I've been tapped by my Home-School Association to build the runway for a
spring fashion show. They want a 6' x 28' platform, 40" high, freestanding.
It will be appended to the stage in the gym/cafeteria/activity center, but
it will have to stand on its own. Since it's a church-run school and a
fundraiser, the materials budget is nearly nonexistent (translation: I'll
end up buying most of the materials out of my own pocket). This is intended
to be a modular, reusable product, with individual parts that are small
enough for two people to set up, take down & move, but sturdy enough to walk
on. My initial thinking is to use 7 sheets of 3/4 plywood trimmed to 4' x 6'
size for deck. I'm considering making the legs from 16" x 40" boards cut
from 1/2" plywood - two at each corner, fastened together, should be sturdy
enough to prevent wobble.
Things I haven't quite figured yet:
- how to hold all this together- Ideally, each section is self-contained and
requires no tools for assembly. Hinges with removable pins are an option,
but I'd need 84 pair, (the way I'm thinnking of doing it.)
- how to brace the decking - 3/4 plywood is strong, but it _will_ flex under
an adult's weight when spanning 40 inches (the distance between legs)
Look at the underside of a folding table. See the frame? similar for
your platform- only frame it with 2x4 and maybe some 1x2 firring for
extra stiffening. With a budget- Use 2x4 for legs- round over the top,
bolt thru the frame. Each leg pair should be an "H" for lateral support.
No need to get fancy- butt joint will work or if you're dying for the
new dado setup make 1/2-laps. Without budget- use your offcuts from the
3/4" doubled to make the legs and brace. Legs at each end, and
maybe center if the segment is longer than 4 feet or so. Have a full-
length strip if the 3/4 ply cut about 1-1/2" wide, drop this across all
three legs and drill for a drop-pin to hold the legs open (fancier would
be to have this leg-brace go cross-table to join the tables together in
a long line, but will add extra bracing to keep track of later.
I've done platforms this way, easy to vary the height also- just change
legs sets for different heights, or have a couple with off-set heights
to make a ramp (no need to bevel the legs- the bolt will adjust for
angle). BTW- if you're making a ramp- make sure you have some non-skid
surface to walk on. Either non-skid tape or mix some sand in the paint.
Feel free to email me if this isn't too clear or is confusing.
remove the bent nail to email <g>
The legs aren't heavy enough. 1/2" ply is not going to support the weight of
the 3/4" ply and a person.
You're going to have to work out some way of bracing each 6x4' section from
underneath. That ply will flex like crazy, not just in the 40" between legs but
across any other distances over about 20".
My knowledge of runway use is light, but it does seem to be that it's often
possible for several adults to be on a strip at one time, which adds to the
problems (doesn't add much of a problem with scrawny models, but with real
people, whoo, boy!).
Some kind of bracing, possibly more plywood, at edges and center. 4" wide
strips of 3/4"?
But those 1/2" legs have to go unless you decide to glue up L shaped versions,
and even there, I'd use 3/4".
You'd have to find a type of pin hinge that locks open, or find a way to lock
the hinges open.
Biggest problem, church or not, is the litigious society: if this thing
collapses, someone is going to get seriously sued if there is even a splinter
that arises from that. You may need to make it portable, but any kind of flimsy
"Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves."
With all due respect to your skill levels and open wallet, this is not
something to build yourself, for practical and liability (your and the
schools) reasons. Building something modular that is durable and actually
light enough to ever move will cost more than going out and buying the
correct items from a company that sells the stuff. In most cities, you can
also rent the stuff as-needed. I won't belabor the liability situation, but
if (heaven forbid) a kid falls off the platform, or it collapses, it is
amazing how quick even 'good friends' start reaching for the lawyers. You,
as the (non-pro)builder, and the school, because they used a non-pro
builder, would be targets one and two.
Have you tried calling around to various companies that do setups for
musicians and trade shows and such? Once they understand you are a
low-budget school, thay may have suggestions to offer, or know of a cheap
source of used stuff.
Sturdy dinning room tables end to end, plywood cut to size with the edges
screw together from the sides underneath. So you have one big sheet when the
girls are walking on it. Maybe some 1/2 by 2 for the seams on top, finished
nailed, you will have to bevel this with a sander,
I've done community theatre teching for 25 years.
If it's a one time use, go to the local rental place and rent scaffolding.
Advantages: sturdy, light, less time consuming to assemble, modular and you
won't need to store it afterwards (a big plus!). Also probably costs the
same or less than wooden platforms. Putting it together is simple enough
that you could recruit some of the kids to help with the set up and
And before you do anything, check on the insurance and liability angles!
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Each 4x6 platform must be framed. For light traffic and school kids,
1x4 will do, for opera or bigger shows 1x6 or 5/4x6 are not uncommon.
2x4 will also serve. Frame the perimeter and a center toggle with
framing on edge for a total thickness of 4.25". Nail and glue, or screw
the frame to the plywood. You will need legs at each corner and in the
middle. Legs for 40" can be 2x4's but should be diagonally braced with
1x2 or something similar. Screw the legs through the framing and make
sure they rest securely against the top of the platform. Each platform
except the last can have just three legs if a ledge is provided to carry
the weight of the next platform...I.E. each 6' seam has a set of three
legs. Fast assembly is to bolt each seam with 3 or 4 3/8" x 2.5"
bolts. Consider covering the whole thing with Lauan or muslin
(www.rosebrand.com) for a smoother and more finished surface. You
should find a way to tie the new deck to the existing structure. If
possible, use a sheet of Lauan to overlap the stage, nail it to your
runway and either nail or tape it securely to the stage, you do not want
the runway to walk in the middle of the show.
Stuart--- Professional theatre carpenter and welder.
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