In case you were wondering, some of the parts to make my groovy Rough Riders were sculpted by Rob at Curious Constructs.

Monday 16 May 2016

Terrain Building: Carving Rock Pillars with a Hot Foam Cutter

I have been on a terrain building bout recently working on my old school wind generator and a small forest of trees. I have always wanted to make some big rock pillars and cliff faces for my terrain set as well. Thus, it was finally time to get a hot foam cutter and give carving foam a go!
The Back Story
This story actually starts with nothing related to hobby or gaming at all. Recently I finished my (long overdue) PhD. I had a rough run with project changes, supervisor changes and other issues. This meant that my 3 to 4 year PhD dragged out to about 6 years when I finally handed it up. But the good news is that it came back from my examiners with top marks and no changes - which is kind of a big deal in science. Then at my graduation I took out the best thesis award - a cool thing to put in my CV but it also came with a relatively small cash prize of $500. In order to get through the end of my PhD with no grant money, no scholarship, no income, and having a kid, mortgage, Uni tuition and all the adult stuff, I had to make sacrifices by selling off a heap of my 'pre marriage' toys. This included my cool MX-5, music equipment and a selection of models (I managed to hold on to all of my retro stuff including all of my Praetorians and Necrons). This is all relevant back story because knowing how rough that was, my wife was more than happy for me to convert all of my prize into hobby funds! "You earned it" she said.
My little man tries out my doctor bonnet. 
I haven't spent the lot but I have picked up a few cool things. First was a massive second-hand Battle Foam bag. I got a smaller PACK GO bag years ago and I use it all the time. I had been finding it a little small in recent times so when I saw this bag go up in local Buy-Swap-Sell group I snapped it up.
Loads of space for all of my foam!
My second buy was an Imperial Knight Renegade set, because... two Knights, so much awesome! Finally my third item was a foam cutting set. I went for a mid-rage starter set that came with a hot wire cutter, a hot knife and an instructional DVD.
Hot Knife
Hot Wire Cutter

Going Crazy with Foam!
The evening that I got it I gave the DVD a quick look then grabbed a block of foam, plugged in the hot knife and started cutting!
It was incredibly impressed by how quick and easy making this was. From first cut to this stage only took about half an hour and that included stopping to take photos and watching TV.

Working with foam is usually the messiest thing in the world. This however, wasn't at all. The carved pieces came off in clean sections so there is no tiny bits of foam blowing all around the room (much to my wife's relief).
At this point I realised that rock pillars frequently have rock mounds around their bases. So I decided to carve a base for my pillar. 
While carving away I had been posting pics to my hobby facebook group. Muppet (Liam) had mentioned that I might have issues painting it. To see if I would I pulled out some craft paint, mixed up a tan colour and went for it. Fortunately the paint went on easy as!
At the end of the evening I sat it on my desk pretty happy with my hot knife. 
The following night I glued slate and rocks to the base. 

With that, I called my first pillar success and was eager to try something else... 
I bashed that out in one night and added a rough base too.
On my next free evening I carved up the base and added a few smaller pillars. 
The following weekend I painted it up and sat it outside to dry. 
Even though it was still wet I wasn't content to just leave it be so I rolled out my gaming mat and surrounded it by some trees to see how it looked all together. 
The my little dude did his best to photo bomb every shot, so we played peekaboo between the trees. 
The big pillar does sit flat, I have it siting on foam in the photos above so I wound't get paint on my gaming mat. 

A few days later I glued rocks onto the base and left it on my (very dead) lawn to dry.

After that I got all confident and thought I'd try a cliff face. I used a foam esky that I got from my Lab at work. [I think esky is an Aussie term?  It think it is called an ice boxe overseas?]
I flipped it over, drew a line down the middle and cut it in half. 
I am going to put both sides next to each other to make a 4ft long cliff face.  Here is the back of one section of the cliff.
It was hard carving straight into the foam box so I started carving up small sections to glue onto the box.
So far I am just trying to get the rough shape then I will add texturing later. I'll also try to add a few platforms so models can climb the cliff but I am mostly winging it at this stage.

So that has been my adventures carving foam so far. It is way way easier than I thought it would be. I know lots of people make their own hot wire cutters but after using my two I think buying a proper set was definitely worth it.

Thanks for stopping by folks,
Tally Ho!


  1. My first thought at the initial pillars was "OMG !, HE's actually carving sex toys !" And, mind well and truly boggled, had to read the whole thing twice.

    Your scenery is great. I do the craft paint thing over polystyrene with a reasonable dollop of PVA in the mix, which means I can then spray paint it later.

    Eski makes perfect sense, our dog food comes in those and so we one every six weeks or so; I've got loads of them and it had not occurred to me to get a hot knife and turn them into scenery. One for the future, perhaps, when the tax man is satiated.

    And congrats on the PHD + Prize + not having someone else bugger it around. It's a big deal, so well done.

    1. OMG Zzzzzz! What would Freud say!? Well actually I am sure he would say they are giant wangs too. It might make an interesting a Slaanesh chaos world.
      “Launch the Spear Tip to the surface of Penis Prime Captain”
      “But Sir the drop site is obstructed by throbbing shafts of Slaanesh! They will shoot our ships out of orbit with their mighty loads of white warp plasma.”
      “Alert the Master of Contraception, deploy the condomices! The Emperor protects!”
      “Sir, the battleship His Devine Sight has copped a premature bombardment to the face, Oh the humanity!!”

      ummmm, soooo that escalated quickly.
      And on the other stuff, thanks Zzzzzz. I am glad it is all behind me now.

    2. FOMC ! You did that all yourself ! There goes your PG certificate.

  2. Wow that is some awesome terrain. It actually looks fun to sculpt those up!

    1. Yeah Greg, I am really enjoying this. Cheers dude.

  3. Congrats on graduation and on the silly hat.

    The rocky terrain pieces are amazing. THey look so natural and realistic. Impressive considering it's your first attempt!

    1. Thanks Dai, I loved having the silly hat for a day.
      I was surprised by my first attempt at these too! Since doing these ones I am finding ways of improving the carving but I am happy with how it is going.

  4. Hey dude, these and the bigger pieces in the other post are snazzy as fuck. I'm using them heavily as inspiration for my board, you've done an awesome job!