Foam Carving Techniques

By Carl Hose

Because foam (either foam rubber or polystyrene) is so soft and easy to carve, it is an ideal starting medium for anyone who wishes to experiment with sculpting. Foam is also a relatively inexpensive material, further making it attractive to the beginning artist or craftsperson. There are a number of ways to work with foam, giving beginning sculptors various options when getting started.

Power Cutters and Grinders

One of the easiest ways to cut and shape foam is with power cutters and grinders. Since foam is such a soft material, using these methods should be approached respectfully and with smaller tools. Also, the power tool approach works best with more durable or larger blocks of foam. Power cutters and grinders at low speeds, using shallow removal of material, brings about professional results.

Hot Wire

Hot wire is one of the ways manufacturing plants cut and shape foam. The foam is fed past a horizontal or vertical wire (electrically heated) or cut using heated wires with specific shapes. While this method is often used in mass manufacturing, a version of the hot wire can be used by sculptors at home, with homemade wire forms heated over flame.

Power Burning Tool

A power burning tool, such as the tool used for wood burning, can be used to cut, shape or engrave large pieces of foam. Since these tools get extremely hot, they should be used with caution. Those with various size attachments work best, particularly for adding details to a carving.

Hand Sculpting

Hand sculpting involves the use of a variety of tools, but incorporates primarily those that use blades without electric power (such as a precision hobby knife). Many foam sculptors work this way by choice, since almost any type of blade can be used to easily sculpt foam, provided the blade is sharp enough. In conjunction with hand sculpting, metal files are used to sand away sections of foam to bring out the sculpture and sanders can be used to finish.

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