Lightweight Acting Cubes

Often in the theater, we need light, durable, modular set pieces. However, getting all three of these things together can be very difficult. Our company solved this problem by filling in the blanks in a .PDF we found on the internet.

For this project you will need:

-Tape measure, straight edge, and a permanent marker
-Sheets of 4x8, 2" thick insulating foam, available at your local big box home improvement store.
-Sheets of 4x8, 1/4" thick luan, also available at your local big box home improvement store.
- Gaff tape, or other all-weather, all-temperature, all-purpose tape
-Liquid Nails or similar adhesive
-Utility Knife
-Circular saw & saw horses
-Elmer's Glue or Craft Glue, a bucket, paintbrushes, access to water
-Paint of your choice (we used flat black)

Note: You can substitute similar materials for the insulating foam, such as drop ceiling tiles, as long as it's light weight. Obviously you can also use a table saw to rip things down to size, but we are working in a pretty basic environment, and assume you are, too.

We made our cubes more or less 2" square, and we made six of them. Each sheet of insulation makes eight layers, and in our case it took 12 layers to make one cube. Since a cube has six faces, one sheet of luan for every cube. Simple, right?

Step 1: Cutting the Insulating Foam

Measure out the cube layers on the insulating foam using a tape measure, straight edge, and permanent marker. When you are satisfied with the size of the cubes and the straightness of your lines, use the utility knife to score the lines. Score as deeply and as straight as possible. Have a partner help you break the squares apart.

When you have broken out enough insulating foam, prepare the surfaces by making sure they are clean and clear of grit, dust, or dirt. Apply the Liquid Nails to the top of the bottom piece, and then carefully place the next piece of foam on top, repeating until you reach the desired height. Be sure to straighten up the edges as you go to keep the cube square. Do this with as many cubes as you like, and then allow them to cure for the length of time indicated on the adhesive.

Step 2: Cut and Apply the Luan "Skin"

Next, you want to apply the hard outer shell that will protect the lightweight, user-friendly foam from being damaged in use. Cut the luan plywood to the same dimensions as the foam. Apply one piece of luan to each side of a cube, using Liquid Nails or similar to adhere the wood to the foam. Allow to cure according to package directions.

When the luan is firm, you can gaff tape the edges of the cube. We taped along all intersections of luan, and for some extra hold, we ran strips of tape along the middle of the cube, all the way around, making two "belts" to apply pressure. When you're done, it's going to look something like the illustration.

Step 3: Applying the Muslin

The next step is to apply the muslin "skin." We purchased 90" wide muslin from our local fabric store, and cut it into six foot long sections. We then split those sections into thirds, giving us three six foot long, 30 inch wide pieces of fabric per six foot section. You will need two of these for each cube you make.

Next, make your glue and water mixture (sizing). We started with 1 part glue to 2 parts water and worked up to about 50/50. The type of glue you choose will determine what the ratio is. The goal is to have a slightly thick, tacky mixture that will dry and shrink the fabric.

Place your cube on a protected surface (or one one you don't care about!) and paint the glue mixture on to the wood, being sure to get three adjacent sections that are in a straight line (like top, right side, and bottom). Have a partner help you place the first piece of muslin over three sides of the cube. Smooth the fabric starting from the middle of the side of the cube, working outward. You may need to apply additional sizing to get the muslin to stick properly, but try not to soak it at this stage. When the fabric is in place, use the utility knife to cut the fabric at the corners, and fold it down to the adjacent side, using a small amount of sizing to hold it in place. Repeat with the next piece of muslin to finish wrapping your first cube.Let the cubes dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

Step 4: Sizing the Muslin

Now that your muslin has been applied and has dried on the cubes, it's time to apply the sizing for real. Make another batch of sizing using the same method as before. This time, the muslin will be more absorbent, and it's ok to apply a lot of it. You want the cubes to be well painted with the glue mixture at this stage, and then you want to leave them alone to dry. This is a good opportunity to stick down the edges of the muslin again. When you are finished, allow the cubes to dry fully before proceeding.

Step 5: Painting the Cubes

Now you are ready for the final step, painting the cubes. We chose to paint our cubes using plain flat black paint. You can paint them any color you like, and you can paint them as often as you like. The more you paint them, the stronger they will be.

We added cabinet handles (like D-rings) to the sides of our cubes to facilitate making two six foot long, two foot wide cube groupings, that when put together formed a bed.



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    6 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Drazzle Boxes!!! We used these all the time in our theater at college. Ours were a bit more durable as they were made of 1/4" plywood. They were also 5 sided so we could use the inside space, but we still covered them in foam and canvas for sound dampening, ease to paint and for safety. Great Instructable.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Why is there insulation foam in the boxes? The wooden exterior provides all the strenght, I think? And why are you gluing cotton fabric on the outside? Perhaps I don't understand what these are used for exactly. Could you please explain a bit more?

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Fritsie - I don't have any connection to the fine peope who posted this ible but I'll stick my neck out and answer your questions ( in reverse order.) 3. They are using these a platforms for a theatrical set. 2. The fabric serves as a strong base for paint similar to the way canvas is used in an oil painting. This method is particularly durable and scuff resistant and have been a standard method in theater for centuries. 1. The structural strength comes from the extruded styrene foam board and the 1/4" luan plywood being laminated together. Neither of these materials alone are particularly strong. The luan also provides puncture resistance, spreading out any impact force. Note: 1/4" luan by itself rates only slightly stronger than heavy cardboard but is excellent for this type of application. I tip my hat to the NorthFultonDramaClub... strong, lightweight, and cheap... What's not to love?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't know these sort of cubes are used for theater and stage work. Now that I know that they are, it all makes a lot more sense! :) Thank you for your explanation!

    Sure. The luan would not be strong enough on its own to support the weight of the people you see goofing around with them in the pictures. The insulating foam is light, and when stacked together, strong, so it holds weight as well as a standard acting cube, which is usually smaller (plans I've seen and cubes I've used have been maybe 15" square). At a smaller size you can make a wooden skeleton and skin that is light enough to easily carry, but at the sizes we needed, standard cubes would be prohibitively heavy. The fabric is there to make them paintable and to prevent anything catching on the edges of the luan and pulling the sides off. They are used in theater, for set pieces. And, what shroud said. :)

    Thanks for the explanation! I was wondering how strong this could be, but now I understand that the lamination of the two materials is what makes it strong enough. Using painted fabric on the outside is a particular clever trick, I think.