Cutting foam

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The Foam Whisperer

Or at least that is what I am starting to feel like these years.

I have been working creatively with commercial Styrofoam for almost four decades now. I shape it, cut it, texture it, or apply workable surfaces to it for things like friezes and statuary.



A look at a foam sculptor's arsenal(on a budget mind you):

Foam tool arsenal

What I have here is

  • an embosser, for surface heating and sealing
  • the carver, with four types of wire gouges
  • Xacto, of course for sharp edges
  • the cutter, which is a bit larger and longer than a Wonder Cutter wire, but this is button and ac driven, not a 'D' battery hog like a Wonder Cutter
  • Then two grades of wood burner, one hotter than the other with various tips for detailing.

Also included but not shown are my air purifier, small mask, and inexpensive sculpting tools which are essential for embossing details that you don't need to burn the surface for.

Marble Columns

Recently I have been getting ready to fashion some ruins for both my Medusa arcs and some Conan works, and was inspired by what I saw at one of the large pet shop chains, from their fish tank pieces.

Most columns you can buy, especially the cake decorating fare are a bit too thin, even if nicely detailed. Also, the hard styrene make up of them is crazy hard to add details, unless your Dremel has some micro attachments for that sort of thing. They are also hollow, which make cutting them for fallen pillars kind of useless. So I hit the tablet and scored a score or so images of ancient Doric pillars in varying levels of decay and ruin.

About a year or so ago, I snagged some very long, fairly dense Styrofoam rods with my Michael's gift card to be used as trees, since not only water and fire are hard to miniaturize, but wood as well in a given scale. Taking my wood burner with the bullet tip, metal ruler, and the air purifier on full blast, I set to the task at making Doric styled columns that I can cut to need and texture to taste.

Just wanted to share the progression from rod to diorama piece.

Shhhh, whispering in progress

Running the tip along the metal ruler flush with the rod.


Started with three and a piece of one rod started as a tree trunk. Just about all I could do given the fumes.


In this next image, I set the spacing of the columns according to an image someone took of Doric columns


The fallen column

Things to consider before placing it on the diorama foundation:

A) Why did the column fall? When a column and pillar falls, it was usually because of a great force or energy at the base. These things were carved in sections, and reinforced with iron bar pins for stability in antiquity. For this diorama, I chose this spread pattern which will lay across the mosaics. At the foundation, will be the evidence of some sort of earthquake causing a large fissure in the ground, weakening the foundation. Do not mind the 'clean breaks' of the first cutting. These will be textured to show a more natural damage with rubble and dust piles at the breaks.

B) Collateral damage. Did it fall on someone or something? If the damage is recent, then a body or crushed item should be under the rubble. If ancient, then the skeletal crushed remains.

Figuring out the angles and placement

Next is some texturing to show battle damage by sword cuts and Medusa claws.

Battle damaged

The first round of painting and dry brushing on these columns are for a forest scene and were based in dark umber. The will be moss and vine covered when done. I have some others, that were based in charcoal grey and dry brushed winter white.

Paint stage brings out the damage

Fallen log

Texture detailing of the tree again.


Here is a good close-up of the fallen log starting to take shape. I do the entire rod so I can cut the log to any length needed. Painting, drybrushing, and some flocking should bring out the textures and suspend disbelief for logs in this scale.


Wasp nest

Had some odd shaped pieces, so tried my hand at wasp nest/bee hive husks since again, what is commercially available is kind of too simplistic and crafty:


Skyrim ore smelter

Putting shapes together. It started out as functional, with an arm that moves but I opted for static due to the lack of space and the weakness of the foam at the handle. The slag smelt in the cup will be photo reactive so it will glow under black light.


I showed the making of the Skyrim game ore smelter in the Critiques section thread, but here it is coming along with its final mechanical details set:

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