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Cutting foam

Discussion in 'Puppet Building and Performing' started by biblebetty, Nov 28, 2003.

  1. biblebetty

    biblebetty Well-Known Member

    Hi, I need some advice, I have made my talking gift puppet and I'm very happy with them. and I builted a whale (he is 5ft long by 2ft high) now I'm trying to build a people puppet and I'm using 1 inch foam. David suggest something between 1/2 and 1inch foam. (sorry don't remember the number) well I can't find any foam in that size any were! If I use 1/2 the puppet head is not strong enough and will colapes. If I use 1 inch foam the puppet head is to big and bulkie. and what do you cut the foam with to get the nice edges. I have tried sissors, an electic knive even a quilter cutter. nothing gets those clean edges. I NEED HELP!

  2. PukkaPukka

    PukkaPukka Well-Known Member

    Methods Suggestion

    Hello there!

    Good to hear that construction is still alive and kicking :)
    In reference to your question, what has worked for me in the past was either a) a reeeeally sharp pair of scissors (the ones that seem outrageously priced - not all of them, but look into Fiskars stuff) or b) surprisingly, a bread knife or a dull bladed knife. Or alternatively you could just get one of those 'scissor-guides' like they use to cut various materials at fabric shops and attach that to a flat surface. I guess my next question should be "what type of foam are you using?"

    Different products have differing shears (ranging from a nice, clean cut, to just plain raggedy). I just used standard polyfoam (about 3/4") for my first few tries, and that cut really well with scissors (BTW, if you can't find one in the size you want, get thicker than you need, and then just slice it in half with whatever method works for you. I hope I could help! Keep on chugging along - I'd love to see your finished product!

    Oh, and also, about your 'saggy puppet' issue, for me personally, I don't necessarily build my puppet around the foam. I build what will work with my hand, and just use the foam as a basic structure supported by my hand-work and the batting that I put into it. When I (finally) post my puppet images (i posted that really long yarn about my attempt), that'll give you a bit of insight into my methodology, although a lot of it is interior work. Post your pics when you finish! :)

    Waiting to see the result,

    FISH'N'WOLFE Well-Known Member

    The best tool for cutting is a band saw, but if you don't have one then try the methods listed by Adam. :)
  4. biblebetty

    biblebetty Well-Known Member

    thanks guys, I use good thick foam, I have a foam factory here in California. I made three talking gift boxes for a christmas show call the "greatest Gift". where three gifts are agrueing about who the greatest gift is. I think they came out good. I have a camera for the computer but I don't know how to use it to show you guys.
  5. PukkaPukka

    PukkaPukka Well-Known Member

    I can't believe that slipped my mind. Thanks for reminding me Fish!

    Yea, by all means go with a band saw first and foremost (I have one, but I kinda had trouble with it from the get-go...I'm not reliable when it comes to machine tools...hehehe). I've actually had trouble myself with using foam all throughout the puppet (it ended up being stiff and stodgy - it wouldn't mould to my hand for easy movement - but whatever you need, that's prob the best way). Band saw. Nuff said. :)
  6. PukkaPukka

    PukkaPukka Well-Known Member

    [for biblebetty] Y'know something....

    EDIT [Urg! This was supposed to be in biblebetty's reply thread, oh well... Hey Phil, do you want to move this, man? I don't want to write it again to save cluttering up your nice sparkly boards...]

    I was just thinking, "why not memory foam?" (that stuff they put in newer - so-called "high-tech" mattresses). It would (should) mould to your hand, and I couldn't see it being very restrictive to movement. Hmm...that's a noodle-scratcher. I'm almost tempted to check it out. :) Prob pretty expensive though.
  7. Phillip

    Phillip Administrator Staff Member


    I moved the post for you.
  8. Yahnke

    Yahnke Well-Known Member

    this might sound insane, but i use my wood carving knife to cut my foam and i use 1" thick foam. THe knife is VERY sharp yet I can easily control it because I am used to using it from wood carving. It give you nice, even, clean edges, scissors might give you clean edges, but i find it difficult to get even edges with them. anyway. I have never tried the band saw or the electric knife yet. One inch foam is very durable but it does add some weight to your puppet!
  9. biblebetty

    biblebetty Well-Known Member

    What does a wood carving knife look like, see I have an electic carving knife and I can't control it very will, the sissors I use is ok until I have to cut a curve or small edge then the edge is very jagged and to glue it together its shape doesn't look really nice.
  10. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    There are a number of companies in the US that will provide 3/4" thick foam, which is what I use. Foam factories should be able to provide that thickness as well (though you may have to buy a large quantities).

    Check out the Puppetry Homepage puppet building section for some US suppliers.
  11. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Forgot to mention that if you are doing a lot of cutting of foam it will wear down the blade of whatever you are using to cut VERY quickly. To help prevent this lubricate the blade you are using with a tiny bit of oil. I use 3-in-1 oil but even vegtable oil will work. It will help to keep the blade sharp.
  12. BorkBork

    BorkBork Well-Known Member

    For cutting out the patterns in foam i use razors. But they dull really easily. I have been looking into buying one of those machines used to cut roast or turkey. David P uses one, and it seems to work really fine.
  13. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Again, using a little oil as lubrication on your razor blade with make it last at least three times as long. The electric turkey knives are good, but I thought used mostly for carving foam.
  14. BorkBork

    BorkBork Well-Known Member

    What kind of oil? Cookingoil?

    David cuts a sheet of foam in his video with a turkeyknife.
  15. biblebetty

    biblebetty Well-Known Member

    does that mean you use a turkeyknife to shape a block of foam too. I have a knife and it is very hard to control. Does should I cut slowly?
  16. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    I usually use 3-in-1 oil, which is a sort of general purpose oil sold in hardware stores in North America. I'm not sure what the equivlent would be in Europe (do they have 3-in-1 oil there?).

    Regular vegtable oil (the cooking kind) seems to work equally well though.

    Interesting to hear about David using the turkey knife to cut sheets. I hadn't heard of that before, but whatever works works I guess!
  17. ToastCrumbs

    ToastCrumbs Active Member

    For the record the Muppet workshop really only uses two methods for cutting straight and perfect lines when patterning out a puppet. Razor blades are the most used choice by the shop, and second would be the band saw.
    No matter which way you go, the blades go dull very quickly. Sometimes when carving a head maybe you get only four or five good cuts, after that the blades tends to pull on the foam and doesn't glide as well. This doesn't mean the blades aren't plenty sharp for other things. Using oil for lubrication sounds like a really smart idea, although I don't think I ever witnessed one person in the shop do it, for the simple reason that we'd just go and get another new box. We were very lucky and also spoiled that we always had endless amounts of puppet building materials. Oh, how I miss it soooooo!!! You can bet that I'm oiling razor blades like crazy now. If I remember correctly we averaged about a dollar per razor blade and probably used between 30 to 60 on a puppet head sometimes. The simplest things drive up the price of construction on a puppet.
  18. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Ah...there's nothing better than a nice, new, sharp razor blade...

    :o uh...that came out much more disturbingly than I had intended... :o
  19. zoetrope

    zoetrope Well-Known Member

    Just the info I was looking for

    Hey, I was just about to post a question on this very subject and then found this thread. Good info here. What I found is that cutting foam with a scissors doesn't work because it pinches the foam before cutting it and you end up with a concave instead of a flat surface where you just cut. Everytime I tried to cut the edges off the concave plane, I'd just create two more smaller concave surfaces. Maybe the scissors wasn't sharp enough.

    Anyway, I'll have to try the sharp blade next time. Thanks for the info.
  20. ScrapsFlippy

    ScrapsFlippy Well-Known Member

    When you guys say "electric carving knife" are you talking about the battery powered, heated metal filament that melts its way through foam, or what my father-in-law calls the "household chainsaw," a double bladed knife you would use to carve up meat?


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