Styrofoam for landscaping

Discussion in 'Trackside Photos & Details' started by Mannix, Feb 12, 2007.

  1. Mannix

    Mannix Member

    When you cut the pink styrofoam that you purchase at a lumber yard with a hot wire cutter, are the fumes toxic? If they are, what do you use to cut the foam?
  2. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    Your best bet is to ask the lumber yard to give you a material safety data sheet for the pink foam you want to use. Manufacturers generally make msds materials available for free to potential customers, and the lumber yard should have no problem getting it for you. Then you can read up on the safety or lack there of on the product for what you want to do with it.
  3. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Chaparral, thanks for posting that. The more I hear about that stuff, the less I like it. I am glad I have never put it on my layout.

  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    A bit more information to add to Chaparral's note above:

    • Pink/blue foam is relatively inert, but if you choose to cut/shape it with a hotwire tool, use appropriate ventilation and other protection. Physical shaping (with a knife and/or rasp) will require vaccum cleanup.

    • The white "styrofoam" that breaks into beads (also comes in pink in my area) is EXPANDED polystyrene. It does not have the strength that the EXTRUDED type does. However, it is suitable for landforms over a solid base. It does not carve or cut cleanly unless you use a hotwire tool.

    • "No More Nails" is NOT "Gorilla Glue". Gorilla Glue is an expanding/foaming polyurethane glue that cures in the presence of moisture instead of air. It is suitable for between foam layers as long as one layer receives a light mist of water. When gluing wood to foam, there will be enough moisture in the wood to cure the glue.

    • Dust produced when cutting pine, spruce and/or plywood is also toxic, and similar precautions should be taken (ventilation/respiratory protection). And don't foget your hearing and eye protection when using power tools...!

  5. Mannix

    Mannix Member

    Thanks to all of you who responded to my question. The information that you shared is very valuable. The room where I have my layout is not vented so I would have to do any cutting outside if I used the pink foam (Foamular by Owens Corning). Right now the temperature is a -12 degrees so it is not conducive to working outside. After reading all of your posts, I feel that I need to find some other product for landscaping my layout.
    Thanks again for all of your information.
  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Mannix - you only have to do the cutting with ventilation if you create fumes by using a hot wire tool that melts, rather than cuts its way through the foam. If you use physical cutting methods (deboning knife, boxcutter, rasp/file, etc) you can do it indoors. Just keep the shop vac handy if using the file or rasp. A sprayer full of water to mist the foam can help cut down on the little filings "static clinging" to everything... ;)

  7. Nazgul

    Nazgul Active Member

    Andrew really makes a valid point. I have used blue foam extensively on my layout and I have not found it any messier than the other scenic options available. I use a long serrated knife to cut my foam and although It may get dust on the floor, it does not get it in the air doing it this way. It is one way to do scenery and it has it's good points and bad points like all methods do. I personally like using it, especially as a base over plywood or wood frame. It makes carving rivers, ponds and other scenic elements very easy.
    Here's an example:

    Good luck on your layout!:thumb:
  8. Mannix

    Mannix Member

    Nazgul, I enjoyed looking at the pictures of your railroad. The landscaping that I need to do involves making mountains so there will be a lot of cutting and carving. I have HO gauge with DCC.
  9. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    Styrofoam is no different from any other material if you don't follow the instructions. When heated (ie foam cutter, hot air gun, or any other device that you can't hold your hand to) it gives off gases. Therefore, when using tools that create heat, make sure you are well ventilated. Best place to work with styrofoam (for other reasons) is on the picnic table outside.

    Cutting styrofoam - don't use a circular saw or any other power tool. It isn't necessary. Styrofoam is very easy to cut using a hand saw, hack saw, or any other tool that has a serated blade. However, it does produce "crumbs" that are loaded with static electricity. The crumbs stick to everything that you don't want them to stick to - including your clothes. Which is another reason why you should cut the stuff outside. Always have your shop vac close at hand ready to vacuum the crumbs on you and on the cut styrofoam. It will save you a lot of work later on.

    You can glue styrofoam together with wood glues, polyurethan glues, "No-More-nails", or other types of glues. If you use contact cement (not recommended), make sure it is the latex kind. I prefer to use the polyurethane glue because I have time to position it in place before the glue sets up (usually in an hour), it doesn't slide all over the place (like wood glue), and it really bonds the styrofoam to the styrofoam or to the wood.

    Polyurethane glue absorbs moisture which speeds up the gluing process. To help things along, I spray a fine water mist onto the surface being glued (either the styrofoam or the receiving surface) and then set the styrofoam in place. I keep an eye on things for the next hour as the glue reacts with the water. The glue will expand to fill any cavity it encounters or will come out of the edges of the glued pieces. I simply wipe off this foam as it expands with a rag dampened in varsol or paint thinner.

    The glue will set up in about an hour. It is ready for trimming within 24 hours. However, once it sets, you will need a chisel to break it up (not recommended as you will destroy whatever it is you are trying to loosen). Any glue that has expanded beyond where you wanted it to go can be trimmed with a sharp knife or sanded (make sure you have that shop vac handy).

    The space between the glued piece of styrofoam and the receiving surface can be blended together. Because I work with modules that must be lightweight for transportation, I use spachling compound instead of plaster. The spachling compound has the consistency of Dream Whip dessert topping. It is easy to apply either directly out of the pail with a spatula, or indirectly using a plastic lunch bag. Snip a small piece of the corner off of the plastic lunch bag and load the bag up with spachling compound. Twist the open neck of the lunch bag so that it is closed. Voila you have a "cake decorator" full of spachling compound ready to apply to your layout. Cleanup is really simple. Either save the lunchbag for the next application or throw it out. Wash the tools with soap and water.

    To apply spachling compound, simply squeeze the twisted lunch bag to distribute the compound into the places where you want it to go. Spread it around with putty knives, X-Acto knives, styrene scrapers, lids of margarine tubs, or whatever else you want to use. Get rid of the spatula tracks by brushing the compound with small paint brushes (1" or artists) dipped in water. Let it dry for 36 hours. Then apply paints or scenicking materials.

    When painting styrofoam do not use oil based or alkyd paints. Alkyd paints will eat styrofoam. When painting large surfaces, use latex paints. They are easy to apply, dry fast, and are styrofoam-compatible. I use flat latex paints which I can buy in the quart (or gallon) size at my local Home Hardware for about $15 ($35) Cdn tinted to the colour that I want. (shades of grey, earth-tone browns, grassy greens, etc)

    IMHO, styrofoam is the only way to go!

    Have fun. (I am!)

    Bob M.

    See youse guys at the HOTRAK module rally this weekend. Setup starts Friday at 4:30.
  10. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

    Does it mean that I cannot use white glue ( Lepage in Canada ) or yellow carpenter glue for gluing the cork roadbed to the styrofoam ?

    And thanks Chaparral for that very detailed information.
  11. Thoroughbreed

    Thoroughbreed Member

    I have used the Elmers school glue for foam-foam-wood, and it works great. But my method of application leaves alot to be desired. I do it the school kid way, in that I squeeze it out of the bottle in long runs, and then apply the foam. This way theres air in between the surfaces to cure the glue, but its still strong.
    But always remember to remove the plastic film from both sides of the foam before any gluing application:thumb:
  12. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Turkey -

    You can use the yellow glue, but it requires air contact to cure. The problem arises when you put it between two impermiable layers like styrofoam. It dries around the outside, but never dries in the middle. You can use it to glue the cork to the styrofoam though, as the cork is not a huge slab of impervious material, and will eventually let some air through to cure the glue. You can also try latex adhesive caulking. That works well and is very tacky from the beginning for a better, faster drying hold.

  13. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

  14. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Yes, you can use that. I never was able to locate any, so I just used the white paintable latex stuff in the pressurized cannister. It was sticky enough to work well.

    The technique is the same though. However, I used a notched plastic putty knife for applying the cork to the foam (and foam to plywood, and foam to foam). I used a straight /standard knife when spreading caulk to attach the track on the cork.

  15. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

    Don't you have a Homedepot store around ?
    There is one in Montreal, I entered the words "DAP caulk" and it came back with a ... 2 pages result.
  16. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Depite their best efforts, there is not yet a big orange box in every town in the land... ;) :D

    My local Home Hardware (remember those?) did not carry DAP brand.

  17. Fort Kent Dad

    Fort Kent Dad New Member

    To glue foam to foam I used a latex contact cement, spread on both surfaces, leave 20 minutes or so and than press together - hold with weights. This makes a very tight bond. The styrofoam will split before the glued section will come apart. I do believe in reasonable safety, but if we followed all the MSDS requirements for everything we did would we ever get anything done? Sometimes it seems a little overboard. We breathe in 10x these toxins from second hand tobacco smoke. Ventalation when using chemicals(glues and styrofoams) and even press board and plywoods which include chemicals is a good thing. As was mentioned above, even natural woods can give of toxins. Hemlock is a perfectly natural product. I guess I could be accused of taking Modeling to Xtreme for the High Risks of gluing foam boards (which builders use all the time to insulate houses). Be safe but not silly.

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