Donna Touch’s Aluminum Stave DIY Instructions!

Fans can be intimidating! They are expensive, delicate and require a whole additional skill set to maneuver them. I love watching an expert burlesquer flutter across the stage with them, but when I first got my hands on a pair I was shocked by the size and weight of them. I of course wanted a pretty pair and a lovely act to show them off with, but I couldn’t help thinking there has to be a better way to mount these.

Over the last two years, I’ve been prototyping and testing materials. Without changing the design of the well-known bamboo or acrylic staves, I tested  various types of paper boards, vinyl and thinner types of acrylic. I then discovered aluminum. It is light weight like paper, has the waver or slight flexibility of vinyl that moves with the feathers and is shatter/snap proof.

I currently have two sizes offered on my Etsy store and am prototyping additional designs. Since I am the designer, if there is a specific configuration you are looking for (for example, in the shape of swords) I can likely design and have it cut for you.

IMAG0061-150x150.jpgWhile a true improvement in design, my light-weight staves can add another level of intimidation to the process. This entry walks you through the steps of building your fan set on my staves. If you prefer to have someone build them for you, I do offer that service as well. I do encourage you to take on this project though. You’ll get a real feel for how the staves work, how much you can do with the feathers and the process may event spark your own new innovations!

Along with the staves, you get you get a bolt, two nuts, washers, metal wire to secure feathers and high tensile strength fishing line. Paint, wire cutting thin nose jewelry pliers and screwdriver are not included, but needed.

  1. IMAG0038-150x150.jpgPaint – The staves come in their naked metal and need to be painted before you attach your feathers. Use a Rust-Oleum spray paint or other spray paint that is made for metal. Simply lay them out and spray them down. Make sure they are completely dry and the paint is not tacky before flipping them over. Do this in a well-ventilated area that is not humid. If there is too much moisture in the air, paints tend to take longer to dry and may bubble. I recommend you pick a color that matched the color of your feathers. They will essentially disappear in a matching color.
  2. IMAG0050-150x150.jpgPlan – Lay out your feathers in piles of matching curves. Some will curve to the right or left and some will seem relatively straight. I love dense and fluffy fans. With my smaller staves, even two layer fans actually look thicker because the feathers are more condensed. I’ve been recommending 24 of the big wing feathers to do the top outermost level since they have that beautiful shape and flutter, but then filling in the lower layers with 48 of the drab feathers (any between 13-20”). This gives you a really full fan, with beautiful depth at a relatively lower price. It also allows you to play with positioning of colors.
  3. Position – I personally like the feathers to reach right down towards the base and like to position bottom tip of the wing feather at the second position from the tip of the stave. It is then secured at two points, but the end of it hangs off nicely. One of the drabs can be positioned in front of the wing feather to overlap it at its bottom tip and I like to put the other drab on the inside fan side. Once you have the layout you want, think about the positioning of the attachment wires. You can always secure two feathers with one piece and will want to hide them when possible.
  4. Attach – Cut the wire in approximately 2-3” pieces and bend them in half. Holding a feather in place on the stave, thread the wire ends through the holes, fold them over the vein of the feather and twist around to secure. You want to give it a good twist down by base and your thin tip pliers come in handy for doing this. You want to twist down by the base only 2-3 turns, so get the cross as close to the vein as possible to begin with. If you twist too many times, the wire can break. Cut the wire about ¼” from the base and with your pliers grab the cut edge and twist it to face down into the vein of the feather or to either side into the stave. This eliminates the sharp edge.
  5. IMAG0057-150x150.jpgStack – After your feathers are secured, layout the staves following the natural curve of the feathers. You can start either way and will feel whether you like the bolts facing in or out. Layer the screw, washer, stave, washer, stave, etc. ending with two bolts at the end. To make the staves open and close quicker (especially with your feathers close to the inside base), you will need a longer screw and want to double or triple the amount of washers in between each stave. This just allows for extra room for the staves to slide between each other. You want two nuts secured at the end of the screw. The first one will be the one that goes the tightest to hold you staves in the preferred position and the second helps to keep that first one in place when performing. Once you are happy with the positioning, put a dab of hot glue at the end of the screw so you don’t lose your nuts. ;)
  6. IMAG0056-150x150.jpgLace – Once you have your staves properly positioned, you with need to lace the fishing wire to hold them in this position once they are open without wobbling into each other. I prefer to have the wire threaded through the top level of holes because that is generally away from me and I avoid catching my pasties on it, but you can put it on any or more than one of the levels. Starting at one end, thread the wire through the one hole and tie it securely to the stave. You can look up how to do a uni-knot, but otherwise just tie a tight know and secure it with a dab of hot glue after you are done. (BE CAREFUL WITH THE WIRE! This is extremely sharp to skin and if run through your fingers too hard and fast it can cut you. If you’ve ever had a rope burn from a kit when you were younger, this stuff is dangerous just like that.) Go to each stave and thread through one of the wholes and secure a knot to the stave making sure that the thread is as taught as possible in between where you have the staves positioned.
  7. Viva_half-150x150.jpgPrep – Always pack a screwdriver with your fans and don’t be afraid to tighten these as much as you can, the metal doesn’t mind a bit. If you notice after a few dozen performances that your fans are not staying as tight as possible, you may want to replace the screw and nuts. They can get stripped if you are frequently tightening and loosening. I prefer mine to be really tight in place, but if you are opening and closing on stage you will obviously have yours looser.
  8. Viva_finished-150x150.jpgPerform – There are wonderful fan dance classes, workshops and videos out there to help you get ideas and practice building strength in your arms. While a setup on my staves is about a quarter of the weight of the acrylics, you’ll be most surprised by the weight of the wind against them! (I was shocked by the bicep bumps that appeared after working with my big fans! They sometimes feel like they are really being pulled through water because of the weight of the air!) You’ll want to have plenty of mirror time to feel how they work and see what you can do with them. It of course is you that make the fans amazing! Whip ‘em good!
  9. IMAG0294_1-300x122.jpgTools – (Added) Make sure to have mini screwdriver and wrench for tightening onsite. For fans that will remain open the entire performance, don't be afraid to tighten the bolts as hard as you can. Tighten the first nut down to
    secure the position and the second nut down to it to keep the first from loosening.

Of course, email me with any questions at I'm happy to help and advise!


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