(Close Window)
Topic: Best book(s) for constructing small props
Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Oct 19, 2018 09:11PM)
Hello Everyone. I was hoping to gain some insight on the best book or books (preferably still in print) that cover the construction of the smaller type of props. I have nearly completed a Square Circle and will post photos shortly, but I would like to have a go at, say, a Sucker Die Box, production box etc. I have an understanding of the principles of a lot of these illusion but would prefer some drawings/plans to work from. I am fairly conversant with woodworking. I am hoping some of the more learned members may shed some light and recommendations on the sort of book(s) I'm after. I am aware of the plans available from online vendors but these all seem to be for scale stage illusions.
Hoping you can help.
Message: Posted by: MeetMagicMike (Oct 19, 2018 10:19PM)
You couldn't do better than the Workshop Forum here at the Magic Café.
Message: Posted by: 61magic (Oct 19, 2018 11:36PM)
SaltyDog, first off welcome to the Café.
There are many sources for constructing small props, first I would recommend looking for the books by Jack Hughes, they can be expensive but have a lot of props to pick from. The books have been out of print for a while but are still out there, also there is a single volume with selections from the three volume set with many props.
Look at some of the offerings from Abbott's Magic they have books with smaller props for builders.
Paul Osborne ran a series published in magazine form called "Shop to Stage" which were all small props. There was talk he would release the entire set in book form but since his passing I don't know if that will happen. You can still contact his web site and see how many of the small plans they have available.
Another great source is from The Wizard's Journal http://magicnook.com/wizardsTOC.htm Jim is a member here and can supply you with a ton of advice.
Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Oct 20, 2018 08:00PM)
Many Thanks Gents. My Google-Fu must be weak. I had not come across the Magic Nook website before. I have selected a number of props to order from them. I will keep a look out for the other books you mentioned.
Thanks again
Message: Posted by: ekins (Oct 22, 2018 01:03AM)
I was curious about the Jack Hughes books and found that they're available as electronic versions from lybrary.com for all three volumes for $99.

Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Oct 22, 2018 05:37PM)
Again, Many Thanks. I will check them out. Thanks for the info!
Message: Posted by: the fritz (Nov 4, 2018 09:27PM)
Mel Babcock's book has detailed plans for building a die box.
Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Nov 5, 2018 02:06AM)
Thank you, "the fritz" for the information. I have ordered a number of plans from the Magic Nook and I have found them to be most useful. Jim was very helpful too! I will endeavour to chase down Mel Babcock's book.
Thanks again
Message: Posted by: ekins (Nov 8, 2018 01:52AM)
Here's a link for Mel's book. I have a copy and this reminds me to go through it again.

Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Nov 8, 2018 03:33PM)
Thank you Sir, for the link. I will have to check the cost of postage to Australia to see if it's feasible.
Message: Posted by: blackstone99 (Nov 11, 2018 01:30PM)
Science and Mechanics special issue in 1960s
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Nov 30, 2018 03:50PM)
Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Nov 30, 2018 05:12PM)
Thank You Michael! I have ordered a PDF from lybrary as I type!
Message: Posted by: Cleverpaws (Dec 1, 2018 09:22PM)
"the makeup of magic" by Mickey Hades. It has many details on what you need to think about when making a prop besides just how to construct it.
Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Dec 3, 2018 03:41PM)
Thanks, Cleverpaws! I see Amazon has it, so I'll check it out.
Message: Posted by: gimpy2 (Dec 4, 2018 06:58AM)
Check out books on small box building from your library. lots of information there to use in building magic props.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Dec 4, 2018 08:24AM)
I agree with Gimpy. The books on props show you how the pieces work, but the ones on woodworking show you how to make them into something really nice.
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Dec 8, 2018 02:12PM)
Agreed with the two gentlemen above, who I know to both be accomplished magic builders. Lots of magic books on this subject will explain the mechanics, but that is a far cry from building plans, cutting lists, hardware, etc. You need the basic knowledge of building small boxes. This info is found in books, woodworking magazines, woodworking videos and TV shows, and by studying under someone who knows this stuff.

Having years of experience, the three of us can in most cases now, take a generalized idea for a prop and create our own plans. At the very least, w can visualize how things must be made in order to fit together correctly... and in what order. Even still, there can be a lot of trial and error, prototype building, failure, frustration, and hopefully, enough success to keep us going.

The books mentioned above are ideal for a magician/builder. The S&M book has actual plans, cutting lists, etc. for making some more common props. The Hades book has some very good info on specific details that will turn your project from looking amateurish to professional. The rest is just experience and lots of work. Once you have the info in your head, all that remains is to just start making things.

FWIW - Check the Workshop Tips thread in this forum. You'll find many ideas from folks just like us... magicians who build their own props.
Message: Posted by: SaltyDog (Dec 8, 2018 05:30PM)
I would like to thank everyone that has responded to my request for information on this fascinating subject. I have heeded the advice and acquired the S&M PDF as well as a few others from Lybrary. (Great Site, by the way!) Mr Wilson's CCiM has been purchased as well as a number of plans from the Magic Nook. I now have a solid basis to work from. I have nearly finished a Sucker Die Box and hope to post a photo soon. I have also constructed some gem rods and two Magic Picture Frames. These were fun to convert and very easy, just the thing for a noob like myself.
Message: Posted by: ringmaster (Jan 28, 2019 03:09PM)
[quote]On Nov 30, 2018, Michael Baker wrote:
Https://www.lybrary.com/magic-handbook-science-and-mechanics-p-922487.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3IPgBRCAARIsABb-iGL8Z6czexbhXoFCNmMzSMBVhDoH9mdUIoPUzJeblY29LZ2COK8GYPMaAr1rEALw_wcB [/quote]
I bought this at my drug store for six bits.
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Jan 28, 2019 08:32PM)
[quote]On Jan 28, 2019, ringmaster wrote:
[quote]On Nov 30, 2018, Michael Baker wrote:
Https://www.lybrary.com/magic-handbook-science-and-mechanics-p-922487.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3IPgBRCAARIsABb-iGL8Z6czexbhXoFCNmMzSMBVhDoH9mdUIoPUzJeblY29LZ2COK8GYPMaAr1rEALw_wcB [/quote]
I bought this at my drug store for six bits. [/quote]

In what century? Haha!!
Message: Posted by: ringmaster (Feb 12, 2019 12:06AM)
[quote]On Jan 28, 2019, Michael Baker wrote:
[quote]On Jan 28, 2019, ringmaster wrote:
[quote]On Nov 30, 2018, Michael Baker wrote:
Https://www.lybrary.com/magic-handbook-science-and-mechanics-p-922487.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3IPgBRCAARIsABb-iGL8Z6czexbhXoFCNmMzSMBVhDoH9mdUIoPUzJeblY29LZ2COK8GYPMaAr1rEALw_wcB [/quote]
I bought this at my drug store for six bits. [/quote]

In what century? Haha!!
Look at the guys blazer.
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Feb 12, 2019 04:44PM)
[quote]On Feb 12, 2019, ringmaster wrote:
[quote]On Jan 28, 2019, Michael Baker wrote:
[quote]On Jan 28, 2019, ringmaster wrote:
[quote]On Nov 30, 2018, Michael Baker wrote:
Https://www.lybrary.com/magic-handbook-science-and-mechanics-p-922487.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3IPgBRCAARIsABb-iGL8Z6czexbhXoFCNmMzSMBVhDoH9mdUIoPUzJeblY29LZ2COK8GYPMaAr1rEALw_wcB [/quote]
I bought this at my drug store for six bits. [/quote]

In what century? Haha!!
Look at the guys blazer. [/quote]

No kidding! Haha!!
Message: Posted by: IncantoMagic (Feb 13, 2019 08:50PM)
Isn't there a lot of this info in Tarbell? I know that at least the Squared Circle is in Vol 6.
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Feb 13, 2019 11:39PM)
[quote]On Feb 13, 2019, IncantoMagic wrote:
Isn't there a lot of this info in Tarbell? I know that at least the Squared Circle is in Vol 6. [/quote]

There are many books that show the basic methods behind props. But, that is a far cry from actual building plans. I build magic props for a living, and would tell any aspiring builder to learn basic woodworking, as well as other disciplines like simple metal work, sewing, drafting, and more. Learn these skills and use them to construct a simple box. This will teach how plans are written and illustrated, and will also give hands-on experience in cutting and milling wood, types of wood, joinery, and finishing. It wouldn't hurt to also go buy a couple of model kits, both plastic and wood... cars, airplanes, or whatever. Follow the instructions and build these kits. This will give you hands-on experience in following directions and actually constructing something from parts.

Once these skills are at the very least competently understood, then it will become an easy task to use them and a general method for how a prop operates to draw one's own plans, materials lists, cutting lists, and assembly order. The advantage is that you won't have to ask these kinds of questions, as you will know how to solve just about any need, except for projects that are beyond your skills, your finances, and the quantity and quality of the tools in your workshop.

But, never fear... I began constructing my first props from cardboard cigar boxes. My first illusion was built in my bedroom of my apartment, with a hand saw, a hand drill, a hammer, and my bed serving as a sawhorse.

As far as books, there are many that describe how props work, even if they are not considered actual building plans. Tarbell is loaded with prop descriptions. Also find copies of all the Hoffmann books.. Modern Magic, More Magic, Later Magic. At least one of these is a Dover reprint and I'd guess by now they can be found as free PDFs in public domain. The basic goal would be to build your library... even look at old magazines which you can likely buy for the cost of shipping if you ask for them. Many of these are loaded with cool prop ideas, that most people have never seen or forgotten all about even if they did read it.

All you have to do with any such information is apply your learned building skills, and some imagination to update the look to suit your particular needs. I continue to laugh whenever I hear someone say that the information in the older books is outdated. Learn to think outside the box (no pun intended), and to be a lateral thinker. Look at everything for its possibilities, it's pros.. not it's cons.

If you look at my website, which you can probably access in my profile here, you will likely find many props whose roots go back a long way. I just give them my own spin. I've done exactly what I've described here. Anyone can do the same.
Message: Posted by: gimpy2 (Feb 14, 2019 08:40AM)
The books Michael mentions above work more like a spring board for me as well. I look at an old tired prop and begin to develop a new version. In the process many times the method is improved and the end mechanics are completely different. Sometimes the end product is so different that I almost forget where I started.

You would think that magic builders spend much of there time on the magic secrets but that's not the case for me. I spend much more time on the production questions. How to build something in the most efficient way is the real puzzle. I built a piece last year called "4 wrongs make right". There is no magic secret in the prop. You would think you just go out and start cutting and putting together. In fact about a week was spent sketching. setting up, building patterns. constructing jigs, experiments on assembly, products research, finding all the parts, ect.

Bench built props or one of a kind pieces many times don't turn as good as a production piece. Not as much time is spent in the development phase and learning curve in bench building. By the time you figure out the best way to build it your done.

In other words its not how it works but how to make it work.
Message: Posted by: David Todd (Nov 21, 2021 02:24PM)
Let's keep this topic going by listing more resources on constructing your own magic props.

I'll start with pointing out a great series on build-it-yourself props which ran in Genii magazine from 1991 - 1995 titled [b]“Under the Banyan Tree” by Ali Bongo[/b]. (If you have a subscription to Genii magazine , one of the advantages is that you also get access to all past issues of Genii from the beginning in 1936 to the present day.) In his column Bongo did not necessarily provide full "workshop plans" for building his clever ideas , but most are within the capabilities of the average builder.

I have occasionally run across examples of Bongo’s creations described in his Genii column that were used on the Paul Daniel’s Magic Show (Ali Bongo was the head magic consultant on the Paul Daniels series) I came across this today on YouTube. I remembered it from Genii.

After the show titles, it is the first effect performed, from 0:30 - to - 6:57 :

Paul Daniels Magic Show 12 October 1985 -


Ali Bongo explains:

[i]“In 'The Bongo Book', which was published in 1966 by Magic Inc., I described the 'Blooming Assistant', later marketed as 'Bongo's Bloomer'. Briefly, a large mug was filled with milk - upturned on a piece of card and placed on a volunteer assistant's head. The card was slid out, then the beaker was lifted to reveal a bunch of flowers crowning the victim's cranium. A simple plot with considerable comedic possibilities, which served me well over many years for both adult and children's shows. Here is an updated version which was performed by Paul Daniels in his T.V. show. Paul gave it a 'medicine pitch' treatment as a cure for baldness, with hilarious results.”[/i]

The full description of the routine and the props is found in Genii, October 1992.

One thing I greatly admire about how Paul Daniels handles this effect (which is similar in plot to the "Don Alan Comedy Egg Trick") is his [b]convincing acting[/b] when placing the card on top of the mug and slowly (carefully) turning it over to place it on the volunteer's head. He handles it as if the mug actually contained liquid that he is being very careful not to spill. Too often when magicians perform any sort of trick that involves supposedly pouring liquid or breaking an egg or some some other potentially "messy" ingredients the magician handles the container too freely as if does not contain any liquid . (the magician is aware that there is no chance of actually spilling anything , so he subconsciously telegraphs this to the audience by his actions).


Other resources ?

Off the top of my head I can think of the books "The Make-Up Of Magic" by Mickey Hades (which someone mentioned previously) , "The Table Book" and "The Table Book 2" by Eugene Gloye, "Fantastic Tricks with Plastic Cups" and "More Fantastic Tricks with Plastic Cups" by Eugene Gloye. There is also "How To Build Your Own Illusions" by Jim Sommers, and the Paul Osborne series on illusions that ran for many years in Genii and the numerous books by Paul Osborne. (although building illusions falls outside the scope of the original topic on "constructing small props") .

I will also mention I've been very impressed with the episodes I've seen of [url=https://www.penguinmagic.com/tricks/tagged/tarbell]"Every Trick In the Book" by Dan Harlan[/url] (which covers every trick in the Tarbell Course in Magic). Dan shows you how to construct the props necessary for many of the effects described in Tarbell and he also offers some clever improvements/updates for many of the props.


Message: Posted by: Jean André (Mar 27, 2022 02:19PM)
Those Ali Bongo articles ("Under the Banyan Tree") which ran in Genii in the 1990's were wonderful resources for the build-it-yourself magician.

A more recent series that ran in Genii was by Jonathan Neal , "Secrets Within Secrets", that ran in 2019 and 2020. He covers many classic stand-up/stage magic effects and includes the real work, with detailed instructions on how to make them for yourself. J. Neal's articles were a refreshing change from the usual card tricks and coin tricks that seem to be the bulk of the tricks published in Genii in recent years. (other than Steinmeyer's articles).