April 12-18, 2002
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University sets stage for graduate student innovation
State cuts force hikes in tuition
Faculty Actions from the April BOV meeting
African-American women at increased risk for stroke
Commerce school cultivates innovation and creativity in wine industry

Reactions to Sept. 11 featured in annual ‘Muzzle’ Awards

Baseball field named in honor of the late Ted Davenport
Graduate students are lifeblood of research enterprise
Theater students ‘saw’ a solution for set construction
Lectures engage the mind
Design choices can affect the world environment
Students get one-stop financial services at new Cavalier Central
Feeding hungry ghosts
Whale of a sculpture on display at Fayerweather
After Hours -- Lori Derr
WFPA to honor Bunker, Toms and Black

Theater students ‘saw’ a solution for set construction

By Jane Ford

Scenery makes up an integral part of theater. To build sets, students spend many hours behind the scenes learning carpentry, the basic principles of
construction and how to use tools properly.

Safety issues are a major concern in any scenery construction shop, but especially when unskilled undergraduates are using hand-held saws.

For Nate Otto and Tom Hackman, theater technology majors in the drama department’s unique M.F.A. program, invention and ingenuity were at the heart of a research partnership to improve safety and quality of life for drama students at U.Va.

Graduate Student Research

The two called on their experience in the construction industry and building sets to develop the Huskey Saw, a frame-mounted tool that takes hand-held circular saws out of the hands of unskilled students.

“Circular saws are not easy for students to use or safe even in the hands of professional carpenters,” said Otto.

“The hand-held circular saw often bucks and kicks as it rips through plywood,” Hackman said.

They had an idea about what they wanted the saw to do, but could not find anything on the market that had the safety and adaptable features they envisioned. So they built their own.

The uniqueness of their design is in a pivoting cutting arm. They mounted a panel saw on a frame they made from steel tubing with a guide rail to hold the saw and incorporated guides for materials and the pivoting arm. For the brake, they chose bike brakes that they altered to fit the curve of the guide rail. They also added a digital level they found on the Web and a foot switch to activate the saw.

The structure stands 10 feet tall and 12 feet long, allowing the user to cut a variety of materials available in large sheets, like plywood, a staple in set design.
In addition to safety, they designed their invention to be able to make a variety of straight cuts ranging from 30-degree to 90-degree angles. Conventional panel saws are designed to cut large sheets of plywood, but only at a 90-degree angle. “There is nothing like it on the market,” said Otto.

The Huskey Saw was well-received at the national convention of the United States Institute for Theater Technology in 2001, where Otto and Hackman were winners of a Tech Expo Award.

Professionals there said, “as soon as you start selling them, give me a call,” Otto said.

In industry, the project would have been a couple of years in research and development, said Hackman. They did it in less than a year, designing it for almost four months and constructing it in 120 hours for a cost of $2,000. The drama department provided some funding, but both Hackman and Otto credit the generous support from the Dean of Students’ office with making their vision become a reality. They worked with then-assistant dean in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Robert Huskey, and began to affectionately call it the Huskey Saw. The name stuck and they have incorporated a plaque with the name in the design.

With no other angle-cutting panel saw like it available, Hackman and Otto have begun to investigate patenting the design, to which the U.Va. Patent Foundation holds the rights. They feel it will have applications beyond the educational, community and professional theater scene shop.


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