First Foam Fabrication Build

Your first foam fabrication is not easy, let me tell you!  Perhaps it’s because I’m just not a crafty kind of person, but I’m struggling a little bit.  I’ve been working on a keyblade for William for a few days now.  I’m at the point where cutting the key part of the blade and the hilt is what’s next.  I cut the key out of 4mm foam, but I’m just not satisfied with the result.  So, I decided to practice a little bit by doing a different, easier project.  Batman gauntlets.  ***This is in no way a tutorial.  This is just our first experience.***

Getting Started in Cosplay

Getting started isn’t hard, but getting started right can be expensive.  William’s first cosplay was all stuff that we already owned.  He cosplayed at 2017 Wizard World Chicago for FREE.  That was nice, if short-lived.  My cousin, who is 13, and I decided that when we go this year, we’d like to cosplay.  Now, I don’t know if I’ll cosplay this year as I’m still learning, but I’m confident that we can get something ready for her and William.

There are so many different ways to get started.  There’s foam fabrication, worbla, sewing, pepakura, just to name a few.  And that’s just for the actual costume.  Props can be made of any number of materials.  I did a ton of research online and decided that for what we wanted to do, foam fabrication would be a good start.  If I knew how to use a sewing machine I might have started there, but I don’t.  I was going to have to learn from scratch anyways, might as well go with foam.

Safety first!

Please remember that your safety and the safety of the others in your home should not be ignored.  Some of the products that you may be working with can be quite dangerous.  Several of the items mentioned in this post suggest that you work in a well ventilated area as they can be dangerous and some of them are highly flammable.  Now, this should go without saying, but…it needs to be said.  Read the directions on the bottle/carton/package to ensure that you are using these products in a safe way.  Also, I’m just going to put this out there:  I highly recommend not ingesting anything that you may be working with.

Cosplay - William wearing respirator
William found the respirator…

Some of the tutorials that I read before starting suggested using a respirator when sanding foam, using the adhesives, Plastidip-ing and spray painting.  Your health is worth the 30 or so dollars a respirator will cost you.  Keep in mind, though, that your family members and pets will not be wearing one.  I work in our garage so as not to kill the cat (or the ninja).  When it’s not freezing cold outside, I open the door for ventilation purposes but I still wear the respirator.  I really don’t want to die out there Plastidip-ing a gauntlet.  If you do go for a respirator, make sure that it fits your face well.  Cover the breathing holes on the cartridges and try to breathe to ensure that you have a good seal around your mouth.  If you don’t have a good seal, you might as well not be wearing it.

If we’re being honest, I think the respirator is overkill, but I’m not in a well-ventilated area most of the time.  Better safe than sorry.

Foam Fabrication

To begin in foam fabrication, I determined that I would need a handful of tools as well as some supplies.  Foam fabrication startup varies greatly from the startup supplies and tools for sewing your costume.  Just a brief overview of the tools I started with:  I needed a heat gun to, you know, heat stuff up.  Nah, I needed the heat gun for heat forming the foam.  It sounds like something complicated, but it’s super easy.  I was going to need some form of glue.  I decided a hot glue gun would be beneficial.  A rotary tool seemed super-useful.  A respirator sounded like an awesome safety device, I made sure I had one.

I needed lots of supplies as well.  For glues I added mod podge and contact cement.  Each one has it’s various preferred applications.  Plastidip sounded like a necessary thing.  Spray paints and EVA foam were a must.  A sharp cutting tool (X-Acto knife).  I would need markers to trace my patterns.  Some paintbrushes were bought to apply adhesives and wipe away extra if needed.  A self-healing mat was needed so that I could cut on my table and not ruin it.  I acquired all of these items and thought I was ready to go.

No pattern?  No problem!

I found an awesome tip somewhere online for patterning.  I wish I could remember where it came from so I could give credit to the person.  If I ever happen onto it again, I’ll edit the post.  I went looking for relatively easy patterns to start out with.  I didn’t want anything too crazy, so I found these Batman Gauntlets at The Foam Cave.  That site is loaded with good information and reasonably priced patterns.  You should check it out if you’re looking to get started in EVA foam.

So, what if you’re making something that you can’t find a pattern for?  Gauntlets would be super hard to do this trick with, but what about something like…I don’t know, a keyblade maybe?  Well, you’re in luck!  There are thousands of pictures of keyblade if you search Google.  All I had to do was find the one that I wanted, as there are several different keyblades.  Once I found it, I opened it in a new tab.

I zoomed in using Ctrl and the mouse wheel until the image was the size I needed for the keyblade shaft that I had already assembled.  I measured by placing the shaft in front of the monitor to see if it was right.  Once it was, I taped a piece of paper to my bigger monitor and just traced.  Simple as that.  It certainly helps that I use a dual-monitor setup with a 42 inch tv as my primary monitor, but you could do this on any sized monitor, with a little bit of effort.

Foam Fabrication - Missing Pattern
Missing pattern? No problem! Just trace one from your monitor!

Success or Failure?

So, was our first attempt a success or a failure?  Well, the keyblade is on hold until I get what I will need to carve the wood the way I want to carve it.  I have a large selection of different bits for the rotary tool, and I’ve tested some of them out to see if they will work for me.  I’ve decided that they just won’t do what I need them to do.  I will have to get an attachment for the rotary tool to continue work on the keyblade.

Funny story:  I was using one of the bits to attempt to cut the wood piece and it flew off of my rotary tool.  And I mean that quite literally!  It flew off of the tool and ricocheted around the room a couple of times.  I don’t know how much damage it would have done had it hit me, but I know it could have done enough damage to send me to the ER…and that was running the rotary tool at 3/4 speed.  My plan is to invest in a pair of safety goggles so that I don’t lose an eye out there.

The Batman gauntlets are all foam.  We had a failure due to my lack of experience with hot glue.  I think between the fast-drying nature of hot glue and the temperature of my workshop (cold), I just wasn’t fast enough.  Here are some pictures of our first failure.  I wish I could say our only failure, but I’m certain this is the first of many.

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This was the first one.  It could have been far worse.  It works out though, because as you can see in the pictures, the trim piece on top is actually too small.  I don’t know how it happened since I used the exact same pattern for both pieces, but either way…  This gauntlet has not been coated in Plastidip or painted.  I didn’t even glue the opening shut.  It just seemed like a waste of time and supplies.

Our first attempt was a mixed bag.  The paint is dry and they have been kid-tested and kid-approved.  One of the remaining gauntlets has this too-small-trim issue, but he didn’t even notice.  They aren’t awesome, but they are passable.  Since this was my first attempt, I’m happy with passable.

What does Ninja think?

Well, I showed him the gauntlets and he said they were “freaking awesome” and then he asked me, “What about the mask?”  I didn’t even know how to reply.  I wanted to say that I struggled with a simple gauntlet and a mask was a little more advanced than I want to try next, but you should have seen the look on his tiny little face.  I took a “mold” of his head and we agreed that the Batman cowl would be right after the keyblade.

Was I ready?

Ha!  That’s funny.  I mean, I had most of the things I would need, but there are so many other little bits and bobs that you might need it’s not even funny.  For the keyblade William wants, I needed a piece of CPVC pipe as well as a wooden dowel to strengthen the pipe.  I decided to use 6mm wood instead of the 4mm foam that I wasn’t satisfied with.  Well, switching to the wood now means that I need a new attachment for my rotary tool.

Honestly, I don’t think ready is something that I will ever say about a cosplay project.  There are any number of ways every project can be done, so you might try one way and decide that it’s just not what you want and go buy another material and try it again.

Things I wish I knew…

So, there are a few things I wish I knew before I started.  I did extensive research online, but researching how to do something and actually doing it are two totally different things.  So, there are a few things I wish I’d known before I started.

First, I wish I had bought the contact cement from the beginning.  The hot glue would not have worked as well for the connection on that gauntlet.  Second, I wish I’d made a spray booth.  There is silver paint and white Plastidip all over the garage floor, the table and a random milk crate I found in the garage.  Third, I wish I knew how quickly hot glue would dry in a super-cold garage.  Seriously, it’s like 40 degrees (F) out there…if I’m lucky.  Lastly, I wish I knew that pattern trick.  I printed a few others that just weren’t the right size so they were wasted time and foam.

Pictures of the process

For those of you that aren’t familiar with foam fabrication, here are a few pictures of what we actually did throughout the process:

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What can we do better next time?

Other than everything?  Well, with a (very) little experience under my belt, I feel like the patterning, cutting and gluing will go much better next time around.  I also discovered some bits and bobs around the house that have now been re-purposed to assist with foam fabrication.  For example, I used two Christmas ornament hooks inside my makeshift spray booth, though paperclips would work as well, and the duct tape rolls to hold those gauntlets closed while they cooled.

I’ve purchased a much larger self-healing mat, which will make cutting so much faster.  I also purchased two lamps during this build to help with the poor lighting in the garage.  These are little things, but they add up.  With each build, I’m certain that I’ll find new things that need to be improved or changed about my work space.  I strongly believe a work space that works with you is key to improving your work.  If your work space is working against you, how can you focus on improvement?  You’re too busy fighting to get things accomplished.

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