Circus Tent Stage




Introduction: Circus Tent Stage

Create this miniature circus tent that is my stage for a movie I'm filming

Step 1: Materials Used

I bought kite material from It was all 'seconds' at $4 per yard. Not knowing I bought 4 colors.
I also bought 2 rolls of double face tape from them to weld the seams together.
For main tent support structure I used 2 3' x 1/2" aluminum rods from Home Despot, whoops Depot.
All the wood for the base was already taking up space in my garage.
As an added attraction I bought a large "lazy-Susan" disk to allow the entire set to rotate. Made it easier to work on it, too.
Here is parts list and costs:
2 3'x1/2" aluminum rods ($8)
2 2" x 1/4" metal rings
1/16" x 10' aircraft cable ($1)
swedge fittings for cable ($3)
2 very small turnbuckles ($1.50)
1 12" Lazy-Suzan platform ($8)

Other nuts and bolts. ($1.50)
Kitebuilder products:
1.5oz ripstock seconds 2 yds ($8)
1 roll SuperSeam tape ($20)
1 roll DblFace tape ($7)

Black sparkle felt material ($5)
Black foam board11"x18"
Blk and Grn felt swatches 8x11

as you can see, the tape was the big budget item for this project.

Step 2: Tools

Nothing special-

Fresh blades for utility knife
Large cutting area for kite ripstock
long straight edge for cutting table
Power drill w/ 1/2" bit
Big-ass hammer (more on that below)
Big wire cutter for the 1/16" cable (that stuff is tough!)
Small hand tools

The most difficult task was cutting the cable to length. Here's the trick:
Place cable in cutter where you want cut.
Put big-ass hammer on cement floor
Place cutter on big-ass hammer
Hit cutter jaws with another hammer.
It cuts as clean as a whistle.
Now it was harder to cut one cable that was already fastened. So, I had to manage 2 hammers and cutter in the air.

Step 3: Where to Start

The pictures below give a pretty good idea of this step.

The basic layout was based upon size of table tent was to be built on and sized of stage area I needed.
The table is a 4 foot round collapsible entertainment table. So, everything had to fit in under 48 inches.
My stage that was being built elsewhere is a 14 inch circle so the twin main tent poles ended up on a 16 inch spacing.

Now I couldn't use table top for anything except a table as I don't own it.

I built a layered platform using 2 2x2s on top of a piece of 1/4" x 4'x4' plywood.
On top of 2x2s I added a piece of 1/4" plywood 48" x 30".
All of his was secured using sheetrock screws. So, now I had a base to use with a crawl space for wiring if I needed it.
I then added a square 36"x30" x 3/4" piece of flakeboard on top as the main platform.

I then drilled my 2 1/2" holes on 16" center to place my main tent supports; the 1/2" x3' aluminum rods. Nothing else hold the poles in place, just a friction fit.
With those in place nothing would move around. I could later cut the poles to the final length as determined by how the tent would fit.

Step 4: Tent Parts

This is where I failed to get any photos so, bear with me while I attempt to explain how these parts were constructed.

There are two main tent parts and there are two of each of them.

Main canopy 1 and 2
Tent Tower 1 and 2

To make my main canopy I used very large CAD drawing paper laid out on the floor. I then used a pencil on a string to make the large arc that would be the fat end of canopy. The other end, the small circle could be cut to fit under the tower.

I then drew in the multi colored sections for effect. i settled on sections that were 4" at the fat end and about an inch at the top end. They were about 18" long. I made two samples; one of each color. From there I could roughly figure out how many I would need. It was a bunch as I needed them times two.
Cutting was tedious only because the ripstock was so large. It comes on 4' widths.
The key here is to go slow and have a lot of new blades for you utility knife. And, you need a good heavy straight edge. After I got the hang of it I could simply mark out several that were laid end for end; saving material and time.
What I ended up with were two parts that were slightly larger than 180 deg of a circle. Probably closer to 230-240 deg.

For my Tent towers I used the same technique only they were smaller.

Step 5: Canopy Assembly

Here's where I was really winging it as I had never worked with ripstock before. for this step I used the less expensive double faced tape from Kitebuilders.

I worked from one side only and overlapped each section on top of the last section. Working with long pieces of the tape was a pain at first. But you leave the paper side in tact while you affix the sticky side the ripstock. Be sure to get all of the creases out by using a soft straight edge and your fingers.
The trick is getting the paper off. To do this good finger nails a patience help. And, you do better if you go to the end that you laid down first. Some how the paper always comes off easier.

So, now after many hours of seaming all of the sections you end up with two big 2/3s circles of your canopy.
The last step for this part was to use a warm iron (not hot) to seal the tape seam. Don't use your wife's good iron or she will kill you! I still have scars.

Item next is to do the same procedure for the towers. These will end up being a complete cone. mine are not perfect but they are OK.
The key here is to figure out the size at the fat end of the cone.
I laid out my two canopies end to end with the small ends spaced so the main poles were centered at near the 16" center position.

From here I had to improvise. Next step: making a fixture

Step 6: Making a Fixture Hold a Shape

So, now I have all of the ripstock pieces that are in a two plane configuration. How to get them into 3D and look like a tent.

It starts with the main tent poles. They are spaced at 16" from each other. That dimension is cast in concrete. No flakeboard!
I had to figure height of where tower would start. It had to be higher than the top of my stage. So I measured to top of stage and added a couple of inches.
I think it is about !!!!fix this

After determining the height of where canopy and tower were to meet I pulled out my aluminum poles and drilled a small hole through each so I could put a nail in the hole as a stop.

I also determined the size of the base of the towers: 8". I found some 1/4" fiber board stock and cut two 8" circles. Then, I drilled a 1/2" hole in each about 1" off center. You see where this is going, right?
Pole go back in and 8" disc goes on to simulate the base of the tower. From here I can temporarily connect the canopy for size and fit.
Picture to follow.

Step 7: Finishing the Towers

So, now I have these two pieces of ripstock for the towers. The base will meet up with the 8" disc.
At the top end, I'm using my 2"x1/4" steel rings. I temp tape everything for shape and fit using clamps and whatever to hope everything in place at top of pole.

I make the final adjustment and put in the last piece of tape. There is some overlap but that is easy to trim away.
After committing last piece of tape, I can finish off the top of the ring. By snipping strips of the ripstock at the very top section I can fold the strips to the inside and use dbl face tape to secure the ring in place.

As can kinda see I used the tops of 2 plastic water bottles to hold the entire structure up on the poles.

Step 8: Tower-Canopy Connection

After fiddling with different methods to connect tower to canopy I came to the conclusion that there had to be something of structure to support the pulling of the canopy when it gets stretched to shape.

Here is where the 1/16" aircraft cable comes in. Great stuff, especially at 10 cents a foot!
B&B Hardware here is Camarillo CA has all the fixins including the swedge devices. So, iI cut to approx length and string the swedge thingy onto one end. Then, maneuver to size on the 8" disc form and crimp with side cutters.
Using my made up technique of cutting this tough cable I trim the ends. Perfect!
( here's how I cut this stuff clean every time: Using a large side-cutter I grab the cable exactly where I wan the cut, then place on a my big-ass hammer on the floor and hit the nose of the side-cutter with another hammer. Clean as a whistle every time.)

The last step here is to attach the cable to the bottom part of the tower. Using clips to hold in place I cut strips up to the cable. These strips are then folded inside the tower and attached with double face tape.
I do one strip every ninety degrees to start and then do the rest of them.

Step 9: Tent Poles and Roping

Well, it is now stating to look like a tent. But nothing is holding the canopy up from the ground.

I use 1/2" maple dowels to make tent poles. I need one at each corner (4) one in middle on each end (2) and (3) on the back side and (2) on the front side; 11 in all.

Because I raised the entire base off the table I have space below the top to work. So, I drill all of the holes at about a 45 deg angle so the pole are tilted away. The poles are pushed all the way to the base which stabilizes them somewhat.
The last step on the poles is to insert them all then mark where I want holes for the roping to go. Pull them all and drill using 3/16" drill bit. I did a top and bottom hole and then cut out the middle part so I can just use a continuous rope as adjust as needed.

With the tent taped to the 8" discs I connected the canopies with clamps, clothes pins and whatever else worked. From there I free-hand drew my arcs where the tent pole would connect.

Step 10: Cheap Tape Fails

This roping idea did not come to me on first pass. I had some dumb Idea that I could us 1/4" poly tubing to make form and then run my 1/16" cable through it. NOT!
A: Double face tape wont stick to tubing B) The cheap tape wont hold if any tension put on connection.

So, back to kitebuilders for the expensive tape. It makes a much stronger seam.
I ended up just using some 3/16" cotton clothes line rope. I don't know where it came from as it was in my "stuff".
After I cut the arcs for the poles I disassembled the tent and worked from the backside leaving plenty of extra rope in oder to reach all of the tent poles. these connections were the same cut strips folded over the roping and taped using the good tape.
I now only had one connection to make: canopy to base of tower.

Step 11: Adjusting the Canopy

Now it is really taking shape.

With the poles in place and plenty of rope to connect to pole I strung all of the roping into the holes. There was enough tension that I didn't need to do anything except tighten or loosen the ropes.

Last part was to add a saddle piece between the two towers and add a piece between the canopy halves at the back of the tent.

This was all done using straight pieces of ripstock taped in my usual manner.

So, let's consider the tent basically complete.

Two more steps...

Step 12: Back Drop Inside Tent Perimeter

Now you can't have a completely open circus tent. Someone might sneak in!

I used some 1/4" threaded rod, my 1/16" cable and some small turnbuckles to make a "clothes line" to hang a piece of black felt material.
Way over-kill but so what.

The 1/4" rod was installed at the inside corners with a continuous piece of cable running through. Each end had a turnbuckle for adjustment.
The black felt was added and attached the same as always with double face tape.

I also used some black foam board 1/8x11/14 I bought from Michael's Art to use as flooring.

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    13 years ago on Introduction

    Hahaha, nice job! Looks really cool, and easy to do too, could be great for filming films as you said. +1 rating.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    really cool. id make one but its a little to expensive for what you get