Customizing with Styrene

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Customizing with styrene plastic by pluv



Working with Styrene can be a chore. That's the truth. There will be tons of measuring, and re-measuring, and re-re-measuring. Then there will be cutting, sanding, and filling in cracks. Then, very likely, some more cutting, sanding, and filling in cracks. When you're done though, you'll have a scratch built item that actually feels like a toy. I don't care who you are, that is something to be proud of.

What is Styrene

We can't talk about what you can do with styrene unless you know what it is and what your options are. Styrene is a type of plastic used in building models. It is technically polystyrene, but everybody refers to it as styrene. Companies like Palstruct and Evergreen sell them in just about every shape and size imaginable. They have everything from flat sheets in white, black, and clear, to tubes of different diameters and even square, to brick wall patterns, to simple structures like stairs and ladders. Mostly these items are geared towards the model railroad enthusiasts, but some of it works nicely with Joe scaled figures too.

Examples of styrene sheets and tubes


What tools you use really depends on what you plan on doing with the styrene and how thick it is.


Since measuring is such a huge part of scratch building it is nice to have these items on hand. In fact measuring is so important it comes before all of the other tools.

  • Ruler, duh, but one specifically that will give you a nice cutting edge would be perfect.
  • Protractor, will let you measure the angles of your cuts.
  • Measuring tape, because sometimes a ruler can't fit where you are measuring.
  • A pencil to draw lines and mark off measurements


  • An X-acto knife or other hobby blade will help you cut the shape that you want. No matter what I'm doing I usually start with an x-acto blade for scoring the lines.
  • An X-acto saw blade or micro-saw will leave a very clean line that requires little sanding. It also help with thin styrene in some really tight areas.
  • A pair of scissors are great for larger straight lines with thinner sheets of styrene.
  • Rotary tools can't be beat for the thicker sheets when it comes to cutting. Plus they can be used for drilling holes, scoring lines, and some detailing.


You will always need to sand the styrene after cutting. However, you can also use sandpaper to give a flat sheet of styrene the look of wood grain.

  • Sand Paper
    • Coarse to medium grit sandpaper from 80- 100 grit
    • Fine grit sandpaper from 100 grit on up.
  • Files or sanding sticks for getting into places where sandpaper is impractical.
  • Multi-sided nail buffers are great because they not only have sanding sides, but smoothing sides made for getting a plastic like shine.
  • Rotary tools can also be very helpful for sanding areas down.


Regular modeling glue or super glue will work fine for holding styrene together. Anything that bonds with plastic will work.

There may be occasions where due to the stress on certain areas you may want to consider reinforcing the joints. For those times you can add a piece of styrene behind it, again using glue or you can use a soldering iron and melt the pieces together.

Reinforce stress points with styrene.


I know this ones seems odd for customizing but the heat from a candle will let you bend the styrene into shapes that simply can not be achieved otherwise. I've been able to use a hair dryer and steam too, but the candle has worked better at giving off a more controlled, focused source of heat. If you need the styrene to bend or have a curve to it there is no other way. Just be careful not to burn or melt it.

Things you can make with styrene

Hinges and Masts

Because of the endless supply of rods and tubes styrene comes in you can make custom hinges for any project. For an extending mast you can place a smaller tube inside a larger tube.

Styrene tubes used for the extending camera mast


Martial arts weapons like swords and nunchucks are the easiest to make out of styrene. Flat peices cut to the shape of the blade for swords and tubes cut to size and attached by string or chain work for nunchuks. However tubes can also be used for silencers or for barrels. daremo has some great tutorials on how to make custom ninja weapons.

Diorama pieces

I've built tables (flat pieces with styrene tube legs) and shelves (four sides, a back, and some shelves) out of styrene. Stairs and railings can also be made out of styrene.


With a flat piece of styrene and a dremel you can make chest armor for a figure. I used the candle to form fit the piece to the torso. Then drew the patterns on with a pencil and began engraving with the dremel.

Bravestarr engraved chest armor

Cut to shape they also make for nifty looking wings.

Steel Clan Gargoyle Wings

Vehicle armor is a bit more tedious because everything has to match up just right. If you get the exact measurements, cut it perfectly, use putty to fill any uneven spots, sand it down to be factory finished, and put it all together just right though, you will be amazed at what you have created.

Cutting armor...and my finger

The biggest tip here is to create templates by cutting out the shapes from paper first. This way if you make a mistake and it is easier to correct and cheaper since you aren't wasting styrene. You can even bend and fold it to figure out angles and curves. Just be sure to account for the thickness of the styrene when you start putting it all together.

Drawing out the paper templates
Using the templates on the sheet of styrene
The finished armor
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