Episode 3 - Rigging Scenery: It's not as basic as you think

Welcome to another episode of behind the plaster line. On today’s episode I want to talk a little bit about rigging and some practices you might not be completely aware of. Before I dive in I want to say that this episode is for educational purposes only and is not official advice. I am not a professional rigger and you should always seek professional advice from a licensed rigger when hanging and flying scenery or people. I don’t know all the information but my goal in talking about this topic is to make you aware that rigging involves more than you think and should not be taken lightly. It is highly specialized and you should never cut corners. Pay certified riggers what they are asking, this isn’t something you should be trying to do on a budget. 

We are just gonna hit it hard with one of the things I find that gets overlooked so many times. 

Rigging hardware. Never use hardware from the home improvement store. 

Years ago when we produced Les Mis, we wanted to fly in something. Let me preface, I absolutely hate flying in scenery. I dread it so much and I really can’t remember why this was decided it was so long ago. 

Anywho, I did an extensive amount of research and found little to no information on how to rig scenery. I found some pictures and forums but no one on those forums was really giving advice on how to do it and with good reason. Almost every response in every thread was filled with “hire a professional”. I’m not mad and to be honest, its a legit response. But on the flip side there was no one helping these people out. I understand there are liability issues when it comes to giving rigging advice. My certified friends are scared to offer help because they don’t want you to think you can DIY it after one conversation. As a proud rigger themselves, it would be devastating and damaging to their career if you hurt someone based on their advice. I get it.

But as educators with big dreams and empty wallets, we tend to ignore this kind of shit and do it anyway. For me personally, there wasn’t a course I could take to just gain more safety knowledge in the matter. I really wish rigging instruction was more accessible to educators because tech directors are going to  do it anyways and you might as well be part of the solution to help us do it the right way. I’m not trying to be rude, just being honest. 

I took a rigging basics course in college and knew that this was a huge task. I called every rigging friend I could think of and re-read all my books and worked out so many math problems. I remember asking my district if we had a vendor for rigging hardware and everyone just said it was purchased from the local Lowe’s and Home Depot. 

I was shocked and I knew they had been flying scenery for years before my arrival. I started compiling a list of equipment, tools and supplies I needed to do this correctly and our boosters were able to buy it all for me. It was an investment I was not willing to waiver on. 

I get asked alot about why someone should not use regular hardware for rigging. The best answer I can give you is physics. Lots of home improvement stores label their hardware “not for overhead rigging”. That is because that type of hardware is typically used for pulling. A lateral pull has a different effect hardware than a vertical pull. With lateral pulls you are working with the ground, vertical not so much. It’s a whole lot of physics I myself don’t fully understand, just know that these two types of hardware are engineered to do two completely different tasks.

When looking for hardware working load limits or WLL, you want to build in a safety factor of 5:1.This means that the hardware can hold five times their Safe Work Load (SWL) before it will break. So, if a 5:1 wire rope's SWL is 10,000 lbs., the safety factor is 50,000 lbs. This also referred to as the design factor. Again, there’s lots of math involved when it comes to rigging. 

So I’m gonna share with you the things I have bought over the years. This is not a complete list by any means but I hope you can start to get a sense of how big of a scope this type of project entails. 

I buy all of my hardware from reputable suppliers. My top two fav places are BMI Supply and Fehr Brothers. I have been able to get everything between the both of them. Sapsis Rigging also sells hardware and they have some education seminars on their Youtube channel. Definitely check them out. There are other companies such as Rose Brand and JR Clancy. I’ll link the websites down at the bottom of the show notes. 

Ok so scenario time.

Let’s say you want to fly an 8x8 foot wall. The wall is made out of two 4x8 hollywood flats screwed together. What is all the hardware you would need? Here we go. 

      First, your walls should be bolted together and not screwed. Basically screws will never be used on any rigging hardware, everything is bolted. EVERYTHING. You also would need to make sure your flat is oriented the correct way, meaning the rail is on the top and bottom of the flat, capping the stiles. Your flat had better be built right too, glued in all the right places and solid. Poorly built scenery had no business being flown. 

The more that I talk about hardware the more I realize some of you might not know what it looks like. I’ll also include a PDF with pictures that can help you identify these things. Hardware  that would needed for this job would most likely be:

Black ⅛” aircraft cable, this will run you about $116 for 238 ft. There are different thicknesses you can buy but that requires a lot of math to figure out which on is best and that topic is beyond the scope of this episode. You cannot cut aircraft cable with anything other than C7’s. Bolt cutters will no nothing, I mean nothing. C7’s will cut through that thing like butter, it’s very satisfying. C7’s will run you anywhere form $80- $200.

Thimbles to keep the aircraft cable from kinking. When you terminate the end of the cable you make a loop. The weight of your scenery will crust the fibers in the cable and put the cable at risk of failing. To prevent this a thimble is used to ease the cable into a look and protect it. Its like a little saddle.

Once you have the cable around a thimble you will have to use a Swage to crimp it closed. This is a permanent closure and needs a special tool to achieve this. There is also a specific method to doing it correctly, just know that not any old tool will do this for you. The tool you wanna ask for is a swaging tool. It will run you anywhere form $65 - $285. And usually they come with a Gauge called a No-Go Gauge. No-Go Gauges are used to measure if your swage is crimped enough. If its not, its a no-go and you have to redo your swage. These sleeves come in copper or silver but Fehr sells black aluminum sleeves which makes them pretty damn sexy, in my opinion.

Wire rope clips make their way into rigging often. Often times they are used incorrectly but the saying to remember how they are supposed to be installed is “Never saddle a dead horse”. Sometimes they are used when swages are not available. Do your research and ask professionals before you go out and try to buy these, just because you don’t want to spend the money on actual swage tools. 

Do no cut corners when it comes to rigging, I cannot stress this enough. 

Shackles and Quicklinks come in all sizes. Shackles look like horseshoes with a pin that gets screwed in. The most common brand is Crosby and they have red colored pins. Your shackle needs to be rated. When installing a shackle you want to make sure the flat side is facing up or down. This puts the stress on the pin or the loop, if your shackle gets twisted and ends up on its side, the sides of the shackles could get pulled apart an the pin holding it together will fail, causing serious damage. Many riggers secure their shackle pins with a small wire to keep it from turning itself loose. This is called mousing provides a little bit of extra security. 

Quicklinks look like threaded carabiners. Do not mistake them for the ones you buy at walmart. The only place I have found these has been Fehr. They have the rating stamped right on it. When you use them, make sure the tread can tread itself down. Gravity can do amazing things and you don’t want that part to undo itself due to vibrations. 

Turnbuckles are then attached to the shackle. They are this long piece with two eye bolts on the end. You can twist both ends to lengthen and shorten the piece. Turnbuckles are super helpful for leveling your piece out. It’s nearly impossible to get the perfect length of cable everytime, but a turnbuckle give you a little bit of wiggle room. You will want to start your turnbuckle half way in/out so you have room to work with once it’s attached to the D ring that is bolted to the flat using a shackle. 

That brings us to D rings and keepers.D-rings are exactly what they sound like. Keepers are the little metal strap that holds them in place. This strap must be bolted to the bottom rail of the flat. 

Ok so you have your cable and hardware connected to the bottom rail on the flat. Now what. You will have to drill holes in the toggles of the flat to act as guides for the lift lines and it needs to go through all toggles and out the top rail. Once the lift line is tread it is time to attach another thimble and swage, terminating your loose cable end. Trim chain is wrapped around a batten and the cable is secured to it with a shackle.

When it comes to trim chain always use Grade 30 ¼” Proof Coil Chain. It needs to be able to wrap around the pipe once, with enough left over to attached hardware to lift. There are places that sell it already  cut to 36”. That’s a good safe length. Every shop is different, I have seen shops spray paint the center of their trim chains red so that they are not mistaken for other chain in their stock. Just a tip. 

There’s a whole process of re-weighting your counterweight system. But know that is a crucial step you should not overlook. Every system is different depending on if you have a single purchase or double purchases. It is your responsibility to know the difference and know which one you have. You owe it to the safety of your kids to know. The rigging book I recommend are

Stage Rigging Handbook by Jay Glerum and Entertainment Rigging by Harry Donovan.

These are great resources you can add to your textbook library. 

If you have made it this far and are so confused, then maybe rigging is not for you. If you are an acting director and want that piece of scenery flown, please take a moment to remember this episode and ask yourself if it’s worth it. Do I trust myself, my TD, my parent volunteers to know about any of this math, hardware, tools and safety procedures.

 If you answered no to these questions, call a professional. But where do I find professionals you ask? Your local IATSE Union. The Union is divided by districts. Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas are District 6 and the office is located in Houston and I will link the information below on how to reach them. They can put you into contact with your local IATSE Union office to get you the professional help you need.

You can find other district lists by going to iatse.net/about/district-list and search by region.

Alright, I think it’s time I got off my soapbox. I really just wanted this episode to spread awareness of how intricate rigging is and that it’s alot harder than you think. When it comes to hanging anything over someone’s head, even foam, you should go the extra mile of safety. It’s your job. Plain and simple. 

Well that wraps up this episode. Thank you so much for listening and don’t forget to like subscribe and leave a review. I am always open to topic suggests so send them over at behindtheplasterlinepodcast@gmail.com. By for now.

IATSE District 6- Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas

District Secretary: Jon Lowe
Email: d6secretarytreasurer@gmail.com 

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