Working with Foam 385
Cut out pieces for the top and bottom of the base.
Rip enough of the 2″ × 2″ stock to ﬁt around the
perimeter of the hollow structure. Cut the 2″ × 2″ strips
to length, and glue all of the parts together. Set this
section aside to dry.
It is easiest to work on carving and ﬁnishing these
two subassemblies while they are apart, and then to join
them before the cheesecloth is put on. Use the Surform
to even any parts that are sticking out, and round over
all the corners. Most builders agree that the more you
round over, the older and more weathered the ﬁnished
product will appear. You may wish to add a few cracks
and some lettering. Use a Sharpie to mark the lettering
and a pointy X-Acto knife to cut them out. Normally, a
large-handled utility knife is better for any type of
cutting, but in this instance, a long and thin blade is
the best. Cut straight in around the outside edges and
rake out the center like a chiseled mortise. Smooth all
surfaces with a piece of 80-grit sandpaper.
The ﬁnal step before painting is to cover with
cheesecloth. This project is a bit more challenging to
cover than the stonework was. It is best to cut the cloth
into 12″ or 18″ squares of single thickness before begin-
ning, because large sections are too hard to control.
Bunch up the cloth where it must ﬁt down into crevices
like the letter carving. If the cheesecloth does not go
down into the cracks properly, your hard work creating
texture will tend to disappear.
POWER CARVING METHODS
A very quick, but messy way to carve any kind of poly-
styrene foam is to use a drill and a wire wheel. Some
wire wheels are intended to be used to remove rust and
old paint from wrought iron railings and the like.
These wheels are perfect for carving, because they are
mounted on a shaft and can easily be inserted into
There are two main types. One of these is 2 or 3
inches in diameter with a brush of wire around its
outside edge. The other has what looks like short lengths
of wire rope sticking straight ahead out of a central hub.
Both of these types of wire wheels are used to carve by
inserting them in a variable-speed drill and simply
gouging and shredding the foam from the surface of the
386 Illustrated Theatre Production Guide 2 ed
block. This technique can be used to create a number
of really rough textures, like stucco, bark, or rock. The
hub with the wire rope sticking straight out is the easiest
to control; the other wheel is more aggressive about
removing the foam. They both spew out an unbeliev-
able amount of foam chips. Safety glasses and a respira-
tor are a must, and you can expect to be completely
covered from head to toe with small bits of foam. A
good shop vac is essential for cleanup. I have found that
any time foam is involved in a project it is best to sweep
and vacuum up the leavings right away so that they are
not tracked all over the theatre.