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
Table of Contents
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.
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
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.
Hardware Cloth (~$10-$20?; Home
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
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.