The Compleat Sculptor
" You supply the talent, we'll supply the rest!" Since 1995

Balsa-Foam

Easy to Carve File Saw Sand Impress Coat Paint.
  • Phenolic Balsa-Foam is different from all other kinds of foam. It was developed specifically for three-dimensional design and model making. Using a variety of conventional and not-so-conventional hand tools, you can easily create the shape and the detail you need.
  • Balsa-Foam is used by a growing number of industrial designers and model builders across the country because of how easily and quickly they can create detailed shapes.
  • Balsa-Foam is also ideal for school art projects. Balsa-Foam (BF I density) enhances student safety because if offers little resistance to sharp carving tools, greatly reducing the risk of slipping. Younger students can sculpt Balsa-Foam I with emery boards and wooden picks.

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Working with Balsa-Foam

Phenolic Balsa-Foam is available in two different densities. Aside from weight and hence, hardness, both densities are essentially the same. The same sculpting techniques can be used on either.

Hot Wire cutting does not work with Balsa-Foam because it is very resistant to heat. It is resistant to heat up to 300 oF. There is also no need for a hot wire because, unlike polystyrene foam for which the hot wire method was developed, Balsa-Foam can be cut easily with a knife or saw.
Following are some tips and techniques for working with Phenolic Balsa-Foam. If you have additional ideas, please contact us at TCS@SCULPT.com
  • CARVING AND SHAPING: A plan view drawing can be transferred to the surface of Balsa-Foam by placing carbon paper under the plan and retracing the lines with a pencil or ballpoint pen. You can also make a template of poster board to guide scratch lines etched into the surface of the foam with a stylus. With the Balsa Foam I, a fondue skewer makes an effective stylus. Any kind of hand saw will cut easily through Balsa-Foam I and II. You can also use a steel ruler to make push-cuts. A series of push cuts will enable you to cut out complex interior shapes. Just be careful to keep the ruler at a 90 degree angle. Carving knives and chisels virtually glide through Balsa-Foam I and also cut relatively easily through the denser, harder Balsa-Foam II. We recommend experimenting with a variety of tools and methods for shaping the foam.
  • SANDING: Use a sanding block to smooth the surface. A 1/2 inch dowel with 80 grit sandpaper wrapped around it makes an effective tool for smoothing interior curved surfaces. A sanding block, emery board, sand stick or fine file is an effective shaping tool.
  • MAKING IMPRESSIONS: Since Balsa-Foam has no "memory" or rebound, it will hold an impression. This means that you can create many different types of surface detail by simply pressing the appropriate object into the surface. Surface texture can be enhanced using a tool to make impressions. The rounded end of a thin paint brush handle, for example quickly dents the foam for a brown stone surface effect. If you need a specially shaped rectangular, triangular or odd-shaped hole, consider carving the positive counterpart for a piece of wood. This technique, which is unique to Balsa-Foam, can save a lot of time on repeating detail.
  • FILLING DENTS AND MISTAKES: There are several ways to effectively fill the surface texture of the foam and achieve a smooth coat. Dents and other surface imperfections can be filled with plaster spackle. Harder fillers are not recommended because they will be difficult to sand smooth with the foam's surface. Acrylic Modeling Paste, available in craft and art supply stores, can be thinned with water or clear acrylic and applied with a brush. The surface can then be sanded to achieve a plaster-smooth surface.
  • GLUING & BONDING: Balsa-Foam can be glued with hot glue, or wood glue, but the most effective method is to use a generous layer of a thick Super Glue. When bonding two blocks of Balsa-Foam to make a larger block for carving, take care to keep your adhesive well inside the ultimate shape of your design to avoid having a glue seam that is difficult to carve across.
  • HARD COATING: The hardest coat will be achieved with a material that remains slightly pliable over time. We recommend a 2-part resin called Envirotex. Unlike Envirotex, epoxy and polyester resins tend to become brittle after a few weeks of continued curing. The brittle epoxy or polyester coating on Balsa-Foam may crack or cave in under pressure.
  • PAINTING AND SMOOTH COATING: Balsa-Foam can be painted with any kind of water-based or solvent-based paint or coating. An initial coating of Krylon spray paint will help to seal the foam. Solvent-based paints tend to leave surface texture intact, while acrylic paints tend to fill the texture. To achieve a smooth, even glossy surface, start by coating your finished piece with spray paint or any other type of paint or varnish. Then use a soft bristle brush to apply acrylic modeling paste. First thin the paste with acrylic thinner or water to give it the consistency of thick paint. After coating, use a brush wet with water to smooth the paste. When dry, the coating can be smoothed with sandpaper or built up with a second application. Most often , the piece can be as smooth as plaster after one application and a light sanding. A coating of acrylic modeling paste makes a strong shell, which can be built up, sanded, or even tooled.
  • MOLD MAKING: Balsa-Foam II has been used effectively to make the positive master for a negative fiberglass or silicone mold. Coat the final original piece with a resin coating for best results. Then wax and use a release agent. Balsa-Foam II can also be used effectively for vacuum form molds. Please contact our Technical Support Hotline at (212) 367-7561 with any mold making questions you may have.
  • CAUTION: Balsa-Foam has been rated non-toxic by the Arts and Creative Materials Association. However, the Balsa-Foam dust can be abrasive and can cause mechanical eye irritation if dust from this product gets in eyes. To help prevent this from happening, do not rub eyes when using and wash hands after use to remove any adherent particles. If you note eye irritation, flush your eyes with luke warm tap water. If irritation persists, see your physician. Use of safety goggles when sanding or using power tools can decrease the risk of particles getting into eyes. In addition, a dust mask is recommend when power tools are used. Also, wipe off metal and steel tools after using them with Balsa-Foam Phenolic; prolonged contact will result in rusting or tarnishing if the tools are not cleaned after each use. Phenolic Balsa-Foam will corrode and tarnish all metals and metal alloys.

Although we try to keep the most updated prices on our website, all prices are subject to change.
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