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!
‘Cork Discs’ 85mm diameter. 3mm thickness, pack of 12 £2.26; 6mm thickness, pack of 10 £3.98
‘MDF Wheels’ 6mm thickness, 4mm bore in centre. 25,38,50 and 60mm diameters e.g 25mm £3.41 pack of 100; 60mm £17.95 pack of 100
‘Wooden circles’ 4mm thickness, pack of 35 assorted 12-52mm diameter £2.68
‘Wooden buttons’ 30,40 and 50mm diameter, packs of 10. Smoothed edges, without holes. 30mm £1.58; 40mm £2.46; 50mm £3.00
These are in the ‘Strip and shape’ section of online catalogue
Clear acrylic ‘flattened’ domes from 9.5mm diameter (£0.60) to 101.6mm (£8.70), wall thickness c. 3mm.
Clear acrylic hemispheres from 9.5mm diameter (£0.73) to 152.4mm (£14.65), wall thickness c. 3mm. With ‘lip’ from 50mm diameter (£0.89) to 160mm (£2.90)
Larger vac-formed Pvc hemispheres from 200mm (£3.70) then 250/300/350, to 500mm (£26.30)
Polystyrene hemispheres from 150mm (£1.46) then 200/250, to 300mm (£5.45). Larger 400mm (£18.10), 500mm (£20.30)
Clear acrylic 2-part spheres from 50mm diameter (£0.98) to 160mm (£4.15). Interlocking halves
Below, part of EMA’s acrylic range .. 4D modelshop have similar
Hemispheres in opaque gray ABS (tougher styrene) from 9.5mm diameter (£0.37) to 303mm (£40.43) with sizes roughly every 6mm in between. ‘Flattened’ from 9.5mm diameter (£0.35) to 254mm (£36.36)
Clear acrylic hemispheres from 9.5mm (£0.43) to 152mm (£8.62) with sizes roughly every 6mm in between. Same size range and rough price for ‘flattened’ or elliptical domes.
Below, part of EMA’s range of pre-formed ABS shapes
Clear acrylic domes from 100mm to (every 50mm) 800mm. Price e.g. 100mm £15.00 plus £10 P&P; 800mm £80.00 plus P&P on application. Larger domes available up to 1800mm diameter. Wall thickness for smaller c. 2-3mm. Next day delivery. The domes have flange included (see diagram below) or removed at a small cost.
‘Wooden Half Balls’ 12,16,20 and 30mm diameter e.g. 12mm £1.79 pack of 32; 30mm £1.59 pack of 4
‘Acrylic Half-Balls’ from 8mm to 38mm diameter. Prices e.g. 8mm £0.26 each; 20mm £0.50 each; 38mm £3.46 each
‘Wooden Half-Balls’ 15,20,30 and 40mm diameter beechwood, all packs of 10 e.g. 15mm £1.14; 20mm £1.46; 30mm £2.26; 40mm £3.00
Small ‘taxidermy’ type domes
Very small clear plastic ones do exist .. for displaying gemstones!
Plastic ‘Thimble’ Domed Display Box 32mm diameter x 43mm high (£0.24 each); 45mm diameter x 65mm high (£0.49 each)
Larger display domes made for clocks, from 79mm diameter x 133mm high (£20.95) to 142mm diameter 260mm high (£28.95)
For a thimble-sized alternative the ends of plastic test tubes could work, but cutting them down takes practise as the plastic can be brittle. The best way is to carefully saw with a junior hacksaw then sand the end flat.
‘Clear Test Tube Shots’ Pcode TW2TTC £4.38 pack of 6
Spheres, balls, large beads
These are mainly in the ‘Strip and shape’ section of online catalogue.
Solid clear acrylic balls from 3.2mm diameter (£0.08 each, £0.70 for 10, £3.00 for 50) to 25.4mm (£4.20 each, £38.20 for 10)
Clear acrylic 2-part spheres from 50mm diameter (£0.98) to 160mm (£4.15). Interlocking halves
Polystyrene spheres 19-120mm diameter, e.g 19mm £4.10 pack of 10; 120mm £1.60 each, £13.20 pack of 10
Polystyrene 2-part spheres 150, 200, 250, 300, 400 and 500mm diameter e.g. 150mm £2.25; 300mm £8.40; 500mm £30.25
Wooden balls 6-80mm diameter, e.g 6mm £0.32 pack of 10; 25mm £2.40 pack of 10; 80mm £4.90 each
Hollow steel balls 40, 60 and 80mm diameter e.g. 60mm single £3.20, pack of 6 £13.75
Polystyrene balls from 20mm diameter to 290mm diameter, e.g. 20mm (slightly flattened!) £0.10 each, £1.95 pack of 25; 290mm (hollow, in two parts) £12.64 each, £50.58 pack of 5
http://www.grahamsweet.com/index.php stocks polystyrene balls up to 3metres diameter!
‘Floral Foam Spheres’ 70,120,200 and 300mm diameter e.g. 120mm diameter £1.95; 300mm diameter £28.75. Made from green Oasis brand ‘Floral Foam Maxlife’ .. this is not styrofoam, though in some ways similar.
Solid clear acrylic balls from 4.8mm diameter (£0.12 each) to 38mm (£5.60)
‘Japanese Plain Acrylic’ bead, white 14mm £0.30 each, 16mm £0.44 each. ‘Preciosa Round Lacquered Wood’ bead 20mm £0.20 each; ‘Round Polished Wooden –Oak’ 20mm £0.16 each
White Delrin (hard plastic) balls from c.3mm (£3.20 pack of 10) to 63.5mm diameter (£64.00 each)
Steel Ball Bearings 3,4,5,6.3,9,16 and 22mm diameter. Prices e.g. 3mm pack of 100 £0.96; 9mm single £0.17; 22mm single £0.74
Polystyrene balls 38, 50, 60, 80 or 200mm diameter e.g. 38mm pack of 10 £4.57; 80mm pack of 5 £4.60; 200mm £4.21 each
Clear acrylic balls (solid) from 3.2mm to 70mm diameter. Prices e.g. 3.2mm pack of 50 £4.98; 8mm £0.26 each; 25mm £1.06 each; 50mm £11.54 each; 95mm £80.62 each.
‘Wooden balls with holes’ packs of 10. From 10mm diameter £0.72; 15mm £0.98; 20mm £1.73; 30mm £2.66; 40mm £5.21
‘Wooden balls no holes’ packs of 10. 50mm £11.02; 70mm £33.06; 80mm £44.60;
Ping Pong Balls (Pcode T4TTB) £1.08 pack of 6, standard size 40mm.
Ping Pong Ball £0.24 each (in ‘Mechanical Components’ section)
Solid polystyrene ovals 60, 80 and 100mm lengths e.g. 80mm x 25 max thickness £0.56 each
Wheels and cogs
see also ‘discs’
Wooden wheels 25, 37.5 and 50mm diameter e.g. 25mm pack of 60 £12.36; 50mm pack of 60 £23.34
‘mindsets’ have a number of specialist items worth including and illustrating here
Spoked Wheel 75mm diameter black plastic £0.53 each
‘Techno Wheel’ 39mm diameter £0.18 each
CD Wheel Adapters 39mm outside diameter £0.19 each
‘Miniature Plastic Gears’ sold singly e.g. 9mm £0.07; 10mm £0.07; 16mm £0.05; 22mm £0.08; 31mm £0.11
‘Plastic Pulleys’ 10,20,30 and 40mm diameter e.g. 10mm £0.11 each; 20mm £0.20 each; 40mm £0.30 each. Set of all four £0.72
‘Rubber tyre’ (not supplied with centre piece but smaller fits on 39mm wheels) e.g. larger 80mm outside, 42mm inner, 35mm thick £0.72 for 2; smaller 75mm outside, 38mm inner, 20mm thick £0.48 for 2
‘Turned Wooden Wheels’ 37mm diameter £0.30 each; 50mm £0.35 each
‘Gears & Rack Pack’ assorted 0.25kg £8.34 Three colours available: red, yellow and blue.
‘Knorr Prandell Clear Acrylic Fillable Teardrop’ 180mm length £1.89. Two halves
The same, in two halves 180mm length £3.92
See also ‘funnels’ esp. plastic party glasses
Small, squat cones in opaque gray ABS plastic. Only a few sizes from 38mm diameter (in sheets of 5 for £4-5.00) to 152mm diameter (£10.01)
Polystyrene cones starting 60mm length x 40mm diameter £0.71 each. Also lengths 125, 200, 300 and 370mm e.g. 300mm length x 115mm diameter £4.98 each
‘Floral Foam Cone’ three sizes .. 240mm high x 90mm diameter (£2.05); 320mm high x 120mm diameter (£4.00); 600mm high x 190mm diameter (£17.10) .. in Oasis green Floral Foam.
Oasis foam is not styrofoam, this is a misconception! It is a special water-absorbing foam made from phenolic resin. It has similar properties to styrofoam or rigid PU foam but is more obviously porous, and I guess probably a little crumbly.
Straight dowels, rods, cylinders
i.e. solid, circular in cross-section
Wooden dowelling (solid round section) is most often available in Imperial sizes i.e. ¼ inch (6mm), ½ inch (12mm), ¾ inch (18mm), 1 inch (25mm) etc. and B&Q probably offers the best range/prices. Smaller diameters are usually only found at specialist model shops such as 4D. Balsa is also available as dowelling, again at specialist model shops in a variety of diameters but not likely to range less than 3mm or more than 25mm. B&Q
Alternatives are either styrene rod or tube, which starts at 0.75mm (Evergreen brand packets, currently £5.05 4D) or clear acrylic rod or tube which most commonly starts at 2mm but may run (tube only) to 100mm diameter. 4D modelshop has by far the most extensive selection, especially in the smaller diameters. Styrene is easier to cut, but acrylic is much more rigid.
Or it might be worth considering metal rod or tube, available in a variety of thicknesses at model shops such as 4D and in different metals (usually aluminium, steel, brass and copper), ranging from hair-thin, straight steel ‘piano wire’ to solid 25mm diameter brass rod for example. The advantage of metal is that it can be bent into a fixed position (softer aluminium is usually the best option) but also can be soldered (more easily in the case of brass) for a fairly strong construction. It has to be noted though that metal tube cannot be bent without collapsing and usually, if a thick, bent diameter is needed, it is much easier to heat-bend solid plastic such as acrylic. Metal rods thicker than c 2mm are also likely to cost more than wood or plastic equivalents.
The following is just a selection of the principle materials available from 4D modelshop:
Balsa dowel 915mm length 5mm diameter (£0.59) to 25mm (£5.35); birch dowel 915mm length 3mm diameter (£0.60) to 12mm (£1.60); aluminium rod 1000mm length 1.6mm diameter (£0.74) to 8mm (£4.50); ‘ASA’ styrene plastic 1000mm length 1mm diameter (£2.15) to 6mm (£4.70); brass rod 1000mm length 0.5mm diameter (£0.78) to 6mm (£7.10); clear acrylic rod 1000mm length 1mm (£1.10) to 8mm (£4.90); glass fibre rod 910mm length 2mm (£1.40) to 6mm (£2.40)
Round acrylic rod (solid, clear) 1metre length. Starts at 3mm diameter (£0.30 each) then many increments up to 50mm diameter (£56.23 each).
Butyrate (opaque plastic, different colours) tube, 760mm length. From 2.4mm diameter £0.88 to 12.7mm.
PVC rod 10 and 20mm diameter, length 1metre, e.g 10mm £3.54 each
Nylon rod 6-50mm diameter, length 500mm e.g. 6mm £0.62 each; 20mm £4.58 each; 50mm £28.32 each
‘Wooden dowels round’ 3,5,8,16 and 25mm diameter, 600mm long e.g. 3mm pack of 10 (600mm long) £3.35; 8mm pack of 10 £4.84; 25mm pack of 10 £26.08
‘Acrylic rods round’ 3,5,10 and 15mm diameter, 500 long e.g. 3mm £0.76 each; 15mm £5.05 each
Polystyrene cylinders 200mm long in diameters 40, 70 or 90mm. Price e.g 70mm £3.42 each
Small rigid tube
Aluminium 1000mm length, from 2mm diameter (£1.90) to 10mm (£3.25); ‘ASA’ styrene 1000mm length, 2mm diameter (£2.35) to 20mm (£7.97); brass 1000mm length 1.5mm diameter (£2.50) to 9.00mm (£7.80); clear acrylic 1000mm length, 5mm (£3.40) to 50mm (£17.00); clear acrylic 330mm length, 25mm diameter (£3.60) to 150mm (£19.99); copper 1000mm length, 3mm diameter (£5.75) to 6mm (£8.95)
‘Acrylic tubes round’ clear 6,12 and 20mm diameter 500 long e.g. 12mm £2.00 each
Round acrylic tube 1metre length. From 6mm diameter £0.60 to 100mm diameter £12.27
Below, Hindleys range of round plastic tubes
Larger round tubes
Apart from the usual saved cardboard tubes from rolls of baking foil or clingfilm (usually 27-30mm diameter and 350mm long) the other sources are either 4D modelshop or Post Offices/stationers. 4D stocks 50,60,75 and 90mm diameters. ‘Postal tubes’ are most commonly 38, 50 and 76mm diameters with a range of lengths. Most online sources (such as www.speedypack.co.uk ) only supply them in quantities of 25-50.
Plastic water/waste pipes are commonly polypropylene, cross-linked polyethylene, ABS or MuPvc. I have found MuPvc the easiest to work with because although harder, its slight brittleness actually makes it easier to saw and sand, and it also seems to respond much better to heat-bending. For more on working with MuPvc see my post Cutting smooth holes in foam January 17 2016.
Common outside diameters for rigid Pvc tubing are: 22mm, 32mm, 40mm and 50mm, averaging at c. £1-3 per metre. There are larger diameters in MuPvc for guttering/ drainage, commonly 100mm and 110.
MuPVC 22mm 2metre ‘White Overflow Pipe’ £1.99 Pcode 118616; 32mm 3metre £3.69 Pcode 431981; 32mm 1.5metre black £1.49 Pcode 160073; 40mm 3metre £4.39 Pcode 431987; 40mm 1.5 metre black £1.99 Pcode 160074; 50mm 3metre £10.99 Pcode 138156; 100mm 35cm ‘Manrose Round Pipe’ white £1.29 Pcode 228690; 110mm 85cm ‘Soil Pipe’ white £4.99 Pcode 435231; 110mm 3m ‘Terracotta Drain Pipe’ £8.58 Pcode 432001; 110mm 1metre ‘Soil Pipe’ black £6.49 Pcode 114620; 110mm 3metre ‘Soil Pipe’ black £11.99 Pcode 133832; 110mm 2metre ‘Soil Pipe’ grey (socketed end) £9.99 Pcode 158927; 110mm 3metre ‘Soil Pipe’ grey (plain) £11.99 Pcode 133848
Wickes also stocks ‘John Guest Speedfit Plastic Pipe’ in 10,15,22 and 28mm diameters. This is cross-linked polyethylene (PEX).
Pvc ‘Floplast Round Gutter Downpipe’ 68mm 2.5metre white, pack of 6 £30 Pcode 5055149930379. Singles not available.
Patterned rod or tubing
‘Corrugated twisted clear tube’ acrylic non-coloured. 16,19,25,32,38 and 50mm outside diameter, 500mm long e.g. 16mm £1.80; 32mm £8.22; 50mm £24.36
Curved or bendable rods, flexible tubing
4D has a selection of flexible tubing etc. in smaller sizes:
Flexible rod per metre 2mm diameter £1.16, 4mm £1.85; clear acrylic round tube semi-flexible length 760mm 2.4mm diameter (£1.70) to 6.4mm (£3.10); clear flexible PVC tube per metre 8mm outside diameter £0.66; clear flexible silicone tube per metre 4mm £2.45, 5mm £1.58; flexible coloured tube bright pink, yellow, green c.4.5mm diameter £1.60 per metre
stocks a large selection of clear, flexible plastic tubing in different diameters including ribbed hosing. There are also solid rubber and foam tubes (e.g. I have 12mm and 24mm diameter in Plastazote, and 19mm diameter foam rubber .. but there are other sizes). Neither prices nor images are on their website .. you have to make a visit.
‘Swimming float noodles’ £1.69 each. Dimensions are not listed but the one I found in Poundland a while ago is 50mm diameter, 123cm long (‘Aqua Noodle’ from Outdoor Fun, Birmingham).The foam is quite a tough Plastazote or EVA
‘Bendy Rollers’ pack of 12 £3.99 Pcode 604054. The black versions I’ve seen in Poundland (packets of 8) are 167mm long, 14mm diameter
Tubular wire (fine wire woven into tube form) by the metre, 10mm diameter £4.50 per m, 21mm diameter £6.02 per metre
Corrugated tubing, or ‘conduit’ as it’s called, is meant for carrying wires or cables and can usually be found in DIY or electronics stores. This selection from Cablecraft is just to illustrate what’s available, and hopefully one should be able to find it in smaller lengths elsewhere.
‘Betaflex 1′ corrugated polypropylene conduit. Available in black, grey, white, blue, yellow. Diameters available 10, 16, 20, 25, 32, 40, 50mm. Example prices 10mm black £47.40 per 50metres, 32mm white £56.24 per 25metres
‘PVC tubing’ flexible clear 6mm outer, 3mm inner £7.80 for 30metre roll; 8mm outer, 5mm inner £9.00 for 30metre roll
ABS ‘bends’ aka. ‘elbows’ to fit pipe diameters 38.1mm (£3.30 each), 44.4mm (£4.22 each) and 50.8mm (£4.93 each). See also ‘Butyrate Fittings’ on EMA website for similar smaller
Wooden rings (beechwood) 35-115mm diameter e.g. 35mm £1.99 pack of 5; 115mm £8.99 pack of 5
Polystyrene rings, packs of 10. 100mm diameter £2.92, 150mm £4.23, 300mm £5.12 (thickness not given).
Polystyrene rings 100, 125 or 200 diameter e.g. 125mm £0.65 each
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).
‘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.
1ml or 3ml pipettes e.g £10.99 for 500 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 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
Included in ‘Strip and shape’ section of online catalogue.
Polystyrene eggs from 45mm length (£0.47), 60,-80,-100,-120 (£2.00). Also available cheaper in packs of 10 or 50.
Solid wood egg 34mm length x 23mm diameter £0.36, pack of 25 £6.50; 62mm length x 40mm diameter £1.15, pack of 10 £8.90
Polystyrene eggs in packs of 10. 45mm diameter £2.46; 55mm diameter £2.78;
Wooden eggs, packs of 10. 30mm diameter 40mm length £4.08; 40mm diameter 60mm length £7.92
‘Preciosa Oval Polished Wood’ bead 22x27mm £0.33 each; ‘Preciosa Oval Lacquered Wooden’ bead 22×27 £0.40 each
Polystyrene eggs from 50mm-380mm length, e.g. 50mm £0.33 each, 380mm £22.50 each
Clear plastic eggs in two halves 120 and 140mm length e.g. 140mm £4.17 each
‘Beech cubes’ smooth beechwood, packs of 27. 15mm £3.66; 30mm £6.78
‘Pine cubes’ packs of 10. 15,20,25,30,40,50 and 60mm e.g. 15mm £0.66; 25mm £1.14; 50mm £4.34
‘Clear cast acrylic block’ non-polished. Sizes/variations from 100x100x10mm (£1.02) to 150x100x50mm (£9.30)
‘Cork rubbing block’ no size given but likely hand-sized c. 110x65x30mm £0.84 each
Polystyrene bells, packs of 10. 95mm diameter £4.38; 130mm £5.11
Polystyrene bell 95mm high £1.07 each