Leatherface Costume Part 1: The Chainsaw

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There are two ways to make a convincing chainsaw prop.  Each has pluses and minuses.  If you want to be truly authentic, you need a real Poulan 245a chainsaw.  With the chain removed, a real chainsaw is relatively safe and it has the added bonus of actually being able to be started and revved up with clouds of toxic smoke and the smell of oil and gas.  The trouble with this method is the venting of aforementioned toxins as well as the carrying and storage of such a messy and heavy prop.  Still, if it’s authenticity you want, that’s the only way to get there.  There are several companies that offer foam covers for the chain bar (the metal part on the front that holds the chain) that even have fake teeth.  These are made for the commercial haunt industry, so don’t expect them to be cheap, but they are available.

The second, less authentic method is the way I’m going.  I bought a commercially available, Halloween chainsaw prop and modded it into a reasonable facsimile of the real deal.  You’ve probably seen the Gemmy chainsaw.  It looks pretty cheesy right out of the box but it’s fairly easy to convert one from a toy into a formidable prop.  This is what mine looked like originally:

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I don’t know what the original sculptor was thinking as this thing has elements from several different real world chainsaws, all mashed up into one.  The best news is that it’s as big as a real saw, it has a reasonably loud sound card, and the rubber “chain” really turns.  Don’t get too excited about that last bit, though.  It turns VERY slowly.  Still, it’s better than nothing.  Here’s a video demo from the place where I bought mine:

Just check out that paint job up close!  Yikes!  I especially like the strange swipes of silver paint.  Was that supposed to be weathering?

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Yeah, the Chinese factory workers aren’t the best painters, but we’ll fix all of that.  First, let’s take a look at the real chainsaw used in the movie: the Poulan 245a.

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You’ll see some folks claim other models were used, but it was clearly the 245a.  Some believe it was the Sears version, mainly because that version was painted yellow instead of the sickly green most Poulans go out with.  I’m not so sure the saw in the movie was yellow, though.  The original film has color issues and in most shots the saw looks green to me.

Poulan green isn’t an easy color to match.  The closest I found is a Testors model paint called Sublime Green, #2767.  It’s a brush-on paint, so I decided to do this entire project without using any spray paint.  The brush texture won’t be an issue since I’m going to do so much weathering.  I sanded the entire surface to minimize the big blood glops before starting with the base colors.  I taped off the area and painted three coats of green base to get this:

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I then taped off the top area and painted it with flat black Testors, #1149.  Two coats of black later, I had this:

DSC02160smYou can see the remnants of one of the nasty decals that this toy came plastered with.  I just don’t understand why a manufacturer would use such hard to remove stickers, but that’s a rant for another day.

The base coat for the chain bar was a little more complicated.  I left the sanded plastic as a base and then used Mr. Metal Color stainless.  This is an unusual, metalizing paint for models that I used for my Vader helmet.  It’s hard to get in some parts of the country (including California where I live), but Ebay is your friend.  The paint dries VERY rapidly so you need to really get a lot in your brush before laying it on.  Once on, it dries a flat grey like this:

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Once it’s thoroughly dried, I used a cotton cloth to buff it into a metallic shine like this:

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Different bases will render different results.  If you want it to be super shiny like real stainless steel, base coat the bar with gloss black before painting on the Mr Metal Color coating.  I wanted it to be a little bit duller than that since this is supposed to be a well-worn chainsaw.  An airbrush will render smoother results, but i like the worn look for this prop.

Now comes the fun part – the weathering.  The cowling on a real Poulan chainsaw is metal, so when paint is worn away, you see the metal surface underneath.  It’s easy enough to emulate that look by painting the metal color on top of the base paint.  This first layer of weathering was done with Steel Testors #1180.  The trick is to hit the edges where the most wear would occur.  When in doubt, check out pics of a real chainsaw for reference.  Don’t worry if you get overzealous with it.  You can always paint over the excess with the base coat color again later.  I also added some of the steel colored paint to the fake cylinder fins.

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At this point I decided to go ahead and glue on a couple of nuts with threaded inserts where the chain bar bolts would be on a real chainsaw.  The toy sculpt had screws molded in but I think these look much better.  I just glued them on top of the sculpted screws with a little dab of silicone.

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The second layer of weathering involves an abrasion of the surface.  I used a razor blade and swiped it across the painted surfaces at various angles, putting more marks on edges where the saw would be more likely to get scratched.  This treatment is also done to both sides of the chain bar.

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Once the scratches were done, I watered down some black Delta Ceramcoat craft paint for the next step.  There is no real formula for the proportions–I just added some paint to a little cup of water.  Once it was mixed up, I brushed it on and dabbed off the excess to make all those scratches stand out.

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For the last step, I used more of that Ceramcoat black and some Plaid Gunmetal craft paint.  I just squirted some of each onto a piece of scrap cardboard and dabbed at the paint with a wadded up paper towel.  I then used the paper towel like a brush and dabbed the paint onto the saw.  After dabbing, I quickly wiped off any excess with a clean paper towel.

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The idea is to get paint in the nooks and crannies along with a little bit in the open areas to look like grease that has accumulated over years of use.  When I was done, it looked like this:

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Once the paint was done, I still felt like there was more that could be done to add to the realism of the prop.  If you look at a real chainsaw, you’ll invariably see a spark plug wire and a muffler housing, so why not add those here?  The molded cylinder fins look pretty bad and the muffler shell would cover much of that area.  I found an old muffler cover from a Poulan chainsaw so I bought it and screwed it directly to the body with a wood screw.  I then weathered it with a steak knife to get this:

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For the spark plug wire, I had an old one from a car.  I cut it short and used silicone sealant to glue one of those wooden pegs from Ikea furniture into the opening.  I then drilled a hole in the saw housing and just pushed the peg into place.  It was easy enough to slide the wire in behind the muffler cover like this:

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Finally, I hated the square on top of the gas tank.  Yes, the old McCulloch 700 chainsaw (used in TCM the Next Generation) had this, but the Poulan didn’t and that’s what I’d like this prop to look like.  So I bought an old gas cap and drilled a hole to mount it on top of my prop.

For the final step, I added an electrical tape stripe over the circle where the Pouland logo should be (in TCM the logo was covered this way) and I also taped up the metal handle.

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That’s pretty much it.  Here are a couple of before and after shots:

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I think it’s a huge improvement.  It actually makes this toy into a scary-looking prop.  If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Happy Hallowe’en!

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