Foam insulation is a fantastic medium for creating event and show props. It is a dense foam that is easy to find at any home supply store and comes in varying thicknesses. You can sculpt it just like wood, but foam is lightweight and easy to carve with hot tools. It comes in pink or blue and is manufactured for insulation in homes and buildings.
White foam can be used and cut in a similar fashion, but it is not as sturdy or easy to work with as its structure is not as dense and breaks apart into little "beads". It also does not sand well.
The tools to work with foam are probably already in your tool kit or garage. Small tooth saws, drills, sand paper, knives and awls will all come in handy when working with foam. Some unique tools are also available that help you manipulate foam and the most basic are the hot wire tools. These need to be used in a well ventilated area and a breathing mask is suggested. However the speed and ease of carving make these my favorite for design and faux finishing. A Dremel can also be used for fine carving and there are many tutorials online using different techniques. Mine will show the hot wire effects.
Hotwire Foam Factory. The kit comes with three different attachments.
Cut the basic shapes with a hand saw. I had a rectangular sign and a 2"x4" piece for the post that I cut out of a 2" thick sheet. I also had a 1/2" thick sheet I used for the party name lettering.
With the thin hot knife tool make the edges ragged and remove excess material until you get your basic shape refined. Next copy the image you want to carve, for my sign it was a logo and arrow. There are two good ways to copy the image to the foam. The first is an opaque projector. This is my preferred method as I can play with the size and location and see it right on the foam. The second is to print out the text or image desired on paper and enlarge to the exact size needed. Then take carbon transfer paper, lay it ink side down against the foam, place your image on top and trace the outline of your design.
Next comes carving the design. For my pieces I used the engraving tool. I followed the outline of my images with the tool, burning a line just inside the line. Then I went back and forth with the point of the tool to burn out the inside of the letters.
Finally I did the weathering and detail of the wood I was trying to create. Most of this I did with the thin knife tool and the engraving tool. It helps to view natural items that look like what you are trying to emulate.
Envision a weathered piece of wood that has been broken and split. The grain should be very pronounced with knots, splits, and worn edges. The carving should be bold and pronounced. A subtle design will probably not show up.
Paint will bring out your detail:
Once your carving is complete, use sand paper to sand all of the edges (including the knots and splits) so they are rounded and uneven.
Finally it is time for paint. Do not use spray paint to paint your foam unless you want it to "melt". The chemicals in spray paint react with the foam and cause it to disintegrate. I use household latex paint and craft paint. Many home stores will have a seconds bin of mixed paint for 50% off the regular gallon price. Usually these colors are really ugly for interior walls, but just right for many of the items I'm trying to emulate. I got both gallons of my main colors this way. One was an ugly dark brown and the other a medium gray.
I find it easiest to paint the recessed letters and images first. My selections were black and purple to go with the sponsor logo I was replicating. Next is to paint the base coat of the "wood" in dark brown. Then use the lighter wood tone on a dry brush to wash over the top. I was trying for a beach aged look, so the weathered gray was perfect. However you should play with the color to achieve the weathering that fits your theme.
For this sign I also cut out letters "Bayou Bash" that stood proud on the surface. I cut thinner foam pieces for these and cut them out individually. I also painted them separately from the rest of the sign (green and yellow mossy colors) and then attached them with liquid nails glue.
I added spanish moss to further age the party theme letters.
Carved signs are very effective and professional. The right one can provide just the right finishing touch (or entrance) for your event.
Please share any of your foam creations and tell me your favorite uses for foam.
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