This is less an indivdual craft project than it is the means to do craft projects.  Today I shall introduce to you Hirst Arts CastleMolds

I’d heard of Hirst Arts as a kind of “there’s this neat thing where you can make plaster blocks!” several times before I’d actually seen the product. However, at Gen Con 2006 I finally had a chance to see the blocks live at their booth, and the following year I had saved some money to buy a few molds and try them out. They’re really fun to do, and for the crafty person the “create your own castle” aspect of them is truely alluring.

The sound you hear is me drooling.

The things you can do with these blocks is amazing, provided you have the time and energy to devote to it. Sadly, for varous reasons, I haven’t had the opportunity to do extensive work with the blocks. To date I’ve made a small futuristic temple that was destroyed when a box fell on it when we were moving, and the start of a modular dungeon set I plan to whip out for our P&P gaming group. Most of the reason I haven’t done too much with these blocks comes down to not really having any space to do the projects, and not enough time in the day to do them.

Luckily, on the space front, the new crafting room we put together in our basement promises to supply us with ample area to work on these blocks.

Anyway, getting back to the blocks… To call them “CastleMolds” anymore is a bit of a misnomer. With their increase in popularity and the big range of different projects and groups the molds cater to, there is now a very wide range of blocks available. Ranging from the original castle style blocks to Egyption and Aztec theme blocks and even to futuristic and space themed blocks. With the right molds you can make a staggering array of projects, diaramas, and dungeons. As an example, my father wants to buy a set to make little houses for his Christmas model. In contrast, my wife and I bought ours strictly for the purpose of building Pen and Paper gaming dungeons; however, my wife’s brother commented that were he to get back into miniatures the blocks would be excellent for building miniature play boards.

Where is Don Quixote when you need him!?

Better yet, there is a wealth of tutorial and project information on the Hirst Arts website. Really, I can’t think of ANY product that has as much freely provided tutorial, advice, and project literature as Hirst Arts. The amount of information Bruce Hirst has put together for his molds is amazing. And, with the few conversations I’ve had with him over the phone and at Gen Con, he is a very amiacble guy who isn’t afraid to give a few pointers. At GenCon 2008 I talked to him for a good hour and he was happy to show me a few little tips and tricks of putting together the dungeon I was interested in. I ended up buying quite a few molds that year so it was a pretty good way to sell the product.

I also recommend for those who suddenly burn with the desire to buy these molds and use them to take some time and investigate the plaster choices available to you. For my first set of blocks I picked up some off-the-shelf Plaster of Paris and went to town. The problem is, PoP is weak, ugly, and ill suited for making these blocks. For the next round of blocks I decided to spend the big bucks and get myself 50 pounds of high strength dental plaster (Excalibur from Garreco; though they have a new product called “Merlin’s Magic which has been specially designed to work with castle molds. I’ve yet to try it). It was fairly expensive (something like $40 plus another $30 shipping), but totally worth it.  In a drop test, PoP shattered at 2 feet while Excalibur wouldn’t shatter even at 9-ish feet (I hit the ceiling and it fell to the floor without breaking).  I could get Excalibur to shatter if I threw it hard at the floor or hit it with a hammer.  It also looks very clean where PoP tends to have a lot of voids.

This isn’t a cheap craft to get into by any means.  The molds are ~$35 and you’ll drop a load on other crafting supplies to go with it.  However, for something that can produce such awesome molds; well if you enjoy it and have the money go for it!

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?