Open Forum

New Stage Floor

  • 1.  New Stage Floor

    Posted 09-10-2015 12:25

    We are looking at a new floor, or floor covering, for our stage.  It is currently hardwood and gets messed up pretty badly with shows over time.  The admin isn't quite ready to replace it with a floor that we can paint black yet.  Do you have suggestions for a stage floor that floats or a cover that works well for you?  Thanks for any suggestions!

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    Georgann Lanich
    Tallulah Falls GA
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  • 2.  RE: New Stage Floor

    Posted 09-10-2015 15:08

    The best and most widely used method is to cover your existing hardwood floor with a layer hardboard (aka brand name Masonite).  Are you able to screw down into the existing floor?  If so, then hardboard is the way to go - I can provide more specific details if you would like.

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    Damon Gelb
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  • 3.  RE: New Stage Floor

    Posted 09-11-2015 12:41

    A high density tempered pressboard floor material is common.  Frequently, but erroneously, referred to as 'meso' or 'masonite' this material comes in many different grades.  Masonite Corporation no longer manufactures this category of product, but the brand name lives on like 'Kleenex' for tissue paper.  Common tempered pressboard you can buy at the big box lumber supply houses is typically a very poor solution for stage floors.  When it gets wet it swells-up and flakes apart, and the continued impacts it receives from heavy rolling stock and dropped platforms will also cause to to disintegrate.

    What you need is a type of pressboard that is high density and durable, this is ANSI Class 1 or 2 material (generic flaky pressboard is typically ANSI Class 5 known as 'Industrialite').  Sierra Pine brand 'Medite FR' in a 1/4" thickness is a good product for this application.  There are synthetic (plastic) stage flooring products also available, but the flame and smoke spread characteristics of the material are probably inappropriate for use in an assembly space as they would produce toxic black smoke if they burn.  There is a rather expensive material that laminates tempered pressboard to a plywood backing that is called 'Plyron', and this solution is not recommended as you are spending lots of money to replace a section when the surface gets damaged when it is only the tempered pressboard surface that needs replaced.  A good quality ANSI Class 1 or 2 decking layer can last 10-30 years, whereas as generic pressboard (ANSI Class 4 or worse) can sometimes last less than a year.

    Historically, the tempered pressboard top layer of a stage has been secured to the underlayment layers with #12 philips flat head wood screws, but this is VERY labor intensive as each screw hole has to be pre-drilled and countersunk so the screw heads are flush with the surface and don't create a trip / snag hazard.  The screws are typically installed at 16" o.c., but some floors are attached at 12" o.c..  The screw heads then become a bit of a problem as they get filled-in with paint over time and getting a screwdriver bit to re-engage them to remove them can be problematic.  Occasionally the material is secured with staples, but this only works with the low-density ANSI Class 0 material - the ANSI Class 3 & 4 materials are too dense to use staples successfully.

    A modern alternative to screwing the deck down is to use 3M brand VHB 'hurricane tape'.  This is a very thin double-sided tape that is VERY strong.  Strips of it are applied to the underside of the tempered hardboard and it is then laid on the floor.  If you ever need to remove a section you just slip a piece of piano wire under it and cut it free.  This only works if you have a smooth sealed underlayment layer to attach it to.  If you have a banged-up hardwood or pine floor it will typically need to be sanded and sealed prior to installing the sacrificial decking layer.

    Once the decking is laid and secured, the finish coating can be done several ways.  The cheap but short-term solution is to use a paint like Rosco brand Toughprime.  For a long-term finish a two-part application of Madison Chemical brand GemThane MG201 Sealer / Primer and a finish coat of AquaTech STC.  This is a nice low-gloss black surface specifically developed for theatre stages.

    So much for the hardware recommendations - let's talk about the big picture of what a stage floor is all about.  Many stage floors (black box theatres included) are either concrete or hardwood laid directly on top of concrete.  This is an inappropriate arrangement for the performing arts.  The activity that occurs on the stage is active and involves movement that is every bit as strenuous to the human body as basketball or volleyball.  The floor needs to have a sprung suspension similar (but not identical) to a basketball court floor.  Note that I am NOT talking about the finish of the floor - I'm talking about the dynamic movement of the floor as it relates to performer's actions.

    If the floor is already sprung, then the issue of just adding a sacrificial top skin is fairly easily resolved, however, if the floor is not sprung, then it would be irresponsible to cover-up 'wrong' with a fresh layer of 'wrong'.  Injuries to performers due to working on hard (unsprung) floors is a well-documented issue, and to ignore this fact could expose the school to future litigation should injuries occur.

    The necessity of springing the floor is not too dissimilar from the justification for providing sprung floor in gymnasiums (albeit, the spring characteristics are NOT the same for sports and dancing / acting).  The injuries to joints and bones are commonly discussed throughout the industry, however, dancers will tell you that the constant pounding of your jaws during repeated vertical motion can clatter your teeth together and chip or wear the enamel veneer off of them - a sprung floor can provide a significant reduction of pain and damage in this area.

    For some unknown reason, Architects love to specify tongue-and-groove wood floors for stages.  The argument against hardwood or pine floors is that they are prone to developing grooves from heavy point-loads being rolled / dragged across them.  These grooves can develop broken wood edges that can introduce very long splinters into dancer’s feet and other body parts that might slide across the floor (Yikes!  That hurts just writing that sentence!).  A hardwood floor requires much more vigilance (maintenance) to keep them safe from splintering.

    For a good overview of stage floor construction and why it isn't as easy as it sounds, take a look at: http://theatreface.ning.com/profiles/blogs/floor-planning-whos-cutting

    If you are considering actually replacing your stage floor, know that there are many more details than have been discussed here that must be addressed. Your school district should understand that this is not a gymnasium floor and the knowledge base need to properly specify a replacement for it is not likely to come from an Architect unless they have a consultant that is familiar with the intricacies of performing arts facilities.  Involve someone that understands your needs in the process.

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    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems
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  • 4.  RE: New Stage Floor

    Posted 09-12-2015 22:42

    Hi Georgann!

    On a personal note, I grew up not far from TF (Rabun Gap) and my dad built the TF Railroad Museum up on 441 near Dillard, so HI HOMEY!!!.

    I want to echo Erich's excellent advice and actually add to it.  I have been a TD for over 30 years and have worked on many many professional stages.  In my opinion, the best stage floors are sprung (as Erich described) with a final top layer of the Masonite hardboard (I think it is actually "Duron" now, but I still call it Duron).  Orient the Maso with a seam on the center line and a seam on the plaster line.  This will make locating your scenery, lighting, and blocking super easy.

    For securing the Maso, use square drive screws (called Robertson screws in Canada).  When the paint builds up in a square drive screw head, use a trick I learned from a Canuck.  Simply place the tip of another screw in the head of the screw and use a cordless drill to spin the screw to the right.  This creates an auger to pull the dried paint out of the square drive head, and then the bit slides right in and gets full purchase.  Super fast and easy :-).

    When installing a Maso floor, you MUST bring the sheets into the room about a week before installation and spread them out.  They must have a chance to equalize to the humidity of the room before they are installed - they WILL swell.  Painting them will also cause swelling, so I either prepaint them before installation or leave about 1/8" gap between them on the initial install.  I also recommend only putting one screw in each corner until the floor settles in.  It WILL swell and warp if too many screws are used on the initial install and then you will be chasing warps with screws forever.  I personally use 15 screws per sheet on the final install  - 2" in from each edge, 3 on each short side, 5 on each long side (counting the corners twice there) and a run of 5 up the middle.

    Oh - and use the 1/8" Maso, NOT the 1/16" thickness!

    On a final note, MANY consultants are pushing the Plyron really hard these days.  It is a great product for touring sets and stages, because as Erich said, it is basically a piece of plywood with a Maso veneer.  I personally hate it for a venue because a) theatre floors WILL get damaged and that stuff is about $100 per sheet, b) being 3/4" to 1" deep, a small gap between Plyron sheets is an issue while a small gap between Maso sheets is not, and c) I have found it difficult to keep the sheets flush with each other.  When Maso is applied over plywood, the joints are never aligned from the lower layer to the top layer, so the Maso sheets are always flush, but unless Plyron is installed over a plywood subfloor, alignment is difficult.

    Hope this helps :-).

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    Tracy Nunnally
    Owner/President
    DeKalb IL
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  • 5.  RE: New Stage Floor

    Posted 09-13-2015 09:35

    I hesitate to reply to this thread, since I don't have any expert degree or knowledge, but I can say that what we did worked for us. We had a brand new stage floor - nicely polished (of course!). I was not allowed to paint the floor black, so we put down 4x8 sheets of 1/8 inch masonite. I didn't want to screw into the floor, so we ended up with a 'floating' floor. I used 3 inch black gaffers tape, and taped all the seams. I also taped the edges. I totally expected this to become a problem in a matter of months, but it worked for us for about 3 or 4 years. Because we didn't screw into the floor any expansion or contraction was not a problem. I had worked in a space before where they would screw a new masonite floor down every couple of years, so I would have gone that route - but I am glad I didn't. I was very careful about getting any water on the floor, and of course - we had a roof leak at one point, but I was surprised at how well that held up for us. Fortunately, I was later able to get permission to paint the floor and we only used the floating floor for a few years. (as Tracy said - the lines actually helped a lot with scenery location (and for blocking/dancing).

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    Mark Zortman
    PA Chapter Director
    York PA
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