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are dangerous. More importantly,
misuse of this information may result in harm or death. Sideshow
World and it's Staff WARN you against and are not responsible
for any harm or death that may be a result to you
or someone else by using the information contained in Slim's
Manuscripts or on Sideshow World.
You should not attempt any of these Acts
without the direct supervision and training from a
responsible and trained professional.
One of the
commonest sideshow devices is the “nail bed,” and is
relatively easy to build and perform. It will be very heavy if
made right and my own preference for several reasons is
“coffee table style” that is, on a low elevated base. This
makes it easier to get on and off of in my opinion and looks
more professional. An added benefit is it’s easy to add a
couple of small wheels at on end so as to make it into a hand
cart for moving.
The nails should
be set very firmly, and a typical bed is very heavy.
variations seem to be endless, these guidelines will make a
useful, practical board.
The base is so
simple it is not necessary to detail it. The legs need only to
be about four inches high, or whatever you think comfortable.
Two by fours, ideally with mitered joints will make it look
good and if you choose to add a couple of wheels, it will be
The base can be a
sheet of three quarter plywood, a standard cut of two feet by
four feet. Most any lumber source will have this cut or will
cut it for you. Three quarter inch might seem heavy but you
need it to provide a solid support for the nails. At the same
time, acquire a matching sized piece of one-quarter inch
masonite or other hardboard. This will back up the nails.
The nails: Here
there be variables. More or less the standard nail bed uses 6”
nails, but 8” spikes make a more dramatic appearance, and do
not make a difference with the performance. There are
aluminum, copper, stainless steel , and iron nails, all of
which can be used. Obviously the price varies and you will
need about 800 (or more) nails. The bigger spikes are also
called gutter nails. A little tip. The burrs on the nails can
tear your skin making for a little blood and a lot of chance
for infection. Take your nails to a place that tumbles and
polishes fabricated metals and let them do the work of
The “rules” for
making a bed of nails aren’t “writ in stone,” these are just
guidelines based on experience. Now to the meat.
Given a two by
four foot base. Allow a margin of two inches on each side,
giving a nail area twenty inches wide. You really don’t need
more then this and it saves weight and nails. It will also be
a bit safer if you want to support someone on your chest. Lots
of injuries occur with a spectator stepping on or off of your
lovely body. At the top of the board, again, two inches is
good. ,for symmetry.
At the bottom end
of the board, (bad pun?) it’s a good plan to cheat and leave
an area to sit while laying back on the board and getting back
up, to avoid looking awkward. Some padding can make your board
look like you mean business. Here again it’s necessary to make
With a forty-eight
inch board, minus two inches at the top, you now have
forty-six inches to use up. If you use a ten inch “sitz-pad,”
you have a thirty-eight length of board for nails. Very
respectable. (I know this is very wordy, but if I get
everything covered, you can fill in your own ideas with a
Hmmm, twenty by
thirty-eight inches to fill….
More or less the
optimum space between nails is one inch, (More about that in a
minute.) So a little arithmetic gives us 20x38 =760 nails.
Time to go to
work. Lay out every thing with care. If you are going to do
all this work anyway it might as well be as perfect as it can
be. Just a little mistake looks very conspicuous on stage.
Misplaced or crooked nails take away a lot of the effect, and
can even cause problems. When you lay out the board, measure
carefully, and center punch your holes. After the first forty
or so holes it gets tiresome and when errors creep in, sloppy
shows. Make every effort to drill the holes as perpendicular
to the board as you can. This is hard with a hand drill but
you can do it. If you have a drill guide made to force you to
make holes straight in, use it. One nail askew can look really
bad, several is worse. The other side of that coin is making a
rough looking, more menacing board.
Measure the exact
diameter of the nails and use this as your drill size. Bigger
or smaller won’t work, to have a stable board, you should need
to push the nails through the holes. When drilling. It’s a
good idea to drill into a back-up piece of scrap. Especially
with plywood, if you skip this the underside of your board
will be pretty ragged and make the under layer (masonite)
harder to join. Once the holes are all drilled, sand the board
and paint it, and spend enough time to seal the edges well.
Here’s where you
get creative. Elegant, carny looking, scruffy or other, the
look of the board needs to reflect your personality, or that
of your show. Once the board and other parts look satisfying
let it dry thoroughly.. Now start setting your nails. Just a
push or a tap will be enough if you did it right. Pay
attention to the height of the nails, depending on quality and
the vagaries of manufacture there may be some differences in
nail length. You want the “nail-point” surface as uniform as
When you get it
just right, bond the under board to it. Glue or screws will do
it, just make it firm.
The nail bed works
by supporting your weight over a lot of space. But there is a
little more to it. The back is one of those areas with fewer
nerve endings, so it is overall less sensitive to feeling.
Test this yourself by getting behind someone who cannot see
what you’re up to, and touch their back with one. two, or
three fingers. You will find that they cannot tell the
There is not a lot
you can do with the bed, other than the obvious, but here are
a few ideas...When you first show the board show it
vertically. A flat bed is not as dramatic unless you show “The
Menace of the Nails.” Let someone from the audience test the
nails for sharpness, and then throw an apple or an orange at
the Board, it will give you a satisfying “squnch.”
. (I have a way
with words). Lay on the board. Actually, how you get on the
board depends on your style. If you have a sitpad, it’s easy,
if you don’t you will approach it more gingerly, as only a
small part of the board is supporting your weight. Trust me,
you will learn quick. (At this writing. I know of at least 4
people, one age fourteen, who are using boards with four
nails, and planning on even fewer.. When you lay back, you may
have to wiggle a little to get a good position, where your
skin is not being pinched. When everything is right, the board
is actually comfortable and some, like me, enjoy it as a
Now for the
reasons for leaving an edge on the board. First, it allows you
to make a cover for the nails while you transport the board,
(You can use the cover for a glass-walking tray) and it will
allow you to readily have someone step up on your chest or
belly. Further , you can use your forearms to steady yourself.
Try it offstage before you do this to find where you can stand
the weight best.
Who ever you
choose should be barefooted and assisted to prevent
off-balance situations. This is the cause of many injuries.
If you have a
trusted assistant you can do the breaking of a cinder block or
patio blocks on your chest. A nine pound sledge-hammer is
about right for this, but make the point of impact as near the
center of the block as you can. The block spreads the blow,
and while you’ll know it’s happening, it isn’t at all hard to
do. When the block shatters it will throw shrapnel so take
care to protect your face. When done as you get up off the
board, you’ll probably feel the nails releasing from your
skin. Show your back, and take a bow.
An addition of a
sheet of metal between the nail heads and the lower sheet of
Masonite will allow you to add (and combine) The Human Dynamo
act… I’d use the board vertically to do the Dynamo act. Just
have the girl lean back on the nails and do the Dynamo, and
then drop the B o N to horizontal to do that half of the act..
Then laying on the bed will let you add "sparks" to the Bed of