Giant Sized Music Box

Giant sized music box

Giant sized music box

This giant sized music box was built for a client who wanted an adult ballet dancer to perform a short routine for an event. An old fashioned look was required so a convex sided box with timber trim top and bottom was decided upon with floral decals on the side. A giant sized silver key was also built that fitted into the top of the music box to give the illusion of being able to “wind it up”.

The most complex part of the giant sized music box build was constructing the convex middle section. A timber skeleton was built with curved inner support panels on which bendy ply could be attached. After the first two opposite sides were attached the curve of the remaining sides were carefully traced using the exposed inner panels as a guide. The sides were then trimmed to almost the line and then sanded to the final shape by hand. This was accomplished by glueing sandpaper around a length of 30mm tube which was then drawn back and forth following the curve of the inner panels. It was important to get the outer curve of the sides to match exactly the inner support panel curve so that the bendy ply would contact all four surfaces when folded over them. This ensured a neat join of the side panels once they were sanded back.

First two sides attached

First two sides attached to the inner framework

Marking the side curve

Marking the cutting line for the side curve

Sanding the side panels

Sanding the side panels to match the curve

Side panels sanded

First two sides sanded and ready for last two side panels


Once the music box middle panels had been sanded to match the curve of the sides the remaining two sides were attached. Liquid nails was used along all internal faces and the edges of the first two side panels. Once attached the adhesive was spread evenly along the inside join of the sides to ensure a good bond. The weight reducing holes in the inner framework facilitated access to these areas.

Next the music box base and top were built. These were quite straightforward to build and the top used 30mm thick pine that would support the dancer. Timber mouldings were cut to make the music box look more interesting and small cabriole legs were purchased to add that bit of old fashioned charm.

Music base unit

Music box base section

Glueing the top section

Glueing the top section


The music box parts were then undercoated and painted. Floral decals printed on stick-on vinyl were attached to the middle section after the final painting had been done. A final over spray of matt clear polyurethane blended the decal and the topcoat of the music box and also added a bit more adhesion for the decals around their edges.

Attaching floral decals

Floral decals are attached to the middle section

Assembled music box

Assembled sections ready for final clear coat

Giant ballerina music box
Music box with Ballerina

Asymmetrical Panel Backdrop

asymmetrical panel backdrop hanging in the support frame

Completed Asymmetrical panel backdrop hanging in the support frame

A very different idea for a recent function was the building of this asymmetrical panel backdrop. It was made up of differently sized panels, cut at an angle at the bottom, with different finishes on the panels. Some panels were painted cream or charcoal blue while others were covered in crushed navy velvet or mirrored mylar film.

The panels were hung from a steel support structure which was 2.4m high by 3m wide. The frame was built so it could be dismantled into 1.5m sections for ease of transport. On the back of the top support a timber baton was fixed that had eye screws at predetermined positions so the panels hung in their correct configuration.

The panels were made from 5mm foamcore board with a 1mm aluminium strip glued along the top edge that had holes to attach the wires which supported them.

When the velvet was glued to the panels they developed a slight bow which made them hang unevenly. This was fixed by attaching 45x5mm hardwood braces on the backs of the affected panels to keep them hanging flat. The same happened when the panels were painted.

Hanging panels before finishing

Hanging panels before finishing

View of rear of the panels showing the hardwood bracing and top baton

View of rear of the panels showing the hardwood bracing and top baton

Abstract Display Tree

Abstract display tree

Abstract display tree

This abstract display tree is constructed from 18mm MDF and breaks down into two sections for ease of transportation. Its assembled height is 2.4m and the width is 2.1m.

The tree consists of two hinged MDF half sections that fit into a steel alignment bracket on the floor which makes it very stable once erected. Each quarter panel of the tree was laser cut in 18mm MDF from four different DXF files. The two quarter sections of each half section are attached together by hinges. Each half is free standing when it is opened up to 90 degrees.

After each half is opened out to 90 degrees is fits into the steel alignment star as shown in the photos below.

The two folded MDF sections ready for transport

The two folded MDF sections ready for transport

Alignment brackets

Alignment brackets for the folding halves of the tree

First half fitted into bracket

First half fitted into bracket

 first half in the bottom bracket

Another view of the first half in the bottom bracket

Second half fitted into base bracket

Second half fitted into base bracket

View of top locating bracket

View of top locating bracket

Another Headstone Inscription Repair

Repaired headstone inscription

Completed headstone inscription repair

Here is another headstone inscription repair that we recently completed. In this case the inscription had been painted black and, over time, all the paint had worn away leaving only the engraved lettering in the marble headstone.

The engraved inscription was in very good condition so it responded very well to our repair process which involved cleaning the marble, masking the areas around the lettering, applying a polyester adhesive to fill the engraved lettering and finally sanding off the excess to reveal the inscription.

These steps are described in the photos below and also in this post .

Original headstone inscription

Original headstone with difficult to read lettering due to faded paint infill

Masking tape around lettering

The area around the lettering is masked off for ease of sanding

Applied polyester adhesive filler

The polyester adhesive filler is applied to the inscription with a spatula

Sanding the inscription

Sanding back the polyester adhesive filler with wet’n’dry abrasive paper

Large Crown Display Table

Completed large crown

Completed large crown display table

This post describes the finishing of the large crown display table frame. The table is 815cm high and was used as a display stand for a birthday cake however it could also be used in any situation that required a unique and stylish display centre piece.

The main objective in making the large crown is to get the finish of the timber framework as smooth as possible. By its nature raw timber is uneven due to its grain. The crown frame was first sanded to remove large irregularities and then cleaned with compressed air. Next the first of several coats of undercoat were applied.

The first application of undercoat was the most important as it absorbed into the timber causing the wood grain to expand. The timber crown frame was then sanded smooth again. After the first undercoat any imperfections in the finish became blazingly apparent. These were first filled with Spakfilla and sanded back again before subsequent applications of undercoat. After each application had dried the frame was sanded back yet again which gradually filled remaining small surface imperfections. The display table had seven undercoats before the finish was acceptable.

Undercoated timber frame

Undercoated timber frame

Drilling guide holes for upholstery nails

Drilling guide holes for upholstery nails

Once the undercoating was finished the decorative trimming was applied. A simple fleur-de-lys was fitted to each of the six laminated curved sections of the large crown frame and domed brass upholstery nails were aligned along all the edges. A small jig was made to drill location holes for the upholstery nails to ensure they were all an even distance from each other.

Fitting decorative trimming

Fitting decorative trimming

Undercoat again to seal the trim

Undercoat again to seal the trim

After yet another undercoat application and light sanding of the timber framework the upholstery nails were fitted. It was better to leave the nails till last so that they didn’t obstruct the sanding process. After the upholstery nails were fitted the whole large crown frame was sprayed with metallic gold paint.

Upholstery nails fitted

Upholstery nails fitted

Large crown painted gold

Large display crown painted gold

Oversize Music Box Dancer Base

round music box dancer base

Oversize round music box dancer base

This oversize music box dancer base was made for a show where a young ballet dancer, standing on the base, would dance when the handle on the side was cranked.

The base was made by routing rings of timber with different profiles and stacking them together to form the structure. It was hollow inside so a speaker could be installed to play music on cue when the handle was cranked.

Below are some photos showing the construction process.

Routing the profiles

Using a router to cut the profiles of the timber rings

Routed timber rings

Routed timber rings stacked to form the base section

Making the central core spacer

Making the central core spacer

Fitting the central cor

Fitting the central core to the base section

Fitting the top section to the base

Fitting the top section to the base and clamping in position

Cutting up a rubber door mat to make the trim

Cutting up a rubber door mat to make the trim

ready for painting

Central trim fitted and ready for painting

Completed music box base

Completed music box base painted gold

For stability the base was fitted with five legs instead of four. On a round object five legs look much better than four.

Qantas 747 Jumbo Float

Qantas 747 jumbo float

The Qantas 747 Jumbo Float of Gayviation from the 1997 Mardi Gras parade

There were many creative entries in the recent 2016 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. One that caught my eye was the Qantas #gay380 float which brought back memories from almost 20 years ago when the original idea of a Qantas 747 Jumbo float was first realized by the Qantas social group, Gayviation.

Gayviation’s 1997 entry (one of 200 that year!) was the forerunner of the later large marching entries in the parade with almost two hundred people doing an airline safety demonstration dance routine to the music of Paul Capsis singing “I still call Australia home”. The entry won “Best of Parade” at the 1997 Mardi Gras Awards Night.

This was a time before the ubiquity of digital cameras and social media so the only record of the time was predominately on film and VHS video. I went through my old negatives and scanned the photos taken in preparation for the 1997 parade and share them here with a brief narrative on the lead up to the parade. Click on any photo for the full size version.

The concept

Qantas 747 Jumbo front truck

The front truck of the Qantas 747 Jumbo was christened COCKATOO DREAMIMG.

Gayviation’s concept was very simple. Tony Baker, their president, told me they wanted a Qantas 747 Jumbo float consisting of a front truck, being the nose and cockpit of the aircraft, and a rear truck being the tail. It was to go up Oxford Street with a large marching troupe between the two floats, representing the passengers, doing an airline safety demonstration dance routine to a dance track produced by Tiger Recording with Paul Capsis singing “I still call Australia home”. There were to be generators on both trucks to power lighting for the marchers and a complex sound system.

Because of the length of the entry the marchers at the rear couldn’t hear the music from the front truck so a radio link was planned to feed the music from the front truck to the rear truck so those at the back could hear and stay in time with the music of the routine.

The Design

I set about designing a metal framework with the shape of a 747 fuselage that completely enclosed a tabletop truck. I was Head of Props at Opera Australia at the time and was allowed to use the workshop facilities in Surry Hills to build the float. It was built in five sections that bolted together to form the shape of the fuselage. All the metal frameworks and wooden fuselage side panels were built at the Opera workshop and fitted to the truck. Once this was completed everything was transferred to the Mardi Gras workshop in Erskineville.

Mardi Gras workshop 1997

Main cabin frame covered and painted in the Mardi Gras workshop

Full Mardi Gras workshop 1997

Top cabin section hanging from the Mardi Gras workshop roof

At the Mardi Gras workshop the steel frames were covered with chicken wire and then glued over with newspaper. Once it had dried it was painted white and had the signage applied. The tail section was built at the Mardi Gras workshop and consisted of a large inverted “V” shape made of plywood which would conceal the generator and sound system. The logo on the tail of the flying kangaroo in a stiletto heel was the brainchild of one of the flight attendants at the time. The rest of the tail truck was masked with black fabric to highlight the tail fin.

Parade Day

On the morning of parade day the front and rear trucks were assembled for the first time in the petrol station outside the Mardi Gras workshop and then driven to Jands lighting in Alexandria to have the lighting and sound systems installed. The installation of all the lights took a particularly long time which became quite stressful as the afternoon wore on.

Sound and lighting installation

Fitting lighting and sound systems to the front and rear trucks at Jands warehouse

Front truck Mardi Gras 97 stressing

My anxiety levels were beginning to show as time was running out to get to the parade start

The removable front nose cone was covered in an open mesh material so that the driver of the truck could see out when it was fitted to the front of the fuselage frame. The side passenger windows were also aligned so that those next to the truck cabin could be used to see out to the side.

Qanta 747 "Cockatoo Dreaming" leaving the warehouse

COCKATOO DREAMING being driven out of its “hanger” for the first time was an exciting moment for all.

Eventually all the lighting rigs and sound systems were finally connected up and tested. Qantas 747 Jumbo “Cockatoo Dreaming” was ready to see the light of day.

It was an exciting and memorable moment for everyone to see it being driven out of the warehouse at Jands Lighting for the first time.

The picture below is the only time that the front and rear trucks were set front to back to show how the complete Qantas 747 Jumbo float looked before being driven to the parade marshaling area in the city.

Qantas 747 Jumbo complete float

The front and rear trucks of “Cockatoo Dreaming” ready to go to the parade.

traveling to the parade

The two trucks on the way to the parade

Qantas 747 float in Redfern

Qantas 747 Jumbo Float passing through Redfern.

As is generally the case, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry. After the Sun had set we discovered it was difficult for the driver to see through the nose cone section so a segment of material had to be cut out to give a clear view. The radio link with the rear truck also failed on the night so the marchers at the rear had to rely on visual cues to keep in time with the front marchers during the safety demonstration routine.

Good luck kiss

Tony Baker and myself wishing “Cockatoo Dreaming” good luck just before the parade start.

Mardi Gras 1997 parade official video poster

Qantas 747 Jumbo featured on the Mardi Gras 1997 Parade Video promotional poster

The parade was a blur of colour and sound and a terrific time was had by all. All the effort was worth the once in a lifetime experience of taking a Qantas 747 Jumbo up Oxford Street. The video shows the parade entry on the night. Great memory 🙂


Buggery's Creek International Airport railway station - 1998 Mardi Gras parade

Buggery’s Creek International Airport railway station – 1998 Mardi Gras parade

The following year Gayviation did another parade entry. The Qantas 747 Jumbo float from the previous year was ressurected with new livery and I built another float consisting of an illuminated rainbow coloured control tower which led the entry up Oxford Street.

The float represented Buggery’s Creek International airport railway station and along with the illuminated model of the Sydney airport control tower featured a classic Sydney Rail railway platform built over the truck cabin. The power generator was concealed by several bushes behind the cabin. Two large power line towers, typical of Western Sydney, completed the picture and supported the lighting.

At the time there was hot debate about a new airport at Badgery’s Creek with a new rail link which is *still* going on as I write this post. I hope they end up putting in a fast rail link as it is “out to buggery” – an Australian colloquialism for a very long way away. Another one, “go to buggery”, is an impolite way to tell someone to “get lost” or “go away”.

Below is a video of the Control Tower and 747 Jumbo in the 1998 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

Circular Display Frame

Assembled circular frame

Chair inside assembled circular frame

This circular display frame was one of two built to highlight special displays such as wedding cakes, people or other display props.

The open framework was designed to facilitate the addition of flowers, greenery or custom signage making them very flexible for innovative displays.

The frames are made of 25mm hollow square steel making them extremely strong while keeping their weight to a minimum.

Disassembled circular frame ready for transport

Disassembled circular frame ready for transport

top securing bolt

Top bolt securing semi-circular frame sections

At over two metres in diameter the frames posed difficulties for transport so they were designed as two semi-circular frames which bolted together on a base platform. The frames can be assembled by one person in a matter of minutes without special tools.

Semi-circular section bolted to the base platform

Semi-circular section bolted to the base platform