Working With Floral Foam

By Pete Flynn

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First, I need to say that I am not the originator of this idea. I need to mention Nick Nascati, who posted a message on Fanaticus mentioning this material some time ago. I have been experimenting with different types of foam plastic, looking for types that were suitable for carving and making good terrain pieces, ever since we moved into a new house in a development liberally littered with remnants of 1" structural Styrofoam used as insulation. This material was clad with plastic film as a moisture barrier and very small-grained. It carved well, but I wanted material 4-5" thick. Typically, this type of material is used in packing crates as a shock barrier, but is very coarse and grainy. It doesnıt carve well at all.

I was at a large craft store when I spotted the fine-grain foam used in floral displays. It comes in cubes of about 6 inches, and rectangular prisms of about 6x6x10 inches as well as spheres and a few other odd shapes in various sizes. There is also a coarser Styrofoam, but it is much too coarse to carve wall details into the base material. The finer foam is intended to wick moisture, with the intent of keeping fresh flowers alive and pointed in an artful direction. So although the material is weak, it occurred to me that it might be strengthened by liberally applying a water-based glue to create a hard shell.

Planning

I wanted a tower or keep of some sort. I've seen resin models, but they were too good-looking and were as much as $15-$20. I'm pretty stingy with my hobby budget, so that was out. What I wanted needed to look "not built by Romans". That would also provide a convenient excuse for whatever goofs would occur during the process. So, the tower would be about 3" square at the base and taper to a roof platform 40mm square. This BUA would be defended by a bolt-shooter. An Elephant would fit too, but it would take Romans to get one hoisted up there, and I don't think they would really bother.

Drawing and Cutting

I put my artillery stand on the top of the block and traced the outline of it into the foam with a pencil. Then, outlined it about 10mm larger to represent the wall thickness. Turning the block on the side, I tapered what would be the sides from the corner of the battlement to the corner of the base of the wall. What would be the front and back sides were parallel. Now it was time to get out of the house.

Why leave the house? Because this stuff makes enough of a mess that the Little Woman (as some of us in Texas refer to our wives) would skin me if I soiled her clean house. As somebody once brightly observed "discretion is the better part of valor". (Definitely not a Texan.) Okay, so now I'm in the yard, and it's good that a breeze is blowing, because this stuff will stick to, and coat whatever it contacts. Hold the piece downwind, bubba. The LW was out at the grocery store, so I used her bread knife. Any serrated-blade knife of 8" or so will do nicely. You want to saw this stuff, because a big smooth blade, say a 10" chefıs blade, will stress the material and it will crack and break. I carefully cleaned the knife and returned it to the kitchen without the LW ever knowing it was sullied in hobby use.

Next, I used an Xacto knife to make a straight cut on the inside battlement edge to the depth of the blade, and then began scratching the foam away with a small steel ruler to a depth of about 10mm or so.

Next I cut the door openings and used the ruler to clean those out. The end of the ruler gives a nice smooth, flat result to these efforts.

Next I used a small wire brush to gently erode the wall surfaces. I mean GENTLE! By now you should appreciate how delicate this stuff is.
Next, use the ruler and pencil to carve the horizontal mortar lines. Don't make them continuous, and take your time. Also don't be perfectly parallel except at the corners. Remember, youıre not Roman. Use your pencil to do the vertical mortar lines and make these more random than the horizontal ones. All these lines need to be about 2-3mm deep because youıre going to be backfilling them with the surface sealant. If they arenıt deep enough, theyıll disappear.

Finally, carve the notches in the top of the battlement. Be very careful here as this is the weakest part of the material.

Finishing the Model

I would advise using a base for the model for two reasons. First for strength, and second purely for esthetics. Using a base allows the inclusion of cool little additions, like corpses, scattered weapons, and landscaping bits. Maybe even a gibbet or some other dark element. Use your imagination.

I glued my tower to a piece of styrene sheet. You could use basswood or even plywood, but don't use balsa since it is much too soft.
Now coat the tower with white glue and let it dry for at least 24 hours. It might take longer if your house is cold or damp. It is better to do two light coats than a single heavy one.

Next, I applied a thin coat of Spackle. I think this is called Tetrion in the UK. It is simply acrylic wall patching paste that is premixed and sold at my local feed and rural supply store. (They are great ­ stock everything youıd ever need except dynamite.) Again, go easy with this step. It is easy to use too much and lose the eroded quality you need.

Thin the stuff with water. Then I dry bushed with a stiff nylon chisel-shaped brush to enhance the details and clean clogged mortar lines. During this step I built-up the base to make the ground uneven. Let the model dry completely between steps.

Finally, build your doors from whatever suits you, and install them.

Now you are ready to paint. I'm going to assume you can handle paint. Iıll simply say that I used multiple applications of stain, finally using a dark one to enhance the mortar lines. At the end I dry brushed green to create a mossy look, and finally added a sign by the front door that says, "Go away".

The rear yard was some Linka plaster wall sections I added with the intention of making a staging yard of sorts where whatever wouldnıt fit inside the tower might be watched over.

I'd be interested to see pictures of other projects made from this stuff. Iıve also used it to make a pretty decent thatched roof on another model I built for ECW. But that is another story.
 


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Last Updated: 5 May 2007

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.