Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turkey Leg

Ah, the turkey leg. What would Ye Olde Renaissance Faire be without one?  And, of course, what would the Ghost of Christmas Present be without one? So felt our director of "A Christmas Carol" this season.  The request was for a turkey leg, partially eaten, that could be removed from a dressed plate which is part of a bedazzling display of festive foods.  Our version of A Christmas Carol is in it's sixth year, so my involvement in the bedazzling display was limited to gluing on stray berries and shuttling stray glitter back to its intended home. However, the turkey leg was a new addition this year, and so the crafting fell to me.  Before I begin, I think it is fair to mention that our Carol is performed in a large proscenium house, and not in our usual, more intimate thrust space.  The aesthetic of the props in Carol is more theatrical than the work we usually do, true to life detail is often wasted in this space.

First things first, research images as usual. What surprised me the most about the photos of the turkey legs is what a bright pink center most of them have. I expected to see more of the whitish gray that you tend to see in breast meat, but these guys are bright pink.

 I started with the bone, which was simply a piece of hardwood dowel that ran through the entire "leg." I whittled down the end to give it a bone-like appearance, and sanded away any splinters or sharp bits. In my experience, actors have dainty, soft hands, and they will find ANY imperfection in a prop and injure themselves on it.

The flesh of the turkey leg is made from upholstery foam. I cut a vaguely- turkey leg shaped chunk of foam on our table top bandsaw, cut that in half, and cut a groove down the center of each half for the bone. Using 3M Fastbond Contact Adhesive (commonly called Green Glue), I joined the foam together with the bone inside, sandwich style.  Next, I used my trusty Olfa knife to carve the foam into the shape of a turkey leg.

Once the carving was complete, I covered the foam with acrylic caulk. Acrylic caulk is a very good props coating as it can be colored by mixing in acrylic paint, is paintable when cured, and becomes tough and flexible when dry. It can also be smoothed with water before it dries. I happened to have some caulk that was already colored with fuschia paint, so I used that. I would recommend using caulk that is already tinted, as it made it easier to do the final paint job.

Once the caulk was dry, I painted.  The golden brown look of the skin was achieved with layer after layer of Glossy Wood Tone, the king of Design Master spray paints (trumpet fanfare).  I used acrylic paint and gloss medium to try to simulate the tissues in the bite, and did some shadowing on the bone as well. If this turkey leg was for one of our more intimate spaces, I would have done more as far as texture, possibly using hot glue to help with the gristly look where the bone meets the flesh.

Once the turkey leg was all dry, it was basically like a nerf turkey leg with a tough coating, so the best part of this project was walking around the shop hitting things with it.  Here in Milwaukee, we play with our food!

3M Fastbond Adhesive 30NF, AKA Green Glue
This is a great contact cement for joining foam. Remember, paint it onto both surfaces and allow to dry before adhering.

Olfa Knives and Tools 
I love these tools. The Utility L-1 is my go to knife for most jobs.

Design Master Woodtones 
I have yet to meet a prop shop that doesn't depend on these paints for many uses. Glossy Wood Tone is basically magic in a can. On the downside, the spray pattern is usually pretty uneven. Like all spray paints, these should be used with proper ventilation and respiratory protection.


  1. Is there any way I could buy this prop from you? I need one for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and am running out of time.

    Sean Cowan
    Props Master
    Regent University

  2. I'm sorry to say that it is part of a yearly production, so it is still in use. When does your show open? The turkey leg is actually really easy to make, it shouldn't take much time.

  3. I am looking to make a turkey leg for a production where the leg is used to hit someone. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should coat the foam with so it is still a little soft? Or should I take a different approach altogether? Any help would be much appreciated!

    1. Actually, if you use soft upholstery foam and coat it with a thin layer of latex caulk, it should be nice and soft. Just make sure to secure the stick/bone so it doesn't poke through and stab someone.

  4. Thanks for this amazing tutorial! How long did it take to dry? I have been drying mine for 12 hours so far. I just touched one, and paint and caulk came off on my finger. Grr.

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