Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Rath150, Jan 5, 2007.

  1. Rath150

    Rath150 Member


    I see that many are using thick foam to develop landscape and mountains.
    I can't seem to find foam that is thick in my area.
    Where is a good place to purchase thick foam?

  2. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member


    I don't know about your area, but here in New York I can find large sheets of that foam (both pink and blue, I don't know what the difference is) in Home Depot. They are usually 4 feet x 8 feet sheets, 1 inch thick.

    Maybe the Home Depots in your area might have them. Good luck!
  3. Rath150

    Rath150 Member

    I can find the 1" foam but I would like to get the thicker sheets that I have viewed in some of the pix shown in the forums.

  4. CAS

    CAS Member

    Here in Chicago, Home Depot has them in 1" - $12.00, 1.5" - $15.00, and 2" - $19.00. 4'x8' sheets.

    Good luck, hope you can find them.

  5. Rath150

    Rath150 Member

    Thanks to both!
  6. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

    Rath -
    Using the 1" sheets is actually fine. In fact, two 1" sheets laminated together are stronger than one 2" sheet. Take a look at my layout site (in the sig) to see what I did - laminating three 1" sheets to make a rigid board. It works great.

    In fact, I have discovered yet another advantage: I have found a nifty way to mount the Tortoise switch machines in the foam sheets, and will expound upon this in a future post or on my layout web site. The method would not have worked if I had used one solid sheet.
  7. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Member

    I covered my entire benchwork with 2" white foam from Home Depot (The blue/pink stuff is almost impossible to find in my neck of the wods.) Since I also plan on using foam to build mountains, I went around to some industrial parks and furniture showrooms and did a little bit of foam recycling. A whole lotta stuff comes packed in foam. Granted, I didn't find any 4'x8' sheets, but I got enough to build my mountains three times over. Much of it was in large pieces, up to 8" thick. The prioe is right and it helps the environment too!
  8. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    My approach was to go to the local building supply and ask about broken sheets of foam insulation. I got it (when available) for a lot less money but had to take whatever thickness I could get. Consequently I have several thicknesses laminated together. I even picked up a broken sheet alongside the road and used that. Glue it together with carpenters glue and weight the pieces down until it drys. Heck, I even had blue and pink foam mixed together.
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    If you use the WS hot wire tool to cut the foam, you can get sharper angle and less steep slopes with 1" foam. 2" foam fills most of the space in the cutting tool.
  10. fsm1000

    fsm1000 Member

    Stack the foam to make it thicker. Hope that helps:)
  11. dsfraser

    dsfraser Member

    Just a cautionary word — foam is very flammable. If it catches fire, it melts and produces it's own accelerant, burns like a bomb, and generates copious amounts of very toxic gasses.

    I refuse to use foam. It's easy, it's cheap, but it's not far removed from storing gasoline indoors. Plaster with fibers and mesh are no more expensive, no harder to use, a very much safer than foam.

    Foam is absolutely lethal in a fire, and while no one plans a fire, it is possible to plan for a fire. You don't want to lose your home, or your life, by providing a fire with such a wonderful fuel source.

    If you doubt me, call your local fire department. Or take a 3" cube outside and light it. It's scary.

    Scott Fraser
  12. The Royal Blue

    The Royal Blue New Member

    I had been seriously thinking about the issues with fire you have mentioned, can you show me som pictures of how you go about landscaping your layout.

    Sorry for Hijacking this thread!
  13. Rath150

    Rath150 Member

    That is not a problem/ Good Question!

    I'd like to see the followup.
  14. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I wish folks would more carefully define what is really happening when they put on their Paul Revere suits to warn the country side of impending calamity.

    There are 2 types of "foam" - beaded and extruded. Each has considerably different properties.

    The beaded is normally white, and is commonly used to hold electronics inside boxes. It is also available at my local Home Depot (norhtern California) as an insulating board with a blue cover over the white beaded foam. Beaded foam has very little strength, is difficult to cut and carve accurately, and as Scott points out is flammable. Beaded foam will sustain a fire on its own once ignited, and will burn until consumed, putting out nasty smoke in the process.

    Extruded foam comes in the blue and pink sheets (and apparently somtimes yellow and green) to be used as insulation behind a sheetrock wall. The color goes all the way through the material. When you cut it, you don't get millions of little beads everywhere. Most importantly, a fire retardant or suppressant is built in. When a flame is put to it, the extruded foam melts away from the flame, with virtually no smoke. When the flame is removed, the extruded foam stops melting and there is no fire. This is a better performance in actual fire conditions than our traditional lumber and plywood.

    IMHO, extruded foam has become all the rage on the forums and the MR press, and is used in many situations that cater to extruded foam's weaknesses rather than its strengths. Extruded foam is certainly the way to go for modular or portable layouts, where weight is critical. And extruded foam is perhaps quicker and easier to build the traditional beginner 4x8 layout, now known as the "Flat Foam Pacific" instead of the "Plywood Prairie Pacific".

    Beyond that, like most other aspects of model railroading, there is more than one good method to achieve the desired result. A careful look at the advantages and disadvantages of each method can show you what is best for your particular situation.

    my thoughts, your choices
  15. cpNscale

    cpNscale Member

    Just to add my 2 cents worth as a full-time firefighter. The amount of foam used in a model railroad is a minimal hazard in regards to everyday items in a household. The foam and covering of a sofa are far more likely to catch fire from a stay cig or any other electrical device. Also the amount of plastics in all the other items such as TV's or stereos will be more of a danger that foam covered my plaster and paint.
    Again my opinion in the subject or fire safety.
  16. sidetracked

    sidetracked Member

    I kinda have to agree,,,,, My mom just had siding put on her house and they covered it with the same blue foam I'm using before attaching the siding,,,,,, figure it cant be all that bad,,,, I hope anyway,,,,, I guess the old saying,, "knock on wood",, Is now "knock on foam",,,,,, ,,,,, ,,,,,, ,,,,, st
  17. The Royal Blue

    The Royal Blue New Member

    Again Paul Sorry for the Hijack.
    I am interested in what is said about other methods of landscaping, I would realy like to see how Scott has gone about it just for another view. when I did my first layout years ago it was done with bird wire and paper mash'e and a good amount of ply wood for elevation.
  18. dsfraser

    dsfraser Member

    I haven't any photos — I still live on a piece of plywood — but i have done some landscaping (terraforming?) on a large club layout in town.

    Basically, the slope runs from one level to the next, up to 12" in height, with wooden benchwork for the track runs. Overlength strips of cardboard about 2" wide are stapled to the bottom, spaced 3-4" apart, given some artistic kinks, and then stapled and trimmed at the top. Plaster tape, which is sort of like 2½" strips of plastic cheesecloth, is then glued over the cardboard with white glue. Once it sets, tinted plaster is mucked over it, sometimes with moulds, sometimes sculpted with fingers and blades while wet, usually mixed with fine fibers to bind it together. It is quite light and very strong once it dries. It can be painted with anything — water-based tempura is best — it's very cheap, penetrates well into the plaster, and can be applied with a 0000 brush or a 2" wide brush or sprayed, full colour or a thin wash, whatever is required. It looks good with some practice, doesn't cost much, and properly done is both light and strong.

    As to Fred's comment — foam, be it extruded or beaded, comes from petroleum. While it may be the case that extruded foam "shrinks" from an ignition source, it will only shrink so far. Sooner or later will reach a flashpoint, fire retardants notwithstanding. ("notwithstanding" is a famous Canadian word that means "all bets are off".) It's like saying asbestos is safe as long as you don't disturb it. It may all melt away to nothing more than a puddle on the floor, but if it gets hot enough, that puddle is going to turn into a Roman Candle.

    And to cpN — I agree, a couch with a burning cigarette between the pillows is much more likely to turn into a bomb. Comfy furniture uses different foam products, much more volatile, and there are hundreds if not thousands of house fires each year started by careless smoking and combustible furniture.

    But my point is that we do not need to increase the potential danger of a fire by packing our train rooms with combustible products when there are safer alternatives. We don't have electricity in our couches. We do have electricity throughout our layouts, and not everyone knows enough about wiring to eliminate the risk of a short-circuit.

    Plaster doesn't burn. The underlying wood certainly will, but at a lower temperature (easier to knock down) and without the fatal toxins that plastics produce.

    It boils down to risk assessment. I could probably store a jerry-can of gasoline in my basement for fifty years without having it explode. But I would never do that, because accidents, fires, are never planned, and having a couple of gallons of gas in the basement could/would make a bad situation very much worse if a fire broke out.

    So for me, my choice is to use non-combustible materials for my layout when I can. My paint booth is in the (detached) garage, and I store all my solvents and paint there, alongside my lawnmower and my jerry-can. If the garage burns down, I'd be very disappointed, but my house would be safe. More important my wife and my kids and I would still be alive.

    It's just a point of view, and something never mentioned when talking about landscaping a layout. Which is why I mentioned it.

    Scott Fraser
  19. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    Extruded polystyrene foam board (the pink, or blue, or green stuff but not the white beaded stuff) comes in 1", 1½", 2" and 4" thicknesses. The best place to get the larger thicknesses is at a building supply store that caters to contractors. If you are looking for lightness (as in portable modules), then styrofoam is definitely the way to go. Unlike plaster, you also have the advantage of being able to stand back and look at your work as you carve the block into the shape that you think you might want. However, it is a slow, labour intensive process. You also have to use a couple of other techniques to meld the foam into your scenery.

    Since I belong to a module railroad club where I'm looking for lightness of materials, I use polystyrene glue to glue the piece of scenery to the deck of the module. Elmer's makes a good brand of polystyrene glue.

    To meld the styrofoam into the rest of the scenery, I use spackling compound to span the gap between the scenery and the deck of the module. Spackling compound is very light, durable, and very easy to use. It has the consistency of "Dream Whip" dessert topping. Using a cake decorator's trick, I put some of the spackling compound into a plastic sandwich bag, then cut a small hole in one corner of the plastic bag. I can then squeeze the bag to appy the right amount of compound to the layout. X-Acto knives, popsicle sticks and any other tool can push the compound into the right place. I then smooth out any creases or deformities with an artist's brush and some water. Twenty four hours later, I'm ready to apply a base coat of latex paint.

    I'm still perfecting my scenicking techniques so other's may have better ideas that I'd like to hear about. I apply 2 - 3 coats of light grey flat latex paint to cover up the pink of the styrofoam and the white of the spackling compound. If I need to touch up the styrofoam or the dried compound, I apply some more spackling compound. I then dry-brush some darker grey flat latex paint over the scenery to highlight the creases and crevices in the styrofoam that I created when carving the styrofoam. After that, you use your usual scenicking techniques.

    Unless you use the styrofoam as a support underneath the final scenery, the process is slow so you might be more interested in using the usual plaster techniques. I haven't yet tried the polystyrene spray foam that is used to insulate around door and window frames. However, if you can find a good release agent, this is another possibility.

    Bob M.
  20. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Bob - I think you mean "polyurethane" glue...? Like Gorilla GLue (TM) and others?


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