FCSME Member: Bill Carl
M o d u l a r R a i l r o a d i n g a t i t s B e s t
Basic Scenery - Hot Wire Tool
You can click on any picture for a larger version.
Hot wire tools are becoming increasingly popular. This makes sense as more people start to use foam board for scenery. There are other tools such as files, surfoam tools, and wire brushes to shape foam but they are all so messy by producing tiny pieces of foam that are electrostatic and cling to everything. It is a big hassle trying to vacuum it up. Using a hot wire tool is by no means a fast process. It takes time to drag the hot wire through the foam - it is not a light saber.
The hot wire tool I use was purchased from MicroMark who is a model tool specialty company. The cutter came with a video and 8 wires. I have carved approximately 82 square feet of foam and I am only on my second wire. The video shows different techniques like how to cut slabs, cylinders, and cones - things not really relevant to model railroading but it does give you an insight on how to apply the tool to create different effects. The video also explains about use and maintenance of the tool like if you see smoke coming from your wire while cutting, you have the temperature setting too high.
You should plan on where you may want rocks (if any) before you start carving them foam. To have your rocks cast ahead of time is a big plus. You will see in the pictures below where I temporarily placed my rock castings so I could make the land contours match them.
Lastly, ALWAYS USE A HOT WIRE TOOL WITH ADEQUATE VENTILATION. This is the same rule as with airbrushing. I heard a rumor that the blue foam board doesn't produce toxic gases when cut with a hot wire tool. I don't believe this rumor at all and I would not take any chances with my lungs. I either have a fan on and windows open or wear a high quality respirator (the same one that I use for air brushing).