After a lot of questions about my Skyrim Cultist costume, I thought it was time I did a how-to on how I made the dragon head on the shoulder armor. This was all carved out of a block of EVA foam floor mats that had been glued together. These techniques can be used to carve most anything out of foam. Here is the run down.
– Since I’m using the floor mats and they have a texture on one side, I needed to remove that texture; the reason being so that I have good adhesion between layers. I used a band saw with a high TPI (teeth per square inch) blade and a guide to shave off the texture. You can also use a bench sander or dremel with a sanding drum to remove the texture side.
Ok! We have our materials, and are all caught up with the prep. Now what?
Start first with your pattern. Depending on what you’re carving, you will need the side, top, front and the back. For this shape I only needed the side and top. You’ll want to cut out several foam sections just slightly larger than your pattern, and enough pieces so that when they are stacked together that they are just as wide if not slightly wider than your pattern. Once you’ve figured out your measurements and have your foam cut out, and the texture side removed (if it has any textured sides), grab your Barge and glue all of those layers together.
Now that you have your block, you can clean up all of the sides. I used the band saw with a guide set close to the blade to trim a thin layer off the edges to even out all of the sides; a bench sander will work also for this. The next steps will all greatly depend on what shape/pattern you are going to carve out.
For this shape, I started with the side pattern and transferred it to my foam block. If you’re using a bench sander, band saw, or scroll saw, then you only need one side with the pattern–these tools all have angle guides on them to ensure a 90 degree cut and consistent, clean lines. If you are using a dremel then you will need to trace the pattern out on both sides with guide lines drawn across to make sure everything lines up. While all of these steps can be done using a dremel to whittle away the foam, I’m using power tools to save time. For the first cuts getting my side pattern’s silhouette cut out, I used a band saw.
I have my sides shaped out, now I’ll trace out the top silhouette and sand that down with the bench sander. I’ve drawn 90 degree guide lines down the front to ensure I sand off the right amount and that the shape stays even.
Next, I need to round out the top. To keep it even, I drew a line down the center before taking it over to the bench sander. After removing the bulk of the foam, I used a dremel with sanding drum bit to smooth it out.
Now to trace out the side details. While the top is rounded, the bottom is still flat, so I use the bottom edge to line up and transfer my pattern. To transfer the multiple detailed patterns, I work piece by piece, cutting the pattern apart and making sure to draw it out on both sides. Having a center line on the top helps to keep the shape symmetrical.
The first part I am going to carve out is the top ridge scale. For this I used the common sanding drum and slowly removed the foam along the guide line. Then, I went back over and carved out each scale along the back. After that, I transferred the rest of the side pattern. When doing this, cut out a section, trace it, then cut out the next section and trace it. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Never cut out all of the pattern pieces at once, or it gets really tricky to line it all up.
Now it’s time to carve all of those little lines on the side! FUN! Don’t be afraid to go slower here, sanding a little away at time. It does help to have a flex shaft with your dremel for dexterity. When it gets to the smaller details, like around the eyes, I switch to a smaller bit. My preferred bit is a grinding bit that’s intended purpose is for sharpening chain saws.
After I carved in my lines around the eyes and carved out the front, I went back over the whole piece with the small grinding bit to clean up all of the grooves I carved in.
From here I would glue my shape to the rest of the armor, seal it, and paint it. For more on painting, click here. Some other great dremel bits for carving and shaping are the round bits below. There are all manner of shapes of grinding and sanding bits. I suggest trying them out and see what cool textures and effects you can get when carving foam.
I will recommend that you stay away from routing bits when carving foam, as they have a tendency to tear and rip the foam.
One and done! These techniques can be applied to numerous foam projects! Now go fabricate some badass stuff out of foam!