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vrijdag 29 september 2017

New Tombstones, part 1

When I started this blog in 2013, one of the first things I made was a set of tombstones. Now we're four years later, and the tombstones have been retired (read: smashes to pieces and thrown in a dumpster). In the meantime, my skills have also improved a bit, so it's time to build new ones!

I apologize in advance for the crappy photos. The lighting in my garage is horrible, and taking pictures of bright foam sheets is quite challenging! 

Materials and tools
When I built my first stones, I used expanded polystyrene foam (EPS). The problem with this material is that it's very soft and fragile, it's the kind of foam that has all those nasty little white beads. Now I'm using extruded polystyrene foam (XPS), wich is harder and doesn't have those little beads. It's a lot easier to work with, especially for engraving text. With EPS, it's almost impossible. On my first stones, I used a wood burning tool, wich gets waaaay too hot; with XPS foam, you can use a Dremel.
For glueing them together, I used a polyurethane based wood glue. This costs a bit more than regular white wood glue, but it's much stronger. PU glue slightly foams as it cures and fills any gaps. I tested it first on some scrap foam, to make sure it didn't dissolve it. Polystyrene is easily dissolved in many solvents, but apparently this glue didn't contain any of them.
So, without any further delay, here's the complete list of materials. It doesn't include painting supplies yet, that's for the next part!
  • 2 cm thick XPS foam plates
  • 16 mm diameter PVC pipes
  • PU wood glue
  • Band saw with 24 tpi blade
  • Hot wire cutter
  • Wood burning tool 
  • Respirator
  • Dremel with flexible shaft
  • Grinding stones and diamond engraving bits
  • 80 grit sandpaper 
  • Wood leftovers (plywood, melamine, ...)
I wanted my large stones to be the same size: 80 by 50 centimeters. The reason for this is that I'm also building a tomb that will serve as a storage box, and they have to fit inside. The remaining space will be filled with smaller stones.
I took out my sketchbook and started designing the large stones. At first, I printed some reference pictures of real tombstones, but eventually I ended up designing most of them from scratch myself. I didn't add too much details, most of them would be added on the fly anyway. I did keep the proportions and scale in mind, so it would be easier to transfer the designs to the foam plates.

 One major flaw in my first stones was that I forgot something to keep them standing upright. I ended up using duct tape! This time, I'll glue a few pieces of PVC pipe to the back, so I can use sticks to keep them in place.

Basic shapes
With the designs ready, I got started on the basic shapes. Each stone consists of two panels of foam glued together, with the details carved into them. I first cut out the inside shape of the front panel, glued it to the back panel, and then cut out the entire outside shape of the stone. I don't know if this explanation makes much sense, I hope the pictures do a better job.

Next up, I cut some decorative profiles in some of the edges. I bought a new hot wire cutter, this one uses a much thicker wire that can be bent into shape. Mainly the inner edges got a profile cut into them. The outer edges were rounded by sanding with 80 grit sandpaper.

Besides 80x50 cm tombstones, I also made some 30x50 cm tombstones. I had already designed the tomb I wanted to use for storing and transporting the stones, and I had some space left. In total, I will make seven large stones and five small ones. The small tombstones will have names of children from horror movies (Georgie, Samara, Jumby, ...).

Carving details
The most important details were the names on the stones. I typed them on my computer, printed them and then needed to find a way to transfer them to the foam. Problem is, carbon paper doesn't work, it simply doesn't show on foam. However, simply taping the paper in place and tracing the letters with a pen worked fine. The outline was slightly carved into the foam and easily traced with a ball point pen.

For carving, I used a Dremel. If you want to do fine detail work, a flexible shaft is a must have. I hung the tool itself from a hook on the ceiling, so I could easily move the handle on the flex shaft around.

I started with a grinding stone to remove a lot of material fast from the letters, and then used a thin diamond engraving bit for carving out the exact shape of the letters. Medium speed is best for engraving foam; too fast and the foam will melt, and there will be globs of molten plastic in the letters.

I also carved some decorations out of foam scraps. For example, Jack Sparrow's tombstone got a Jolly Roger skull, and John Kramer's a puzzle piece.

Wear and tear
Of course, the tombstones should look old, damaged and worn. With styrofoam, the perfect way to do this is with a wood burning tool. I melted out large chunks of foam, and carved cracks in the foam.

A very important warning here, styrofoam releases very nasty fumes when melted or burned. This should only be done outside or in a well ventilated area, and you should definitely wear a respirator!

Keeping them in place
Like I said, my first tombstones weren't really stable. I did add some sort of base, but nonetheless the slightest breeze knocked them over, and I had to improvise with duct tape. This time, I took my precautions!
First of all, I cut 6 cm long pieces of 16 mm PVC pipe. I then carved a channel in a chunk of foam, put the pipe in it and glued it to the back of the stones, so I can use sticks to keep them up.

Second, I cut some strips of leftover wood and attached them to the bottom of the stones with glue and screws. This protects the base of the stones a bit, and makes them bottom heavy and thus more stable.

Here are a few of my finished, unpainted stones. I tried to carve Beetlejuice's face in the stone, but he looks more like Doc Brown...

A few of the little ones:

The next step in painting, but that's for the next post!

woensdag 23 augustus 2017

Zombicide Machine Guns, part 2

Woohoo, here's part 2 of my Zombicide machine guns build! In the first part, I built the guns out of foam and plastic. Now it's time to paint them!

Materials and tools
  • Foam primer (book binding glue/acrylic gesso 50/50)
  • Wood primer
  • Spray primer
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrush and -roller
  • Masking tape
  • Paper towels
  • Varnish
Like the previous part, I made a video of this. Again, way too much footage. This one is a lot shorter than the first one. I'm getting better with the video editing software, it didn't take as long as the first time. But for future videos, I should really invest in proper lighting and a good microphone.


The start of any paint job is a good primer. For foam props, I use my glue/gesso mixture. This does a great job sealing the foam and providing a smooth surface. In this case, however, I used several other materials, so the foam primer alone wouldn't do.
But first, the foam parts. I thinned my primer a bit so I would get a smoother surface, and used a foam brush to avoid brush strokes. On my axe, I used a paint roller, but that only works for large even surfaces. I gave each gun three layers of primer, and then let them dry overnight. For the MDF parts, I used a wood primer.

The next day, I primed the guns with spray primer, so all the plastic parts would get a base coat. Three layers of primer, with about 30 minutes between each layer, and then curing overnight.

I plan to experiment a bit with other types of foam primers in the future. One type I'd like to try is Flexi Paint, wich is both a primer and paint developed specifically for EVA foam.

Chipped paint
To make the guns look old and used, I first of all wanted some chipped paint. This is surprisingly easy to create! I painted some silver spots where I wanted chipped paint, and after it had dried, I masked it with liquid latex. After the base color is painted over these spots, the latex is peeled off, revealing the silver below. This looks very realistic, because, well, it IS chipped paint!
I had to wait for the base color to fully dry before I saw the result of this trick, but I can already say I went a bit overboard. After peeling off the latex, I painted over some silver areas again, because I overdid it and it looked a bit fake. As for more effects, less is more!

Base colors
Before I started painting, I mixed a good base color. I couldn't find the right color in a spray can, so I had to mix it myself and use a brush. Funny thing, I do have an airbrush lying around (borrowed it from my brother, who doesn't use it anymore), but I need to get the right type of paint first, an adapter for the air hose and, most important of all, learn to use it and practice a lot first. So, for now, the good old paintbrush!
The base color is gray, darkened with some black and then a bit of blue. Guns usually have a blueish-gray color. I tested it first on a piece of foam, and waited for it to dry before checking the color. On acrylic paints, the color always changes a bit as the paint dries, and I didn't want any unpleasant surprises.
I wanted to avoid brush strokes as much as possible, but a paint roller wouldn't get into every small detail, so I used a brush first, and then went over it with a foam roller. This did a great job of removing the brush strokes.

After it had dried, I took my base color and darkened it a bit with more black. This was used for the grip, the bottom of the magazines and the forward grip on the big gun.

Details and weathering
Allright, so the paint had dried, and I had peeled off the latex that masked the silver spots. The next thing I did was drybrushing a bit of black on the handles and the exhausts on the muzzle brake. On the small guns, I painted a recessed area on the front of the guns white first, followed by orange. I painted it white first because the orange didn't really cover up the gray very well (yes, I tried). After the orange had dried, I used masking tape for fragile paint to make some black stripes. Orange and black hazard stripes are frequently used in Zombicide manuals and artwork, so it's a nice reference to the game.

But next came the most fun and messiest part: weathering! This turns a shiny, clean new prop in something old, worn and dirty. The first step was drybrushing white paint over all edges. This lightens them and makes them look a bit worn. This wasn't the messy part, but the next part was: washing!
I used a wash in most of my props, so I have explained it a lot already, but for anyone who's new to my blog, here it is again. Basically, you paint your entire prop black (or any other color you want to use) and then, while the paint is still wet, you wipe most of it off again with a paper towel. Paint remains in some areas, especially cracks and recesses, so it looks like dirt.

The black was ruined my white drybrushing job for the most part, so I had to repeat it. I should have known this would happen, but luckily the drybrushing didn't take long.
After all the weathering was done, I added a few final details. On the big gun, I added a kill count with red paint and a pen. And finally, I put some pale green dots on the sights on all three guns.
The only thing left was a protective clearcoat. On the magazines, I masked the exposed bullets with some masking tape and then gave everthing a few coats with matte spray varnish.

It took me a while to finish them, but my first foam firearms are finished. Using textured floor mats and small pieces of foam isn't the best way to build these, so I plan to buy large, smooth sheets of foam for future projects. I should also learn to use an airbrush, and finally get the accessories I still need to get going.
As for the guns, they will see their first use next Elf Fantasy Fair, along with Tiff's Axe. Before that, I'm going to build a box for transporting them safely. I would hate to arrive in Arcen, only to find out my props got damaged in the trunk of my car.
Speaking of safety, it goes without saying you should use some common sense when travelling with realistic looking prop guns. Although these guns are fake, I can imagine not everybody would notice it and think they are real. So if you build stuff like this, keep them out of sight while on the road. To quote Harrison Krix from Volpin Props: "A convention is a good place to show off your work, a post office isn't"!

maandag 14 augustus 2017

Flanged Mace

My last melee weapon, Tiff's Axe, was designed with a specific character in mind. This weapon, however, is a completely random design. I wanted to try out a new technique for making blades out of EVA foam, here's how it turned out.

  • EVA foam floor mats
  • 2mm thick EVA foam
  • 3mm MDF
  • Contact cement
  • Hot glue
  • PVC glue
  • 32 mm diameter thick walled PVC pipe
  • PVC coupler for pipe
  • Foam primer (book binding glue + acrylic gesso)
  • Acrylic paints
  • Oil paint
  • Matte varnish
The design
Okay, so what's this new technique I mentioned? First of all, the design of the weapon. I did a lot of sketching and came up with a hexagonal central shaft, and six blades arranged around it to form the mace head. It's the blades I wanted to try something new with.
If you want to make a blade out of foam, you need to sandwich a few layers together, and if you use floor mats, this means you'll have to remove the texture from one side. This is a tedious and very messy process. Even with a shop vacuum hooked up to my bench sander, it still makes a lot of dust.
Except very small blades (such as daggers), you usually need some sort of core to add some support, or else you end up with a floppy blade. For Tiff's Axe, this wasn't necessary because it consisted of four layers of foam, but my first Battle Axe has an MDF core. This gave me an idea.
Instead of sanding away the texture, I wanted to try glueing it with the textured side to an MDF core. For the blade edge, instead of sanding away foam, I made some beveled cuts and used strips of foam to create the edge. A band saw is a must have for this!
I did some sketching and doodling before I got started. I almost never let anyone look in my sketchbook, because there's so much ridiculous, stupid crap in it, but for this once, I'm giving you a peak inside. The notes are in Dutch, so there's a good chance you won't understand it.

My first attempt was polyurethane wood glue. This stuff expands a bit as it cures, and I hoped it would fill up the texture of the floor mats. Too bad, it didn't work out, the glue hardly binds to the foam. I tried a hot glue gun instead, this worked much better. It only needs to be glued down in a few places to keep the core in place.

The blades
For the blades, I made six MDF cores. They have the same shape as the blades themselves, but I also made a tenon on the side that will be attached to the central shaft. In the shaft, I'll cut a groove so it will form a strong connection.

For each blade, I cut two large pieces of foam, wich were glued to the MDF core, and strips for the edges. This requires some care with the angles of the cuts to make it all fit nicely together. Like I said, a bandsaw with a mitre gauge is a must have for this.

Turned out quite ok! I rounded the tips a bit with my Dremel, because otherwise they would get damaged too easily. The result is a light, rigid blade with a cutting edge without any sanding!

The central shaft
The central shaft consists of six strips of foam, glued together around a piece of PVC pipe to form a hexagon. On one end, I glued a PVC coupler to the pipe, for attaching it to the handle.

The ends of the shaft are made by sandwiching a few layers of foam, cutting into shape, and in the case of the lower end, cutting a hole for the handle.

Next, I cut slots in the handle for attaching the blades, a bit like a tenon-and-mortise joint in woodworking. The blades were glued on with more contact cement.

And finally, some decorations with thin, colourful craft foam!

The handle
For the handle, I used a piece of thick walled, 32 mm white PVC pipe. These come in several wall thicknesses, mine is 3 mm thick. I wanted to make it look like wood (part of it), for that I used a very simple technique. All it takes is sandpaper, a wood rasp and oil paint. The pipe has to be white for this to work!
First, I sanded the entire pipe with #80 grit sandpaper, and then I used a wood rasp to carve a wood grain into it. Just some random, deep scratches. After that, I sanded again with #80 grit sandpaper, and then worked my way up to #400 grit.

To achieve the wood color, I put some dark brown oil paint on a sponge and rubbed it on. I used this technique before, but with acrylic paint. The downside of acrylic is that it dries too fast for this. You have to spread the paint really thin, and acrylic almost dries instantly when you do that. Oil paint stays wet much longer, so you have plenty of time to get it right.

It took about three days for the paint to fully dry. After that, I made some foam decorations on the handle. One half of the handle will be wood, the lower part (where you hold it) will be wrapped in leather. But first, painting!

Painting and finishing
The paintjob started, as usual, with my foam primer, a mixture of acrylic gesso and book binding glue. I added a bit of black to the mixture to get a grey base coat. The mace head and foam decorations on the handle were treated with this.

As for the painting itself, I didn't take much pictures of that. Most of it was done at a local arts faire, and I already had more than enough stuff to drag along, I didn't want to bring a big heavy camera. I did take a picture with my phone, so forgive me the crappy quality.

So, basically, here's how it went. After the primer, I sprayed on a gray base color with a spraycan. Next, a black wash (that's what's going on on the picture above), followed by white drybrushing. The drybrushing made all the edges and ridges really pop. It already looked like metal without any metallic paint!
I sealed this with matte spray varnish, and then drybrushed a very thin coat of silver. I put the metallic paint on top of the clearcoat, because with my battle axe and 12-sided mace, the clearcoat kind of ruined the metallic effect. Here's how it turned out:

For the handle, I cut a 5 cm wide strip of vinyl leather, put on contact cement and folded about 5 mm on one side, to hide the edge where I cut it. It then got wrapped around the lower part of the handle, the final bit got glued on with super glue. All that was left then was put the head and the handle together!

It turned out quite good, but my wife had a few ideas for improvement. First of all, the wood color is too bright, next time I should use a more grayish color. Second, the weapon looks too new and unused. It should have some cracks and dents in it, so it looks like it has seen some action. I'll keep it in mind for next time!