View Full Version : Hiring local carpenters for theme construction

02-13-2008, 12:46 PM
Has any of you hired local carpenters to help with building sets and scenes? I am thinking of hiring a carpenter to help with scenes, but I am wondering if I have some ideas, would they be able to build them to suit a haunted house? In other words, if I have some ideas for some buildings and scenery would the average carpenter be able to think in terms of a themed setting or would they be too used to builing normal construction like homes and businesses?

I have heard of scenic contractors but I doubt any are around here....Before I post for a local job, is there any recommendations as to what I should ask for specifically so they understand what I need? It's times like this I wish I lived near Disneyworld, must be plenty of people down there who knows theming in construction....


02-13-2008, 12:52 PM
I would contact your highschool or college or community theater groups. They all have people that are used to making things look great without overdoing it. You might also then get some of these people to come haunt with you too.


02-13-2008, 01:03 PM
Thanks Dirk,

That sounds like a great place to start! Have you worked with them before?


02-13-2008, 02:19 PM
I wouldn’t hire a regular carpenter unless they have had experience building sets, or unless you plan on being the project supervisor. I have always built our sets, but I have dealt with carpenters on other projects, and there are few lessons I have learned. They all know exactly what you want, and can do it….but the truth is they don’t. All of them have their own way of doing things. Sometimes that is good, and sometimes it is bad. Most refuse to do anything differently than the way they have always done it. So, if you go with a carpenter, make sure he knows what he is doing and you both are on the same page.
Get credible references, and preferably, find someone who is licensed. I have met some smooth talkers that will tell you they can build the Taj Mahal with some 2x4s, but they can’t build a straight wall.

02-13-2008, 02:29 PM
Angel, I have been in about 25 or so plays through the years. I have seen some sets that were absolutely amazing and a lot of the people that did these sets did it for the fun of it. A few years ago I was Willie Wonka in Charlie and The Chocolate factory, and some of the set pieces were really cool. My local community theater group helped me build some of my 1st walls and I still turn to them if I can not build something or if I just dont have the time. Two years ago I had them build a throne for my demon and it looks amazing...

As I said, a lot of these people have great talent and are used to working for free. You throw them a few bucks and they might be willing to make stuff for you that will be really good...

Greg Chrise
02-13-2008, 05:25 PM
Generally, a carpenter can't do anything with out nails or staples, they want the fanciest of radial arm saws and pnuematic guns to put in the nails. Even if you specify everything must be done with screws and in sections so as to be removeable, storable and repairable, they will want to hold things in position with a little nail gun here and there, holding the lumber while they screw it.

Well, that's like putting nails in it that will need to be removed if you ever need to service that wall panel. The responce is always it will be alright. The responce to that is it WON'T be alright.

It is so much better to take someone handy or looking for a new task and teach them what you want done or to assist you.

Even still there is a wide spectrum of this working with wood. A cabinet builder will spend hundreds of hours and a framer will have it all together in about 2 minutes. You'r gonna be covering this up right?

Then in this area you have the "I have been doing this since I was 12" guys, what, holding your grandfather's beer and watching him? They can't measure and ask for a level for something that is on a non level platform or work bench. Yes, you are absolutely correct, I do think you are stupid, pack your shit and go. Don't forget anything.

The wide array of skills means you totally expended the materials for a one time use like in permanent construction or have had someone charge or expect to be compensated a full days wage for two really fine walls that aren't really that fine because the wood wasn't just right.

It is tough building things totally with screws. It is a lot more work, a lot more attention must be spent and those are two things no one wants to do. But. if you build the wall system right the first time, you might get 25 or 30 years out of it.

Jim Warfield
02-13-2008, 10:34 PM
Hide the square, throw away the hammer, (except for the 2 pound sledge) lose the tape measure , screw it all together (like others have just said.)
Now anyone can build something strange, old looking and scary!
Of course what do I know? I don't work well with others, I'm a loner with my tool in my hand. (No, I wasn't looking in your window last Thursday night!)

Don't spend vast amounts of money on really excellant tools, they will just get you into trouble when you can't blame your screw-ups on them, stick with yard-sale tools half worn out and rickety, "Blame them poor tools!"
When the head on your yard-sale Hong Kong hammer starts to spin just say it's "posseesed" make little squeaky satanic -sounding voices out of the side of your mouth so no one realises it's you.
"How do you expect me to understand what this satanic hammer is saying? It's from Hong Kong!"

Greg Chrise
02-14-2008, 12:13 AM
All those expensive tools are just the thing for them to cut off their hand, pin a nail in their skull or inches away from their heart and survive and somehow it will be YOUR fault. Meanwhile after wnning the lawsuit, they will get income from the video on Rippley's Believe it or not, power tool of death Xray, when tools attack videos or what ever.

02-14-2008, 11:00 AM
Thanks everyone, that gave me a lot to think about. I would imagine that many carpenters are set in their own ways....By the way Dirk, your throne looks awesome!! Saw it on your site. It almost looks like they used a door as the back of the chair...


02-14-2008, 01:16 PM
Carpenters that know what they are doing cost big bucks. You will ask them "Can you build me a haunted house?" and they will say "I can build you a house" and that is not what you want. Putting two boards together with screws is not hard, putting two boards together with screws so your guest don't bring the whole thing down on their heads....well that a little harder. I would go with xxxdrik on this one, find people that love doing it and they can build you anything you can think of. Good luck.

02-14-2008, 01:47 PM
LoL . No they did not use a door although they could have based on the weight of the thing. They actually do good work. As someone pointed out. If you get a professional carpenter, they are used to build thigs in a certain way, and build it so it will last years. That is why I recommend theater crews. They are used to working on a shoestring budget and build it with the thought that it will be taken apart after the play is done and then be turned into something else the next time, or be taken apart for easy storage. Plus these folks are friends with set designers, and actors! :0)

02-14-2008, 01:54 PM
I had the general contractor who remodeled my house build my facade. I explained that it did not have to be built like a real house, but that is exactly what they did! They used 2 x 4's, fiber cement siding and real windows and doors.

Jim Warfield
02-14-2008, 04:36 PM
Years ago a man moved into town here and the first thing he said to me was that he was a carpenter, a licensed plumber AND a certified electrician!
Which as it turned out he knew little about anything and was one of the very few tradesmen to have ever been legally banned from ever doing such work ever again by the state of Illiniois!

02-14-2008, 05:41 PM
If you need carpentry work then hiring carpenters is fine. I use professional carpenters every year. I use them for assembling, bracing and tarping the structure. I have also used them for building wall panels and I think the pneumatic nailers are great for this. If you are looking for someone to detail your sets, of coarse you should not hire a carpenter.

I have a strict no nail policy. I have found carpenters to be very good with screw guns. It's true that it is a different mind set building a temporary attraction and it takes them a little time to get used to that. The problem here is the tendency to build it better than it needs to be. If you are good at communicating what you need and you hire a good crew, you will be amazed at how fast and efficient they are. You absolutely need to be there to direct. These guys are carpenters not haunted house builders. Tell them how many screws you want in each panel and where etc.

Theater crews sound great. I don't have any experience with them. Just be sure either way that your sets are strong enough for the abuse they will take.

02-16-2008, 01:59 PM
In my opinion, it is best to have some professional theatre carpenters work with you on your projects. This is not a slam to house trade carpenters, but I think you may see more "eye-to-eye" with the theatre-based folks.

Most stage carpenters I work with, including myself, typically have the knowledge to fabricate safe, weight-bearing scenery used for productions such as platforms, moving pieces, overhead rigging, stairs, etc., but they can also do "non-traditional" carpentry like compound curves, irregular wall panels, intricate custom framing, etc.

As already mentioned, the theatre carpenters are familiar with having to make a "silk purse from a sow's ear" so they won't look at you the same crazy way a house carpenter will when you say:
"This wall doesn't have to be square"..."use screws only"..."it only has to last the season"...."make this 1x10 look like a steel beam".........and the ever so popular,
"I don't have a lot of money to pay you"...*lol*

As always, regardless of the folks you use to help realize the build of your Haunt, safety MUST be job #1. These craftsmen and craftswomen are helping you creating the environment that hundreds or thousands of your customers will experience. Always request the best, safety-minded work you can of all folks helping you, volunteers or not.

I hope this helps. (If you need set carpenters in VA, message me, and I can put you in touch with some)

All the best,

damon carson
02-16-2008, 02:08 PM
I wouldnt hire a carpenter. Any questions you have about building wall panels, bracing ect can be answered on here. If you want extra help I like the idea about the local highschool building trades class ect maybe helping. But it isnt always easy to get good help. Especcially if its volunteered!

02-19-2008, 09:50 AM
Thank everyone a lot. Nick, PM'ed you.