Monday, September 01, 2014

Building Steampunk Magic Props

One of the most common, and frankly frustrating, things I hear from magicians after they see my show is, "WOW, that was a really cool approach, I want to do that." Uggh. I'm by no means the first or last magician to incorporate Steampunk into his act, but the fewer of us there are, the better. Still, there are some who are not really interested in transforming into an entire 'steampunk show' but rather would like to have one really cool prop. So I'll give you some tips.

The prop at the top of the page began as something known as a Handkerchief Box or Jap Box. It's a
very old trick, but this one was built by me and my Dad, mostly my Dad on this piece. It was actually built for something other than making handkerchiefs appear and vanish. The one thing that makes it unique is it has one of those 'crank-noise- toys that you see around New Years that people use to make all sort of racket. One of those was built into the box so that when the handle is turned it gives a good loud ratcheting sound.

When I decided to move into Steampunk, this was one of the first props I chose to refit. It was a gradual process. The first alteration was adding a top to the box with a brass handle. Next I added a gauge on the side along with some buttons and knobs. I also took some fake leather and put that on each corner of the box along with some decorative brass tacks.

That was stage 1 and it stayed that way for a while. But I wanted it to be more animated and I eventually found a small toy that lit up and made sound. I gutted the toy, meaning I removed all the lights and electronics and put them into my box. This required a bit of soldering the first time around, but I was game for anything. I wanted the lights to really stand out, so I took three small gumball prize containers and mounted them onto the top of the box. The lights would go inside these plastic containers. I got the idea for these three roundish looking gumball prizes from the movie The Time Machine (see photo). I was afraid they'd look too much like  gumball prize containers, so I decorated them slightly by adding a large blue bead inside and putting one of those decorative brass tacks in the top. To my surprise, when I first mounted the containers onto the wooden box, the glue created a haze like finish inside the containers. This only helped it look more unique, so it was a lucky accident.

The prop remained this way for sometime, until I found some brass corners at Home Depot. Adding these to the four top corners finished the prop off nicely. I really thought I was finished at this point, but as fate would have it, that was not quite the case. Through use, one of the knobs broke off and the sound and light gimmick eventually died on me. This meant I had to replace them. Thankfully, the light/noise toys were cheap and fairly easy to install. As I was making the repairs, a friend was working on a disc drive and he had all these parts he was going to throw away. I quickly snagged the parts and added a number of them to the prop. These final additions really took the piece over the top.

Below is a video snippet showing the moving parts and the sounds and lights. Feel free to use this as inspiration, but DO NOT COPY MY PROP!!!! And if you're looking for places to find these unusual steampunk accessories, follow the link for an eye opening experience.

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