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Building a modular/portable stage
May 1, 2012 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Plans/suggestions for constuction a low portable (modular, sectioned) stage?

I'd like to build a stage for my band. The motivation is threefold.

First, our rehearsal room is a steel outbuilding with a concrete floor. Not only is it very dirty -- so cables and pedalboards get filthy -- but it also gets damp and can even flood in extreme weather, so a clean floor which raises the equipment off the ground would be very helpful. At the moment we put the amps on concrete blocks.

Second, I'd like to be able to host small outdoor gigs in my (big) yard, which is grassed at the moment. Again it's mostly a question of raising the equipment off the ground, more than elevating the performers.

Third, it could double as a drum riser on bigger stages.

We are a bit tight on storage so something that collapses (when we WANT it to, that is) would be helpful.

Something 24' x 20' would be ideal, in 4'x4' sections.

The simplest version I could think of is 4'x4' 3/4" ply screwed on 2x6 stringers which could be placed directly on the ground, or supported on piers which also locked it together. These are going to be kind of heavy and unwieldy, though.

Has anyone done this kind of thing or know of any good plans or cunning tricks? I really don't want to spend a ton of time or money on it, so something simple.

I have access to all the necessary tools - table saw, mitre saw etc.

Bonus for photos/plans.
posted by unSane to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
You can use 2x4 material as skirt framing on 4 foot square 3/4" plywood panels, adding a 2x4 centre joist for stability. Glue and screw for great justice. (I made things like this for photography staging; rock solid.)

Now make cleats out of 3/4" wide strips of 3/4" plywood maybe 6" long, glued under each skirt frame corner, right at the outer edge, two per corner making an L shape.

This will raise the platforms off the floor a little for ventilation and making the panels easy to pick up and -- the best part -- allow the panels to lock securely into Dek-Block footings, which will raise the whole thing about 8" off the ground, which gives you a 12" stage height with the blocks, and 5" without. Only caveat is that Dek-Blocks are heavy, at 40lbs. But the whole thing is versatile and quite portable, if rather heavy.

Professional breakdown stage systems are a lot lighter ... but expensive as hell.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:48 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have WAY more experience (ow ow ow OW!!) with portable staging than I want, and I hate to tell you this but portable staging = heavy & unwieldy pretty much no matter how you slice it.

Top-of-my-head thoughts about your plan;

1) How are you thinking about locking the sections together, and how often are you really planning on moving the stage? Because I think there's a bit of a conflict between ways to securely connect wood sections together (lag bolts? screws? T-nuts?) and "easy and quick disassembly/reassembly."

2) how are you going to level each section, especially when you move it outside to your lawn, which is probably a LOT more "unlevel" than you think it is?

3) 24'x20' is, real-world, a lot of space. 20'x16' is our default "rock band" stage that we set up literally a hundred times a year. I've had bands with up to 12 people on this size stage - a little tight, but do-able. Consider a smaller stage.

4) As a professional live sound/staging/lighting/video guy - homemade drum risers suck. Even really cool-looking, cleverly-engineered ones take all 5 guys in the band 20 minutes to set up. Unless you are the ONLY band playing on that stage, please please please leave your drum riser at home, and ask for a drum riser to be provided as part of the larger stage.

5) One of the common ways I've seen DIY stages done is with threaded pipe flanges screwed to each corner of the stage sections, buy pre-cut sections of threaded pipe at your local big-box home improvement store.

seanmpuckett is half-right - professional portable staging systems are quite expensive. Unfortunately they are often NOT a lot lighter. But if portability & quick disassembly/reassembly are primary concerns, I think you should really look into getting one of these. They do show up used - sometimes on ebay or craigslist, or try Another source for used staging are schools & universities, local pro production companies looking to get rid of old stock, or more generic "event rental/party rental" companies - places that rent out tents & tables & chairs & etc etc for parties & weddings & whatever.

Bil-Jax, StageRight, and Wenger are three of the big names.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:27 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

2) how are you going to level each section, especially when you move it outside to your lawn, which is probably a LOT more "unlevel" than you think it is?

I was hoping someone was going to tell me that!
posted by unSane at 7:06 AM on May 1, 2012

5) One of the common ways I've seen DIY stages done is with threaded pipe flanges screwed to each corner of the stage sections, buy pre-cut sections of threaded pipe at your local big-box home improvement store.

Can you go into a bit more detail? I'm having a hard time visualizing.
posted by unSane at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2012

Right, OK, here's what I thought of.

Consider using full 4'x8' sections of 3/4" plywood - larger heavier pieces but fewer parts & cutting & screwing.

2"x4"s (4" up) as bracing/framing around the edges & 2 or 3 as some cross-bracing screwed to the plywood & the 2"x4" "frames". I don't think 2"x6" are really necessary.

Threaded pipe flange on the corners (at least 1" to 2" diameter), 2 halfway down each 8" side if you use the full 4'x8'.

Pre-cut threaded pipe, 2' lengths give you enough room to get under the stage, into each flange.

End result is something like this. (Note that this is just the quickest image I googled.)

Ratchet straps (a.k.a. ratchet tie-downs, truck tie-downs) around the pipe "legs" of adjoining sections to connect them together. Get the kind that actually ratchets, not the kind that rely on some kind of friction between the strap and some kind of toothed clamp.

Cut a whole bunch of pieces of 1' square sections of plywood (milk crate size, not that I'm suggesting that professional staging companies will use illegitimately obtained milk crates to transport & store supplies, oh my no . . . . ) of varying thicknesses. Use these under the pipes to prevent them sinking into the grass and to level each section of the stage.

IANAStructuralEngineer blahblahblah, No Responsibility for Injury or Death Resulting from Taking Advice from Random Strangers on the Internet etc etc etc blahblahblah Disclaimer.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:09 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"2 pipe flanges halfway down each 8 FOOT side if using the full 4'x8' sheet."

Insert Stonehenge joke here.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:11 AM on May 1, 2012

Portable stages are a pain in the ass any way you slice it. The only thing I would suggest is using coffin locks for joing your platforms. I have no suggestions for leveling on uneven ground.

Good luck
posted by Uncle at 11:56 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coffin locks are actually how the Bil-Jax decks lock together. Not my favorite.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:31 PM on May 1, 2012

Geez, that looks rude. Sorry, Uncle, didn't mean to sound so dismissive.

What I mean to say is that coffin locks are totally legit - obviously one of the big stage manufacturers has decided that that's the best way to go.

However, I personally really really really dislike the Bil-Jax system, and the coffin locks are one of the reasons. Everything's gotta be perfectly lined up, and the locks break, or the hex socket strips out, or the whole mechanism gets corroded & stuck, so on & so forth. Also unSane might find it's more trouble than it's worth to install them in a DIY wood stage.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2012

Thanks all -- I measured it out and 16x12 seems like it would work fine.

I'm a bit worried about making 4x8 panels as I know damn well I will end up wrangling them on my own, and even 4x8 sheets of 3/4 ply are a handful solo. 16x12 would be 4x3 = 12 4x4 panels, which would stack to about a 4x4x4 cube when not in use and will fit easily in the back of my pickup, with room left over.

I think the 2x4 skirt will work fine.

Deck blocks are a great idea, not least because I can (relatively) easily level them on the grass, without the stage on top. There's actually a place I could set up a semi-permanent foundation and then I could do it once and forget about it.

Still thinking about connectors.
posted by unSane at 5:57 PM on May 1, 2012

OP here again. I built the stage, pretty much according to the first answer. Works great.

I haven't put the cleats on yet but I will -- I think they're essential.

I built 6 of the 4x8 components. You can see it set up in my rehearsal space here:

It's pretty tight for a 5-piece band. I think 2 more sections would be helpful.

The final thing will go on deckblocks, or maybe just cinderblocks, which I seem to have a surplus of.

The individual sections are actually pretty easy to handle, so long as you can get your fingers under them (which is why the cleats are a good idea)

I used a nail gun to fix everything together. I don't think it's going anywhere!
posted by unSane at 4:21 PM on June 24, 2012

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