Dishes made for breaking
December 30, 2012 9:22 PM   Subscribe

I am needing to buy a bunch of dishes at a thrift store this week that will be very breakable. I will be using them as props: my subjects will be throwing them at walls and floors, and I want them to shatter into pieces instead of bouncing. When I am standing in the dishes section of the thrift store, is there anything specific I should be looking for?

I will be avoiding brands like Corelle and Corningware. Is there anything else I should avoid?
posted by rhapsodie to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
avoid thick glass.

Try to find ones with dupes so you can test them out. Glass can be tougher than you'd think. I'd also see about the surfaces you're flinging them at - the wood floor of most stages might be a little too bouncy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:29 PM on December 30, 2012

Is breakaway glass in your budget? That's how the movies do it. Granted, this stuff isn't cheap, but if it's a shoot you can do in one or two takes, or a play with only a few performances, it might be worth paying for to get the effect you want.

If not, Ikea wine glasses shatter if you look at them wrong. As do these sorts of thin-walled juice glasses and tumblers.

For ceramics, I'm not really sure.
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Greek wedding supplier nearby that sells the traditional plates for breaking?
posted by cazoo at 9:39 PM on December 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

Some caveats I didn't think to add in the original question:

I am in Alaska and my only dish-buying options are: JC Penny, Target, WalMart, Fred Meyer, Kohl's, dollar stores and thrift stores. I also need these by Sunday, so ordering anything isn't feasible because shipping to Alaska takes forever and is costly.

They will mostly be thrown against hard ceramic tile surfaces, not wood or linoleum.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:44 PM on December 30, 2012

If I were you I'd start calling Greek Orthodox churches and asking who local folks use for wedding dishes.

Of the stores you mention, Walmart and the dollar store are probably your best bets. I'd also say Target, but the last set of wine glasses I had from there were so thick that I felt like an alcoholic kindergartener hefting those clunky things. Maybe they have some thin fragile glasses, though?
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 PM on December 30, 2012

The dollar stores usually have over-sized thin wine glasses.
posted by cda at 10:15 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you throw it on to something slightly cushioned? It will still smash, but you won't risk flying shard injury to cast, crew, or audience....because usually the stage's floor is at EYE level for the audience.
posted by taff at 10:16 PM on December 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oof, the inexpensive dishes tend to be thicker and/or less breakable. Fragile dishes are a luxury. Make a list of the brands available at your big-box stores and maybe skim through Amazon reviews to see if any of them get complaints about being too breakable?

I have a ceramic floor and I am a klutz. Dishes are actually fairly difficult to shatter. Break in half, sure, but you may have to scale back expectations of how dramatic the breakage can reasonably be.
posted by desuetude at 10:27 PM on December 30, 2012

If you have a chef friend, you could make your own breakaway glass out of sugar.

How to make sugar breakaway glass.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:41 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

The breakability depends on how highly the dishes have been fired. You want low-fired items, where the pottery is softer, rather than high-fired items in which the clay has become vitreous and thus stronger. Low-fired things usually seem lighter to me, relative to their size, and are usually thick rather than thin (but I'm not a potter so may be using the wrong terms, and this probably isn't a good descriptive guide.)
posted by anadem at 11:03 PM on December 30, 2012

Personally, I'd be much more worried about flying shards than breakability. You shouldn't be flinging normal glass about at all. If common sense doesn't tell you that then your insurance company will.

If you want your cast to throw dishes, your main criteria should not be how well they smash but how safely they smash, as defined by not creating lots of small pieces of debris.

As I understand it, the way to do this is to get reasonably durable ceramic and then score it with a tile cutter to create artificial points of weakness.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:08 AM on December 31, 2012 [12 favorites]

Yeah, I'd skip glass altogether. You could also make some plates out of plaster of paris which will break nicely without leaving any dangerous shards behind for the crew. Just sink one plate into a dish of flour or fine sand to get a mould, set another dish on top to get the right sort of indentation and wait for it to set. Rinse, repeat. Easy, cheap and safe.
posted by Jilder at 12:33 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding the tile cutter. I was going to suggest you pre-score or pre-tap your dishes to weaken them. You could also break them and then glue them back together with a weakened elmers and water solution. Try some different thicknesses of mix until you get the right strength to hold them together for the scene and still come apart easily.

Also, seconding that flying glass is a bad thing.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:28 AM on December 31, 2012

I would not do this. Sorry to be a bummer, but breakaway glass not only looks better, but it is also much safer.

(Based on a lot of prop department experience)
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:25 AM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Again chiming in with a warning. Some acquaintances filmed a scene once that involved breaking a beer bottle on a countertop (for a fight scene, you know the kind) and not only did the bottle not break at first, but it left severe dents in the countertop (a rental, of course) and when it finally did break, it gashed the actor's hand. Glass doesn't work in real life like it does in the movies because they're not really using glass in the movies.

Here's an instructable on how to make sugar glass - maybe you could make your own plates? (or at least fake that these are plates, if this is for a movie - one shot of the actor throwing a plate at something soft off-screen, followed by a shot of the sugar "plate" shattering on the wall)?
posted by Ms. Toad at 7:39 AM on December 31, 2012

For safety's sake (whether audience, actors or crew), I would not use regular dishes. For ceramics, use soft, unfired versions - they will break well but safely (like chalk). If you don't have a props store, a potter might be able to sell you unfired pieces.
posted by jb at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify: you referred to your "subjects." Are you using this for something other than theatrical use -- maybe some sort of research or other work on breaking things to let out aggression? (Giant leap, but I've seen it before.)

If you don't need to actually SEE the plates being broken, try doing it inside a pillowcase or under/on a sheet. Fling the (closed) pillowcase against a wall or use a hammer.

Re: good breakage, I would actually say that the cheap white dinner plates from Target/Wally World (mine are from Ikea) would be the best. I have personal experience with the efficacy of their breakage against that of a lookalike from Crate and Barrel ;) (Sorry, Mom!) The cheaper ones will go into a ton of smaller pieces and powder, while a heavier/better made piece will crack into like eight pieces with sharp edges.

So if you're at a thrift store, look for generic/less recognizable brands that might be from a discount store. Even the thinner better brands will most likely crack into fewer, larger pieces because they're made better.

If I were you, I would take advantage of these Christmas sales like crazy. You can get marked-down stuff for like a dollar.
posted by Madamina at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2012

I appreciate everyone's concern for safety, but this is not for theatrical use and will not be for any sort of audience, but instead is for a photo shoot. There will only be two or three people present, and they will be the ones doing the breaking and wearing protective gear. The intent is to photograph the (non-glass) pieces breaking, and I want the shards. Lots of shards. All of the shards. Which is why I am seeking the most breakable dishes I can find in my limited circumstances.

I will be swinging by a thrift store today and will keep weight and thickness in mind, and if I have no luck there I will call my local Greek Orthodox church (I didn't even know we had one!) for recommendations, and then maybe see if any antique stores have piles of old chipped dishes.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2012

Check out nurserys and plant stores for glazed pots and trays.

My bet is that dishes that have survived their previous life and landed at the thrift store may be too sturdy for your purpose. But then it is the thrift store and you never know what you'll find.
posted by deanj at 8:38 AM on January 1, 2013

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