How to Make a Styrofoam Ship Wheel

By Joanne Thomas

If you need to make a model ship wheel, perhaps for a toy or a prop for a play, then Styrofoam is an excellent material to use. It is lightweight, inexpensive and easy to cut without any special equipment. A ship wheel is a relatively simple shape to draw. This method requires you to make a paper pattern for the ship wheel and transfer it to the Styrofoam. This means you can perfect the size and dimensions of the wheel before making it. The wheel can be painted to make it look like a real ship wheel.

Mark a dot on the paper to indicate the exact center of the ship wheel. First draw the spokes of the ship wheel on the paper. You need to draw them actual-size. Start by drawing a vertical line with the dot in the center, then draw a horizontal line with the dot in the center. Use the protractor to ensure the lines are perfectly perpendicular to each other and use the ruler to make sure they are exactly the same length.

Draw a third line with the dot in its exact center at a 45-degree angle to the first line. Draw a fourth line with the dot in its exact center at a 45 degree angle to the second line. All four lines should be the same exact length. You should now have a star shape consisting of an overlapping “plus” sign and an “X”.

With the point of your pair of compasses at the central dot, draw a small circle. This circle will be a hole in the center of the ship wheel. Draw a second circle a few inches to the outside of the first one. Draw a third circle for the outer part of the wheel that is a few inches within the outer points of the spokes. Draw a fourth circle a few inches within the third circle. Your diagram should now resemble a ship wheel.

Add dimension to the spokes: draw a line on each side of each spoke line with the original spoke line in the exact center. Connect the new lines at the ends to form solid spokes a few inches wide. Take a marker pen and go over the outer perimeter of the wheel shape. Draw around the perimeters of the eight inside wedge-shaped pieces, and around the circumference of the central circle.

Tape the paper to the Styrofoam sheet so that it is smooth and taut. Take the sharp nail and transfer the lines marked with the pen to the Styrofoam by stabbing it through the paper and into the Styrofoam every half-inch or so along the marked lines. Remove the paper and you should see the indentations made by the nail forming the shape of the ship wheel.

Use these indentations to guide you as you cut the wheel shape out of the Styrofoam sheet using a sharp kitchen knife. You need to cut out and remove the wedge shaped pieces, the small central circle, and the Styrofoam outside the perimeter of the wheel and spokes. Try to make the cuts at a perfect 90-degree angle to the flat surface of the Styrofoam for neat edges. You can neaten them with a smaller sharp knife if necessary.

Tip

If you want to paint the wheel, only use paints that specifically state that they are suitable for Styrofoam. If you use the wrong kind of paint, it may not adhere to the surface and some paints will dissolve the Styrofoam.

To make the knife cut more smoothly, wipe it over the top of a lit candle on both sides to coat it with a thin layer of wax.

Cutting Styrofoam is messy so expect to have a lot of cleaning up to do after you finish this project.

About the Author

A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.