Miniatures Hobby Materials 

This is a very multifaceted hobby and there are a dazzling array of supplies that can be useful. If you know of more, contact me via my questions/comments form. For good tools, check my Hobby Supplies Page.

Table of Contents

Chain, Fine

I have heard that Westrim makes inexpensive chains that are fine enough to use with miniatures.

Other sources are arts and craft stores and the ship building section of hobby stores. The latter can get pricey though.


There are a lot of types of foams and concerns for each.

Polystyrene Foam

This is the foam that is best-suited to cutting with hot wire tools. There are two varieties;

  • Extruded: this is the stuff most commonly used for household insulation. It is smooth and pink. The brand names I have come across are Foamular (pink) and Styrofoam (blue). This stuff is very nice because it can be easily sanded and worked after cutting. It is like a cross between foam and balsa wood. You can purchase this at a DIY store, like Home Depot, Lowe's, or Builder's Square. If you want anything other than 3/4" or 1" thick, you will probably have to go up the distribution chain to a supplier of construction materials.
  • Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. expanded bead: this is the most commonly seen type. The inexpensive white coolers are made out of this, and most electronics components are packed with it. It is white and has a grainy texture to it due to the beads. It is made by heating pellets of polystyrene. It is light and reasonably firm. I would generally not rely upon it support the weight of anything but more foam. While this foam is cheap and easy to acquire, it has two main drawbacks - 1) it cannot be sanded/worked cleanly outside of using a hot wire, and 2) the bead texture may need to be covered up depending on your application.

A significant concern with PS is chemical resistance. Normal CA glue may melt it. Standard spray paints will also melt it; I use Krylon's Home Decor line of Latex Spray Paints if I want smooth coverage. However, this melting can be exploited. For example I used standard Krylon primer to melt the surface of some rocky hills I was making for wargaming and I was able to craft some nice-looking asteroid/lava pieces.

Polyurethane Foam, a.k.a. Foam Rubber

This is the squishy foam. Do not try to cut this with a hot wire! It will melt, foul the wire, and give off abundant toxic fumes. However, one site, Necromundicon (Sean Patten's Site), talks about using this material and even describes it as one of the top ten tools/materials for terrain making. I have not yet tried using it. There are various grades of firmness, and I assume the firmest material is what makes the best terrain.

Foam Closures ($1-2; Roofing section of Home Depot*)

* - Note: you will find this material only where corrugated roofing is sold. The Home Depot nearest me stopped carrying them, but every other Home Depot in my local area still carries them. The most recent ones I bought were made by Suntuf; they may be able to help you find a retailer if you are having problems finding this stuff.

These are strips of foam material that are used with corrugated roofing materials to close the gaps that would otherwise be present between the roof material and the beams supporting it. They come in a blocky version (at right) and a more rounded version. My most recently purchased strips came in a pack of five and they have a little ridge on top on one side, so they are not as clean looking as the picture shows, although one facing is, so it's not a huge problem.

These can make for quick and inexpensive "Dragon's Teeth" tank traps. Here's how I did it.

Hardware Cloth (~$10-$20?; Home Depot)

This is a heavy gage metal mesh used for pet cages and such. It can be bought in various sizes. I use the 1/4" spacing material for making razorwire and ladders. Any variety of metal clippers will do, based upon your desired application. One roll will do for a lot of people for a long time.

Snaps ($1 or $2; just about any place that sells fabric)

Simple fabric snaps make great handles for doors, detonator tips for mines, etc. Yes, I have already used a few from the pack shown in the picture. :)

You may need to run a pin through the center of the snap piece used for stability. Depending on the size of the pin, that will involve using a pin vise to expand the already existing hole in the middle.

Styrene (a.k.a. Plasticard)

This is polystyrene, which is the material used to make most plastic models. This white plastic comes in all shapes and sizes and is a scratch builders best friend. It comes in flat sheets, textured sheets, I-beams, rods, tubes, you name it. One of the primary manufacturers is Evergreen. Most hobby shops will have something to offer.

Because it is plastic, it will not warp due to moisture, which is important when you start painting, gluing, etc. Realize that with smaller pieces, thinner sheets can provide adequate stability. When using it as a base for terrain, I find 0.060" thick is a practical minimum for rigidity with small bases. For large bases, I would recommend a thicker styrene.

Cutting Styrene Sheets: It's easiest to cut straight lines with this material. Simply score the material by drawing a sharp knife along the desired line; note, you are not trying to cut all the way through, just make a partial cut. Brace the material over an edge and bend the sheet backwards. It will snap cleanly along the line. Try it out a couple of time before making any important cuts.

Cutting Thick (or large diameter tube) Styrene: If your styrene is too thick for scoring or it is a tube with too large of a diameter to be cut without deformation, try a hobby saw. I use the X-Acto hobby saw with mitre box.

Sanding Styrene: This can be the necessary, but will usually roughen the surface. If you want to smooth it back down, I recommend brushing a thin, fast-drying plastic cement over the area, such as Tenax.

Wire, Armature (A few dollars; any art supply store, and most craft stores)

This is handy stuff. Not only can it be used as intended, for figure armatures, but it can also be used as a temporary support, structural material in terrain pieces (miniatures wargames), and if you have a wide mouth jar and a spiral of this, you can make your very own brush tank! I find it handy to know the sizes of the various armatures, but there are multiple wire gauges out there, so just check with your vendor.

Wire, Music (<$1 for a 2'-long rod; Hobby & Railroad Stores [I used G&G Hobby])

This is a heavy dark greay steel wire, that really resembles a rod more than a wire at most thicknesses. It is stiff and hard to cut, but that makes it a great structural material for fine structures that need to bear weight, e.g. bases for flying models. I was able to cut 0.078" diameter wire with heavy duty handheld wire cutters and some effort.


Questions? Comments? Please let me know via my questions/comments form!