Moai From Recycled Foam

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Introduction: Moai From Recycled Foam

I've been saving Styrofoam (actually Expanded Polystyrene foam) blocks that came with flat-pack shelves, and I got to thinking that if I had enough of these blocks I could make the Easter Island Head (Moai) that I've always wanted. I called around and found some foam construction blocks that had been returned to the supplier. Since they were rejects, I got these 5-inch, by 7-inch by 60-inch EPS foam blocks for just a few dollars each. Twelve of these blocks (3 rows of four) make a single block 20-inches, by 21-inches, by five-feet tall. [To keep the peace, I have agreed that five feet is a reasonable height for a Moai.]

I struggled to decide what kind of glue to use to make these dozen blocks into a single block. Since they no longer sell some adhesives here, I decided that plain old wood glue (PVA glue) would be the easiest choice. I glued three rows of four blocks together, then glued each of the three big blocks together to make one big block. I tried not to overdo the glue. I just want the blocks to be held together securely. Too much glue will result in undried pockets of glue that will leak out while you’re carving. Many of my glued joints were solid, with just a thin layer of glue between the foam blocks. Many of my seams were not so tight, even having a slight gap, with the glue spanning between the blocks, like honeycomb. This wasn’t really a problem, spackle will fix most any gaps.

Supplies

Expanded Polystyrene foam (EPS) blocks.

Hacksaw Blade (mounted on a handle)

Bowsaw Blade

Microplane Grater

Woodworking Rasps

Utility Knife

Sanding Pads

Vinyl Spackling Paste

Paints and Brushes

Small Nylon Spatula

Marking Pen

Large Square

3-M Super 77 Aerosol Glue

Wood Glue (PVA)

Step 1: Make the Pattern

Deciding what to make is easy, just choose something that interests you. Drawing the pattern for your "megalith" can be a challenge. I'm no artist, but I know how to trace an image onto a sheet of graph paper (a window helps). And it's fairly easy to transfer an image from graph paper to a full-size grid drawn on a block.

For the Easter Island Moai, I looked at lots of pictures to get an idea of the Moai shape I wanted. I traced a photo onto graph paper, mostly to get the right proportions, then started modifying the shape to fit my block. You need to draw both front and side views, so one way or the other you'll be "creating" your own drawing. To transfer a profile picture to front view, plot your (block) images side-by-side, and use a ruler to project the features from your traced profile (eyes, nose, mouth, and chin) to the front-view, and fill in the details as best you can. Just center the features and fill them in (in pencil) by referring to pictures. I just kept drawing and erasing features untill I arrived at an image that I felt represented the Moai I was looking for.

Once you've got your pattern (front and side views) you're ready to transfer the pattern, square-for-square, from the graph paper to your block.

Note, you don't need to keep your drawing inside your working space (the size of your block, as outlined on graph paper). For features that stick out, but only in a small area, just glue blocks to the larger block, in the appropriate positions. Also note, you can use parts you cut away from the large block to add onto your block.

Step 2: Glue the Blocks Together

The main block is composed of a dozen blocks, glued together. I first glued six pairs of blocks, long sides together. These six, double blocks are then glued together, again along the long sides, to make three rows of four blocks. Each row is 7-inches wide by 20-inches long, by 60-inches tall.

I spread the wood glue with a rubber roller, applying the same amount to each side, and then loosely clamping the parts together, or just weighting them down with my rock collection (take that, people who said I have too many rocks).

It's worth the effort to get the edges aligned properly, so the stacks of four blocks can be fitted together without gaps. I did a light sanding on the sides of the stacks of blocks to allow the seams to press together more closely.

for this project I had to buy more than one pint of glue. It costs about the same for a gallon of glue as it does to buy two pints. I try not to add too much glue because I like to keep the weight down. If you're thinking that this is the wrong type of glue for gluing foam, you may be right. Chemical bonds are stronger (think solvent-based glues), but strength isn't an issue for this figure, and I thought the fused material might be difficult to cut through, and leave harder seams to deal with later. Internet sources advise against using PVA glue to glue flat pieces of foam together because the outside edges cure, but the inside stays wet. I did hit a few pockets of wet glue while I was carving, but it wasn't a big problem. .

The final picture is the completed block with all twelve slabs stuck together (20-inches, by 21-inches, by 60-inches).

I'm going to add blocks of foam to this big block, so I'm finally getting rid of all my scrounged chunks of foam to make the nose, lips, chin, ears, and shoulders.

Step 3: Transferring the Pattern From the Graph Paper to Block

I transferred my sketch of the Moai profile from the quarter-inch graph paper to a grid drawn at a scale of 2-inch squares on the foam block. The grid is drawn on both side faces of the foam block, and the image is transferred to the block square by square (it's harder than it looks). There is no reason to draw a grid on the front face, as most of the front face will be removed when I cut out the profile.

Drawing the image on both sides of the block helps keep the saw blade outside the lines while cutting out the profile. Once you have the rough profile, draw a center-line down the front, the other features are drawn by measuring from this centerline. It seems a little daunting to hack into this big block of foam, but this stuff is pretty forgiving, and there is always spackle. I want it to look nice, but aiming for perfection interferes with the creative process and just stresses you out. It's not like you're entering a contest or anything... oh, wait. Never mind.

Step 4: Add Blocks and Rough Out the Basic Shape

EPS foam is fun and easy to work with. I looked in my tool box (and the kitchen drawers) and grabbed anything that looked like it would help with shaping the foam. I also bought a couple of "rasp-like" tools for getting into hollow places.

I bought a 24-inch bowsaw blade that I mounted in a small handle to make the first, wide cuts. Start the cuts at the top, applying little pressure and only cutting on the pull-stroke (or the blade will buckle). It helps to switch sides every few inches; working the piece from each side helps keep the cut on track. Once the basic profile has been cut, draw a centerline along the cut, and plot the locations of the features. Use the utility knife and a hacksaw blade to work the features down, going a little bit at a time. I ended up having to add more blocks to fill out the features.

For the shoulders, I re-used the part that was cut from the forehead and nose. I also used the big arc-shaped piece that was cut out behind his neck to add rounding to the back of his head.

I took a lot of time trying to get the nose and lips right. Mostly I just took off a little at a time, and tried to keep the features symmetrical. It was really helpful to keep looking at pictures to get a feel for the curves as you shape the foam. You can use the glue-seams as reference points to help keep features the same on each side. I ended up doing most of the carving with a long-bladed utility knife, the kind with the snap-off blades. I also found the short, arc-shaped "rasp" to be about the most useful item for overall shaping. The microplane grater was nice for surface smoothing, but it bent pretty quickly (I doubt if anyone will notice).

If you make mistakes, you can either glue on blocks to fill in large areas, or build areas up with spackle. The closer you can get to the final shape, the less spackle you will need, and the lighter your megalith will be.

Step 5: Work Down to the Final Shape

With all the supplemental blocks glued in place, it's time to work the foam down to the final shape. This doesn't take long, and most of the work can be done with a long-blade utility knife and a curved grater. It's easy to get intimidated about carving into a big block, but this stuff is pretty forgiving, so relax and have some fun with it.

My approach is to go slowly, and not work one area down too far until the other areas get caught up. It's a lot easier to remove material than add material, so try not to take off too much at once. It was helpful to work in stages, stopping to look at lots of pictures before proceeding. If you're not sure whether you sould take off more in a particular area, work on a different feature for a while, it really does help to see how other parts are taking shape, as you work on any particular area. I left the nose, lips, chin, and ears for the last removing a little material at a time, and trying to keep them symmetrical.

Working the foam down doesn't take long, but I took it slowly and worked on it over several days. Don't try to do the shaping in a windy area or you'll make a bigger mess than you'll want to clean up. I kept a shop-vac handy and took breaks to vacuum up the chaff every few minutes. Keep track of where your vacuum cleaner is blowing out air. I've accidentally blown fountains of foam shards into the air.

The final shaping of the nose, lips, chin and ears really makes the figure take shape. The sides still have a grid with some reference markings that I kept until I had all the other features finished. Then I just rasped down the sides, giving them a nice concave shape and meeting the curve of the jaw-line.

I didn't like the flat areas on the ears or the sharp corners at the inside of the shoulders, so I added some more blocks. One of the beauties of working with foam is that you can change your mind and add material at just about any stage of the process.

A quick smoothing of any last touch up areas, and a once over with a sanding pad and "Louie" is ready to get spackled.

Step 6: Trim the Seams and Brush on Spackle

As you're grating and sanding the Moai to shape, the glue seams stick up like a feather. This feather-edge needs to be trimmed down below the surface and filled with spackle to give the impression that it was carved from a solid block of stone.

This joint trimming and filling takes some effort but it makes a big difference in the finished Moai. A small, pointy pair of scissors works well for removing the ridges of glue (If I had a steadier hand I'd probably use the Dremel tool). Hold the scissors flat against the seam, press the tips down below the surface of the foam, and snip. I trim all the seams, whether they need it or not. After the initial trimming, feel the edge with a finger, and snip off anything that sticks up.

It seems like you're doing a lot of damage to your nice smooth Moai, gouging out all the seams, but it's a lot easier filling a groove with spackle than trying to cover over something that's sticking up. After trimming, smear all the seams with a bead of vinyl spackle. Once the spackle is dry give the seams a quick sanding to even up the surface. Be as neat as you can when filling the seams. It's difficult to sand areas that are partly covered with spackle and partly bare. You wind up removing more foam from the unspackled areas, which just makes the bump more noticable. It may take a couple of rounds of spackling to fill the seams so they are unnoticable.

The vinyl spackling paste is water-based and can be thinned to whatever consistency you need. Mix up a thin slurry and brush it over the entire surface of the Moai. The first coat will fill most of the little plucking holes (where balls of foam have been pulled out). When this coat is dry, mix up another batch of slurry, a little thicker than the first coat, and brush it over the entire surface again. This should be sufficient to cover any foam texture and fill in any remaining plucking holes. I only bought one container of the vinyl spackling paste, and I wish I had bought more, as the back didn't get much coverage. Sorry I didn't get photos of spackling the seams, but do you really need to see more pictures of white foam. Once the spackle skin is dry, everything gets a light sanding.

The last step in preparation for painting is to paint on a layer of black gesso. This helps cover brush strokes and any remaining foam texture, but it also protects any areas that didn't get full coverage with the spackle from being degraded by the spray paint used in the next step.

Step 7: Paint and Seal

The fully prepped Moai gets a base coat of spray primer (gray), and then it's ready for the acrylic paint color coat. I sprayed two cans of gray paint on this, but didn't get very good coverage. For the acrylic paints, I just mixed black and white paint in various shades, starting with a darkish gray blotchy coat, overlain by a lighter gray set of blotches, then fine stipple of black and another stipple of white. Finally, I mixed up a thin "wash" of nutral gray and dabbed it all over to tone down areas with too much white, and to ligheten areas with too much black. There is no real rule that I know of, but this seemed to work. I haven't put on the sealing clear coat yet because I may add some patches of moss here and there when my green paint arrives.

There are a few things I learned while doing the painting. The natural sponge makes all the difference, try to find a natural sponge with an even distribution of "fingers" sticking out. Wet the sponge first and dab it in the paint, then wipe against the side of the container or dab it on a pallet (or hidden area of the work) to get the thick gobs of paint off. Try to dab with the same pressure on every tap against the surface, and change the position of your sponge frequently, so you don't develop a pattern. Tap the sponge straight down and lift straight up, to avoid smears. If you make a mistake, don't wipe it off, just paint over it later. For stippling, just give the surface a very light tap, so only the tips of the sponge-fingers touch the surface, and try to tap the same way every time.

I'm trying to imitate the crystalline structure of natural rock, like granite. If you want a different texture you can use the sponge differently, smearing it around a bit on the surface to get a softer texture. The "wash" I used on the last coat was made from acrylic paint thinned with water, with a little isopropyl alcohol added to make it less viscous. It's partly transparent, so some of the black and white "minerals" still show through.

The finished yard Moai stands five-feet tall and weighs about fifteen pounds.

Step 8: Drawing

In case anyone's interested, I took a closeup of my original drawing. Sorry, it's hard to see the graph lines, but they are 1/4-inch squares. Note, I didn't follow the drawing exactly. The mouth is a little different, and I think the nose came out wider.

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    90 Comments

    0
    Taller de Luz
    Taller de Luz

    7 months ago

    Great! Good job! I only want to add, as a Chilean, that moais are not "heads"... maybe most people abroad have that concept after watching a moai head on "Night on the Museum" movie. However, moais represent an ancestor for Rapa Nui people, and they have full body and a big, masive head. Some heads were left unfinished on the volcanic hill laps, though. And the right name for that wonderful island is Rapa Nui... Easter Island or Isla de Pascua in Spanish are occidental modern names they don't acknowledge. They don't consider themselves Chileans, they are Polinesians indeed although the island belongs to Chile and they call themselves Rapa Nui people.

    0
    CreativeChloe
    CreativeChloe

    9 months ago

    This is fantastic! Great work!

    0
    runciblefish
    runciblefish

    Reply 8 months ago

    Thanks for the cudos. I'm always aiming for impact.

    0
    pharcydeabc
    pharcydeabc

    8 months ago

    Awesome! So much fun. I need two of these for either side of my front door.

    0
    mlehane
    mlehane

    9 months ago

    bruh moment. 🗿

    0
    runciblefish
    runciblefish

    Reply 9 months ago

    Neat! I didn't even know there was an emoji for that.
    Thanks.

    0
    mlehane
    mlehane

    Reply 9 months ago

    no problemo!

    0
    spark master
    spark master

    9 months ago

    First off it is wonderful, second, I think the dog is gunna, or already has peed on it. Hey It is just what dogs do.

    Again Awesome. Mine was 7 feet tall with a cardboard core, so hollow, corrigated cardboard eyes and externals, paper/spackle/plaster so make it smooth and nice. (oh mine was a tiki, not a Moai, but it was a hit at CubScouts, and freaked out a teacher in Middle school, it was planted in ferns in a classroom and she came through, in early hours very dark,bumped into it, turned and screamed.)

    As a fellow giant thing maker sometimes I love yours. I may dupe one for Holloween, if it ever gets here.

    again nice work.

    0
    runciblefish
    runciblefish

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thanks, I am waiting for the dog to "christen" this, but for now he seems to be afraid of it. I'd like to see a giant tiki statue. Maybe if I can get that five-foot rule lifted I'll try for something like that. Good luck with your Halloween decorations... if they're having Halloween this year.

    0
    le Grande wysardP
    le Grande wysardP

    Reply 9 months ago

    When my kids were little I made Halloween grave yards, Tombstones etc. with foam (beaded polystyrene). I painted them with a heavy coat of what ever latex paint was available and while it was wet I would throw dirty sand on it. and shake off what didn't stick, very realistic. We glued assemblies together with foam caulk, you know, that great stuff.
    Halloween should be ok.... masks will be required.

    0
    runciblefish
    runciblefish

    9 months ago

    Thank you. I appreciate the enthusiastic support.

    0
    bucheronpower
    bucheronpower

    9 months ago

    It's very impressive, congrats! Super job!

    0
    runciblefish
    runciblefish

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thanks! I'm a bit overwhelmed. It's going to be difficult to top the response I've gotten to this foam character.

    0
    wirekat
    wirekat

    9 months ago

    Very cool project. I wanted pictures of the part where all the little bits of foam are everywhere and stuck on you and your tools (unless you did it during a windy day) :-)

    2
    dmmayerart
    dmmayerart

    Reply 9 months ago

    I was wondering about that as well. All the pictures seem too clean hahah. When I do a styrofoam project, I locked myself in the bathroom with a shopvac : )

    2
    runciblefish
    runciblefish

    Reply 9 months ago

    Too bad I didn't get pictures of that. It was just like you imagine, possibly worse; there was one time when the vacuum hose came loose, and I accidentally plugged it back in to the blower side. It was a thing of beauty... horrifying, but beautiful.

    0
    wirekat
    wirekat

    Reply 9 months ago

    Yep - Been there done that. LOL

    1
    Tilting__at__Windmills
    Tilting__at__Windmills

    Question 9 months ago

    Hi, I’m a huge fan of your work! You produce such interesting and high quality Instructables that are easy to understand and use such a diverse range of skills, it’s absolutely amazing. I have learned so much through your projects. I do have a sincere question about this particular piece. I am an artist and I have been struggling a lot lately with the intersection of cultural appropriation versus appreciation in my work. I think it is an important and complex issue. I know the Moai have been used in popular culture as sort of a kitchy decorative object, but they are sacred to the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island. I was wondering if that factored into your process when deciding what you were going to create and if it did what criteria did you use to vet the idea and choose the Moai. I know this may be a difficult question and if you choose not to answer I understand. I am genuinely interested in your opinion as an artist and maker. Thank you for consideration.