First Try at Sculpting Urethane Foam

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My intention in writing this article is to illustrate the experience of a first-time, completely-novice user of urethane foam. I was determined to use only tools and materials I already had, waiting to buy anything special until after the first attempt. I also wanted my first project to be simple, both because I was unsure of how easy it would be and because I did not want an overly ambitious design to get in the way of my sculpting attempt.

The foam block is something relatively new being offered by Monroe Perdu Studios.

First and foremost, pay attention to what the instructions say about wearing a filter mask and only work on the foam in an area where the mess doesn’t matter. The dust REALLY does get everywhere. I worked outside and carefully cleaned myself off to come inside. This worked well for me but I did not think of the dust when I was photographing and nearly ruined my camera before I realized what was happening. Read the directions.

I selected the Italieri kit of the Italian Sahariana which I had built months ago as the model for my sculpted base. I wanted to try sculpting a simple desert scene with a slight wave-like dune and, as I never had a base for the finished kit, that became my centerpiece. I wish now I had built the kit with wheels turned a bit and had included a driver at the least, but I can look for a crew now that the base is done. I cut a piece of the foam block using a T-square as a guide and made my first mistake. I did not have a cutting blade long enough to pass through the block entirely and now matter how careful I thought I was, I could not match up the top cut with the bottom cut. The first photo shows the kit on the block and the mismatched cuts.

About the Author

About Rob Norton (RobNorton)


Nice little SBS. Thanks Rob.
OCT 26, 2007 - 12:48 AM
The same material can be found at Lowes and Home Depot for about $12-15 for a huge sheet. Also comes in various thicknesses, usually in pink or blue color. I was able to reduce some of the dust by using a hot wire for the initial cutting. Sanding is still a messy affair though. Good SBS. "Q"
OCT 26, 2007 - 01:10 AM
Sorry "Q", it's not the same pink or blue material you describe. I would also caution against cutting any kind of foam with a hot wire as the melting releases gases that can cause harm. Mike
OCT 26, 2007 - 07:40 AM
Ok, different material. My mistake. "Q"
OCT 26, 2007 - 10:38 AM
i find a far better material to work with for terrain is BALSA FOAM... sold in sheets of various sizes, the stuff is amazing. It "carves" like chalk, in that it is soft and easily scraped and sanded. Once the desired shape is obtained, you simply seal and paint it, or if you want to create molds of the finished peice (as I often do) dip it in MinWax Wood Hardener... this will make it hard as a rock in about one hour, and you can cast it in RTV rubber. The only drawback to balsa foam is that is makes super fine dust, so you MUST wear a breathing mask... also, be sure to clean off your steel tools, as the stuff will rust steel pretty quickly if it comes in contact with water. Here is a link with more information about the stuff... and of course, we stock it in our store, if you'd like to give it a try! http://www.americanfoamtech.com/balsafoam/craftideas.asp
FEB 17, 2008 - 08:39 PM
Hi Keith, While I can appreciate that this thread is a convenient way for you to advertise your shop, I wouldn't necessarily say that Balsa Foam is a better product for making diorama bases. I would call it a similar yet different product. What Rob used the foam for in this article, wouldn't have benefitted from using the denser Balsa Foam. I also think people need to look at the relative cost of the products and the size of the blocks available. Balsa Foam is more expensive. My company offers a foam that I believe has merits and Rob has demonstrated what can be done on a first try. I'm wondering why the only comments are regarding what some ill informed people think are better alternatives. I would assume the Armorama staff would welcome articles on the experiences people have with 4' x 8' sheeets of building insulation or various sized blocks of Balsa Foam. When I read them, I'll be sure to comment on the work presented and not the material used. Respectfully, Michael Bishop
FEB 27, 2008 - 07:56 PM
For Dio bases I would never use Balsa foam, for 1. too expensive. 2. it is better used for making buildings, furnishings etc. 3. regular styrofoam is cheaper and more durable, you can find local dealers and can use scraps for complete scenes. I for one love balsa foam, and will more likely never buy another plastic building again. I can make them look like stone, wood siding, and brick. You can also use them for building you sidewalks and streets. or if you are really good making ornate sculptures and vases. Just my opinion
JAN 27, 2009 - 04:59 PM