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How to Cut a Trash Can...

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by SesameStMuppets, May 19, 2007.

  1. SesameStMuppets

    SesameStMuppets Well-Known Member

    I am going to be starting a puppetry project over the summer which requires me to have a metal trashcan (similar to the one seen in Sesame Street) where a performer controls the puppet kneeling behind the can and having his arms inside the can.

    Having no previous experience as to shaping and manipulating the can in order to preform it as easily as possible. It would be great if you could help me with a few things:

    1.) How large should the opening in the back be, so I could get inside and not be seen by an audience? I remember in Caroll Spinney's autobiography the original cut of Oscar's can was too small and could only perform the puppet with his left arm... I would like to avoid that :)

    2.) What would be the best way to hinge the lid so it could open and close like on the show, either by the puppet's head, separate rod, etc.?

    3.) Should percautions be taken in lining the opening in the back with foam or thick duct tape to prevent getting cut on the new edge of the can?

    Any insights would be great!

  2. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    You know what I would recommend is don't use a metal trash can, use a plastic one (white preferably) and paint it to look like metal. Especially for stage purposes, this works really well and it's easier, especially if you don't have the tools or experience to work with metal.

    You can cut most plastics easily with a saw (use something with fine teeth), the size of the hole is impossible to know without knowing the size of the can and the size of you. Start with a smaller hole first, because you can always cut it larger if it isn't big enough.

    Once the hole is cut then all you have to do is sand the outside of the can so paint will stick to it (this is important, even if the paint you are using says you don't have to) and then spray paint it with paint that has metal finish. There are some really nice spray paints you can get with a "hammered" metal finish that look really nice. I tried painting a plastic can for something once with one of these and it looked better than a real metal can.

    As for comfort/safety, if you can find foam pipe insulation tubes, just contact cement those around the cut hole in the can you don't hurt yourself on any hard edges. It's very, very important to wear proper knee pads as well if you are going to be crouching in the can performing the puppet.

    I hope that helps!
  3. Blink

    Blink Well-Known Member

    Hey SesameStMuppets,

    I had a chance to walk around the Sesame Street set last summer and I saw what Oscar's can looks like from the back. If memory serves me correctly, the entire bottom is cut away and most of the back. Just the top portion that hold the hinge (and creates the illusion of there being a complete can) is intact. The edges had a foam padding with fabric over them. You can experiment with how much of the padding can or can not be seen from the front (before you cut) if you are thinking of cutting away most of the can away at the back. This will allow you to use the foam and fabric to protect from sharp edges without having it in the shot.

    A plastic can may seem easier to use, but the truth is whatever you use to cut the plastic can will probably cut the metal one just as well (I am assuming you would use some sort of power tool; just make sure the blade can cut metal). A hack saw might work too.
    Another truth is that a plastic can is able to give a nasty cut as well, if it is not properly cut and/or padded. Either way you would have to protect the puppeteer by covering the edges.

    I hope that helps a bit.

    Oh and as for hinges, just go to your local hardware store. I am sure they have a variety of hinges that could work easily on either option.
  4. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    For a metal can metal shears would probably work better than anything. One thing though is DO NOT use a power tool. Especially if you're not sure what you're doing you could get seriously hurt. Cutting curved metal surfaces can be really tricky (sheet metal and flat surfaces are easy by comparison).

    One advantage of the metal can that I didn't think of before is that you can fold the metal edges over so they aren't sharp (I would still use some kind of padding on them). If you go the plastic route, sand down the edges so they aren't sharp before covering them.

    Also, a trash can is so lightweight that it's really difficult to brace properly (this is an issue for cutting a plastic can too) so be sure to wear eye protection and proper work gloves. Otherwise, metal or plastic, one slip and you can loose an eye, or get a nasty cut as Blink said.
  5. Blink

    Blink Well-Known Member

    The reality is that any power tool (or sharp tool for that matter) needs to be used with an understanting of safety before hand. I personally would go as far as saying "DO NOT use a power tool." but your point of safty is one that goes without saying.

    SesameStMuppets, when I say power tool it is important that you choose something that is safe to use. I was thinking of a dremel tool. There are even attachments that might work (please note that I don't know about this attachment specifcally so I am merely saying there are options out there). I would talk with an expert and your local hardware store about what might work best and safety considerations. They are more likely more qualified than either myself or Buck.

    As for cutting rounded edges being "really tricky" I don't necessarity agree with Buck on this one either. Both offer their equal amounts of ease and difficulty. As with anything you cut, you must assess the speed and angle you cut at. The can must be braced while you cut for sure, but I think the point both Buck and I would agree on is that no matter what you decide to do, always take safelty precautions.
  6. TheCreatureWork

    TheCreatureWork Well-Known Member

    I remember seeing some "behind the scenes" stuff of Oscars can- or watch the Old School Sesame Street DVD's- There was a metal lever on the top of the can, located on the back were the hinge was. Caroll Spinney would just push the level forward to open the can and to close it he would pull the lever down...go figure. Another option is to bring the metal can to a welding company, a simple 5 minute session and they can cut the size you need, and even adjust the size as they go - depending on the cutter, the edges will be "melted" and not sharp...but like previously posted I would foam it up; just in case. I once got a bigger bar welded to a weight machine and it cost me $10. A cutter shouldn't cost too much- you could also try contacting local highschools- sometimes they have shop classes that'll do it for free because it is so unique and good practice for students. The reality is no matter how much foam you put in that can to make it comfortable, it won't be. You can also make a "crate" type box where the trash can can be placed on top. Cut the back out of the box too and fasten the can to it- if you cut the bottom of the can out you'll have more room to sit, maybe add a monitor, or put a bar fridge :) I think you'll will, at first, find it very uncomfortable, but then as you get use to it, it'll be more like...well, uncomfortable :) I don't know about you, but trying to puppeteer from something that usually only holds 2 garbage bags will be difficult. Hope this helps.
  7. SesameStMuppets

    SesameStMuppets Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the Replys

    Thank you all for your great responses! Your experiences have given me some great insights as to how I need to work on this project.

    I realize that in my original post I didn't clarify the fact that I meant I was unexperienced in building a 'puppetizied' trash can, not metal-working. While I had not thought of the percaution of holding the can down as I cut it, I know my way around a power saw.

    As for the hole, I have some new questions:
    1.) If I used a metal can, would it be a good idea to hammer the edges and then line it with pipe foam?
    2.) I understand that the hole's size is case sensitive, but should it be shaped like a circle, or a more obscure oval with a 'hump' on its right side where my arm will be extended, or is there a better option yet?

    To hinge the lid... If I used something like a door hinge, would the screws I need to secure the lid need to be short or cut and then sanded and then covered in foam in order to prevent those from getting in my way, as well?

    Again, all your help has been great in my research stage of my project, and in welcoming me to this forum!:)
  8. Blink

    Blink Well-Known Member

    Hey SesameStMuppets,

    Here are some thoughts:

    Sure, folding the edges over couldn't hurt. Honestly, I believe "Whatever works well, do it". You could do what you just said, you could also cover it with duct tape, as you mentioned before. The point is, if the padding came off, you don't want to have sharp edges there. There really is no right or wrong way to do it.

    Oscar's can is shaped like an arch. It is very easy to operate a puppet from behind/inside. In essence you are in the can operating, not reaching in and up from behind the can. The can is built up on boxes to give extra height but there is a good amount of room for the puppeteer to operate the puppet from within/behind the can.

    I would just use a nut and bolt. You can cut the bolt to measure and it should be good to go.

    Good luck.
  9. practicecactus

    practicecactus Well-Known Member

    If you're gonna use those light metal garbage cans you should be ok. Are they Alluminum?
    To cut the hole you could drill a big enough hole for a hacksaw blade width and get a handle for a hack saw blade from a hardware store. And it might take a little time and elbow grease OR to make a circular hole like that with a power tool, you'll have to use a sabre saw or jigsaw.
    Just stand over the can on it's side and squeeze it between your legs when cutting it.

    Don't hammer the edges of the hole though, there's no need, just get a thick rubber hose or something, and cut down one side so you can open it up and line it around the edge of the cut, glue it, and Bob's your uncle.. You could even rest your arm on it comfortably.

    You'd probly be better off making an oval kind of opening [vertical ways] so you can move your arm up and down to raise the puppet up and down in the garbage can.
  10. SesameStMuppets

    SesameStMuppets Well-Known Member

    Thank you all for your great support! I'll try to up load some pics. once the can is complete.

    I couldn't have moved on without your help!

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