This is taking longer than I would like. I’ll talk about this more later but I’m now seeing that building up a layout out of foam may be a good technique but quite time consuming. 

I’m staring to think that building up out of foam has its place but not as the way to build your entire layout.

One area it makes sense is around Crazy Horse Canyon since I have a pretty detailed idea how the terrain will be contoured and it will be nearly all rock castings.

First, I really don’t think building up layer cake style works as well as making vertical slices. I see in the December 2006 Model Railroader that Pelle Søeborg also builds this way.

I started by drawing pencil lines on my planning model that I would turn into profile cut pieces of Styrofoam. Next I used a profile gauge to transfer the profile onto a scaled piece of graph paper that matches a 2” square grid.

Then I marked my 2” thick 2 ‘ x 4’ pieces of Styrofoam with a 2” grid.

Transfer the contour to the big board.

Cut with either a hot-wire cutter or my hot knife. If I can reach far enough I use the wire cutter since it does finer work but if not I use my hot knife which can reach anywhere. Then I place the piece in place.

The “back” side of the hill behind the canyon I measured by pressing the contour gauge straight down.

The “front” side of the canyon is mostly vertical and even has an overhang

so I pulled off the bit of modeling clay opposite the cliff and measured it by pressing the contour gauge straight into the cliff face.

As I add the pieces I place them unglued in position and then go back with a hot wire cutter and trim each piece to more nearly fair into its neighboring slice.

This makes a big mess even when you use hot cutting (although nothing like the mess you make sawing bead-board):

I figure nearly half of the styrofoam you buy ends up as unusable small scraps you have to throw away.

8 Responses to “Cutting Styrofoam to shape for Crazy Horse Canyon”

  1. Ben Says:

    What about fumes? Sam Posey has Parkinson’s disease. If Parkinson’s is an environmental disease, then he may have gotten it from cutting foam. I know a 70 year old model railroader who has had cancer three times. Do you wear a respirator?

  2. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    YES: always wear a respirator. I also have ventilation such that the fumes are immediately exhausted out of the house.

  3. Eric Says:

    Why did you choose to make the entire mountain solid styrofoam? I like how you kept the track on a wood frame and surrounded the frame with styrofoam. To any other readers out there, make sure you do the same!! I made a blunder by using the sytrofoam ramps from Woodland Scenic. Althought it was easy to create, it was bad news when the tracks started to buckle as the styrofoam expanded/contracted over a short time (a few months).

  4. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    Hi Eric,

    Up to the ends of the track the mountain is solid only from the tracks up so there’s a big hollow area underneath. Then down to the riverbed is obviously solid.

    Thanks for writing,

  5. Joe Daddy Says:

    Your experience and question about foam matches mine. I abandoned foam for everything but being a framework, or a base for removable sections where masonite would not work. I now use aluminum screen wire (wadded up first) and fastened to foam or plywood shapers using drywall screws to hold in place. Then I paint with hydrocal and I have a mountain. Much cheaper and a whole lot quicker. I have pictures on my blog. By the way, how do we link our blogs together, I really like the stuff you write.

    Best regards,

    Joe Daddy

  6. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    Hi Joe Daddy,

    Thanks for writing. I’m incresingly happy with red-rosin paper these days. I’ll try to post some pictures soon.

    I’ve added your blog to my blogroll.

    Happy Trains,

  7. Al Semer Says:

    Nice work, I’m new to railroading but have 40-years experience with contouring and topography. I have begun to fashion a cliff and stream crossing beneath the track within a 2×3-feet grid. Its my first element on a very vertical landscape. I am curious as to what you use to bond the styro-block together. I’m going to switch from liquid nails to a thinned white glue but wonderr if this will shorten the length of time I can maintain the scene. Pro modeling doesn’t have a long life.

  8. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    Hi Al,

    I use DAP “Beats the Nail” construction adhesive. I’ve also had good experience with using a hot-glue gun.