Coffin Prop

Introduction

So just to get this out there straight away, I love Halloween! I mean I really, really love it. Ok cool, now that’s taken care of, onto the build. So while browsing Pinterest for Halloween ideas I came across a prop coffin and thought, hey why not?

Materials

I started by finding a pallet to use for this build. I went to my local cinema where they sometimes keep pallets out back and asked for permission to take one. I was in luck, they said yes, not to mention they had one of the pallets which has the lats really close together, so this would save me some construction time.
I’d also need some tools, so I got out my Hammer, Drill, Jigsaw, Ruler and Pencil.

Assembly

Since the lats on the pallet were so close together I didn’t have to worry about fully taking the pallet apart and re-constructing the lats to be closer together. I just drew my coffin shape onto the surface of the pallet. I kept the width to four lats wide. I then cut this section off the main pallet with the jigsaw. The hammer was then used to remove the wooden blocks until I was left with a flat rectangular lid. This was then cut to shape with the jig saw. That’s all there is to the main construction. A few nails needed to be moved after cutting to keep the lats together but it was pretty straightforward.

Details

Now at this point I could have called it a day, but I felt I could take it further. I decided to add some decals and stain. I wrote out RIP onto an A4 sheet and cut this out to make a stencil, I then taped this to the lid, added some extra paper to catch any over spray and spray painted the stencil black.

I then moved on to the stain, this was simply a coffee stain. I mixed up some ground coffee with hot water and brushed it all over the lid. The nice thing about this was as the stain dried the ground coffee looked like soil, as if the coffin had been freshly pulled from the ground!

Complete

And with that the coffin lid was finished.

Cost

Pallet: Free
Coffee: 5p
Spray Paint: 10p
Total £0.15*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Heart Sword

Introduction

So I started this build way back in February. I had made the knight’s helm for Nova and decided that she needed a sword to go with it. Her brother already had one so it was only fair.

Concept

I went through my design process on one of my early twitch streams. I try to stream on Mondays, you can find me here https://www.twitch.tv/thriftyprops. I went through several different designs marking off my favourite after each stage, I then took it and refined it further. Once happy I moved onto making a scale template.

Templating

Having settled on my design I set about creating my template. I started by taping two sheets of A4 paper together. I then drew a straight center line and measured an equal distance out from this on both sides. I didn’t want the sword being too long as it’s designed for a child, but I still made sure I could hold it in my hand. A lot of this was just guess work and going with what felt right. Once happy with the basic size and shape I moved on to the details. I drew the whole saw tooth section but knew I would probably only take one section of this and repeat it to ensure I got a consistent size. After that I drew half of the cross guard, I could then just flip it to complete the shape.

Assembly

I took the standard approach and sandwiched a wooden dowel between two sheets of EVA foam. I made the silly mistake of moving my template after I had done this to avoid wasting so much foam, forgetting that my dowel wouldn’t move with it. Luckily I narrowly avoided disaster and the dowel just meets the edge of the handle.

I transferred my template to the foam and cut it out.

Details

The devils in the details, or so they say. I wanted to make this sword a bit more special so I decided to add a lot of details which you could see in the early design and templates but I had never made anything with such small details. I started by cutting out the saw section from 2mm craft foam to give a nice raised edge to start from. I then added trim all along the edge. Having not actually designed the the top edge of the sword I made the next bit up and decided to put a vine from the cross guard up to the end of the saw. I added thorns all along this for added detail. This was all cut from more 2mm craft foam and attached using super glue.

I had started cutting all these details using a craft knife but discovered that a manicure scissors was far superior for these finer details, this meant I could crate some very nice small heart shapes.

I also carved the the pommel into a heart shape using a stone bit on my rotary tool.

I continued the slow process of adding the rest of the trim and vines on my twitch streams. I also wrapped the grip with craft foam.

To help keep the finer points hard I spread a little bit of super glue on them, when this cures it goes hard and protects the points from damage.

Painting

I painted this with my usual technique. First I gave it a few good coats of matt black spray paint.

Next I dry brushed the sword with a silver acrylic in a slightly uneven coating. This gives a great metallic steel look.

I then went over the areas I wanted gold with two layers of gold acrylic paint. And gave all the thorns a more consistent coat of silver as a subtle highlight.

The grip was then painted to look like leather.

Complete

And with that the Heart Sword was finished.

Cost

1/2 Floor Mat: 70p
Craft foam: 50p
Glue: 50p
Spray Paint: £1.00
Acrylic Paint: 50p
Wooden Dowel: £1.20
Total £4.40*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Lightning Breastplate

Introduction

I noticed recently that my son has really enjoyed playing with a Sword and Knight’s Helmet I made. I decided I’d expand on this and build him an Armour Breastplate to go with it.
Having told him of my plans he of course had some of his own ideas in mind and the lightning bolts were added.

Concept

I started this build with a very simple concept sketch. I added the shoulders and helmet for context. Since I haven’t made anything like this before I planned for having to make adjustments as I went along.

Templating

The next step in the process was to create a template. The best way to do this was to wrap my son in cling film and then cover him in masking tape ( duct tape is an alternative ). I then drew my rough pattern on the tape to create a template. As you can see he enjoyed the process.

The template then needed to be scaled up a little so I free handed a larger version onto some packing paper I got with an amazon delivery. I also wanted the armour to peak in some areas like under the chin and in the center, so I modified the template to achieve this. This was very much a case of trial and error. Eventually I got a shape I was happy with. I made sure to test my new templates on my son regularly.

Assembly

Once happy with my template I then cut it into sections, transferred it to foam and cut it out. I then heat formed the pieces to get them as close to their final shapes as possible. This stops the foam from pulling too much when gluing it together. The closer it is to the final shape the less it pulls.

If you want more details on making foam armour check out these videos:
EvilTed’s How to Make Male Foam Cosplay Armor, Tutorial
Punished Props’ How to Make the Skyrim Steel Armor Costume

Details

When it was assembled I marked where I wanted my details to go using my concept sketch as a guide. I then cut all these pieces from 2mm craft foam. I went with a simple enough design to keep the build time down. I then also stuck on googly eyes as these look like rivets when painted. I placed these where I thought they would make sense as if they were actually holding on the details. For the larger pieces I used contact cement and regular super glue for the trim.

Sealing

I generally don’t seal my props as the kids are quite rough with them and it makes it easier to repair them if they are not sealed, however I wanted to try out a new method so I sealed this with a PVA glue wash, using a pressure sprayer.

Painting

I painted this with my usual technique of a matt black base coat, then dry brushed with a silver acrylic in a slightly uneven coating. I find this gives a great metallic steel look. I then went over the areas I wanted gold with two layers of gold acrylic paint. And that was it, all painted.

Strapping

The next step was to add strapping. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for my son to put on. Hopefully he’d be able to do it without any help. Initially I was going to use nylon webbing and clips, but decided against this as it would have been too difficult with the clips at the rear and it also wouldn’t allow for any stretching. I instead decided to use some elastic in a cross pattern from shoulder to waist. I cut away some foam and cross hatched the area to give the glue more chance of adhering to it. I also cut a small hole in the middle of the elastic so the glue could get a better hold of it. I hot glued the elastic in place and layered some craft foam on top.

Complete

And with that the Lightning Breastplate was finished. I got my son to try it on along with his knight’s undersuit, shield, sword and helm. I’m really happy with how this turned out. He really looks the part.

Cost

1/2 Floor Mat: 70p
Craft foam: 25p
Glue: 10p
Spray Paint: 1.50p
Acrylic Paint: 50p
Total £3.05*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Lion Shield

Introduction

While browsing the thrift / charity stores as I usually do on my lunch break I came across a great looking pressed foam shield. There was actually two, one of which had a handle that was starting to rip so I took this one as I knew I could repair it with some contact cement and left the other more usable one for someone else to enjoy. Now while the shield already looked great, the grey was a bit plain for me so I decided to give it a nice cheap paint job!

Painting

The paint job was going to be a relatively straight forward one. I coated the shield with a couple of layers of matt black spray paint. I usually start from black when I want to use silver as it gives it a better base color to sit on. I also sometimes see people paint an item completely in silver and weather back with various washed of blacks and browns, but I find this usually doesn’t come out looking great. What works best for me is the reverse, and it uses less silver paint. I start from black a dry brush the silver on. Check out the results.

Then I decided it needed some mre detail so I went over select areas with some gold acrylic paint. This usually requires a few layers to give an even coating.

I was really please with the final result.

Cost

Shield: 50p
Glue: 5p
Spray Paint: 50p
Acrylic Paint: 50p
Total £1.55*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Boots

Introduction

This is a quick post about how I put together my boots for my Shredder costume. I didn’t want to spend any money on this really and the shoes were a bit of an after thought but I think they turned out ok.

To template or not to template?

I was tempted to template some boot covers for this costume but I was about to throw out an old pair of trainers and decided to give them a new lease of life as some metallic boots. I just stuck my craft foam directly to the shoes instead. Having looked at my reference image I could see it would be a simple task getting the shapes correct.

It looked like three or four simple layers starting from the toes and overlapping towards the heel.

The build

I used super glue for this as I was in a bit of a hurry but contact cement would have worked fine as well. I cut some 2mm craft foam to the rough shape I wanted. The nice thing about the foam being so thin is that you can really stretch it and bend it into nice shapes, so it fitted the form of the shoes really well. Another advantage of using the super glue was that it cured really quickly so I could stretch some foam and hold it in place for a few seconds and then I was ready for the next piece.

Painting

After I had glued all the layers I gave all the foam and the shoe itself 3-4 good coats of matt black spray paint. I then dry brushed it with silver acrylic paint.

The shoes actually absorbed a lot of the paint, maybe next time I’ll try painting them with black acrylic paint first to save the cost of the spray paint.

Cost

Shoes: Free
Glue: 30p
Spray Paint: £1.00
Total £1.30*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Golden Ninja Hood

Introduction

I decided to put up this small post on the Ninja Hood I made for my son last Halloween. I do plan on doing write ups of full build processes, but I’ll add a whole new section for that and won’t do them as blog posts.
This was going to be my first foam helmet (it’s technically a hood, but I’ll be calling it a helmet). I was nervous going into this build but eager to learn how to do it.

Templating

I templated this directly on my son’s head. I wrapped him in cling film and started to mask the top of his head. Because I wanted to have the sides of the helmet drop vertically I just taped some paper on for the lower half.
I drew the rough shape I wanted and when I was happy I cut him free. Next came one of the hardest parts of any templated build for me, deciding where to cut the pattern.

I thing I often think when I see other peoples builds is that they put way too many cuts into the templates. Especially if they use a modified pepakura template. I wanted the template to do most of the hard work for me and I was willing to heat form it into shape so I decided to only use 2 parts, and of course the other half flipped. As you can see it made for a simple looking template.

Cutting

I cut all this out and did a test fit, by taping the pieces together using tape. Now as I’ve said before I would recommend using card first in case your direct template made the fit too tight, which in this case it did. That said I didn’t want to waste the foam and went ahead with the build.

Assembly

I assembled the pieces using contact cement which I got cheaper by getting it from amazon as part of the add on item scheme (spend over a certain amount and get some items at a cheaper price) I recommend saving items for a bulk purchase.

Details

After this I wrapped the helmet in more paper to create the template for the face scarf and the tri-point decoration. I then carved these with a rotary tool. I attached these with more contact cement.

Painting

I gave the whole piece a few coats with matt black spray paint, then a few coats of a cheap gold paint.

I picked up some cheap gold fabric off cuts and used this to cover the eye holes, this was doubled over and allowed my son to see. I colored in two black LEGO style eyes to finish the look.

Cost

1 Floor Mat: £1.40
Glue: 60p
Spray Paint: £1.20
Total £3.20*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Knights Helm

Introduction

A recent charity shop find inspired this quick build. I had found a foam shield in a local store for £1 or less, fixed it up and gave it a new paint job. So of course the logical thing to build was a helmet to go with it.

If you’re unsure of how to pattern a helmet check out Evil Ted’s Helmet Tutorial or Punished Props Helmet Tutorial.

Now one thing you might hear mentioned which is good advice is “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Thats all well and good when you can afford to use lots of foam, but here on Thrifty Props we’re all about saving money. In comes cardboard to the rescue as you’ll soon see.

The Build

Having previously patterned a helmet on to one of my kids heads I learned that direct patterning to a head can leave the fitting a bit snug. Too snug for my kid in fact, he can’t wear it anymore. On this build I wanted to avoid that happening. So the first thing I did was to get my kid to wear a hat before wrapping to give a little more space. Then I set about creating the pattern. I free handed all of this based on a rough shape I had in my head.

The next usual step you would take would be to transfer this to foam, but instead I transferred to some cardboard I had lying around. This meant that I could get the size wrong and it wouldn’t be wasted foam. I just attached the pieces together with some masking tape.

We then tried it on for size. Some adjustments were indeed needed but these were made before any foam was cut. Once I was happy with the new pattern, that was then transferred to my foam.
From this point on the helmet itself was a straight forward build. One mistake I did make though was not accounting for my size adjustments on my visor. It should have also been widened but I noticed too late and just had to move the holes instead.

The Hinge

One thing I wanted on this helmet was a working visor. I prototyped this in cardboard as well so I could try a few ideas if needed. Once I got the basic shape I wanted I set about making the hinge. I took a simple approach of just making a hole in the helm and fixed two larger circles of card on the inside and the outside connected by the card cut out from the hole. It was crude but worked. I then made the same type of hinge from foam. A tip for cutting holes in foam is to use sharpened pvc pipe, I started using a piece to make my holes and then notice that if I only went half into the foam it would stay securely held by the foam, if I put some glue on it it wasn’t going to go anywhere.

Above you can see the foam-pvc hinge. The pipe passes through the hole in the visor and the helm and is then held in place by the two circular foam end caps. I kept the pieces separate for painting then glued them in place one they had dried.

Painting

Since I know these are for my kids I don’t invest a lot in the paint jobs, they will be getting thrown around and probably sat on so it’s not worth it. A £2 can of matt black spray paint from the pound shop takes care of the base coat. Then some silver acrylic dry brushed on gives the final metal effect. I don’t seal it.

Cost

1/2 Floor Mat: 70p
Glue: 20p
Spray Paint: 40p
Acrylic Paint: 20p
Total £1.50*

*Costs are my best guess based on how much material was used and full price of items.

Meet Bob

Need a mannequin?

I got to the stage in my prop making where I thought a mannequin or at least a torso would be really useful for helping me make costumes. So first thing I did was have a quick look on amazon. Needless to say I quickly decided I couldn’t afford to buy one.

So what could I do?

Have a keen eye, that’s what! I always like to fully take in my surrounding and one day while walking into town I noticed a shop had just closed down and the unit cleared. Cleared of almost everything except for a torso mannequin. I said to myself wouldn’t it be awesome if they just didn’t need that anymore? There and then I decided I’d try acquire that torso. Since the shop had already closed down I went online and found an email address for the business in the hopes that I would get a response. I kindly asked that if it wasn’t needed could I have it, simple as that. A few days later I got a reply and it was mine!

The lesson to learn here is simply: Ask.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for things for free, most of the time you’d be doing somebody a favor by taking away something they no longer need.

Oh, and here’s Bob:

Welcome to Thrifty Props

Introduction

Hi, I’m Liam.

I’m married and have two young kids, a boy and a girl. I recently got into prop and costume making as a hobby and decided to start this site as an incentive for me to keep making things and to use it as a place to share the things I learn along the way.

Where did it all start?

Well I can thank my son for that. His nursery was taking part in a carnival and his class was dressing up as woodland animals. He decided he wanted to be a Hedgehog! It wasn’t a costume I could just buy at a local costume shop, so I decided to try make it myself! I didn’t have a big budget but I still wanted this to look good! I found a furry jumper in a charity shop, bought a roll of felt, a cheap glue gun and managed to find a cheap hedgehog mask. After that I was hooked.

What is Thrifty Props

This site and blog is a place for you to find helpful tips & tricks for making props and costumes on a super tight budget. There are lots of sites out there for you to learn how to make costumes, but I found a lot assume you have the money to spare to just buy the right materials or buy the right tools. Think of this site as the alternatives but with hopefully the same end results. Now with that said, of course we can’t produce the same results but we can certainly get the best for what we spend on it. There will also be some unavoidable expenses, but I try to avoid these if I can.

What’s the plan?

My plan is to make tutorials, regular posts about money saving tips, suggestions for alternative products / items to use which will work just as well but be cheaper and to post updates on what I’m making for myself and my kids.

Check out my Portfolio for examples of what I’ve made so far!

So that just about sums up who I am, what this is and what my plan is. Feel free to post questions and follow me on social media (you’ll find the links at the bottom of the page).

Thanks for reading,
Liam