Let us have a moment of silence for the pool noodles that sacrificed their lives for the cause. You will not be forgotten!
Last week I posted some shots of the awesome textures produced when you slash a pool noodle with a razor knife and then blast it with a heat gun. I picked up a few more pool noodles this weekend to try and refine the process. My ultimate goal was to produce a nice looking tentacle prop. Here's a look at some of the text subjects. As tentacles, these suck. The melting process is too uncontrollable to get a taper down to a point along the length of the noodle.
If you want eyestalks, the results aren't half bad. To get the polyethylene foam to wrap around the eye, in this case a ping pong ball, you have to slash the plastic both vertically and horizontally along one end. Once the plastic is soft you can compress it it into a bulge by pressing the end into a glass plate. Then carefully insert the ping pong ball into the still hot foam and press it into the central cavity of the noodle. I would strongly advise wearing some stout leather gloves when handling the semi-molten plastic.
This is the closest I could get to a tapered tentacle shape. This particular piece was made with a no-name dollar store noodle. The plastic foam is noticeably less dense than noodles available at most big box stores. Trying to cut a taper into the noodle before it undergoes heat treatment is an exercise in frustration. I think it's doable, but you'll need something like a giant pencil sharpener to do it. I can see using a length of PVC to fit inside the central channel of the noodle, and then rotating it around that. An electric foam cutting knife, essentially a heated length of wire, could then trim the end of the noodle to the angle of your choice.
This piece was made from a "Funnoodle"brand noodle produced by Jakks Pacific. They sell the same noodles under a variety of brand names. The foam formulation is much denser than the cheapo dollar store versions and produces more prominent ridges when heat is applied. This would be make some nice tabletop wargaming terrain.
Another "Funnoodle" piece. The plastic melts perpendicularly to the direction of surface cuts, producing the surface ridging effect. Multiple short, shallow cuts produce the eye-shaped openings. Longer, deeper cuts result in the stacked ridges along the top.
While the technique didn't give me the results I wanted, it would be ideal for producing vines or tendrils for a home haunt or low budget film. If you only lightly melt the surface after slashing the noodle the texture is almost identical to a palm tree trunk. They'd be great for some cheap scenery at your poolside tiki bar.
Oh, one last thing, and it may be the coolest part of this whole series of experiments. I wondered what would happen if you stuck a light source inside the central channel of the pool noodle. The results were pretty impressive.
Polyethylene foam has absolutely amazing light transmission properties. I suspect the even illumination is because of the multiple facets of the internal polyethylene cells. The entire length, about 14", lit up with the light from a mini-Maglite LED flashlight powered by two AA batteries. That's from a very modest 3-watt LED. With a string of LED lights threaded through the center you could get the entire length of a pool noodle to glow. Just imagine the cool effects. How about a bio-luminescent plant? Or a glowing fairy mushroom? A wizard's staff? Thanks to the flexibility of the polyethylene foam you could even incorporate it into a costume.