a piece of unfamiliar will shrink, so that judging how tight to pull canvas taken from a new roll is something of a gamble. Once the flat (or a sample flat) has been covered and painted, it can be examined, and the tightness adjusted in covering later flats with the same material. A rule of thumb, which can be used as a somewhat inaccurate guide, is that if a canvassed but unpainted 5'-0" flat is laid on the floor face up, the canvas should sag so that it just touches the floor at the center of the flat. The amount of shrinkage varies inversely with the size of the flat, so that for flats as narrow as 1'-0" or 1'-6" it is probably best to pull the covering taught, with little or no shrinkage allowance. Muslin shrinks much more than duck, and heavy canvas least of all. Of course, if the flat is being covered with used canvas which has been previously painted, it will have been pre shrunk and should be pulled fully tight. - Stagecraft c.1978, p.127) (Stagecraft also advises pulling the fabric first at the center, than tacking in the corners to a rough position so the fabric is roughly into its position. Than tacking along its stile and eventually removing the staples at the corners and re-tacking them. This will help prevent fabric from bunching up or getting out of alignment as one works along the length of the stile.)
5. Complete the preliminary tacking at either end of the flat by tacking along the inside edge of each rail. Make what adjustments are necessary to eliminate any wrinkles appearing within the area now enclosed by tacks. Tacks whose heads have been driven flush with the canvas may be removed easily by inserting the corner of a screwdriver under the head and prying.
6. Turn back the loose flap of the canvas over one of the stiles and apply canvas glue directly to the wood. Smooth the flap down over the glue and press it firmly into place with the heel of the hand or with a small block of wood. Work on one side of the flat at a time to avoid having the glue congeal before the canvas can be pressed into it.
7. Tack along the outer edges of the stiles and rails with 4-ounce upholsterers’ tacks spacing them so they fall between those already in the flat. This method will space the tacks about 6" apart, alternating between the inside and the outside of the stiles and rails. This second row of staples will adhere the fabric to the glued frame. (It helps if you pound down on the fabric with a block of wood or stiff brush, even scrub brush to make it adhere in a stretched form without wrinkles or cups. Before the glue is completely dry, it would be wise to go back to the flat and ensure that no wrinkles or cups have developed on the surface that can be straightened out with some tension and extra staples put into place. The flat needs to dry with its face up. Do not stand up a flat or let it be stored on edge until it dries or the fabric will probably form wrinkles against its fasteners since the sag in the fabric has changed its direction of pull.)

(Modern Theater c.1946 p237 recommends a keystone with scrap of warm water wetted and ringed out fabric for pressing the fabric into the lumber, and making it stick in all locations. Than it advises a few tacks driven into the corners, and an immediate trimming of the fabric, but otherwise, no second row of tacks before or after the fabric is cut due to the nature of the glue used drying fast and adhering well.)

(Toggles and other framing members are not glued to the fabric, they are there to support the frame, not adhere the fabric to it with the exception of doorways and windows in which the open edges will be treated the same once the fabric is cut to get at the opening. Doors and window openings should be attached and cut only after the parameter of the frame is complete or it will make a proper stretch of the fabric more difficult. Cut such fabric slightly larger than the hole and follow the techniques for stapling and glueing the outer edges. The only difference will be that the fabric at the corners will need to be at least cut to access the corner, if not cut slightly into the frame so the fabric can be moved out of the way sufficiently for glue to be applied. If an extra size cut to the fabric is required, the fabric needs to be carefully placed back onto the frame or it will cause wrinkles or observable seams. For this reason, it would be better to use a paint brush under slightly lifted fabric and into the corners - sources differ on this contention point.)

8. Allow the glue to dry before attempting to trim excess canvas from the flat. (Stagecraft c.1978 advises trimming the fabric before it dries so the fibers of the fabric are driven into the wood. This “makes it less likely to ravel.” Such a point could have merit since the fabric can be re-smoothed should it snag. Use a fresh knife blade for best results - see the safety knife note below, and stretch the fabric as it is cut.) This can be best done by running a sharp knife along the outer edge of the frame while pulling the excess canvas taught with the other hand. How much to trim is subject for debate. (Stagecraft handbook c1995 advises trimming the fabric to a 1/4" back set from the fabric. This will prevent the fabric at the edge from coming loose or fraying as it will often do when it contacts other surfaces especially when the glue is moistened by fresh paint. It also would remove most of any salvage edge from the fabric which could be otherwise often seen. The wrapping of the fabric methods discussed above, in wrapping the fabric around the edges, even to the back of the flat will also prevent this problem. The best tool for trimming fabric back set from the edge might be one of the few truly serviceable uses of a “safety knife” with its large guard that will provide a guide for the blade to follow. A further note will be that stagecraft c.1978 as opposed to this version posted from Stage Scenery c.1959, as well as all other texts differ from a note Stagecraft has about a finishing touch done to the finished but back set edges. Stagecraft 1978 promotes as a final step, “the tips of the bristles of the brush are dipped in glue, and it is drawn along the cut edge with the bristles set parallel to the edge so as to deposit a thin, nearly invisible line of glue which helps keep the outside threads from raveling.” This method would require a back set from the edge fabric and glue placed on the surface to be painted. That glue could unless one that readily accepts paint would be bad for the coating of it but help a lot in preventing unraveling.)

There are three formulas which are most commonly used in mixing a good canvas glue. Full-strength glue cannot be used without running the risk of having it seep through the canvas and darken or discolor the paint job.

1. White-flake glue. This is the strongest of the three mixtures and the easiest to prepare, but it is also the most expensive. To prepare it place dry-flake glue in the upper container of a double boiler, cover the glue with water, and heat until it has dissolved. This glue must be applied to the frames while it is hot, as it congeals rapidly when allowed to cool. Care must be taken to avoid getting this glue onto the face of the canvas, because it will stain or “bleed” through and darken any paint placed over it. (Modern Theater c.1946 p36 states 1 pound of flake or ground glue to 2 quarts of water in a pail. Also that you should “Be careful that it does not burn. When glue burns, everyone within a radius of two blocks becomes aware of the fact.” A double boiler is also advised for use. After the glue has completely dissolved, you are to stir 1 pound of whiting into it and serve/apply hot. If the paste seems thin, let it congeal for a moment.)
2. Ground amber glue and whiting. A very satisfactory canvas glue can be made from a mixture of 50 percent whiting and 50 percent ground amber glue. Prepare the glue by covering it with water and heating it in a double boiler as described above. Place the dry whiting powder in a separate container and add sufficient water to work it into a heave paste that is free of all lumps. Add the hot liquid glue to the paste; this will thin the latter sufficiently for immediate use. This mixture must be applied to frames while it is hot. Both of these first tow glue mixtures will congeal into a solid mass when allowed to cool overnight. Reheating them in a double boiler will return them to their original consistency without the necessity of adding more water.
3. Cold-water paste and amber glue. Although not as strong as the first two, this formula has the advantage of being less expensive and it does not require preheating after each use. The formula is approximately 2/3 cold-water paste to 1/3 hot amber glue. Prepare the ground amber glue as previously described. Cold-water paste is sold in a dry powdered form and must be mixed with water before the hot liquid glue is added. To avoid the small globules and lumps of paste that sometimes form when mixing cold -water paste, be sure to stir and shift the dry paste into a bucket containing the water.
(- Stage Scenery c1959)

Other methods of gluing the fabric to the flat:
4. Paint is probably the easiest method of gluing muslin to a flat frame is with casein, acrylic, or latex paint. Either use white paint (which is close to the color of muslin) or mix a color that closely approximates the prime coat that you will be using to paint the set. Simply paint the stiles and rails with the paint, apply a light coat to the underside of the fabric flap, flop the fabric back onto the wood and smooth it out. The binders in the paint will glue the fabric to the wood. This method works well if the flat is going to be used for a single production. The binders in the paint are not really strong enough to tightly bind the fabric to the flat. If the flat is going to be reused, another method should be more appropriate.
5. Animal glue and whiting. Animal glue is combined with whiting (a thickening agent made of low grade chalk) into the ratio of one part animal glue (see chapter 8 for instructions) to one part whiting paste. To make whiteing paste put the dry whiting in a container and stir in enough water to make a paste the consistency of sour cream. Add the glue to the whiting paste, and use while it is hot. The mixture dries when it cools, but it can be reheated in a double boiler or glue pot to make it workable again.
6. White glue and water. A mixture of two parts of white glue thinned with one part of water makes a good muslin glue. Take care to use a light coat of glue, because of the white glue bleeds through to the surface of the fabric, it can leave a glaze coat that may discolor any subsequent coats of paint.
7. White glue and whiting called “scenic dope” or “dope” in an early form of it used as a term. This method would fall into history of use somewhere between glue pot type glues and watered down white glue above. White glue at this point was more expensive than it is currently, and was not as flexible, possibly as strong or easy to paint on.
8. Sobo of Flex Glue thinned with water as needed similarly to white glue and water. This type of glue will take paint better, provide better adhesion and take paint better than Elmer’s type white glues. All glues must be kept off the surface of the flat as much as possible or they could blemish a finished paint job with it’s hard and often paint resistant surface.

Regardless of the shape of the flat, you should glue the covering only to the face of the rails and stiles. If the covering fabric is not glued to any internal pieces (toggle bars, corner braces), it will be able to shrink evenly when the flat is painted. This uniform shrinkage will result in fewer wrinkles on the face of the finished flat. (Theatrical Design and Production c1987)

Stage Scenery, It’s Construction and Rigging, A.M. Gillette; Harper & Row, Publishers NY.1959. The library of Congress #59-13576 (pp 71, & 81-86)
Theatrical Design and Production, An Introduction to Scene Design and Construction, Lighting, Sound, Costume, and Makeup, J. Michael Gillette; Mayfield Publishing Company Mountain View, CA. 1987. ISBN #0-87484-578-5 (pp 187 -191)
Theatrical Set Design, The Basic Techniques, by David Welker, Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Boston 1969 Library of Congress #69-15463 (pp 18 - 21 & 82)
The Stagecraft Handbook, by Daniel A. Ionazzi; Betterway Books. Cincinnati, Ohio, 1996 ISBN #1-55870-404-3 (pp 115-134)
Essentials of Stage Scenery, by Samuel Selden and Tom Rezzuto; Appleton-Century-Crofts. New York 1972 Library of congress #70-182307 (pp 113-115, 126-127, & 115-118)
Stagecraft, A Handbook for Organization, Construction, and Management, by David Welker; Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Boston 1978 ISBN #0-205-05589-3 (pp 113-137)
Modern Theatre Practice - A Handbook for Nonprofessionals 3rd Ed., by Hubert C. Heffner, Samuel Selden and Hunton D. Sellman; New York 1946 - No Library of Congress Number (pp 227-228, 232-237, 239-248)
Theater Art, by Victor E. D’Amico; The Manual Arts Press. Peoria, Illinois 1931 - No Library of Congress Number (pp 122-124)
Scene Design and Stage Lighting, 5th Ed., by W. Oren Parker, Harvey K. Smith and R. Craig Wolf; Holt, Rienhart and Winston. New York 1985 ISBN #0-03-064248-5 (pp 195-201)
Scenery for the Theatre, The Organization, Process, Materials, and Techniques Used to Set the Stage Revised Edition - 6th printing, Harold Burris-Meyer and Edward C. Cole; Little, Brown and Company. Boston 1971 Library of Congress #72-154968 (pp 80-82, 135-147, 204-210, 302-304, 312-330)


I'm new here, and forgive me, and Ship, I see you have a very helpful and technical personality, but this is theatre not rocket science. Do you actually expect anyone to read all that? I can tell you right now, there isn't enough time in the day. I could build a few flats in less time than I could read, let alone write your tome. Where do you get the time? 8O

I don't have enough time in the theatre to take a leak. :roll:

So take this in the right way, from someone who has been doing this for a few decades, there is such a thing as being too helpful, and sometimes less is more.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Point taken and it's correct. In 1/6 the time it took to write, much less 1/2 the time to read, you should be done constructing them by than. Than again if you never built them before and don't have supervision on such a thing, than it hopefully will be useful.

I sat down with a few sources from over the years and between that and personal experience with building such things - plus being able to type very fast, wrote up both a history, as many methods of doing it and tips section otherwise not available as in depth. It thus grew from there.

Expect anyone to read it all? Don't know. Unfortunate that I only got 3/4s of the way in re-re-editing it. Towards the end it's mostly directly out of a cited text with my notes at best. Never had as much interest in the covering part of the project anyway.

Still should someone sit down and read it, the hope is they will especially when new gain a lot of info from it both in concept and tip. Large debate, too much information, but specific enough to understand what is advised, verses short, broad but not understood or useful.

This in taking on - what was it four methods at once, plus 80 years of history was a large topic that could have been refined further. Not my strongest suite. Still you must admidt that it's very specific and hopefully helpful.

Than again perhaps not. Never said that it should be the only how to do description on the subject. Go for it. The more help the better. The more tips and people telling how to do so, the more ideas are stated. That's the point. My methods and text is there, time for your own - put your money where your mouth is, in a also friendly way also. :lol: Our job to pass on the skills we were taught or developed. Given my methods was too much information, time for someone else and more people to attempt.


ship i am constantly amazed at how much you can write and in such detail
you are a quiet legend



Its obvious you have a wealth of knowledge and a generous spirit for sharing. Its also obvious that you enjoy the technical aspects of the process and a very thorough and tidy mind. All I'm saying is when the posts get this long, I don't have the time to read them. I just saw your thread on cordless drills, and I'm not going to have the energy to read all of your posts on that thread. So the sheer length of your efforts defeats their purpose if they are not read.

I would cut your posts down anywhere from 1/4 to 1/10th of their length. On the internet, there are no editors, but when you write that book, I'm sure you will be told to pare it down.

That being said, thanks for the imput , especially on the lighting books thread I started.

Friends I hope, Will


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
Keeping stuff short is my own battle. Thanks for the reminder of what to work on. Never any offense when advice is given.

On the other hand, it's a forum so please add your own tips and or instructions.


Keeping stuff short is my own battle. Thanks for the reminder of what to work on. Never any offense when advice is given.

On the other hand, it's a forum so please add your own tips and or instructions.

I **LOVE** that it's this long and detailed. So often, sources simply say "do this" or "do that" without a clear explanation of why one way is better than another. Now, I didn't read it all, but I skimmed and would occasionally stop when I reached a bit that seemed interesting. Considering how easy text is to search, these days, I think this is a wonderful resource, and glad to have it around. :)


Custom Title
Fight Leukemia
It's like if Ernest Hemingway wrote about technical theatre. I'm not into that whole brevity thing either. :cool:

Thanks for commenting on this, even though it's ancient. I had seen this post a while back but had forgotten about it. Good stuff to bookmark.

Users who are viewing this thread