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How to make pretend prison bars

Updated February 21, 2017

Whether you are preparing for a spooky Halloween party or setting the stage for a play, building pretend jail bars is a straightforward process as long as you're not attempting advanced special effects. With a few pieces of wood, paper mache and paint, you can create fake prison bars or even an entire fake cell. The colours and materials you use may vary, but essentially the process requires something to represent your top and bottom frame and something to represent the bars. Cardboard tubes are one possibility.

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  1. Visit your local hardware store. Select your materials. If you are creating a life-size set of bars and want something a bit more sturdy and weighted than cardboard tubes, choose PVC pipe. Otherwise, purchase several cardboard tubes, about 6 mm (1/4 inch) in diameter, that will serve as your bars.

  2. Cut wood to the desired size. Your project plans will call for varying dimensions and designs, but you'll at least need a pair of bases to serve as the top and bottom of your cell. The simplest bases should be square in shape, with equal sides of 90 cm to 1.5 m (3 to 5 feet) depending on your area. If you incorporate walls, cut them to be as wide as your base, and as long as your bars. If you intend to use free-standing bars, such as PVC pipe, in place of walls, skip to step 4.

  3. Lay your wall boards flat on the ground and mark the position of the bar columns on the board, generally about 125 mm (5 inches) apart. You want the space between bars big enough for your foot to fit between but not big enough for a person to fit through.

  4. Cut the holes in the top and bottom board. They should be just large enough in circumference for your bars to fit through, flush. Use a drill attachment that produces a smooth circle cut. Your local hardware store may do this for you by request. Once you have cut the holes, remove the pieces and sand the edges of the holes lightly to smooth away any splinters and rough edges.

  5. Cut the pipes to the size you want them. You can adjust the proportions as needed, but a good target height for full-sized bars is 2.15 m (7 feet). Most people will be able to fit comfortably inside this sized cell.

  6. Insert the pipe into the hole and connect it to the other board hole. Use the glue gun to glue the pieces in place. Allow the glue to dry, then wrap the wire around the bars to create a textured base for your paper mache layer.

  7. Brush the paper mache paste onto a strip of newspaper and slowly apply it to the bars of the structure. Wait until the paper mache has completely dried before continuing.

  8. Spray paint the bars to a metallic finish. Use a craft knife to add scratch, wear, or other desired effects to bars.

  9. Tip

    To make your paper mache, mix in 4 to 1 ratio, flour and water or glue and water until you have created a smooth milky paste.

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Things You'll Need

  • Boards
  • Hot glue gun
  • Saw
  • Drill and boring drill bits
  • Wire
  • Paper mache paste (PVA glue and water mix or all purpose flour water mix)
  • Newspaper strips
  • Paintbrush
  • Scissors

About the Author

Shannon Johnson has been a freelance writer since 2008, specializing in health and organic and green-living topics. She practiced law for five years before moving on to work in higher education. She writes about what she lives on a daily basis.

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