Adam Savage Builds His Childhood Home in Foamcore

Craft & Design Paper Crafts
Adam Savage Builds His Childhood Home in Foamcore


In this “One Day Build,” Adam does something really cool, he uses a set of plans he had made of his childhood home to create a scale model (1/24th scale) of it in foamcore. He says he’s only going to use one tool for the build, a humble #11 X-acto knife. He, of course, ends up using others, such as straight-edges, a hot glue gun, and a pencil, but the point is, it’s a back to basics project that features one material, foamcore, and one common hobby tool.

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There is a very important maker tip in the undertaking of this project, which Adam points out as he begins. By going through the exercise of transferring and cutting out the plans, by carefully gluing together all of the pieces, he is really loading the details of his childhood home deep into his memory, his imagination, to give himself a better understanding of the space and how everything went together there. This has all sorts of applications. For a writer-maker, this would be a fantastic way of loading a building into your imagination for writing about it. For a homeowner who does a lot of projects and renovation, such a model can be an invaluable designing, planning, and building reference tool. For someone who just wants to trigger reminiscences and stories about an important place, this would be a fun and I would think moving project. For a maker of any stripe, knowing how something goes together is fabulous way of understanding its fundamental operation. Once you understand those fundamentals, it becomes much easier to think about how to improve upon and modify them.

During the build, Adams shares a number of tips and tricks. Here are a few of my favorites:

Blackwing Pencil: There is something special about a Blackwing pencil that brings all of the nerdy boys and girls to the yard. Mark Frauenfelder (of Boing Boing and Cool Tools) swears by them, as does Mister Jalopy, and many others. Adam can’t help but show off his when he he gets to the image transfer phase of the project.

Graphite Transfer Method: After cutting out his plans, to get the image onto the floamcore, Adam uses the simple graphite transfer method that we’ve talked about on Make: many times. Just transfer some of the pencil graphite to the underside edge of your plans, firmly trace along the outlines of the plans, and your image will be transferred onto your work piece.

Pilling: When a razor knife blade starts to pull rather than cut the foam material inside of the board (which you can clearly see happening in this shot), it’s time to replace the blade. Just as in good soldering, where a hot and clean tip is essential to a proper result, keeping sharp blades in your tools when cutting paper, cardboard, and foam, etc. is essential for clean and precise cutting (and it’s safer!).

Adjusting Glue Heat: Adam uses a pro heat gun with an adjustable temp setting. He points out that, when a gun gets too hot, the glue can start to bubble and disrupt the foam inside of the board. With an adjustable gun, you can dial down the heat to prevent this. A cooler glue also means less working time, but that can be a bonus on a fairly straight forward build like this.

1-2-3 Blocks: One of the revelations of this build for me was his use of 1-2-3 Blocks. These are a standard piece of machinist’s kit that are used as (light) weights, for temporarily holding items during fabrication, for squaring, clamping, etc. They are made of case hardened steel and have holes in them to reduce weight and to give you many options for how to use the blocks. Five of the holes are thread, so you can use the blocks for clamping. I immediate went onto Amazon and bought myself a set. They cost $15 and are Prime-eligible.

My only disappointment in the video is that he doesn’t say more about growing up in the house, how he used his workshop (which is very cool to see how that was situated in context), or other reminiscences. He talks about doing that in the beginning of the video and mentions a few things, but I would have suspected looking at the model would have triggered more such stories. It was still fun for me to look at the house, his shop area, and to imagine young Adam in there, doing his proto-Savage-y things. In one moment, he points out his bedroom, talks about him being up there hanging out with his friends, and he jokes about all of the trouble they got into. I would so love to know some examples of that mischief. UPDATE: Turns out, he has a bonus video on Tested on his memories of the house, available to subscribers.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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