Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

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Tech Tips

TIPS
GRABBAG

 

Miscellaneous Suggestions for Techs and Others


THE FOLLOWING MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED
WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR ©


Tips Categories

Lighting     Shop     Storage
Quick Tips



 

Lighting Related Tips:

Don't Buy Twist-On Flashlights   
Easier Lamp Replacements
Easier PAR Lamp Adjustments
Fixture Alignment   
Restoring Scratched Gel    


  1.   Don't Buy Twist-On Flashlights:     Not only are they hard to turn on with one hand, but since these models incorporate a focus mechanism in the switch, one must go through the nuisance of having to adjust the light beam every time it is turned on, and to defocus it every time it's turned off. Flashlights suited for show work have a momentary switch for quick views in the dark, but the switch can be locked on if desired. It is best when focus mechanisms are separated from this on/off switch. Then they can be left at the most-used beam angle.

        Another issue with most twist-on flashlights is that the batteries are accessed by removing the switch/focus assembly. Unfortunately, if during a normal turning-off operation it happens to be twisted too far, the assembly then has the potential to separate from the flashlight body after it's inside a toolbox or briefcase. Separation happens because of movement during loading or through vibration in transit. When at the next gig, this means a search for the batteries, the lamp and the lens assembly, plus a hope that the latter two have not been damaged.

        In addition, if one is too cautious after experiencing a few unintended disassemblies and decides to not turn it as far, those same vibrations can allow the light to make contact, meaning burn out of the batteries and/or the lamp. This results in the surprise (and annoyance) of a dead light at the next gig.

        While I am on the subject of flashlights, those used by stage professionals should have a beam that only shines on the desired work area. Its light should never encroach upon the space of others backstage or spill into an audience. So, ensure that the model bought has a shroud to control spill light, and/or a reflector that has the lamp well recessed.

        If you decide upon an LED model, realise that the LED is not a focused source and few, if any, LED flashlights seem to incorporate reflectors designed to fully concentrate all the light into a select area. (They are improving, though.) As a result, LED models often vomit light all over - especially those with multiple LEDs.

        At a minimum, LED light source(s) should be recessed into the body of the flashlight. For those that are not, slip a tube of heat shrink over the barrel of the light leaving some to extend past the light source. Adjust the tube's position by sliding it out so that the beam shows only a tightly defined circle. Shrink all but the part that extends. This will contain the spill. Be aware that you may have to add a band of electrical tape if the shrink tends to slide out of position.

        If your chosen flashlight is non-LED, look for a 222-style light source. These lamps have an internally focused beam. Regardless, to minimise spill, get one where the lamp is recessed. Alternative to this, is a `PR' style lamp that is housed in an appropriate reflector.

        Finally, regarding penlights: Try to find one that has a soft outer covering so that it may clenched in the teeth for hands-free working. If you do a lot of this type of work, think about using a miner's style headlight that attaches with a headstrap. Test to see that the beam is tight enough and is well shielded to avoid spill.

        For more on flashlights, see our Purchase Guide.


  2.   Easier Lamp Replacements:     To have burnout replacements be less cumbersome in the future, first inspect the socket looking for tarnish or bits of broken lamp. Fix or remove as appropriate. Then spray a bit of high-temperature silicone spray on to the socket contacts or threads. Don't use too much; it should not be runny. Burned out lamps will release much more easily -- even years later.

        Be sure to date tag all lamps. This tells one how long they are lasting under existing conditions. It also will make apparent a fixture with electrical or socket problems because one will notice if a particular fixture seems to be going through lamps too quickly.

        To date-tag PAR lamps, use a large, permanent-ink, felt-tip marker to write the year and month on the backs of the reflectors. For all others, place a piece of white electrical tape on the inside of the fixture's yoke. Make it long enough to have room for a second date. This will allow one to change the lamp a second time without having to replace the tag.


  3.   Easier PAR Lamp Adjustments:     As PAR fixtures spend time in service, dirt enters and infiltrates between the lamp and its circular support. With heat and moisture, the dirt eventually forms a film that binds the lamp when a focus is attempted. To alleviate this, remove the lamp and carefully clean where the bulb edge touches the side of the fixture and the ledge that supports the lamp. Use a household cleaner and water. Clean the bulb as well. Rinse well with plain water to remove cleaner residue.

        Once dried, spray industrial silicone lubricant on to the fixture areas just cleaned. Place some silicone onto a paper towel and wipe the edge of the bulb where it touches those same areas. Restore the lamp. Spin to see if it binds. If so, check to see that the lamp has clearance all around; the fixture may be slightly warped. Remove the lamp and gently squeeze the lamphouse back to round again. Replace the lamp and test again.

        If all is well, set the lamp retainer in place. Keep it away from the lamp so that the latter can move up & down a bit. This allows for expansion room when the fixture is in operation. If the retainer is the type that is built in and actually touches the rear of the bulb, clean it as above and silicone the edge that touches the bulb.

        Now using a nozzle extension, spray the socket contacts with silicone before reconnecting. Close the lamphouse cap and test the spin again. If the lamp binds, check to see if the cap pinches where it seats, pulling the lamphouse out of round. The reason is that the cap is either out of round or the cap's hinge is out of alignemnt. Fix these problems. Restore everything to working positions. Now when you go to focus this fixture, the lamp will turn easily making for far less frustration.

        Be sure to use industrial silicone lubricant; the types found in automotive supply or hardware stores is rarely suitable for theatre lights. It must be able to handle very high temperatures and remain slippery for long times in service. See our Lubricants and Solvents Guide.


  4.   Fixture Alignment:     To make alignment of your ellipsoidal and fresnel fixtures easier, set them up near a white wall, or use a flat, drop-down white cloth. Give about three to five metres space between it and intended fixture position. The latter needs to be near an electrical outlet. Draw a target pattern on the wall or cloth. Mark a center point that is at the height of where the light will be positioned for a straight-on throw. Then draw half-metre circles out to the limit of the field angle of your widest-angle fixture.

        Have a pipe or a cradle to hang or hold the light firmly in position while you work. Be sure to standardise the fixture's test position so as to maintain consistency among aligned fixtures. If you use a cradle on a wheeled case or stand, mark the floor so as to ensure this position.

        It's now simple to shine the light on to the target area and to adjust a fresnel reflector or ellipsoidal lamp positioner for flat or peak field, and for the brightest intensity. An aligned light gives the most efficiency for the chosen lamp wattage and thus for the power consumed. (For more on fixture maintenance, go to Equipment Maintenance in our Shop Tips section.)


  5.   Restoring Scratched Gel:     Use scratched gel where a bit of diffused colour is needed. Otherwise carry a small can of furniture polish and a soft cloth to partially restore scratched gel if you don't have a piece of new gel as a replacement, or if you simply want to extend the gel's service life. There is also a product called ArmorAll that works better than furniture polish.

For more information on maintaining plastic colour media,
go to Colour Media Care and Preservation in the Shop Tips
section elsewhere at the AIEL Website.




 

Shop Related Tips:

Cable Securing   
Colour Code Everything
Fan/Blower Tips
Filling Screw Holes
Newspaper Usages
Pen Holder Block
Replacing a Casetop Retainer
Restoring Rusty Chains


  1.  
    Cable Securing:     Put leather boot laces on all your cables. Buy the thick ones that typically come in two-metre lengths. Cut them in half for multi-circuit cables; cut in quarter for single cables. A cut lace should be long enough to be able to be tied while wearing work gloves.

        Lash them near the female end of your cables with a tight, double-granny knot. After coiling a cable, pass one end of the lace through the center of the coil and bring it up to meet the other where a shoelace knot & bow will be tied. (This type of knot can easily be released with one pull, and everyone knows how to tie one.)

        When in use, the attached tie becomes a handy way to make for a stress-free electrical connection. Secure the female end of the cable to truss, drop-tile T-bar, or to a handy pipe or post using the tie. Make a shoelace knot & bow here too, for quick release during tear-downs at the end of a gig.

        Leather ties last for years, and are very strong as long as they don't dry out. They are superior to sash cord for all but the heaviest cables because they are thinner and weigh less, plus can often cost less. Their friction coefficient exceeds that of nylon cord, which can be slippery to tie (especially if wet), and even when wearing work gloves. Plus, nylon tends to take a set, while leather remains very flexible.

        Leather ties are preferable to hook & loop (Velcro) material which fails to hold once it gets dirty or lint laden. Hook & loop sticks to many types of work gloves, so it becomes a nuisance. Also, if this kind of material is handled night after night without work gloves, one's hands will become raw and painful.

        Leather ties also surpass adhesive tape because they can be reused for years, while tape might get a few reuses, if that. This means that tape costs more in the long run. Plus, adhesive can be transferred to the cable after a long periods of no use, leaving one with a gooey cable.


  2.   Colour Code Everything:     Most losses at a gig are usually not due to intentional theft. They are by those persons that mistakenly take something they believe to be their own. Or, it's the borrowed item that gets passed to so many others that it reaches a point where nobody knows to whom it belongs. It gets left on a ledge, or it gets put into someone else's kit because somebody thought that was where it belonged.

        The solution to preventing most such losses is to colour code everything. Yes, you can put stickers or other identifiers on, but colour-coding tape is generally more easily recognised so it quickly tells everyone that an item at least does not belong to any of those persons. Wrap the handles of soldering irons, heat guns, tools -- even pens and markers! I aso have my laptop power supply coded. (See Quick Tips, later on.) As a joke, I once colour coded my bottle of water; that drove my point home. (-:

        Select two or three colours used by nobody else you know or have seen. Electrical tape is recommended for this purpose because it comes in a great variety of colours. It can be stretched tightly to wrap an item and will stick securely. (For information on other tapes: AIEL Stage Tape Guide.)

        Clean well your hands and the things to be coded; dirt on the adhesive side will eventually cause tape to come loose. If an item's surface will not be compromised, use lacquer thinner as the cleaner. Cut the tape with scissors so as to have clean lines for a more professional finish. As you apply it, place a small gap between each strip of tape to make the colours stand out more. For cables, place coding on to each end back a bit from the connectors. This space allows room to slide the shells back for inspection or repair without fetching on the coloured tape.

        Do not allow the tape to form an ending seam at an edge. Edges of objects get the most stress from handling. A seam on an edge will come undone more readily than one on a flat surface.


  3.   Fan/Blower Tips:     Whether it's a small, battery-operated, personal, gig fan, or a large one- or two-metre effects blower, always keep the blades and grills clean so as to have maximum air-pulling power. Collected dust will always reduce the efficiency of the unit and lessen the flow of air.

        Whenever maintenance is being performed, re-contour any warped blades and pound dented or creased ones back into shape. Finish by honing each blade lip to a sharp edge. If blades cannot be properly reshaped, replace them. Use metal blades whenever possible; they typically give greater efficiency than plastic ones and don't attract dust due to static charges.

        Proper blade edging and contour maintenance will give maximum airflow for power consumed. This is critical with battery-operated fans. Being able to select a slower rotation because there is enough air movement means longer battery life.

        Remove motor housings and vacuum the coils using a small paint brush to dislodge dust. Lubricate as per the manufacturer's instructions. Some larger units may have an access tube for oil. Remember to replace the cap after oiling.


  4.   Filling Screw Holes:     Use hot-melt glue to fill the screw holes left in cases after removal of internal dividers, blocks or fittings. It sets quickly and is watertight. After it hardens, use a razorblade knife to shave off excess glue bubbles, and fine steel wool or a fine sanding sponge to remove glue strands from aluminum edging. For a finished look, touch up by using a narrow-point artist's brush with paint that matches the case colour.


  5.   Newspapers:     Use old newspapers to cover work surfaces when disassembling equipment. Small parts show up better, and oils and dirt are absorbed. Frequent paper changes mean you will always have a clean surface on which to work.

        Here are some additional newspaper uses:

  6.   Pen Holder Block:     Do you find that pens and markers tend to get lost on the bench top or are taken away? Cut a heavy block of wood and drill holes to fit four to six pen caps. Glue a cap into each hole and insert the appropriate pen. Use coloured caps for pens with inks other than black. As each runs out, simply pop the replacement into the old cap that is already glued into the wood block; then put the old marker in the new cap and dispose or recycle.

        The block provides a convenient and permanent home for pens and markers, and it presents them in a straight-up orientation. As such, workers are more likely to pop the pen back into its holder than to leave it lying on the bench. This is especially true for felt-tip markers that will quickly dry out if left uncapped. Making it easy for workers means greater likelihood of compliance when it comes to returning pens.

        A bonus is that it only takes one hand to disengage or replace any pen because the weight of the block acts as a hand to hold the cap whenever a pen is removed or returned.


  7.   Replacing a Casetop Retainer:     Have a detached or missing retainer arm that is allowing a case top to open fully and threatening to pull off its hinges? If you can't fix or reattach the arm, or if you don't want to even use such a mechanism, replace it with one or two nylon straps. I keep broken ratchet tie-downs around for this and similar purposes because their straps are strong and useful. Cut a piece of strap to fit. It needs to span the distance from the side of the case's cover to the side of the lower part of the case when the open cover is just past the upright position. Allow extra length. Mount the strap well forward away from the hinges to keep stresses low on it and its anchor points. However, don't allow it to be too close to the front because it can interfere with your hands or catch on equipment being inserted/removed as you access the inside of the case.

        Drill holes in the case's side where you will secure the strap and also through one end of the strap itself. Leave a centimetre or two of strap material beyond its hole as a margin. Now loosely fasten one end to the side with a bolt that is just long enough to pierce both the case and strap, and to be able to accept the remaining hardware. The latter will consist of a flat washer on the outside under the bolt head and another inside to press against the strap itself, a lock washer and one or two nuts. Always use plated hardware to avoid rust. This will all be tightened later.

        Next, with the top open and supported from behind so that it is just beyond the vertical, pull the strap taut to position it over the other bolt hole in the side and punch or drill the strap at the alignment point. Bolt this end on with the appropriate hardware in the proper order, as above. Test the case. If all is well, straighten the strap and tighten all hardware. If necessary, add an extra nut to cover the end of either bolt if one or both protrude to where a user might get scratched. An acorn nut is good for this because it caps the bolt end completely. An alternative is to cut off the excess with a hacksaw and file off any burrs.

        Now cut away the excess strap using a sharp pair of scissors, leaving the same margin beyond the hole as at the other end. Ratchet strap material can be cut without shredding or unravelling due to its weave and the fact that it usually has thread sewn along its length near each edge. You may have to train the strap by creasing it with pliers at the bend point so that it folds inward as the top is closed, but you now have a working case that won't destroy its hinges.


  8.   Restoring Rusty Chains:     To remove rust from chains, place them in a rock tumbler or cement mixer with newspaper. Turn at a slow speed. Rust will be rubbed off the chains and stick to the paper. After revolving the drum for a while, clean out loose rust from the drum and replace the rust-coated newspaper with new. Repeat until the chains are clean.

        If oil is not a problem in usage, after the final cleaning, spray the chains with oil as they tumble. Otherwise, coat the chains with a rust inhibiting paint. Yes, it may rub off in usage, but it will afford some protection for a time. Be sure to thoroughly clean rust and oil from the drum of the tumbler or mixer when this task is complete.



 

Storage Related Tips:

Hardware Organisation
Juice Can / Paint Pail Storage


  1.   Hardware Organisation:     At some point, you will want to have a selection of nuts, bolts and washers. For the road, get a multi-cubicle container with a transparent, lockable cover if your hardware quantities are minimal; otherwise, use a fishing tackle box with multiple levels of divided compartments. (Peruse Hardware Kit in our Kits section.)

        For the shop, a small parts cabinet will do the trick. Do not put different hardwares into one drawer or you will spend too much time searching for the right piece. Use one drawer or compartment for each type and size. Each time a new box of hardware is bought, cut out the label along with its plastic or cardboard backing. It should show the type, size and thread information. (I like it if there is a picture of the piece, too.) Place the label right into the same compartment or drawer as the hardware. This will not only show identity, it will aid when it comes time to reorder. You could even take the label with you to the store to be sure of no mixups. Bring it back when you return so it can be reused, rather than having to cut out another label.

        If you find that you must put more than one hardware type or size into a compartment, use small, lockable, transparent bags to keep the separation. As was just suggested regarding the individual drawers, place the label into the bag with its hardware. Keep the bottom sections of the boxes in which the hardware came. These are useful as open-top kit or drawer dividers/compartments.


  2.   Use Juice Cans or Paint Pails for Storage:     Cut the tops from large, used juice cans, filing any sharp burrs to a smooth finish. Screw them on to a wall with the openings facing out, Use as rope or cable spools/hangers. The interiors can hold smaller items such as cable adaptors. Remove the labels and spray each can a different colour to aid in organisation or to cover the juice company's name for ink-on-can labels.

        Juice cans also make good bins for nuts and bolts. Screw a series of them to a wooden stud. Mount the stud at an angle in a rack made from wood or from pipe and fittings. Have the cans sit at a 45-degree angle with their open ends supported by another stud or pipe. The latter can display contents labels for each can above it. Several rows of them on a frame make for a comprehensive hardware stand for a shop. Again, remember to blunt any sharp edges.

        Put the rack on casters so it can be wheeled anywhere in the shop for work. As well, a wheeled rack can be moved out to access a dropped bolt or to sweep. A rack on casters is a convenience in a small shop because it can be stored in front of a cupboard or other, yet be moved easily aside so as to access what lies behind.

        For larger hardware or for chain, use 12 or 20-litre plastic pails. Make a rack from pipe and fittings suitable to handle the total weight of the rack and hardware. As just described regarding juice cans for hardware bins, arrange a rack so that the pails are again held at 45-degree angles, but this time using three horizontal pipes per row -- one running along under the pail near the front edges, one under the bottom edges, and a third pipe behind the middle of the pail bottoms to prevent them from sliding backward. Have the under pipes be away from the extreme top and bottom edges of the pails so that the weight of the contents won't crack the plastic or bend the metal, if using steel pails. Unlike the juice cans screwed to a wooden stud, the pails need not be secured because of the three-pipe method and the fact that their own weight will hold them in place within the cradle of piping.

        If you place this rack on casters, you must buy ones that can handle the total weight and that have tires suitable for the surface on which the rack will roll. A lot of force will be exerted on just four tire points. Have at least two locking casters so as to prevent rack `drift' across the floor as one deals with the contents of the pails during normal work procedures.

        Do not remove the pail handles. They make it convenient to take a pail from the rack for certain jobs. When in the rack, orient handles to the top and rotate them back against the pail. This is so they won't hang down in the way of lower pails.


 
  ...and finally:

  Quick Tips

  •   The pocket-sized aluminum cases meant to hold credit cards often have the interior dividers fail. Remove them and use the cases to protect business cards. Since only one type of card is in there, no dividers are necessary.

    Another purpose is for emergency keys. Place the keys into a small, locking bag to prevent rattling.

  •   Use clear packing tape to protect labels and signs in the shop. Invariably they will get dirty from handling or simply from the atmosphere in the shop due to floating dust and debris. Wipe each item you wish to protect and the surface to which it will adhere before covering with the clear tape.

    Trim near the tape edges with a straight edge and a razor knife so as to present a finished, professional look.

  •   Cover with cardboard the bottom of a cleaned, old automotive distributor cap and use it as a pen & pencil holder on your desk.

  •   Use an automotive hose clamp to prevent accidental locking of file cabinets that have push-in lock mechanisms. Simply tighten the clamp around the part that sticks out.

  •   Lubricate hanging-file rails with silicone to prevent files from binding. Spray on to a paper towel and rub the rails where the file folder hooks touch. They will then effortlessly slide and glide as you move them.

  •   Unused computer mouse pads can be cut up to line the insides of small cases. The sponge type of pad is especially useful for this purpose because it can better cushion contents.

  •   Colour code your laptop power supply, Having your colours on the supply itself makes it easy to select your own when fishing for it under a dark table or counter when the floor is crowded with others' supplies. (Review Colour Code Everything, farther back.)

  •   Make usage of old, plastic food container lids to mix small quantities of glue. Blister-pack plastic will work, too.

  •   When those transparent drawers from parts cabinets get cracked or the pulls break, they become a nuisance. Replace them and cut up the broken ones to use as drawer dividers in larger cabinets. Employ rubber cement to keep them in place within the larger drawer. This cement can be removed if dividers need to be repositioned.

  •   To protect a multimeter on the road, use a student's rectangular, plastic pencil case with a snap lid. Line the case with old mouse-pad sponge which can be glued in place using rubber cement. These cases may be found for $0.25 to $2.00 in thrift stores and yard sales. Get one large enough for the meter and its test leads.

  •   Use a hardshell eyeglass case to hold jewellers' screwdrivers when the original plastic driver case has broken or no longer snaps securely shut.

  •   Also, use hardshell eyeglass cases to transport flashdrives, if you come to possess many of them.

  •   When finished with adhesive tapes, always fold over a small amount of the leading edge so as to make a tab. This identifies the start of the tape, and it gives you a strip to grab when first pulling tape off the roll.

    If you don't like wasting the tape in that small tab, one can employ the plastic closures for bread bags. Stick it to the start of the roll before putting it away. This is less wasteful, but the tabs can easily get lost. Also, some tapes will not hold these closures very well, so they can get knocked off during handling. You will have to try this tip to decide if it suits you and your crew.

  •   When resealing a paint can lid, place a cloth over it to catch splatters. Use a rubber malet so as to not dent the can lid or edge.

    Before putting away spray paint, turn the can upside down and spray onto some old newspaper to clear the nozzle, or better yet, try to estimate the final few strokes required and paint them with the can upside down. This reduces paint wastage, and clearing the nozzle will prevent it getting clogged when it comes time for subsequent usage. Use a pin to clear nozzles that do become clogged. Save all working nozzles as substitutes for ones that can't be unblocked.

  •   Slit pieces of old garden hose to use as blade guards for saws, files and knives in a tool kit. Secure to the blade with twist ties or short lengths of cordage. (See our AIEL Cordage Guide.)

  •   Rubber garden hose lengths can also make reasonable replacements for worn or broken grips on flight case handles. They will cushion just as well. Note that vinyl hose will not work as well for this purpose; because it is not as flexible, it will tend to split sooner.

  •   A dental floss container can hold a small coil of solder to have it handy and protected on the road. Wind a few loops around the centre spindle and bring the end out the dispenser opening, enlarging it so as to pass the solder diameter.

  •   Mount toothbrush holders to provide a convenient place for small tools. To fit various items, enlarge the openings by drilling them out, or reduce them by gluing washers in place.

  •   Have egg cartons or muffin tins hold small parts during overhaul of a light. Number them and place parts in order as related to each step of the disassembly. Follow the reverse number order when reassembling. Larger parts holders can be made by joining frozen-dinner trays. Some of the largest trays already have dividers.

  •   Use old audio cassette or video tape storage units. These came in drawer or wall-mount styles and are now commonly found in thrift stores. Old cassette and video boxes fit these, of course, so you will place small hardware or electronics parts into those boxes. Label the spines so you know what you have.

  •   Employ stackable vegetable bins to store rags, polish cloths, and scraps and reel ends of cables. These are fairly cheap at grocery stores, but can often be had at yard sales for pennies. Select the ones with solid bottoms. Screened bottoms and sides tend to allow things to poke through and get caught.
  •   Use eye drop bottles as precision oilers. Spray dispensers often splatter because they have too much pressure. For more viscous oils, enlarge the tip's opening with a pin. A light squeeze will deploy only a single drop of lubricant to just the right place.

  •   When was the last time you did an inventory for insurance? Don't have time right now? Then take photos of your shop and its contents. File them away off premisis and update them regularly. Insurance companies love photos because they show details that may not be on an inventory list. They also prove to them that false claims are not being submittied because the evidence is right there in each picture, while your photos ensure to you that something has not been forgotten.


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