Where to look for ready-made forms

I’ve compiled a new page List of sources for ready-made forms which I’ve put in the Materials section under ‘shaping’. If you’ve ever searched for something just the right size for puppet eyeballs, wondered whether you can get mini ‘taxidermy’ domes or whether there’s maybe a ‘magic’ way of making model bottles, you may appreciate this list and some of the tips included. I’ve copied the introduction and a short extract from the list here.

inside 4D modelshop, London

There are many instances where being able to take advantage of a pre-formed shape could not only save a lot of time but also opens up exciting possibilities .. promoting the work beyond one’s technical means. But often the thought of having to take the ‘time out’ to hunt down the right something is a dissuader, as is the notion that somehow using something ready-made is a bit of a cheat! I started this list originally to encourage myself to make more use of the ‘ready-made’ by having a quicker overview, but also because whenever I came across useful ‘things’ I never knew where to note them down for the future.

I’ve tried to divide the list into categories as far as possible, so here is the ‘Table of Contents’:

Discs especially small, in various materials; Domes flattened or semi-circular, whether thin/hollow or solid, including taller display domes; Spheres or balls whether hollow or solid; Ovals in 3D; Wheels and cogs; Teardrop shapes; Cones mainly solid; Straight dowels, rods, cylinders i.e. solid, circular in cross-section; Small rigid tube mainly plastics and metals; Larger round tubes including cardboard and plumbing supplies; Patterned rod or tubing because there are some; Curved or bendable rods, flexible tubing to include foams, Pvc and silicone, cable supplies; Rings; Trumpets, funnels etc; Eggs wooden or polystyrene; Blocks  ‘off the shelf’ and lastly Other forms for the rest.

Each section is organised by supplier and the underlined product titles are from the online catalogues so you can find them more easily in searches. The fact that this wording is sometimes specific and unpredictable is the reason why I’ve bothered to make a separate list in the first place .. after all, one could just do a Google search as/when needed .. but unless one uses many different search words some possibilities would always be missed! Prices were last updated in May 2016, all adjusted to include VAT. I haven’t just listed the cheapest, rather those suppliers who seem to offer the most useful range. If you have anything to add to the list your suggestions will be welcome!


Trumpets, funnels, ‘bottle’ shapes and superglue dosers

Heatshrink tubing or ‘sleeving’ is made from polyolefin plastic ( i.e. polyethylene, polypropylene ) and commonly used in electronics/electrics for wire insulation or bundling. It shrinks uniformly when heated with a heat gun, usually in the ratio 2:1 meaning it becomes half as small. It comes in different diameters and the clear versions are ideal for making small-scale ‘bottles’. Finer heatshrink tubing also makes very good ‘dosers’ for superglue work, to attach around the existing nozzle if more precision is needed (Poundland includes a few already in their packs of superglue bottles). I should note though that you will need a heat gun (preferably a small one) to shrink the tube uniformly as shown below.



Easi-Shrink’ Heatshrink Sleeving available in small diameters 1.2 – 6.4mm, and bigger sizes up to 100mm. 3.2mm diameter is ideal for 1:25 scale bottles (since these are commonly 8-9cm wide). Price for clear 3.2mm £0.83 per metre.

heat-shrink tubing


1ml or 3ml pipettes e.g £10.99 for 500 3ml pipettes

1ml and 3ml pipettes

I’ve included these because there are sections that can be cut to make reasonably good model bottles (from the thinner 1ml) or glasses depending on the scale you need. Bear in mind that this polyethylene plastic is never ‘glass’ clear, it has a slight frosting.


Plastic funnel set 50, 75, 100 and 120mm diameter £1.85

plastic funnel set


Plastic party glasses are a good source of shapes, but online suppliers don’t usually list measurements except capacity in ml.

Clear Brights Plastic Champagne Flutes’ 148ml (like image but clear, uncoloured) £4.14 pack of 10

plastic flutes


Template drawings for furniture model-making

At last I’ve had the chance to clean up and improve some of the furniture drawings I’ve always used for model-making workshops, and so I’ve gathered them together as Template drawings for furniture model-making in the Methods section. The page includes this mid-18th C ‘rococo’ armchair which has always been popular .. though a bit challenging to make at 1:25! I’ve drawn most of the plans and reproduced them at 1:10 scale for greater accuracy though some simpler ones, such as those for ‘folded’ furniture using stencil card, are 1:25 scale.

1:10 scale rococo armchair drawing

I think I’ve sorted out the problem that has been occurring of ‘thumbnail’ images not responding i.e. normally a better quality image can be opened by clicking on the images here, but I’ve only just found out that it hasn’t been happening for recent posts. So hopefully if you ‘click and save’ any of the drawings you’ll get the size they’re supposed to be. I’ve given the source resolution so that you can compare it and I’ve also listed key measurements in the text so that you can check accuracy in the printout.

Template for making 1:25 scale folded chair in stencil card



Making a panelled door in stencil card

Recently I was asked by a friend to cover for her on the ‘Foundation in Art & Design Diploma’ course at Central Saint Martins. The day was intended to deal with aspects of model-making relevant to a project the students are currently working on. Each is designing an enclosed space with particular emphasis on the doorway leading into it, so we took the opportunity to focus on doors and the different methods of simulating surfaces.There was no budget available for materials so I had to devise a short practical using whatever small leftovers I could spare. The most promising idea seemed to be working with stencil card since I had a lot of small pieces, and stencil card was available at the CSM college shop if the students wished to take it further.

making a panelled door in stencil card

So I spent a bit of time working out the easiest way to make the traditional panelled door above. I’ve already looked at layering stencil card to create the wall panelling effect below and I also discovered some time ago that stencil card could be scraped with sandpaper leaving a fairly convincing ‘woodgrain’ effect, but I hadn’t combined them much. Also, the panelling below was made by carefully marking out and cutting the layers separately, then just as carefully aligning them while gluing. This is quite demanding! .. I wanted to make it more achievable.

using stencil card for wall panelling and windows

The improved method involves four layers (but as yet only dealing with one side) and the only ‘graining’ done is on the top layer and on the bottom layer where the ‘panels’ are seen. Everything is led by the ‘second layer down’ .. the one shown first in the line-up below, on the left. This is the one which needs to be carefully measured, marked out and cut. These doors are 1:25 scale and I’ve rounded off the UK average for a traditional interior door as .. 198cm high by 76cm wide. If you want to be either very specific or if you’re working in feet and inches, it’s properly 6′ 6″ by 2′ 6″! What happens within that outline is more a matter of taste .. there are no similar ‘standards’ for the size or arrangement of the panels. I’ve cut the first piece of card according to what looks right, but also I’ve observed with 4-panel doors that the top pair are usually longer than the bottom and there’s most often a broader strip across the base of the door for strength. The long thin panel in the middle is not meant as a letter box but it could house one, and the handle or doorknob would be positioned roughly halfway up the door which makes it on average a little less than 1 metre up.

stages in making a panelled door in stencil card

The drawing below should print out on A4 at exactly 1:25 scale and if you’re using this design as a template only the first one needs to be traced or pasted, as I’ve said .. the others are just there to illustrate each stage of layering. It goes like this .. after the first is cut out it should be stuck down onto another scrap of stencil card leaving a small margin around it. Spraymount works well, as long as you don’t intend to treat afterwards with a spirit-based medium because this will dissolve the glue .. otherwise superglue applied with care (very thin lines or dots) works perfectly. Pva wood-glue will grip but not bond very well with the stencil card surface. Trim around the outline of the door using the top stencil layer as a guide then judging by eye cut out all the panel areas a little inside the top-piece outline all around making a little ‘step’ .. as illustrated by stages 2-3 above and below. It may take some practise to get an even strip but it’s too slight to measure/mark. I’ve used the smallest division on the 1:25 scale ruler as a visual guide.

stages of making door using stencil card

This piece is then stuck onto another piece of stencil card and the outer edge trimmed again as before .. before doing this the stencil card which comes underneath needs to be ‘grained’ first because this will show. For these examples I’ve used a small piece of 120 grit sandpaper to grain, pressing firmly down and straight along, using the edge of a metal ruler as a guide. Once all three stencil card layers are stuck together and the door outline trimmed around once more (stage 4 in the line-up above), the fourth and final layer comes on top. This one is applied differently though, in separate pieces. It has to be because the grain of each strip must follow its longest edge .. essential for a convincing look! The task becomes a bit like marquetry in wood, but much easier because the stencil card is easier to cut. I grained a much larger piece of stencil card first and cut the strips from it, and I made these a little narrower to form a final ‘step’ around the panel areas.

colouring stencil card door with ProMarkers

There’s almost no end to what one can use to stain or paint stencil card because, in spite of the linseed oil waterproofing, it will accept both water-based, oil or spirit-based media. I’ve detailed a number of these already in my post February 2015 The art of alternative staining where I’m working with wood, but all will work well on stencil card. In fact many will work better because although a fine-grained wood is often the best option for a good ‘wood’ look when it stains well, it can also be difficult to eliminate the scattering of light specks where the polish or stain has failed to penetrate. Generally stencil card accepts stain a lot better and more evenly.

For the two samples above I used Letraset ProMarkers. The alcohol ink in these covers well and dries quickly, though it stains so well that the lighter scratches tend to disappear. These are ideal if you want something subtle. The ProMarker ink itself dries matte but there is a very slight sheen from the stencil card.

staining stencil card with Marabu GlasArt

If you’d like more shine or even brighter colours another option is using Marabu Glasart glass paints above, or ‘vitrail’ as they’re often labelled. These are spirit-based and, in the case of the Marabu, can be diluted or cleaned up with white spirit. One has the choice of either a silky or a glossy finish dependent on how much is applied. Here for example I brushed the vitrail on thinly and also went over with tissue and cotton bud to remove the excess collected in the raised edges .. if I’d just left it the effect would have been more glossy. Vitrail doesn’t work well as successive coats, because like shellac a further coat just starts to dissolve the one underneath and the results could be patchy.

colouring stencil card with shoe polishes and wood-stains

As shown above, if you’re intending a worn or ‘distressed’ effect I would recommend either a liquid shoe polish (which are almost always water-based) or a water-based wood varnish. These will tend to sit more on the surface rather than staining, and with each of these samples I started to rub or gently scrape after only a few minutes, before fully dry .. achieving a properly ‘chipped’ look fairly easily. These are, from left to right, Wickes ‘Quick-dry Woodstain’ mahogany; Cherry Blossom brown shoe polish, Kiwi ‘Wax Rich’ black shoe polish. Stencil card will warp a little with water-based media but not as much as other cardboards and, once dry, it is easier to bend carefully back into shape.

Conventional wood-stains also worked well .. both spirit and water-based. The middle one has a light coat of Colron ‘Georgian Oak’ and to the right I have used a water-based ‘Dark Oak’ wood-stain from Flints in London. The spirit-based stain has remained fairly matte whereas the water-based dried to a slight sheen. Spirit-based stains will also infiltrate quickly to the other side, even when more than one layer .. worth bearing in mind if this will be seen.

colouring stencil card with shoe polishes and wood-stains

Lastly, for the pale sample to the left I tried Osmo Dekowachs ‘Transparent White’. This is a specialist wax-based paint I was using in Germany which I still have some of, though these paints are also available in the UK. Like Humbrol enamels I’ve found that these paints will fix on almost anything. The first coat of Dekowachs is always matte and one has to build up a shine with further coats.

More on polymer-modified plaster

Good news I hope for anyone wanting to take advantage of the properties of Jesmonite but unwilling to pay such an inflated price! For some time now I’ve recommended using Tiranti’s Plaster Polymer liquid together with a regular ‘alpha’ plaster such as Crystacal R or Basic Alpha. Similar results can be achieved with these at less than half the cost of the Jesmonite system. But recently I had the chance to test Specialplaster’s own SP201 acrylic polymer, with very promising results .. this time for less than a quarter of the price! I’ve written up these tests in the ‘Worklog’ at the end of Polymer-modified plaster in the Materials section under ‘casting’. I’ve also looked into whether the liquid and plaster components of Jesmonite can be combined with others, i.e. using the Jesmonite ‘powder’ with a different polymer or the liquid with other plasters. Judging by the few tests I made the answer is ‘yes’ .. but with some surprising results!

Making a mould jacket

These are photos from the ‘Worklog’ featuring a mould jacket I made using the SP201 and Crystacal R plaster, reinforced with jute scrim. I took the risk of using only two layers of jute scrim, because I wanted to see how this compared to Jesmonite for strength. As it turned out it was more than strong enough, even though the shell can’t be much more than 3mm thick!


Poor substitute stencil card

For those of you interested in what I do with stencil card as I’ve described in my article Working with stencil card under ‘constructing’ in the Materials section, I have to warn you that there’s an inferior substitute appearing in some of the UK sources I’ve listed. The proper, traditional material I’ve always relied on is an attractive honey/ochre colour, is 375 microns thick and smells very noticeably of linseed oil. I first noticed the ‘poor’ stuff at 4D modelshop who, I’m assuming, had been forced to accept what started to come from their usual supplier, but now I’ve seen the same change in University of the Arts college shops which suggests that this may become more widespread. The inferior type is a darker, dullish brown, seems a little thicker; and has a very different and far less agreeable smell. More importantly .. it is a little tougher to cut, certainly doesn’t cut as sharply, frays at the edges much more easily, and the method I recommend for ‘graining’ the surface with sandpaper just doesn’t work! The surface merely disintegrates, becoming very ‘wooly’ and loses further definition when stained or painted. This stuff may still offer some advantages over more regular thin white card, for its strength and for basic cutting of delicate forms .. but in other respects and for my purposes it’s pretty useless!

comparison of different stencil card types

My advice is to speak directly to the supplier if you are buying stencil card online .. check for sure that it is the standard ‘honey’ colour and not the dull brown, and that it is 375 microns thick (because there’s also a thinner 250 micron version sometimes sold in its place). The other day I bought the proper stuff from Flints in London, and I’m fairly sure that A.S.Handover and Wrights of Lymm will still be supplying it. These three also offer by far the best prices!

Cutting smooth holes in foam

I chanced upon this method of making almost perfect holes in rigid foam after I was asked about the best way to do the same in cake .. making holes to take tube supports between storeys of a wedding cake! For this I very roughly carved ‘teeth’ in the end of a plastic plumbing pipe, which as it turned out could be twisted into the cake without a problem. So I wondered whether something similar would work for other materials. I was fairly certain it stood a chance of working if I could cut the teeth finely enough, and for this a slightly harder form of PVC pipe is needed .. MuPVC ..which stands for ‘modified unplasticised polyvinyl chloride’.

I’ll need to cover this briefly first. The various plastic waste/drainage pipes you’ll see in any building supplier or DIY store (whether white, black, grey or brown) are likely to be two or more different plastic types. They will either be polypropylene (PP), ABS (a form of styrene), uPVC or MuPVC. MuPVC is harder than the others, but actually easier to cut or file cleanly because it is slightly more brittle. The only sure way of identifying it is finding the letters ‘MuPVC’ as part of the printed info along the side of the pipe, but also if the pipe is referred to by the store as ‘Solvent Weld’ it’s very likely to be MuPVC.

hole-cutting tools for rigid foam

Obviously there are only a few available diameters when it comes to these pipes and it depends on the store which ones they actually have. Standard outside diameters start at 22mm and normally end at around 44mm .. before they become something else, i.e. drainage or guttering pipes which are either brown or black. At the moment in the UK Wickes has the best selection of MuPVC .. 22mm, 36mm, 40mm and 50mm .. but don’t search for ‘mupvc’ in their online catalogue because that will only bring up one of them. Instead find the sub-section ‘Plastic pipe’ in ‘Heating & Plumbing’ which should show all the others, just described as ‘solvent weld’.

Wherever and whatever you find, the supplier normally should list the pipe according to its outside diameter, not its internal one. For more technical details see ..


squaring end of Pvc pipe

After trialling a few ways of making the ‘cutting’ edge, I found this to be the best method. Firstly, the end needs to be cut and filed/sanded straight i.e. at 90 degrees to the pipe length, as above. Then, using either sandpaper wrapped around a dowel or a round file, the thickness of the cut edge needs to be reduced to almost a point, as below. This should be a gradual slope (over 5-10mm) and on the inside .. the outside diameter remains constant.

chamfering end of Pvc pipe

The next job is to file the ‘teeth’ and I would recommend using a small-size power drill and a diamond-coated bit .. if you have those things. If not you have to do it by hand using a round needle file, but again, I’ve found the diamond-coated needle files more effective on hard plastics. The box of diamond-coated bits below is from Rolson, found in Maplin, costing around £5.00 as I remember.

fine filing tools

For each of the ‘teeth’ shown below I held the drill bit or file at a slant outwards from the centre of the ring and also slanting forwards around the ring, as saw teeth normally are. This may look painstaking, but it wasn’t really .. it look a while, but the plastic sanded comfortably. I made the teeth on the inside of the pipe so that the hole cut might be smoother.

finished 'teeth' on pipe

These tools worked well on the three types of rigid foam I work with .. blue styrofoam (extruded polystyrene); Kapa-line foamboard (polyurethane foam), and ‘Recticel’ another polyurethane insulation foam sold in thick sheets i.e. from Wickes.  Below, the pipe is first positioned on the foam and then turned very carefully until it has some purchase. After that it needs only moderate pressure while turning, making sure to keep the path of the tube straight .. the angled teeth will draw the tube in. Recticel is very soft and fibrous, but the tool still managed to make quite a smooth-sided hole.

turning foam 'hole cutter'

cutting holes in Recticel PU foam

I made use of the technique for the sculptural pieces I’m working on at the moment .. i.e. this prototype base shape for casting, which is meant to take a number of peg forms.

base unit shaped from styrofoam


Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ BBC December 2015

How long does one have to wait for stunningly good design work to get the acknowledgement it deserves .. a few weeks, half a year, a couple of generations, until the next century? Although it’s only been a matter of days I feel I’ve waited long enough for any direct mention of how bold yet subtle, how grim yet beautiful, how risky yet fitting the visual work on And Then There Were None was!

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015 soldier figurines

It’s not by chance that I’ve put an image of the figurines here first .. they are the initial reason why I was compelled to write this. I kept asking myself  ‘Am I really the only one who found these figurines so captivating?’ Although with hindsight I realise now ..yet again .. how biased my viewpoint is, I was half expecting a nationwide reaction, a flood of questions online .. where did they come from, who created them? After all, they played a central role in the piece, as much as any of the actors did, and they obviously meant a great deal to the programme makers .. they are the subject of the title sequence, and the camera lingered on and revisited them more than was necessary for the storytelling.

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015 title sequence

'And Then There Were None' dinner scene

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015

But I’m also surprised that the figures haven’t excited more comment yet due to their unusualness, at the very least .. their departure from convention. Maybe it’s because they seemed to be quite at home there .. odd yes, but fitting, in keeping .. because although nothing much like them existed at that time, they could have been conceived in extremis from the period ingredients. As if, a young Reg Butler had been locked in a room of American deco under the influence of Futurist narcotics!

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015

So I just want to both thank and congratulate the, as yet for this, almost completely unsung stars who conceived and created these .. along with every other finely crafted, well-considered, delicate or brutal visual moment.

'And Then There Were None' devil's cauldron

And that’s basically all I wanted to say! .. except that, if you’re one of the 5 million or so who didn’t watch it between Christmas and the New Year .. you should .. and you’ve got another three weeks to watch all episodes on BBC iPlayer for free. If you’re at all interested in design it’s a must, and you should watch it first without pausing, for pure enjoyment, as it was intended .. and then a second time to study how powerful design, camerawork and music can be when they’re properly working together; how little is actually needed to achieve this, but how delicate the balance can be.