Hirst Arts Buyer’s Guide Part 2: What Else Do I Need?

A few months ago, I posted an article that was meant to be a guide for those of you considering Hirst Arts casting molds for making your own 3D dungeon tiles. That article only talked about which molds to buy. While buying two or three molds is much cheaper than a set of Dwarven Forge, I thought I should list all the other items needed in casting your own blocks to give the big picture of how much it all costs. Even considering the cost of these extra items, I think you still come out ahead, as most of these things are one-time purchases. I’ve tried to make this list complete, even including items that you most likely already have on hand.


  • Casting Material –  This is, of course, your most important item. Also, your most expensive. My first go-round, I used plain old plaster. It was very easy to use, and the finished product was very brittle. Since then, I’ve switched to Merlin’s Magic, and haven’t looked back. (Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s worth it.) I know some people use Hydrocal, but I haven’t, so you’d be better off asking @BensRPGPile about that. One final note on your casting material – if you’re having it shipped to your house, brace yourself; the shipping is often just as expensive as the material.
  • Paper towels
  • A timer – This is to time the setting of your casting material. I just use the timer on my cell phone.
  • A table, chair, and trash can – Best to have a dedicated area. I use a $30 WalMart card table.
  • Plastic for over the table – Trash bag
  • Plastic cups – The big 16 oz. Solo picnic cups… and make sure they’re see through.
  • Plastic spoon – for mixing.
  • Jet Dry – I initially dip my molds in “wet water” per the instructions, and also add it to my casting water. You get less bubbles this way.
  • Water basin – I use a big 1/2 gallon tupperware container.
  • Putty scraper – Don’t go cheap plastic; buy a metal one. 4 inches wide, because that’s how wide the molds are.
  • Digital scale – This is to measure out your casting material and water. Plaster you can mix by eye, but Merlin’s needs more exact measurements. You really only need to measure by weight once to make measuring cups with those big Solo cups you bought. I have several lines on my cup for different sized batches (single batch, double, etc)
  • Dehydrator – Ahhh, this can be expensive. Have no fear; it’s not strictly necessary. You can use a toaster oven (or regular oven) to dry out your blocks instead. But I got my dehydrator for free, and chances are, you can too. I posted that I was looking for one on Freecycle and someone got back to me within a day. Thanks Ronco, for convincing people that they would actually use the dehydrator that you were selling!


  • Tacky glue – Aileen’s tacky glue is my go-to glue, though I’ve heard good things about Gorilla Glue as well. Of course, Gorilla Glue is quite a bit more expensive.
  • Legos – I say “Legos” so you know what I’m talking about. Your local craft store most likely sells big buckets of generic Legos in their toy section. Get one of those weekly 40% or 50% off coupons, and you’ll get all you need for about $5. You use legos to make a square corner template. Otherwise (and sometimes in spite of this) you’ll get crooked corners and misaligned blocks.
  • Sandpaper – When you’re making a multi-tier structure that needs to come apart in “floors” sometimes you need to sand the pieces that are supposed to fit together… so that they fit together.
  • “Organizer” box – This was probably my best purchase. People who make bead jewelry like to use these boxes to keep their beads separate. I like to use these to keep my “odd blocks” separate. If you’re only using basic molds (basic floor, basic wall) you may not need one of these, but as you start buying molds with decorative pieces, this box will become invaluable for keeping the tiny pieces separate. I have two.
  • Plastic food storage containers –  These serve the same purpose as the organizer boxes (above) except for pieces you have larger quantities of – floors and walls mostly. One for each type of block. I use square containers.
  • Three tone paint – I got paint swatches directly from Hirst Arts (just send him a SASE, and he’ll send them back) and had them color matched at Home Depot. Cheapest latex paint they had, about $25 for a quart of each.
  • Paintbrushes – You can go cheap here. In fact, I encourage it.
  •  Basing material (3/8 foamcore) – After your casting material, this is going to be your second most costly item. If you want the pieces to be compatible with Dwarven Forge, you’ll need to base them on the 3/8″ foamcore. If you’re not intending to use it with Dwarven Forge, go with crafting foam (1/8″ thick) and save yourself some money.

As you can see, most of the items are small and inexpensive. You will find that, once you have your setup going, the ongoing costs are fairly minimal. It’s mostly casting material, basing material, and glue.

I put this list together as best I could, but if I missed anything, leave it in the comments!

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6 Responses to Hirst Arts Buyer’s Guide Part 2: What Else Do I Need?

  1. deadorcs says:

    Great post on the basics for a trip into casting Hirst Arts blocks. I’ve been using his molds for over two years now. I only had one small disagreement. I use a plastic putty knife. The reason, is that a slight slip with the corner of a metal one, and you have a nice slice into the silicone of your expensive mold. This is less of a danger with a plastic one.

    I also use Merlin’s Magic. It’s not quite as strong as dental stone, but it’s a little more forgiving (and less expensive). Much better than plaster. Merlin’s Magic also takes paint better than plaster (plaster absorbs a LOT of paint).

    Thanks for a great post a great guide for anyone wanting to get into this hobby.

    • Benoit says:

      Hmm, good point on the plastic vs. metal. I’ve never had a problem with accidentally cutting a mold, though I could see how it might happen.

  2. David says:

    I think you’ve got it all really well covered. Excellent post! I was going to write a similar one considering all the hirst arts posts I’ve been doing, but now I think I’ll just link to yours! (if you don’t mind)

  3. Ben says:

    Hydrocal has done me right. If you can find it locally (which I am able to do here in AZ), you can’t beat the price. However, I just started using Buff Merlin’s Magic for a special upcoming project which is auto colored as part of the casting process and let’s me skip a base coat step…that’s worth all the gold in Shadowfell:)

    Great article (as usual)!

  4. Pingback: Ben’s RPG Pile » Blog Archive » Project Red Rover P3: Casting Tips &Tricks

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