Introduction: Turn Almost Any 3d Shape Into a Real Object

Picture of Turn Almost Any 3d Shape Into a Real Object

I'm going to show you guys how to turn almost any 3d shape you have into a real object. I used a regular hot wire cnc. The hot wire cnc is that computer controlled machine that cuts letters out of eps or xps foam. I actually saw an instructable on this site about making a cheap hot wire cnc. Adding a turning table to a foam cutter cnc allows you to make any round shape like columns, vases, spheres, eggs. I'm going to show you how you can create complexe shapes using a turning table. My goal was to make two pieces of 3 meters Anubis. Anubis was a god in egiptian culture with human body and jackal head. I didn't make the 3d figure, I actually found it for free on the internet so I'm only showing you the technique I used to convert a 3d shape into a real life object.

Please vote my instructable in the "Make it real challange"... Thanks

Step 1: Cut Your 3d Shape to Make It Fit in Your Hot Wire Cnc

Picture of Cut Your 3d Shape to Make It Fit in Your Hot Wire Cnc

The first thing I did was to cut the 3d object in smaller pieces for two reasons: 1. it had to fit in my foam cutter cnc (that is 60 cm high); 2. I only needed the left half of the body for the next process, because, you'll see in a minute that I easily mirrored it.

Step 2: Rotate and Render the 3d Object Using Only Paralel Projection

Picture of Rotate and Render the 3d Object Using Only Paralel Projection

Very important in this next process is to use "paralel projection" instead of regular "perspective" camera. The next step was to take each and every object piece, rotate it, and render it after each rotation. The program I used had a rotation tool that allowed me to rotate it by 15 degrees. So I rotate every piece 12 times clockwise and made images of it.

Step 3: Convert Your Images to Vector Hot Wire Path

Picture of Convert Your Images to Vector Hot Wire Path

Then I had to convert the outline of every object in every image into a vector tipe. When I converted my patterns to vectors I made sure that, at all times, the hot wire path doesn't go under my foam. You have to make the path of your hot wire to go around like in my picture (my hot wire cnc starts from the right side of the machine).

Step 4: Making a Turning Table for Your Hot Wire Cnc

Picture of Making a Turning Table for Your Hot Wire Cnc

Now I had my patterns prepared. What I didn't have was a turning table for my foam cutter cnc, so I had to make one. That wasn't so hard. I just cut a circle out of a polywood and made a hole in the middle of it. I also made a similar hole in the middle of my foam cutter cnc table, then I joined them with an appropriate screw for it to spin smoothly. The only things missing from that turning table were the marks for the degrees so I printed a circle with the right pattern.

Step 5: Cutting and Peeling Off

Picture of Cutting and Peeling Off

Now I only had to cut out my shapes one by one. One other thing: I early told you that you only need the left half of the body and you will easily be able to mirror it. You don't actually need to mirror the patterns because you'll go crazy. You will need to use the same patterns, in the same order, but, the only thing you have to do is to rotate clockwise if you wat to make, for example, the left leg or rotate counter clockwise if you want to make the right leg. It's that easy! After you finished cutting one object 12 times you peel off the unnecessary remains of foam and you reveal your object.

Step 6: Sanding

Picture of Sanding

Of course it will need a little sanding. You will only need to smooth the edges a little. For less sanding you can use this technique I've shown you, but rotating your object by 10 degrees or less. Of course you will also have alot more vectors to make. It's up to you.

Step 7: Here They Are!!!

Picture of Here They Are!!!

I know it looks like alot of work but once you have your shapes in a vector format you will be able to make your 3d object as many times as you want and as large as you want. I was able to make 2 pieces of 3 meters Anubis in like...10 days. So that's it. This is one way to convert your 3d object into a real life object and it's quite accurate. I know there are at least two other methods to do it, using the hot wire cnc, but I didn't make a tutorial about them... yet


grey_starr (author)2012-02-09

Wow - those are so Sweet! That still takes a lot of artistic skill... I DO play with foam, and I know for a fact what I do is not anthing close to that quality.

Edgar (author)2012-02-09

Great idea, voted on it, and it's on my Portuguese Blog, so a lot of Portuguese an Brazilians can make their Carnaval and other kinds of artwork, that way:

mr.frob (author)2012-02-09

Very cool, great job!

grundisimo (author)2012-02-06

THE coolest thing I've ever seen. nice job! :)

WineSoaked (author)2012-02-05

Freaking awesome mod to a CNC. Simple, but man, the options it opens up for construction are huge! Well done!

buteomont (author)2012-02-05

This is cool times ten. Now what are you going to do with them?

davidandora (author)2012-02-04

Fantastic Instructable, and a great example to showcase. Thanks!

rimar2000 (author)2012-02-04


CaptCheryl (author)2017-02-09

Wow, aweome work !! Really blew me away

offri (author)2016-06-15

wow very pretty!

professioncnc made it! (author)2016-04-16

4 or 5 Axis CNC router can do better life-size foam eps styrofoam polystyrene polyurethane sculpture

jimtruong (author)2016-02-02

if i want you to be beauty forever . are the 3d works too ??????????????? any one help on that ?

professioncnc made it! (author)jimtruong2016-04-16

That's a job of 4 or 5 axis cnc router for life-size sculpture

miamirelestate (author)2015-10-02

Great Job!

akagoldminer (author)2012-02-09

Those stautes would be great covered iwith plaster cast strips or stucco cdment to make them more durable. Do you do this as a professional business or just as a hobby? Either way outstanding results. I wish I had the room and devices to make such creations for myself.

rob.crabb.7 (author)akagoldminer2015-08-21

Hardcoat would be best.

That way your finished product will be water resistant and tough.

propart (author)akagoldminer2012-02-09

My wife and I are both sculptors and we always search for professional challenges. I don't know if that goes in the "professional business" criteria but we try to be professional about it :))) It's more like a hobby that pays itself sometimes. Thanks. Oh and we did covered them with white stucco cement, you can see in the last photos I think.

mbonciu (author)propart2013-10-07

First I want to congrat you for this well done project. Amazing!
I have few question...Where from did you buy your CNC and what size is it? (max. load size), how much did cost?
Can you tell me what brand of white stucco cement did you buy?

Thank you and keep up the good work!

propart (author)mbonciu2013-12-11

One friend made it for me. It cost me 1500 euro, but I know you'll find great tutorials here to make one yourself. The size I have is 65/65/1400 cm. I used decorative plaster Oskar Ceramic. thanks

AndreiA2 (author)2015-05-28

in what program do u make the vectors from the 3d model

propart (author)AndreiA22015-05-28

Sketchup has some addons that allow you to convert the outline directly to vector. However I didn't use that addons. I used the render images and used Corel's trace bitmap feature. One thing I learned since then. It helps if you make the 3d model black. It's very easy to trace in Corel.

Edgar (author)2014-05-10

Hello, there, long time no see! :)

Here's a small Ponoko laser cut jig I've made, based on this Method:

spider87 (author)2013-08-19

These are awesome! I don't have a hot wire cutter but I've always wanted huge statues around my house so I just might have to make one... This is awesome!!!

clax (author)2012-07-22

How convert the 3d image to profile path ? ( in other words How to export the parallel view in sketchup?) Thanks

propart (author)clax2012-07-22

The free sketchup doesn't export vector. I make it this way: I make the whole object black in sketchup, and the enviroment white. Also make sure you don't see edges, shadows, fog or axes in the view menu. Print screen, paste in corel, edit bitmap to crop the object you need and then trace bitmap in corel. Make sure that in the end, after you finish all 12 views they all have the same height. In sketcup, if you make the object group, then it will be surrounded by a blue line. You can use that for your cutting path (because you need the wire to cut the shape and not go under the shape, so it goes, cuts the shape and come back on the ex-blueline) Let me know how it goes. If you need more help send me a private mesage

imBobertRobert (author)2012-06-08

time to make a life-size earth! now all we need it the materials...

Edgar (author)2012-02-23

Liked this idea so much, I've made a Ponoko Plan out of a Destop version of this:

lordduckx (author)2012-02-11

Hey, Awesome 'ible!

Three questions, what kind of foam did you use to cut out of, how much did it cost, and where did you get it from? I'm really interested in replicating this!

propart (author)lordduckx2012-02-12

Three answers: I used expanded polystyrene and I found it in big blocks, I used 2 square meters but I actually bought more, the store I got it from doesn't have a website but the prices they had were similar to this: , so according to this site it would cost you about £ 142,78. You don't have to make it 3 meters, you can make it smaller or bigger ;) . I can't wait to see the result. Keep me posted.

MrPTrog (author)2012-02-11

Couldn't you cut both pieces at the same time with 2 turntables by counter rotating them after each cut? Assuming your cut area was wide enough to fit 2 turn tables of course.

propart (author)MrPTrog2012-02-11

You answered your own question. Sure you can, if you have a wide cut area. I didn't considered speeding up the process because making 2 giant 3 meters staues in 10 days was fast enough for me...

sakkidra (author)2012-02-11

Love the carvings! I have been a foam carver for about 15yrs, doing stuff for amusement parks, malls, movies, etc. I never got to use a CNC, that sure would have made my job easier. I had to do it the old fashioned way, like marble sculpting. Here's a tip: Go buy a Curry Comb, they are used to groom horses. Remove some of the outer rings for the best performance. These are awesome for sanding your large areas fast. One thing I will warn you about. I developed a sensitivity to the foam after about 10yrs of fine sanding and cutting with a hot wire. Even with a respirator. Darn stuff makes me itch like crazy for weeks any time I carve now. I pretty much stopped doing it because of that. I can't even use petroleum based products anymore. So don't let people tell you it's inert and won't harm you, because it can over time. Cover your skin as much as you can to slow down the chance of it happening. I really miss carving, and only do it a little now. If you ever need any tips let me know.

tinker234 (author)2012-02-04

wow do you mind telling me a way to make the cnc you used

you know for his hand is he supposed to be holding something

propart (author)tinker2342012-02-05

I didn't built my hot wire cnc, I just added the turning table, but here is a link to the instructable on this site that teaches you how to make a cheap hot wire cnc . Make that cnc (my cnc is not much different, it just cuts foam with a hot wire. Adding the turning table makes it special)
I modified his hands. Yes he would supose to hold a scepter in one hand and a key in his other hand

tinker234 (author)propart2012-02-05

thanks what program do you use for the model

propart (author)tinker2342012-02-05

I used sketchup. But I think you can use any 3d program like 123D or Rhino 3D or even Max. They all have similar commands that you can use for what I've done.

tinker234 (author)propart2012-02-07

wow thanks sketchup suprised most models i have are not that good

propart (author)tinker2342012-02-08

Go on google sketchup warehouse. You'll be amazed

tinker234 (author)propart2012-02-10


batman96 (author)2012-02-05

Anubis is also a half ascended Goauld off of sg-1!

Cambenora (author)batman962012-02-05


Madrigorne (author)Cambenora2012-02-10

You win. :)

Microbe (author)2012-02-10

The middle one is the most realistic

scenicruzer (author)2012-02-09

Why not use a stepper motor for the turntable?

propart (author)scenicruzer2012-02-09

Well, I'm just showing a way to easily improve a hot wire cnc. I don't know if it really needs a motor because it's a slow process anyway. I think a motor is good when you want to rotate and cut at the same time, for making a screw-shaped column for example

docree (author)2012-02-09

I see almost everyone sanding their foam with the normal sanding tools. Could someone use a small handheld "hot knife" or a heat gun for this part?

propart (author)docree2012-02-09

Yeah, I know it's messy, but I think sanding it's the best way to finish the shape. You could use the hot knife to make nice textures like bark texture or wooden texture. The heat gun is good for cleaning the surface and melting the fluffy powder left by the sanding (the paint sticks even better then).

docree (author)propart2012-02-09

Thanks, for the tips! I'm going to be working with Styrofoam in the near future. Trying to find out as much as I can.

propart (author)docree2012-02-09

Ok, if you have other questions just ask.

123tim (author)2012-02-09

Thank you for one awesome instructable!

You have me intrigued, and I shopped around a little on the internet for foam blocks. I'll admit that I was a little taken back by the prices.

Would you happen to have any link (or links) that you might be willing to share for the cheapest places to find the proper materials? (The foam, that is.)

Thank you.
I really appreciated your instructable.

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