Over the Last week I was up North and had the opportunity to fabricate a monument for a business.   The alternative was to use a piece of real granite about 14' high and 6' wide by 8" thick.

First off this piece would weigh in around 20 tons and the handling of this piece alone would be really expensive... 

I started to source the piece and quickly found that pieces like this are not a common request as most of the rock is sliced up and shipped in from out of country.... in about 30 minutes of calls I found a dealer that could deliver the piece it would stake about 45 to 60 days of lead time and 20K just for the piece.... 

The ultimate goal was to deliver the piece and have a c&c or routed signage, or mounted signage attached to the surface of the slab....

Then the slab would be lowered into a footing and concrete would be poured  in and around the slab until it was set and stationary, permanently in its location.

I did not factor out the logistics or the the time, money it would stake to actually pick out the right piece color, finish ext... or even the cost of all the handling.  

Thus lead me to the foam option....

Now foam burns as some of my distinguished artists would say and doesn't hold up to the elements.... as yes I agree with them foam in and of itself is great for mock ups and illustrations.

However, in todays construction world, technologies have changed.... products are better and more reliable and are ever pushing the limits to what can be done....

This means that options that year several years ago that were not ready for prime time are now starting to take center stage.

In my case I need a solution that could handle structurally in an exterior application...

So I proceeded to use Elephant Armor, a product from GST International out of California.

After working with the product, and seeing the testing data I was convinced and so was my client.

Doing something new can be nerve racking but somebody has to take the lead or all you do is follow all your life.

In this first picture I show the over all size and scope of the piece as I carved the foam.

Just as I had done for other pieces I had installed folk lift ports to move the piece when it is finished for easy manipulation in a covered & heated environment.    I have done this for other pieces... as shown in the CORE course on the VA teaching site.

This piece stands about 12' 6" and is 6' wide at the top and about 8' at the base...  with  a1' tapering down to a 3.5' base.

We did run power plastic conduit 2" up through the middle just in case they wanted power inside instead of landscaping options...

next was to apply a bonder and Elephant Armor to the surface of the foam....

This product is what bridges the gap between viable and non viable foam solutions.....

Elephant Armor and its benefits....

  • High ductility, allowing the overlay or patch to ‘FLEX’ without failure
  • 500 times the tensile strain capacity of other cement-based products
  • 10 times the bond strength of other fibers for superior crack resistance
  • Up to 4,000 psi in 4 hours
  • The unique chemistry of Elephant Armor makes it resistant to UV rays, chemicals and provides an expected life of 100 years
  • Prevents the propagation of existing cracks through the surface
  • Resists de-icing salts, freeze/thaw
  • High abrasion resistance 
  • No harmful chemicals, acrylics or epoxies are used
  • Zero slump to flowable is adjusted onsite by controlling the added water.

As you can see these are all good for what we would need over foam...

As a added bonus it also has a fire rating... Even though we are using it for this out door application.

So we began to apply a generous application at no less than 1/2 " over then entire foam surface.

Now this is not must to look at but this structure is absolutely  durable and strong.    

The (EA) Elephant Armor can be applied by Mortar Sprayer or by hand.

Next we use a King product used by shot crete outfits to render and sculpt the final piece.

After we were finished the dog and pony show began as everyone there was impressed with the size scope and ability to solve a particular problem for this company.   

Phones were out.. dozens of pictures where taken and the powers that be decided that this was the solution... 

The piece will be installed and when it is finished I will real ease a final picture showing what it was actually used for... but for now it must remain a secrete as the company has asked that no derails, locations or names are mentioned.

The final color and stain system used was a combination of Walt Tools Tru-Tint and and Smith Paints for a realistic combination of stains and paints....

The top fractures and cracks do not go through the surface and the over all piece was sealed with Tru-Block.

We lifted it and moved it with great ease and there we no problems... this piece is ready for prime time...

For more information on Elephant Armor and to get some... call me so I can set you up with the manufactures dealers....

I will post a follow up to this post when the final is installed.....

till then... Carve the Planet!

Nathan@VerticalArtisans

708.233.9394

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Eps foam is used routinely in construction and holds up very well to the elements. Acrylic stucco is often applied to exterior walls clad with Eps foam without any problems. These applications hold up to all sorts of weather and temperature fluctuations. Eps foam is used in floating docks where it is in constant contact with water, it's used as compressive fill in bridge construction and stands up to massive loads. It comes down to the distribution of weight. Eps foam comes in many weights/levels of density. Depending on the density you could drive a truck over a block of foam with little or no damage. Using foam as the core for a sculpted rock is a perfect solution as it's a completely supported structure. The amount of concrete being used will not compress the foam and when the foam is coated with the concrete you don't have much to worry about when it comes to being exposed to the elements. Yes foam burns, so does wood, plastic, insulation...etc all found in the construction of a home. Depending on where you are using the foam and the fact that it's being coated with concrete you can pretty much eliminate that risk. I've sculpted many rocks over foam including the one in front of my own home that has been there 4 years subject to rain,sun,snow and temperature fluctuations 90 degrees in the summer down to -40 degrees at some points over the winter. The rock looks exactly the same today as it did when I installed it.
I agree with Richard, what I should have said initially is there are times and places where foam is an acceptable armature. I think, a stand alone rock or an exterior feature where you can coat all sides is fine. I personally limit it's use to landscape features that are decorative in nature and are not required to support any kind of structure. You do need to know the stresses and elements that your product will be subject to over the years before making a final decision. Foam is by no means a solution to every situation, you need many more tricks in your bag.In terms of handling the elements, foam is still very durable.

everyone has good points to make... all are valid.    The industry at large ( not just ours ) is moving in alternative ways to doing things... We see here in Chicago as well...  Homes, Businesses and other structures are being fabricated with foam and structural coating.... there is no reason we can not follow suit in our industry especially in the landscaping arena and other various piece work... 

The regulations of using such materials will always be a factor just like any other building material.... there are examples of  problems with anything thats fabricated.... fire is not the Achilles  heel  of concrete and rebar construction but rather rebar and concrete is the Achilles heel of rebar and concrete construction..... the industry is inundated with problems from steel embedded in concrete... its an accepted blight.     

In time i predict that as the products and coatings improve we will see more tolerance in this area.

I am interested in your thoughts about the elephant armor.  I have several businesses that might be interested in that product IF it really will bridge bad concrete parking areas and asphalt!  What are the costs?..is it workable?..how is it for a decorative coating?  thanks!

Call Me .. 708.233.9394

I will set you up with the inventor and owner you can ask anything you like

MIchael Lambing said:

I am interested in your thoughts about the elephant armor.  I have several businesses that might be interested in that product IF it really will bridge bad concrete parking areas and asphalt!  What are the costs?..is it workable?..how is it for a decorative coating?  thanks!

Quick question Nathan.
Is there a certain grade the foam needs to be or can it be any eps foam?

This piece  is a stunning example of the beauty of simplicity framed with detail work perfect for the size in my own opinion. It holds interest with the details and the eye relaxes with large open space which I think adds to the whole feeling of the sculpture's dramatic or monolithic depending on your view point feeling! Which is simply it looks great! no reply needed just saying my feelings about this type of Hard Rock -Art style - Pat O'C

Thanks for the comments.....

The foam I use is 1 lbs foam billets.  Sometimes 1.5  

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