This is my second diorama, and it’s much more ambitious than the first. You should also know that it’s a playset for my two boys, who are currently 3 and 4. So it’s full of compromises, generally leaning towards durability over realism. Still, I wanted to create a fun space that would work well for taking the occasional photo. And it’s a blast to play on!

I’ll mostly let the photos do the talking, with some notes scattered throughout. If you have any comments or questions, please chime in! You can tag a photo with a specific question or comment, or just leave more general ones at the bottom. I’ve learned a bit doing this one and would love to pass along what I’ve discovered.

Captions will be placed under each image.

Initial sketch. I was planning on a 2’ x 2’ square, all for off-road vehicles (my boys love trucks)

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Then I found a better piece of wood in my shed. I don’t have a garage, workspace, or many tools, so sourcing a piece of wood that would work without cutting was important. The wood I found in my shed was 4’ x 18”. Awesome!

As you’ll see, my final design was only loosely based on these sketches. One of my compromises was making the paved track a small oval instead of a longer, more complex layout. Maybe I’ll do an all-paved diorama next! I love my racecars and supercars.

Materials

Wood base

1” thick 4’ x 8’ sheet of pink insulation foam from the hardware store. Because of the 18” width of my board, I was able to cut 5 full-size layers of pink foam from a single 4’ x 8’ sheet. Also, I had some extra 2” thick foam from something else that I added to my stack.

Styrofoam glue. I pretty much used this up gluing the 5 or 6 layers together.

Initial layers glued and weighted.

Side-view of all the layers. So the tallest part is about 9”.

Foam all glued with final sketch done on top. The higher layers of foam were placed where I wanted additional height over the rest of the dio.

When I was planning and sketching I always grabbed some cars and trucks to check my dimensions. I didn’t really measure anything, just visualized it all carved out and made sure there was enough room on all the roadway for two vehicles side-by-side. You can see my text markings specifying the deepest part and other details. I didn’t want to get confused while carving it!

My secret weapon! The hot-wire foam cutter. This enabled me to smoothly carve through the layers of foam. On my first diorama I hacked at the foam with a kitchen knife and various Xacto blades. The results were really rough, and the foam was full of burrs and gouges. This cutter is smooth and fairly easy to use. You have to take it slow though. Eventually I got the hang of it.

I’ve carved the deepest part down to the wood base! That’s where the dirt road will tunnel under the racetrack.

The center is the deepest part. The rest of the road is inclined and will include a couple of obstacles to overcome.

That’s an 8” cliff. The off-road area goes up the right side (counter-clockwise) till it tops out at the back. When you start driving back down the left side, you can either keep coming down or choose to cut toward the middle and drive up onto the plateau.

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Thanks for looking and reading through this. I look forward to your comments and questions, and I can’t wait to show you all the next steps!