Rigging Primer






Hello Brothers and Sisters of the 205! I have created this guide in hopes that all in our local who want to pass the ETCP Theater and Arena Rigging exams have the resources necessary to pass with flying colors.  As someone who is a certified Theater Rigger, I have taken the exam and know what it takes to acquire the title. While individual study is necessary, the essential key to success is group study. Throughout the year, I will be holding study sessions for everyone who is interested in testing for the certification. These sessions will be mostly on the math aspects of the test, as most experienced riggers can already pass the general knowledge portions. Those with an interest in rigging but not the test should attend the Beginner Rigging Class, as everyone in the field deals with rigging on a daily basis. I encourage everyone to dig deep into the knowledge pool of rigging. The principles that we use in stage rigging apply to many other trades, and will serve you well in your career. Much of it comes straight from high steel ironwork and ship/crane rigging. In your studies, it is also important to brush up your knowledge of mathematical and general physics. Everything we do as riggers is directly related to the properties of gravity and geometry/trigonometry. A solid background in these subjects will be a big help. I wish everyone success in their journey, and I am always here to help! If you have any questions, please contact me here.


Unfortunately, the information that needs to be given in this section can not be pulled from a website. That used to be the case, but some of the authors listed below figured out that this information is valuable, and should be compensated for their time and effort in compiling it. While I know the books are pricey, they are the definitive texts in the field. Any serious rigger with intensions of moving on up in the entertainment world needs this information. You will have it for life. The texts here should be studied more than anything above. The respective books on Arena and Theater are mostly what the ETCP test is written from, and have the most official  information on the subject to date.  The math book by Delbert Hall is a fantastic addition to your arsenal. While Arena Rigging and Stage Rigging Handbook: 3rd Edition explain the math, Delbert teaches it in a way that doesn’t blow most humans minds. The book is totally optional, but will help immensely.  When the book was a website a few years ago, I used it to study and I would have been much worse off without it.

Stage Rigging Handbook: 3rd Edition -For Theater test takers

Harry Donovan’s Arena Rigging – For Arena test takers

Rigging Math Made Simple – All disciplines

Continue for links containing detailed manufacturer information on rigging materials.


Here are links to many of the major manufacturers that provide rigging hardware for the entertainment industry. The information you are looking for are the material data that specifies weight capacity, tolerances, and acceptable uses. Arena applicants should pay special attention to shackle, chain motor, and wire rope specifications, while Theater applicants need to pay special attention to hardware used in a counterweight system (i.e. batten clamps, tracks, hand line, 1⁄4” wire rope, trim chain, loft blocks, head blocks, and SCH40 1 1⁄2 pipe)

Types of Shackles:

This page shows what types of shackles you might encounter out in the field. Anchor shackles are what we most commonly use, you will likely never see chain shackles out in the entertainment world outside of special circumstances. If you do see a chain shackle, remember they are only to be used with one rigging attachment. A bridle hung from a chain shackle will place a side load on the straight vertical members causing an unsafe situation. Remember that an anchor shackle can only be used in a bridle if the bridle angle is more than 30 degrees. Anything less will be considered a side load on the shackle. For example, when we do low-low bridles at the Erwin center, we use a pear ring to make the apex of the bridle to prevent side loading of the hardware.

Master/Pear rings:

Make sure you scroll all the way on this page. It covers a variety of hardware from different manufacturers you will see in the field. As described above, this is the hardware you need to use for any bridle over 30 degrees or when there are more than 2 rigging attachments in the shackles bell. While it is not recommended you do so, sometimes the only way to get a point where you need it is through the utilization of this hardware. As long as you are using a Master/Pear ring that is rated at least 5:1 the tension you are placing on the bridle, all is well.

Wire Rope/Eye Bolts/Chain/Hooks/Turnbuckles/Swages/Clips/Thimbles/Snatch blocks:

Here is one of the greatest resources I have ever found on the subject of wire rope. Contained is not only strength ratings of many different types, but explanations of the reasoning behind structural design with wire rope as well as most everything it attaches to. Not only does it give the raw info, it lays out theory behind safe usage. All disciplines of rigging should study this well.

This page lists many of the common ropes used in counterweight and hemp systems today. Multiline II is the most common, you can see it in use at the Long Center. Stage Set X is also a variety you see in the McCullough Theater at UT. Other ropes listed on this page are much less commonly seen, but it is nice to know of their existence and material properties in case you are ever faced with a project that requires rope with a special application. These ropes come from manufacturer New England Ropes, which has been the standard in quality for entertainment industry rope needs. Most theaters you go into with a counterweight system will likely have New England Ropes, which is handy to know when ordering replacement line. When it comes down to your personal hauling line, generally any polybraid or polyester rope between 1⁄2” and 5/8” diameter with over 2000lbs tensile strength will get the job done. Your rope needs to pull through a pulley easily, and provide a good gripping surface without being hard on your hands. Do not purchase rope from a big box hardware store however temping it may be. The rope sold there is mass produced in China and does not come with an official tensile breaking strength or material data sheet. Make sure the rope you are buying is rated and batch tested. You can find rope for the same price as Home Depot through Rose Brand that is solid core polybraid and carries an official rating. Even cheaper if you buy a spool, which I highly recommend. (Custom colors!)

Track Hardware/Counterweight Hardware and Operation/Pipe Attachments:

H&H Specialties has a veritable gold mine of information on these subjects in their catalogs. Diagrams, rules of use, in depth explanation of track weight capacities and hanger spacing are all here. The PDF on Counterweight Rigging isn’t very exiting visually, but is a fantastic guide for the beginner, and a great refresh for the experienced. Spend some time here.


Check out this website to look up information on common steel material you will rig on in theaters and arenas. As a rigger, it is useful to know more than the average bear about building structure and the materials that comprise your theater/arena specifically. Always consult the building engineer in regards to the actual strength of the beams. Every building is different. In no way should the tensile strength of any material be used as a means of rating a system.

Fantastic article about chain grading and the reasoning behind chain grading. It even gives you the formula for calculating tensile strength of chain. As long as you know the size and grade, you can calculate the strength rating of any chain. Also provides links to spec sheets for every grade of chain. Note that anything under Grade 80 is not suitable for overhead lifting. Example of deck chain used in Arena rigging.

Chain Motors:

 Here you have the bread and butter of the entertainment rigging industry, the classic CM Lodestar motor series. Most road shows and rental houses will have a small army of these in varying lifting capacities. It is essential to know chain weights and motor weights to calculate your lifts. On the page, you can find the official maintenance manual for Lodestar series motors. Study this to get a really in-depth look at chain hoists, their parts, and troubleshooting. You will know much more than the average rigger. Most of the info you need to pay attention to for the tests purposes are the lifting capacities, electrical/control properties, and knowing that chain motors are rated 25% under their actual capacity to account for the small shock load produced by the initial inertia of lifting/lowering. Also note that Lodestars are rated in metric tons. Make sure to check out all the different models CM offers too. ProStars are popular for their light weight and silent operation, and are rated from 300-1000lbs, differing from the metric rated Lodestars. Make sure to note this difference when you look at the label on the butt of the motor housing.

Beam Clamps:

You will use beam clamps whenever beam clearance is too low to use traditional 5’ wire rope slings and still achieve trim height. Note that beam clamps of large capacities will not allow you to attach to steel too small to take the load it is rated for. In other words, if your rig is going into a building with 2” angle trussing (typical in small ballrooms and venues), you won’t be able to rig your show with your 1 ton beam clamps. Better hope your points are rated for less than a half ton!

#StagehandView: There Once Was a General Named Robert…who must have been seriously OCD

Notice the hashtag (#) in the title? I’ve been tweeting pictures of various “seldom seen” stagehand views. It’s at #StagehandView. Got cool backstage pics? Tweet them there. Just remember to respect everyone’s privacy and intellectual property. And, as always, don’t be a dick.

Enough personal promotion.

Robert's Rules of Order 10th Ed.Disclaimer: I’ll be referencing the 10th Edition of Robert’s Rules of Order for anything I write here about parliamentary procedure. That’s because I happen to own the 10th Edition of Robert’s Rules of Order. There’s an 11th edition that I chose not to go out and buy. My love for my local runs only so deep.

Second Disclaimer: You should never assume what I’m saying about Robert’s Rules is true. I won’t deliberately lie, but I’m no parliamentarian. I’m just a stagehand who bought a book. The little I know I picked up from high school student council. Since then I’ve just been looking stuff up because high school quickly got to be a very long time ago, and I forgot everything.

A Justification: For years now, I’ve been listening politely [no really, I have] to well intended unionists talk about the need to increase member participation. When they say this they mean more of us should go to meetings. And I agree with them that meetings are important. It’s just that I’ve also noticed a tiny bit of an implied critique in their righteous concerns. I get the sense they feel a union member who doesn’t come to meetings isn’t sufficiently committed to the cause. And you know what, maybe that’s true. But who cares? At this point, any level of commitment to the union cause – hell, even a benign mild interest will do – should be welcomed with uncritical gratitude. This is especially true for our local. We need the unorganized stagehands of Austin much more than they need us. But I digress.

A Conclusion: Even in the best case, local 205 meetings generally suck. When they’re not boring, they often turn nasty and mean. No wonder nobody comes.

Yeah, yeah, the president could do a much better job of actually running the meetings and making people stay on topic. But that’s only a small part of the equation. What often slows everything down is a much deeper and widespread ignorance of the rules we’re all supposed to follow make our little democracy work right. Most of the membership has no idea how to correctly make a motion, much less debate or vote on one. For a bunch of people who took oaths and continue to pay their money to be a part of this institution, we sure seem committed to hamstringing ourselves wherever we can.

TeachingI still hold out hope the next VP will rally our Education Committee and create a local 205 apprentice program. But the new Veep won’t take office until the end of February.  And even then, I’m not optimistic about the chances of a parliamentary procedure class being a top priority.

So I’m going to write about Robert’s Rules of Order here. Lucky you.

To quote Robert’s Principles Underlying Parliamentary Law,

“these rules are based on a regard for the rights

of the majority,

of the minority, especially a strong minority (greater than one third),

of individual members,

of absentees, and

of all these together.” (p XLVII)

Pay attention to the order of the above list. Look who’s on top: it’s the majority. See where individuals rank?

Here’s another way of thinking about why our predecessors chose to play by Robert’s Rules of Order:

“Parliamentary procedure enables the overall membership of an organization – expressing its general will through the assembly of its members – both to establish and empower an effective leadership as it wishes, and at the same time to retain exactly the degree of direct control over its affairs that it chooses to reserve to itself.” (p XLVII)

In other words, you’re part of a democracy. You exercise your power or you lose it. That’s just the way it works.

Ultimately, it is the majority taking part in the assembly who decide the general will, but only following upon the opportunity for a deliberative process of full and free discussion.” (p XLVII)

At least local 205 gets that last part right. We always have a “full and free discussion.”People Talking

Here’s why I’m boring you with this: All three quotes make it clear that the ultimate power always has and always will reside in a majority of the membership at a meeting. Officers and committees are nothing more than the deputies of the assembled membership.

And how do we delegate our power as a democratic assembly? Mostly, we make motions.

Now, I guess we all know what I’ll be yammering on about next Monday.

Feel free to comment on/question any of this. Just remember, don’t be a dick.

And Happy Holidays!