Introduction: Silicone Grip on Fire Flow Props
Flow arts is a movement art form, often done with a prop or props that can be manipulated to move in rhythmic, visually appealing ways. Flow props can be hula hoops, poi, staves, and many other things, and are sometimes embellished with LEDs or Fire wicks. This article relates to DIY flow prop construction.
For grip materials, I've worked with Tennis Racket Overgrip, EPDM tape, Cut-up Yoga Mat, Silicone tape, Lizard Skin grips, and others. So far my favorite is 50A Durometer Silicone Tubing. I won't say that silicone tubing is the perfect grip for every prop or every person, but it has a lot going for it:
- It's inexpensive - it runs $2-$3 per foot if bought from McMaster-Carr, so you can grip a prop with it for $10-$15.
- It stands up to high temperatures, so you can run your grip all the way up to your kevlar wicks on a fire prop. Over time the tubing may degrade when used like this, but I have yet to see it. The advantage here is that it covers the exposed hot metal that would normally be the primary source of burns in fire spinning.
- It's a one-piece grip, so sliding, dropping, or muscling your prop around does not tend to lift up any edges like with all wrap and tape solutions.
- It's very tacky, allowing gravity defying contact moves. It's so tacky that using silicone grips at the beach can actually be quite a pain, as if you drop it in the sand, it will pick up a bunch of particles.
- It's very easy to clean. Flow props get kind of nasty - your hands sweat, you get soot and dirt and skin cells all over your props, and some materials are very hard to clean. This stuff is smooth, non absorbent, and very chemical tolerant, so you can wipe it down with alcohol in 5 seconds and it's back to its full grippyness.
- It's hypoallergenic. Silicone is used in medical devices and tubing because it's extremely inert, and tends not to leach, or irritate human tissues.
- It's translucent, so you can use thin vinyl tape to decorate your prop however you like before applying the tubing, and your work will show through, but never be exposed to damage because it's under the grip.
I could go on - it's clear I'm pretty impressed with this stuff, but to be fair, let's talk about the down sides:
- It's not very cushy. Something like a 3/16" thick epdm grip provides some squish for those high speed stops and throws, so you don't bruise yourself, whereas this is pretty thin. Going with a heavier wall thickness might fix this problem though. One thing I would really like to try is putting silicone over top of a softer, less durable grip like epdm and see how it works out. It may be possible to get the best of both worlds.
- As I mentioned above, it's very tacky. For me this is perfect, but not everyone wants something quite this grippy. It can be hard on your skin if your prop is heavy and you're pushing it around really hard. It also picks up beach sand and dirt from the ground when you drop it.
Step 1: How to Pick the Right Tubing
So, the stuff that I used on my props is 1/16" wall thickness, 50A durometer semi-transparent silicone tubing. Just measure the shaft of the prop you wish to put it on, and choose that as your ID. If your prop has a weird sized shaft, check both the metric and inch sizes - it might be an 18mm shaft or something. If in doubt, I think this would work even if the ID of the tubing was very slightly smaller than the OD of the prop, it'll just be a little harder to install, and it may have a reduced life span due to being stretched.
Here is a link to the section on the McMaster site with the tubing:
Now there are a bunch of options there that I haven't tried. They have opaque tubing, different wall thicknesses, different durometers, etc. I'd love to hear anyone's comments if they try a different tubing than what I used. I'm thinking say a 1/8" wall thickness might be good on a dragon staff, to give you a bit more cushion.
Step 2: Step 2: Install Your Tubing
You may need to turn the volume up, as my camera had the mic turned down for some reason during this video.
Written Video Synopsis:
I consulted with a few professional prop builders on how exactly to install this tubing, and was given the same answer from a few people. "Blow it on with an air compressor." This seemed a bit cryptic and unhelpful, but it really is how it's done in a nutshell. I'll try to explain the method a little more thoroughly though.
How it works: When you blow air into the silicone tubing, with the other end blocked by your prop shaft, the air has nowhere to go except out between the silicone and the shaft. This slightly stretches the silicone tubing, and creates a tiny layer of air between the silicone and the shaft, allowing it to slide on. It's really quite amazing how well it works.
Step 1 - Plug the center of your aluminum (or whatever) tube. If you don't do this, the air will just rush through the center of the tube and not do anything to help you install the silicone grip. I used a large bolt with duct tape around it that I tapped in with a block of wood. BE CAREFUL if doing it this way - there will be a significant amount of air pressure pushing against your plug; if it's not secure, it could become a projectile.
Step 2 - Secure your prop shaft in a vice, or arrange a set of stops to hold it in place so you don't have to. You'll need both hands to wrangle the tubing and the air gun.
Step 3 - Cut your silicone grip to length, leaving a few extra inches to be trimmed off later.
Step 4 - Secure one end of the silicone tubing to your air nozzle with a cable tie, cinching it down nice and tight so it doesn't blow off when you apply pressure.
Step 5 - [Safety Glasses and Hearing Protection advised] Place the end of your silicone grip tubing over the end of the prop shaft and start (gently at first) blowing air into it with the air gun. It will want to blow backwards off the shaft, so hang onto it. If you watch the video, you'll see me lose control of it a couple of times before I get it all the way on.
Step 6 - keep blowing air into the silicone while working the grip onto the shaft. If you're using a bare aluminum shaft, you should have a considerably easier time than I did in the video. The shaft I was using had a slightly tacky clear coating on it when I filmed.
Good luck and please share your results!