cutting foam inclines

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by astrowolf67, Jan 25, 2006.

  1. astrowolf67

    astrowolf67 New Member

    What is the best way to cut inclines from foam? I know I could just order some from WS, but, since I've got the extra foam, why not make them my self? Here's a list of tools I've got to work with. Cordless circular saw, single speed jig saw, various hand saws, knives. I don't have a band saw, or access to one, which would make this chore a breeze. I also don't have a hot wire cutter.

    Thanks, David
  2. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    I'm very mechanically inclined, definitely ready to save a buck, and assuredly in the do-it-yourself camp.

    Given all that, I still wouldn't do it. I think it's going to be darn-near impossible to get an even grade (remembering that you need it even in two dimensions - even along the grade, while maintaining level side to side...) Especially with your tool limitations. _Especially_ if you are trying to do it on a curve.

    If you don't want to spend for the W.S. premade ones, then I'd say consider the "old fashioned" way of using plywood or dimensional lumber strips, supported on risers for the grade portions.
  3. MickeyHoldem

    MickeyHoldem New Member

    I've done it... using 1" pink insulation... but I used a band saw to make the incline cut... I used a drywall saw to make the saw cut on the sides... I made the width about 2 inches... you can sand the top after you put it down and that will take out all the irregularities....

    here's a shot...

    Attached Files:

  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Inclines would be difficult to cut with the handtools (or hand-held tools) you have. However, you can make a hotwire cutter for about $5 or so... The key is the "nichrome" wire. You can get this as a replacement part from WoodlandScenics without buying their hot wire cutter.

    The key to getting a straight edge is to clamp the foam between two straight edges, like some 1x2 or 1x3 pine. Clamp it on both sides of the foam by putting a screw (or three or four) right through the foam from one side to the other. Make sure they match!

    The hot wire cutter is made from the nichrome wire, some bell/telephone/lamp wire and a standard powerpack. Make some sort of U-shaped handle, and stretch the nichrome across the end. Hook it up to the variable output on the powerpack using the bell wire. The "faster" you go with the control - the hotter the wire gets.

    The wire should be hot to cut, and it should not take any effort to move it through the foam. If you have to push/pull it, you are going too fast, or the wire is too cold. Run the hot wire along the 1x3 guides you screwed to the foam.

    To make the curves, turn the riser on its side, and cut very thin wedges out of the side. They should go about 2/3 of the way through. With wedges cut only from one side, it will only bend one way, so turn it over if your curve goes the other way... ;)

    You will end up with something that looks like the WS risers, but at a much lower cost.

    Good luck!

  5. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Member

    I agree with kchronister. I tried and actually made a couple that didn't turn out too bad, especially considering I was using beaded styrofoam. I think the problem you are going to have is the transition sat the start of the incline. Even at a 4% grade (like I used), the last several inches of incline get pretty thin. I decided to buy WS inclines and scratch build my timber tunnel portals out of match sticks to make up for it. Save the foam for the risers or building mountains.
  6. zedob

    zedob Member

    Burt Rutan (Dick's bro) showed how to cut foam for an airplane stabilizer using a hotwire and some masonite templates. The example templates were identical, but depending on the requirements (change in chord of airfoil) they could be different, with-in reason.

    What was noticable was the indexing notches on the leading and trailing edges, which were simply lined up with previously drawn lines (leading and trailing edge of the foam). Once they were happy with the location, they pushed nails through some locating holes in the templates and "cut away". They (two people required) were very careful to maintain a constant speed with each other while cutting. However, they were cutting a very thick piece compaired to our MRR foam requirements, so the need for two people is not necessary.

    With a little pre-planning and ingenuity there is no reason one can't do it. I'm sure the first WS risers were hand cut, even the notches. The key is in the templates and how nice you make them.
  7. Jac's Lines

    Jac's Lines Member

    On the hot wire cutter, you can get a cheap version called the "Wonder Cutter" that uses D batteries at most hobby shops that deal in dried flower arrangement. There's one for $8 (and also the nichrome wire replacement that Andrew mentioned) at I got mine at the local Michaels for $15. This has worked for most of my styrofoam cutting needs and is more affordable than the ones geared specifically towards model railroaders.
  8. astrowolf67

    astrowolf67 New Member

    After looking around the web last night at various hot wire table designs, I feel I can make one pretty cheaply and easily. I've got a nice laminated piece of particle board to use for the table, and, a 1x3 is pretty cheap. A guitar string for the wire, and an old transformer for the power source. I figure for about 5 bucks, I can make my own. I don't have a problem with WS inclines, I just don't want to wait on them to be shipped (no LHS near by). Plus, I don't trust my local UPS/ FedEx guys. I've had way too much damaged by them.

  9. John Hubbard

    John Hubbard New Member

    I've had good luck shaping grades in blue foam using a Stanley Surform tool - sort of a grater with a handle - from Lowe's or Home Depot. It's pretty cheap to try and if you fail, it's only foam. I use a straight edge to spot check my work as I go and I take my time. Transitions don't seem to me to be that hard to do, either. I just glue up stairstepped layers of foam to form the various elevations I want, then use the Suform tool to sculpt the grade between. I use the same tool to shape the hills, etc., as well.

    On the other hand, my hot wire experience has not been great. It's fine for cutting pieces of foam to fit into place, but I have only tried to freehand inclines with it, and I'm not nearly steady enough - perhaps the guide board technique would work well.
  10. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    I basically took a cookie cutter approach.

    1. I marked where I wanted the incline
    2. Cut right out a section of foam that matched the right of way.
    3. Turned the foam over and used a large kitchen knife to cut the incline.
    4. Turned the foam back right side up and put it back in place (smooth side up).
  11. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I did some smaller bits using the hot wire cutter. I found that I had to watch the wood guides so that the wire didn't snag on bits of the grain that pulled up -- usually one direction was OK and the other snagged.
    I wouldn't try anything like a rasp or a saw unless you're working outside or in a room where you can stand a lot of charged particles floating around.
    Watch the cord on the hot wire cutter -- it snags and gets stepped on and turns out to be only half the length of your cut.
  12. John Hubbard

    John Hubbard New Member

    My experience with the Stanley Surform tool is that the particles just lie around in piles and can be easily vacuumed up. And, my hot wire cutter is battery powered, so no cord problem there.
  13. hooknlad

    hooknlad Member

    Sculpting foam board. HELP !!!

    I have read many of the threads regarding foam cutting. I have alot of linear footage to "Sculpt", I am using the 2" blue dow insulation. Asking the vast knowledge of hobbyists on "THE GAUGE", Disregarding fumes, is there really a relatively clean / safe method of sculpting this material??? It is rather cold outside for my test area, But I am contemplating a common 1500 watt hairdryer, to "melt" if you would the areas needed to be removed. I need to be conscious that I will be doing this in my basement, and would not want any unwanted Fires. I am going to provided alot of ventilation, hence you can understand my concern. Should I just stick with the standard shop vac / saw method of cutting??? I have done the hot wire thing - too much time to get the creativity of what "nature" would normally provide for scenery / landscape. I am a patient person, but I have 4" of foamboard down as a base and many linear feet of it. Thanx for your time and concerted effort with my matter.
  14. John Hubbard

    John Hubbard New Member

    I have found the Stanley Surform tool to be a fairly quick way of shaping foam terrain. Yes, you will need a shop vac fairly often, but no bad fumes are produced. I think I would stick with this method.
  15. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    I did a test with the "hot air gun" I use for my company's shrink wrap machine.
    Yes, it does melt the foam, but two negative things happen.
    1. the results are too smooth to look realistic, at least for my area.
    2. you have no real control over the way or amount that melts. It appears the foam is not all the same consistancy, some areas melt slow, some fast.

    The good old sharp knife and vacuum give you much better control.
  16. webmaster

    webmaster Member

    I usually use a coping saw & P80 Wet 'n' dry paper used dry (It might be called something else in the States, it's used for rubbing down automobiles), and of course the Dyson..

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