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The Prop Builder's Molding and Casting Handbook

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
October 12, 2021
2 min read

Something of a random vacation read. I’ve long been wanting to learn how to do vacuum form molds, and while I’ve understood the mechanics pretty well, after going through Stick and Rudder, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to absorb some wisdom from the far-flung 20th century.

This tome (absorbed as a Kindle book, which may or may not have been a good idea, given some of the illustrations) on molding and casting goes through a wide variety of techniques and case studies surrounding the use of — you guessed it — molds and casts for the purpose of building theater props. I’m not practically interested in such things, though I’ve had some exposure to them. The people who do that work well are geniuses when it comes to bending material and time constraints into form. It’ll last just as long as it needs to, and it’ll look great doing it.

I am, however, interested in mold making. I’ve struggled a bit with a personal conflict: my interest in physical objects as a medium of expression is foiled by my day-to-day frame of reference around software where scale is … well, still a problem, but the 1-100 (or 1000) problem is a lot less with software than the 1 to 10 is with physical things. Even if I wanted to make 10 of something large on one of my 3d printers, that would occupy the 3D printer for 5-10 days.

Which of course is silly. This is a solved problem on many levels and it’s trivial to hire someone to do this type of multiplicative work for you once a prototype has emerged into a defined product, but anyway. I am interested in the power of mold making.

Reading through this book, there’s a plethora of interesting case studies, from forming a mold from a dead fish and carefully managing its decomposition relative to the heat-producing curing process of the mold material, to tips around matching two-part molds and managing shrinkage, to DIYing a large vacuum press for fabricating large props — including 8ft tall banana leaves.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with it, to be honest, but it’s sparked my interest and I think I’ll do something. Regardless, I had a blast reading this book. It was humorous, approachable, and — while a bit dated in its references to materials — provides both practical and theoretical guidance for engaging with three-dimensional forms as things that must contend within particular constraints, if they’re to exist (in any number) in the physical world.

It’s a neat book, and it’ll give you ideas.

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Andrew Lovett-Barron

Software Designer and Researcher

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