Prop Making Must Haves

Prop Making Must Haves

Prop Making Must Haves: Recommended Tools & Supplies

As I’ve worked on projects over the years, I’ve tried and tested a variety of materials and tools and have found that some to be more reliable.  While every prop making project has different requirements, I keep certain supplies on hand because I use them in so many of my prop making endeavors.  Here’s my list of prop making must haves, great for anyone just getting into prop making or for a seasoned pro.


  • Corrugated Cardboard

    Cardboard is a pliable material that’s free, readily available, cuts easily, and is pliable.  It’s one of my most used materials.  If I don’t have cardboard on hand, many local businesses throw out cardboard boxes which are free for anyone to collect.  However, if you are needing a lot of cardboard cut to a specific size and dimension, those can be found online such as these 15″ X 15″ – Sheets by (Pack of 50) or these 20″ Circles (Pack of 50) which we used to recreate the Inside Out theme for camp… because who wants to cut out 125 perfectly round circles!

cardboard circles     cardboard circles

Since cardboard is so easily manipulated, I am able to use it in a variety of ways.  It can be layered for different thicknesses when creating larger props.  If you break it down by repeatedly bending it in every direction, you can shape it just about however you need.

  • Polystyrene Foam & Styrofoam

    I use pink or blue 4’x8′ polystyrene sheets (used to insulate houses) from the hardware store which often comes with a thin sheet of plastic on it which you’ll need to peel off before painting (Otherwise, the paint will push around on it without adhering).  You can also order blocks of foam, like a 12″ x 12″ x 12″ Blocks or 2″ x 24″ x 48″ Sheets.

    foam cube     foam sheets

    I paint foam with latex paint.  Spray paint eats away at it, which could be used for creating grout for a brick or rock wall design.  I create grout lines with either a heat gun or a Dremel (which is messy, so have a shop vac going while you work).Liquid Nails for foam

To glue foam, you’ll need a glue specified; I prefer Liquid Nails LN604 Projects & Foamboard Adhesive made specifically for use with foam.  Adhesives not labeled for foam (including hot glue) eat away/dissolve the foam.  If you prepaint your foam, however, you low temp hot glue will hold the foam together for smaller projects, but given the choice, I will always choose the Liquid Nails for foam.  It does take longer to dry than hot glue (which you could use for a temporary bond if prepainted until the Liquid Nails dries). When attaching foam to a wood frame (for larger projects) use Drywall Screws with a Washer to keep the screw from just going through the foam.  Avoid letting the washer dig into the foam as you attach it.

For more information, be sure to check out my article Foam Adhesives.

drywall screws     washers

plywood organizer

  • Lumber

    • Plywood

      I typically work with sheets of plywood in the following widths: 1″ or 3/4″ if weight baring,  1/2″ for sturdy props (but not load baring), and 1/4″-1/8″ for everything plywood organizerelse.  1/4″-1/8″ plywood (or luan or bender board, which I also sometimes use) is more malleable, especially if soaked it in water (like in a kiddie pool.  *Hint: Add fabric softener to the water so that the fibers are even more malleable

      I buy most of my plywood at Lowes in 4′ x 8′ sheets, however smaller pieces can be ordered online.


  •  2″ x 4″ x 8′ and  1″ x 3″ x 12′

    These pieces of lumber generally come as 8′ or 12′ long and can be cut down to size are good for framing up props.  I mustly use 2″x4″s for anything that will be weight baring, but they can be ripped with a table saw for smaller projects.  1″x3″s are better for smaller projects, and can also be ripped on the table saw as needed.

  • Fabricfabric

    At any given time, I have a ton of various fabric on hand.  We even keep scraps for smaller projects.  I pick up most of my fabric from Wal-mart, but there are lots of options available to order online.


  • Paint

    • Latex Paint is my first choice for painting.  It is easy soap and water clean up and adheres well to most surfaces.
    • Acrylic Paint  is good for smaller, detail work.

      latex paint

    • Spray Paint isn’t my first choice of paint because of the fumes.  Plus, it isn’t always economical.  However, when I want something to look metallic or I want an hombre or specific blended effect, spray paint is awesome.

acrylic paint set          metallic spray paint



  • E6000

    While E6000 doesn’t dry immediately, it does provide a secure and permanent adhesion once dry.  It is very strong, and works well for props that will be used/moved a lot.

  • Hot Glue Gun & Hot Glue

    Hot glue doesn’t hold a bond as well as E-6000, but for props that aren’t going to be heavily used, it will hold up well.  It also works well to help hold materials together until the E-6000 has time to cure.

    hot glue

  • Drywall Screws  drywall screws

    While I wouldn’t recommend Drywall Screws for weight bearing framework, they are awesome for prop making.  I recommend pre-drilling to avoid splitting wood,

  • Masking Tape

    • Although I occasionally use masking tape as an adhesive, what I tend to use it most for is to seal masking tapecardboard prior to painting it so that the paint has a nice surface to adhere to without making the cardboard soggy.  The masking tape also adds stability to my cardboard.


  • Cutting Matcutting mat

    Cutting mats keep me from destroying my work surface when I’m cutting cardboard.  They are self healing, meaning that the surface won’t be cut up or destroyed from continued use.  I also love that they have measurements on them to help me in my process.

  • Blades

    • Hot Knife

      hot knifeHot knives make cutting and shaping foam fun and easy.  I’ve used an electric knife to do this, but using a hot knife provides smoother, more consistent cuts.  Make sure that you have a well ventilated or outdoor space when working with the hot knife. While cheaper hot knives may be available, you often get what you pay for, which is definitely the case with hot knives.

    • Sheetrock Knife/Drywall Sawdrywall saw

      I use a Sheetrock Knife for cutting polystyrene.  Although it provides a rougher cut, you can smooth the edges by using a piece of polystyrene like sandpaper over the piece of polystyrene that you want to smooth out or shape.

    • Box Cutter & Utility Knife

      I keep box cutters and utility knives on hand for cutting boxes down to size, not so much for shaping them, although they can certainly be used for that as well.

      box cutter     utility knife

    • CANARY Cardboard CutterCanary Cutter

      If you are going to use corrugated cardboard for prop making (which I highly recommend that you do/try), then you have got to try the CANARY Corrugated Cardboard Cutter.  I absolutely love these  for cutting cardboard into any shape that I need.  It has a serrated edge that easily cuts through cardboard.  Because it doesn’t have the sharp edge, it is somewhat safer than a box cutter.  If you’ve ever used scissors to cut cardboard, then you know what I mean when I say that your fingers will thank you!

    • Xacto X3311 N0. 1 Precision Knife With 5 No. 11 Blades

      An Xacto knife is great for cutting small details in your cardboard.

      X-acto knife

    • Scissorsscissors

      When I’m working with smaller pieces of cardboard, I will use scissors, but not for big jobs, because they just don’t work as quickly or easily as the Canary Cutter.

  • Clamps

    Clamps are great for holding materials together when adhering or cutting them.

    • Spring Clamps generally can either be bought separately or in an assorted bag of small, medium, and large for different size projects.  I’ve used both the plastic clamps and the Heavy Duty Metal Clamps, both of which are great.
    • One-Handed Bar Clamp/Spreader (Pipe Clamps) work well for larger projects, and work better for securing wood.

plastic spring clamp    metal spring clamp   pipe clamp


  • Needle Nose PliersNeedle Nose Pliers

    • Needle Nose Pliers allow manipulating wire into the shapes I desire.  They’re also great when you need to “grab the thing out of the thing that you can’t quite reach.”  A rounded pair allows you to curl the wire if needed for design purposes.  Although they usually have a wire cutter built on, if I’m doing a lot of wire cutting, I will use a dedicated pair of wire cutters.
  • Wire Cutterswire cutters

    Wire cutters, also called Kobalt 7-Inch Diagonal Cutting Pliers, work well for cutting wire hangers or any other wire that you happen to be using. Having a dedicated pair of wire cutters will keep me from wearing out the wire cutter on my pliers, which I only use for occasional wire cutting.

In Conclusion

I hope this comprehensive list of my most used items gives you some ideas for prop making.  The key to putting all of these prop making must haves to good use is keeping them organized and accessible and practicing using them.  The more you practice prop making, the better you will get at it, and you will find what works well for you and what does not.  Happy prop making!

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