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May 29, 2006

if I went with foam latex...

by sven at 8:00 am

At this point, I'm thinking I'll probably go with making a silicone puppet next -- not foam latex. But I've done a bunch of research... And if I don't write down what I've learned, it'll go to waste. This post can be where I pick up again, if I come back to doing foam latex later.


I took at look at three brands of foam latex: Burman, GM, and Monster Makers.

All three brands cost roughly $30 for the basic 1 quart kit (shipping not included)... Burman costs $29; GM costs $32.50 (from Tim Vittetoe Originals, the most convenient distributor relative to my location); Monster Makers costs $30.

GM Foam

I think the deciding factor for me is quality of instructions -- and on this criteria, GM excels. The GM Foam website has run schedules that are specific to three common types of kitchen mixers: Mixmaster, KitchenAid, and Hobart. The instructions that I've hunted down for Monster Makers aren't so specific -- although they do give more information about using different recipes for different purposes. Burman does not provide online instructions that I've been able to find.

In general, GM foam feels the most user-friendly to me. The Burman website seems geared for professionals in the special effects industry; you have to really know what you're looking for in order to find it on their website. As for Monster Makers, I'm a little soured on them after having ordered my "self-skinning flexible expanding urethane foam". When I made my purchase, I also ordered two books -- but I got two copies of the same book, rather than the two different books I asked for. Furthermore, I asked repeatedly for instructions and an MSDS for the urethane foam, but never received these things.

GM foam is recommended by Kathi Zung. Her Do It Yourself! Foam Latex Puppetmaking 101 DVD is invaluable for getting a sense of how foam latex works -- so her advice also weighs in heavily.

Yep, my mind's made up -- I'll go with GM.

...There's something more worth saying about Monster Makers foam, though. Apparently Monster Makers actually carries McLaughlin Foam -- just under their own name. I found this very interesting story from Tom McLaughlin about how he pioneered the use of theatrical foam latex in the 1970s -- but then his recipe was stolen!

Apparently Tom is the guy that produced the foam that was used to make Miss Piggy, the critters from The Dark Crystal, Yoda, and Jabba the Hutt. Yowza! GM foam was used for Amadeus and the aliens on Star Trek: Next Generation / Voyager / Deep Space 9. Also impressive... But having made Yoda? That pretty much makes you my God.

[Tom also authored "Silicone Art" -- a difficult-to-find book that I'm trying to hunt down.]

...If I wind up spending any significant amount of time working with foam latex, then my second order of materials might have to be McLaughlin foam.


I was hoping to find a large convection toaster-oven for curing foam. Something small enough to fit on a counter, but big enough to handle fairly beefy puppets. I found a pretty decent selection at Target. What we really need to know is the interior dimensions -- so I grabbed a ruler from the store's school supply section, and measured all the in-stock models.

Oster toaster oven

My top pick was the "Oster 6-Slice Toaster Oven - Red" for $60 (apparently on sale for $50 right now). The interior dimensions: 4.75" tall, 11.5" wide, 10" deep. This was pretty much the roomiest toaster oven that I could find for $50 or under. And yes, I confess, the sexy red exterior also helped sway me. ...Still, I'm left with the uncomfortable feeling that the first mold I make will wind up being too big for this thing.

So I looked for used ovens.

I looked in the used appliances room at Standard Appliances (5240 SE 82nd Ave). The cheapest oven they had was $200 -- still too much. ...I kept my eyes out while driving around town and finally found a "store" called Associated Bargain Barn on NE Martin Luther King. The employees are amazingly rude; there's just a narrow path through the single room of junked-out machines back to their office; and the business cards don't even have a street address on them. BUT, they said that they'd sell an oven with a non-functioning stovetop for $30. And that's all I really need. They'd had "seven" for sale the week before, but were sold out when I visited. Doesn't matter -- I feel like I've found the place where I can get my cheap oven.

Where to put it? I think the only workable solution is to store it in the garage. When I do an actual foam run, then I can wheel it out into the driveway, plugged in with an extension cord. And if I find that I don't like foam latex? It ought to be pretty easy to take the junker back to the folks who sold it to me -- just to get rid of it.


GM Foam has schedules for doing foam runs on the Mixmaster (Sunbeam), the Hobart "KitchenAid" mixer, and the Hobart (which has a 20 quart bowl). I shopped around online, looking at Walmart, Sears, Target, and The best price I found was $98.72 for the Sunbeam Heritage Mixmaster at Walmart.

Sunbeam Heritage mixer

However, when I was shopping in-person at Target, I noticed that they sell spare bowls for the KitchenAid... Ah-ha!

KitchenAid Artisan mixer

See, I already have a "KitchenAid Artisan 5-qt. Stand Mixer - Red" -- but I was looking for a new machine, because once foam latex goes in the bowl, you never eat out of it again. What I could do is just buy a second KitchenAide bowl and whisk-attachment -- or better yet, just a whisk and then an old aluminum bowl of some sort from Good Will. I'm sure that with a garbage bag and some cardboard for a splash guard, I could construct a protective covering for my "kitchen motorcycle". Checking, I see that a new whisk attachment might cost me around $31.


Let's see here...

...That's $93.50. Figure in something for shipping and a cheap bowl from Good Will, and the grand total probably comes out to just about $100. Not bad at all!

posted by sven | May 29, 2006 8:00 AM | categories: stopmo