Saturday, August 13, 2011

Terrain: Foam Crystals

Well now a year older but probably not another year wiser. I suppose the least I could do is whip out the old hot wire cutter and show you lot how to make some foam crystals.

   It's been lovely here in the barren, frozen, wastelands of Canada, so I have taken that opportunity to get outside and do some long awaited foam terrain. Don't worry, I didn't melt from exposure to the outside, shocking to be sure. But let's get down to brass tacks.
   Many years ago I purchased the lamentably overpriced Games Workshop Hot Wire Cutter. I have to say though, it was a lot easier than trying to make my own. I just don't like having to rely on two D batteries to power that thing. I'll talk more about the Hot Wire Cutter in a Tools post though.

 For this endeavour, a small list of materials are required:
  • Pink Foam - I have a lot of this stuff laying around begging for various uses. I got mine from the Home Depot.
  • Square - I suppose it doesn't matter if it's a T Square or just a Square, but a metal tool with measurement and straight edges and a 90 degree angle is preferable.
  • Marker - any fine tipped marker, like this useful Sharpie, just to help with marking those guide lines.
  • Hot Wire Cutter - and all that entails, fresh wire to replace snapped used wire, batteries if necessary.
  • Garbage Repository - just to keep those pesky cut off bits from flying all over the place. I throw mine into a plastic bag from any cheap retail location.
  • Face Mask - to keep you from breathing in the toxic fumes that are emitted from the heating of pink foam. I wouldn't want any harm coming to my readers now.
  • An Idea - these come in surprisingly helpful when you're trying to make something. Crystals are today's idea, but there's no reason for you to have to follow my idea of crystals. This is just a vague trial run to give you the idea.

Step 1: Get your pink foam out. This is probably the hardest part of this project. The rest is fun. For this experiment in advanced foam cutting technique and technology, a piece of 1 inch thick pink foam is my hapless victim. It's much easier to use scrap pink foam, makes for less width to cut through. I do not recommend cutting a fully intact 2'x8' long plank of pink foam.

Step 2: Time to get that square in action. I'm trying to stick to geometric shapes, but I accept that perfectly accurate cuts and shapes are next to impossible. But if I wanted perfectly shaped crystals, I'd probably just get a load of those awesome crystals from Gale Force 9. They're just beautiful, but if you remember the concept sketches, I'm going for a rough edged, choppy kind of crystal. But for roughly $20 and a pair of D batteries, I can make a lot of those kinds of crystals. I'm using a one inch by one inch thick crystal. The height of it will remain random depending on the strip of foam I cut out. Mark down with the marker the line of cutting. Then just cut it out with the Hot Wire Cutter. I like to use the edge of the square to help guide the cutter. Just be wary of pressing against the square too much, or else the wire will bend and the cut won't be a straight edge.

Step 3: Now that there's a fantastic piece of cut out pink foam, it's time to prepare to ruin it. Since it's one inch all round, I made marks on both ends and all four sides that were a quarter inch in from the sides. These are the rough guide markers to cut it into a roughly octagonal prism. I had no intent on making it anywhere near perfect, so I only marked starting and end points. The rest was just free cutting. I found it easiest to just weigh down the battery case of the wire cutter and hang the wire over the edge of a table. This way I could just feed the foam down through the wire instead of trying to hold the cutter to cut a one inch thick piece of foam.

Step 4: Now that there's a lovely piece of horribly mauled pink foam, it's ready to be cut into many different crystals. Depending on how tall you want them or how much you plan on shaping them, be mindful of how many crystals you cut out of this finished piece. You don't what to start shaping the top of the crystal and find yourself with a little nubbin of a crystal. You probably don't want that with a 1"x1" crystal. If you do, just ignore me, up to you really.

Step 5: Shaping the top of the crystal. This is probably the most frustrating part of the crystals. Everything else was just fun and games. Getting the right kind of top really takes a lot of trial and error. For most of my crystals, I picked a level height on the crystal and started cutting at the four cardinal sides of the crystal. Starting from the side, I start cutting up diagonally in the direction of the centre of the crystal. I then repeated this with the remaining four sides and continued cutting at random until I got a top I wouldn't mind painting. Cutting only the cardinal sides at the same height and cutting the remaining sides at a higher height also produces good results. But as I said, trial and error is the best way to achieve what you're looking for, and you might just find something good you didn't expect.

   Now if you're really gung-ho and want to paint them up right away, I strongly recommend taking a pointy stick and impaling the crystal at the base. I used the broken off end of an annoyingly long paint brush. This way you can paint the crystal without getting your finger prints all over the sides. I still haven't found an acceptable paint scheme, but when I do I will put it into a separate post that will cover the painting aspect.

Also, there's no reason to stick to such small crystals. I created a larger one of two pieces of two inch wide foam glued together with white glue. You could even get really crazy and put three pieces of three inch wide pink foam together. Maybe I just will. All that matters is that to cut the sides into octagonal shapes is that you half the full measurement of the side, then half that measurement and mark that from the sides. But you probably already knew that.

   Well that's all for now. Enjoy this shot of terribly airbrushed "Ice Crystals". Maybe next time I'll actually get the paint scheme right for the next terrain article. Happy foam cutting!

Signing out,

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