What’s The Best Glue For Polystyrene / Stryofoam

Just a quick post on the what is the best glue for Polystyrene and Styrofoam expanded foam sheets, both hugely popular for making landscapes, hills and inclines.

Styrofoam and Polystyrene are one of my favourite building materials for landscapes, especially on small layouts or those in a spare room where I might not want or be able to build more elaborate hills, cliffs, and inclines from other heavier more permanent materials.

With a bit of a shaping (see Where Next below for a suitable tool) and a top coat of plaster cloth very credible landscapes can be quickly constructed.

Before going further, there is a lot of confusion around these materials so it’s worth clarifying exactly what material I’m referring to here.

Is it Polystyrene, Styrofoam or Expanded Polystyrene Foam?

Although often used interchangeably these terms shouldn’t be confused.

The material I’m glueing here is expanded Polystyrene expanded foam.

It’s available in sheet and block format and most often used for packaging but is great for railway, diorama and war game landscape modelling.

Typically white in colour, the expanded foam variant is made of small beads giving a light-weight, soft corky, texture. It’s easy — although messy — to work with and can be cut with a knife or hot blade (the fumes are from heating foam board are highly poisonous. This should absolutely only be done in well-ventilated areas — I do it in my shed with the extractor fan running.

If you’re interested, it’s made by expanding Polystyrene beads under heat and bonding them together.

Styrofoam meanwhile is blue in colour and most often used in building construction — for pipe insulation etc — and while it’s is often mistakenly used as a generic name for extruded Polystyrene foam and is actually the brand name for the product from Dow Chemical Company. The same glue I suggest below will work for this as well.

Injection-molded styrene has completely different properties to the expanded foam variety. It’s a hard plastic, often in sheet form, and used as the construction material for many of the model kit buildings on layouts. I won’t discuss the glue for this in this post.

What Not To Use For Gluing Styrofoam and Polystyrene Sheet

Just before getting to the best glue to use, it’s worth noting that there are two glue types you definitely don’t want to be using with Polystyrene foam boards.

These are the hot-glue varieties of glue-guns, where the heat will melt the foam, and the super glues type adhesives which will dissolve the foam boards.

So, What Is the Best Glue?

glueHaving experimented with different glues over the years, I’ve found this to be the best glue for fixing Polystyrene foam board and Styrofoam to baseboards and together — for building up layers on hills etc. (American readers please use this link for faster delivery).

It’s easy to apply, work with (spillages can just be wiped away), it’s cheap and forms a strong bond when set.

Another reason I like this glue, in particular, is that it’s still easy to cut through for later detailing and shaping, even once dry.

While other glues hold the foam together (No More nails and epoxy substances in particular) they can produce a very hard barrier that’s difficult to cut through later.

It’s also a good all-around glue that can be used for many other jobs around the layout (track laying, scenery fixing, water modelling etc). I get through a lot of it so buy it in bulk using the above link.

Where next?

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  1. Just to clarify, Andy – Styrofoam is EXTRUDED polystyrene foam, also known as XPS, whereas the cheap white packing material is EXPANDED polystyrene foam.

    I have built my baseboards using 25mm Styrofoam, and it is a brilliant material to work with, unlike expanded polystyrene, which crumbles easily into tiny balls.

    Also, it is very easy to cut straight lines through it with a fine-toothed (25tpi) tenon saw, or a razor saw for short lengths.

    • Hi Roger, cheers and agreed. Styrofoam (the extruded stuff) is much better for large baseboard areas for the reasons you mention lthough I have used expanded Polystyrene foam sheet for bases if the layout is small and for landscape elements. Yes, it crumbles into little balls easily and is a pig to clear up but I just like working with the stuff. I also usually top off scenic elements constructed from it with fine plaster or plaster cloth. Thanks, Andy

  2. Silicone sealant for bathrooms or kitchens, sticks like the proverbial to a blanket. Just a smear will do. Completely inert, will not melt anything. I’ve been using it for years to stick all sorts.

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