Building a Better Bug Costume, Part 3: Tools and Techniques

... and we're back! In this part of the series, I will show you some of the tools and techniques that I am using to cut and shape foam rubber floor tiles into organic-looking, alien, bug-like armor pieces that will fit on a human form. The video tutorial that I referenced in Part 2 of this series provides an excellent introduction to this process, but I'm taking that idea a bit further. 
Disclaimer: Before using any of these tools, please read the owner's manual and familiarize yourself with all safety precautions. I also recommend wearing protective eyewear, gloves, and clothing that you won't mind getting messed up. Also, work in a well-ventilated space.




The best tool for cutting this material is a  hot knife , which you can find at a hardware store of under $10. If you have a soldering iron, you might be able to find an exacto-knife attachment for it, which would work just as well. I ended up spending a little bit more money (around $30) on a combo wood-burning/soldering toolkit that includes several attachments, including an exacto knife. My thinking was that not only would I use it for cutting, but I could also use some of the other tips to add different textures to the material. You can also find these kinds of tools at craft stores.

For shaping the pieces, I got a basic  heat gun  for around $15 at the hardware store. This is like a hair dryer on steroids. You want to be careful using this thing, because it can peel the paint off of walls. 

I also finally got myself a Dremel rotary tool , and then wondered how I had gone so long without one. It is indeed a handy thing to have. For this project, one of the basic entry-level models will do, as long as it has a sanding or grinding tip. I got a 300 series, which comes with a bunch of attachments, for about $60. So far, I like the variable speed feature of this model. I spent a lot of time experimenting with different tips and speeds, and practicing on scrap pieces of foam until I got the hang of it. If you are not an experienced rotary tool user, then plan on putting in some practice time in with this tool until you are comfortable using it.