I have enjoyed and used information I got from the puppetry web pages.
At one point you mentioned using sheets of neoprene for liners in puppet mouths to make the hand/mouth connection work better. One source of free sheet neoprene is used press blankets. Offset presses such as print newspapers and are used in many "job shops" use a canvas backed, rubber "blanket" to transfer the image from the plate to the paper. The image is "offset" from the plate to the blanket and then "offset" again onto the paper. This is why it is called an "offset press". Anyway, these blankets wear out. A shop should have a number of them laying around. They run about 1/8th inch thick, are very rugged, rubber on one side and canvas backing on the other side. They are often free for the asking. Sizes vary from 12x14 to 4 feet square.
Also, if you check around, you can find a product used specifically to blacken brass, much like the gun blue products used to darken and preserve gun metal. If brass brazing rods are used for hand rods, they could be rendered flat black with a bottle of this product. Also available is flat black heat shrink tubing which can be slipped over the brass rod and then shrank into place. Sorry I do not have a bottle handy to get a brand name from, I will look around the machine shop.
Feel free to use my note on press blankets if you think it will be generally useful.
They are often available in different thicknesses. Those used on large web presses are often thiner, in addition to being much wider and longer, than the thicker ones used on small job presses.
Department of Chemistry
University of Hawaii at Manoa