Captain's bLog 282020.08 : A Prop Maker’s Toolkit
From the first moment I walked into the Millennium Fandom Bar (MFB), I have been amazed at the talent and creativity of all the cosplayers there. Through conversations with these awesome people, I have learned many tips, tricks, and techniques. While most cosplayers already have the basics on hand (glue guns, rulers, heat guns, etc.), here are a few helpful tools that were shared with me by other creators.
Safety first! A respirator mask with filters, disposable rubber gloves, and protective eyewear should be in every prop maker’s tool kit to avoid injury. Many of the supplies used in cosplay builds are toxic, such as contact cement, resin, fumes from heated foam & paint, and foam dust. These can cause allergic reactions, serious illness, and harm/kill small pets; birds, bunnies, hamsters, etc. So please always remember to work in a well-ventilated area and use your safety tools to protect yourself and your furry/feathered/scaled friends.
If you find yourself doing a lot of foam sanding, you will create a giant mess very quickly. Sanding boxes can help contain the dust which will keep yourself and your area clean while you work. There are many tutorials online for making a simple sanding box out of a clear plastic tub. These can be adjusted to work with either a shop vac or a regular vacuum. For extra comfort, you can fit the arm holes with a ring of foam to protect your forearms from the rough plastic edges. When choosing your sleeve inserts, an old athletic, moisture wicking shirt feels great with the desert heat.
One of the most common tools in prop making is your blade. Unfortunately, foam dulls blades very quickly, and I was going through box cutters like my four-year-old nephew goes through band-aids. Using a dull blade causes jagged cuts that make it difficult to get a clean seam. Then, over a Golden Ticket cocktail, someone shared with me the diamond-coated blade sharpener and now I always keep it on hand. A blade sharpener (and a little WD-40) is a game changer in keeping your blade sharp and allowing you to use the same box cutter over and over. This saves money and your cuts will stay cleaner for longer.
Patterns are great, but they don’t always exist for the prop you want to make when trying to create something from scratch, you will probably need to cut a custom shape. Contour gauges allow you to easily measure and copy irregular shapes. Just press it against the edge you need to duplicate, allowing the teeth to adjust to the shape, and then you can trace the line onto your foam, cardboard, foam-core board, etc. And now you’re on your way to building that one-of-a-kind piece!
Trash! That’s right, get creative with your trash! Cosplay supplies are expensive, and every bit reused or reapplied can help keep the cost down.
Junk scraps of craft foam can apply contact cement just as good as brushes.
A piece of aluminum foil can be ironed on top of foam sheets to create a leather texture.
Old worn-out t-shirts make great rags.
Plastic bottle caps are great for tracing small circles.
Googly eyes make excellent rivets. (Thanks Steampunkers!).
And last but not least, the best tool in a prop maker’s toolkit are the conversations with other cosplayers. This is a wonderful community, full of people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with others.