Project JigIt: Failure Leads to Invention

So, long time followers of Intrigued should already know my kryptonite is failure. It literally gnaws at my core until something is done about it. Pretty much three paths lead from such events – train harder/get better and get ‘er done, find a better way to accomplish said feat or, unfortunately, find myself in the hospital. Come to think of it, there is really only two paths as the last one just starts the cycle over again. Not sure of the exact moment this infliction came to be, but likely a result of being undersized in every sport I ever participated in and a father (who was also undersized) that wisely knew the ramifications of letting someone get the better of you and not picking yourself off the ground. This being an over-dramatic intro for one such failure, albeit one of a harmless nature. What you see in this next shot is the results of “find a better way” after a disappointment.

A bit of background. For the 2019 Halloween Haunted Trail (link here), I had designed a new prop to add to the cemetery. The intent was to have a coffin being half exposed from the ground being pulled out by a group of skeletons. Prop building for the big event starts months in advance in order to get it completed prior to the chaotic mess that occurs during setup. I picked up the foam sheets to make the coffin out of in April and went right to work on cutting out the pieces. The top and bottom were supposed to be easy as they were straight cuts. Not the case, as my hand would waver on the long cuts – the foam was no match for the hot blade of the gun and happily obliged a wayward cut. Slowly the coffin size got smaller and smaller as I tried to correct the bad cuts.

Project Foam Cutter Jig

Hit the jump to read about the solution to an annoying failure.

Finally got something that would work and started in on the side cuts. That brought a lot of angled cuts both from the matching side walls and the even more difficult bottom cuts as they were angled to look like it was coming out of the ground although in reality the bottom was flat to lay on top of the ground. Countless cuts were either at the wrong angle, inconsistent in angle or just downright horrible. I got so frustrated I set it to the side and worked on a few other new props. Strategically placed, I saw it every day.. just sitting there.. taunting me…owning me. A few months later tried attacking it again even trying to lay a single board over it to get the straight cuts. That worked better for the top and bottom, but didn’t help much on the angles. By then the big day was approaching fast and had to temporarily accept defeat. Pulled it from the 2019 event and decided to find an alternative way for 2020.

Project Foam Cutter Jig

Once again, April came around and it was time to start working on the new props for ’20. Time to redeem myself and get this coffin thing addressed. Made a few design changes that will be covered in a future post, but the need to make consistent straight and angled cuts was still front and center. Decided to extend the board concept that pseudo-worked the year before. One problem was the wobble that could happen not having a brace on the other side which allowed the cutter to burn too far into the bottom half of the foam. Thought about it a bit and decided 2 boards would do the trick. Grabbed some nice clear oak boards that could withstand the heat, not conduct current (DO NOT USE METAL or you will find out what happens to diverted current from the cutter blades), cut them to size and pre-drilled a range of holes to use for clamping the jig on the outside of the foam.

Project Foam Cutter Jig

Grabbed some long bolts and a couple compatible knobs from the expensive specialty bins at Menards. I now could open up the jig, slip various sized foam through and smoothly make even straight cuts exactly where I wanted them. A general word of caution – hot knifing through insulation foam can release toxic fumes! Recommend doing this OUTSIDE and wearing a protective mask if you have one (grab one of those extra COVID masks you having laying around if you have nothing else). I also use a smaller oak board to wipe off excess melted foam from the cutter after making a cut. The blade will sort of self-clean when it gets hot enough, this step will reduce the fumes and makes sure the blades are clean for the next cut.

Project Foam Cutter Jig

With the straight cut issue out of the way, it was time to address the angles. I could always just unlock and slide the two pieces at an angle to get the required cut, but it was a bit of a hassle as the rectangular thickness of the two boards forced the blade to ride some distance away from the ends of the wood boards sitting against the foam. Decided to cut the opposite end of the jig at 45s. This would allow the board to clamp much closer to the cutting line and allow more support on the cut itself. For angles other than 45 and 90, I simply needed to remove the locking pins, place the top and bottom boards along their respective angle lines and quick clamp them.

Project Foam Cutter Jig

I can now get very crisp, consistent clean cuts at any angle I needed. No more trying to freehand the cut – even harder if the foam has a lot of insulation “rocks” embedded in them which will quickly divert the cutter blade predictably the wrong direction every time. This new jig brought success from failure and will prove useful for all the future trail props. Of course, there was an immediate task at hand to finish up the newly designed coffin prop – we’ll save the details of that for a future post.

Haunt on everyone – October is almost here!!!!

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