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Styrene Jail Cell – With working door

Styrene Jail Cell

I have a confession to make. I LOVE Styrene. There, I said it. Please don’t think less of me.

I’m just a hack when it comes to working with this stuff. I don’t have the best tools and I certainly don’t worry about scale. I build for look and functionality.

List of materials and tools is simple: Different shapes of styrene (described in the article), plastic glue, side cutters, ruler, pin vice (hand drill), razor saw & miter box.

What is Styrene? Well, actually its a liquid so I’m technically talking about polystyrene. Most hobby stores would call it styrene and the manufacturers tend to call it “styrene plastic” so who’s going to complain if I continue to be lazy and just use the short form: C8H8 (kidding)



The basic structure is made up of only two shapes. I-beams and Rods. I decided on an outside dimension of 3″ x 2″ (all measurements are based on the outside edge). I figured a 1″ door on the 3″ side would do me fine.

The I-beams were cut like this: /______\ The cuts are at 45 degrees (an Isosceles Trapezoid I think). All cuts were done in the miter box so they were all exactly the same.

Key I-Beam

This step is probably the most important in the whole process. Take one 3″ I-beam and make it your key piece. With a pencil draw a line down the center and measure off “ticks” at 1/8″ steps. I drew vertical lines in the middle of these to make “boxes”. This was just a visible cue for me so can be ignored (Space it however you want as long as its even).

Take a 2″ piece and trace its edge on the key piece. What this does is make sure you always use the same set of holes for the following steps. Take a sharpie (kids stole my black so had to use some wimpy green one – Grrrrr) and draw on the top of every piece. This is critical. Do the 3″ and 2″ bits.

key I-beam close up

Carefully drill the holes at the tick marks. The drill bit is exactly the same diameter as the rods (be patient Grasshopper). It doesnt really matter if you get it exactly centered in the “I”, youll see why in a minute.

first drill

Lay the key beam over the other beams (coloured side up) and drill the first hole. I’ve shown the two inch beam here. Use a short bit of rod to lock the positions. Go to the opposite end and drill another hole and poke in a rod.

more drilling

Drill the center and poke in another rod. All this poking reduces the shift and will help everything fit together in the end. Drill all the 2″ and 3″ I- beams (always make sure that you have the sharpie line UP and that you use the 2″ indicator for the short bits).

boxes x3

9000 holes later, make 3 frames like that shown. If you look closely, you can see the wandering holes (drill drifted off the centerline on the key beam). Guess what? It doesn’t matter! All our poking and lining up of I-beams means that all the spastic holes are in the same place. It doesn’t matter which beam you use where as long a the coloured side is up. The 45 degree cuts make sure the corners are square.

“What about the door?”, you scream.

“If I make 3 solid frames, where does the door go?”

“Well take care of that now Grasshopper.”

door beams

Take the frame that has your key beam in it and figure out where you want the door to be. I offset it to the right but you could center it or put it on the left. As you’ll see, mine swings to the left. Mark the front of the beams and use the key beam to drill the holes in one straight cut beam (1″ wide). Do the same poking of the next beam as you drill (shown above).

This next pic shows the problem of taking a picture of a pure white object with a flash.

placing the rods

I fed the 1 3/4″ rods through a frame to the middle of the rods (if youre anal, you could have lined up all the rods width ways and drawn a sharpie line across the middle — I didnt do this). I did one side and then stuck it into the base frame. I haven’t used any glue yet because my rods are snug in my holes (the more twisted of you just made jokes at my expense). If your drill bit was a bit too big (or small) this part will drive you insane. You will need glue to hold things in place.

3 sided jail

I complete 3 sides with two frame, you can see my door marks. Since I haven’t used glue yet, I’m not worried about the straightness of it. If you’re gluing at this point… worry about it.

the last side

I now insert the rods on the final side. I insert one at the right end and measure the door from there (count the holes). When I insert the hinge rod, this is where the door swings, I add a door I-beam above and below the center frame. Whatever you do, DON’T USE GLUE on these beams or the hinge rod, they have to swing free.

cutting the door

I flip the cell upside down and run a bead of glue around the base (in the channel of the “I”). Since the rods go straight through, the glue fuses the I-beam and the rods together. I let that dry and then flip it over and put on the top frame. I flip it over again and make sure the frame is flat. Turn it right side up again and run a bead of glue around the top channel. I let that dry.

I now use the side cutters and cut the center frame like this: \____\

That means the door will only open outward. If you cut it straight, it would jam and you’d have to round the edges (too much work).

I have to apologize, I got carried away and forgot to take 3 pics so I labeled the next pic.

unpainted jail

I inserted shortened rods to the door (No, I didn’t measure it) and glued them in place. I added a short I-beam on the front of the door (you’ll see it better in a minute). I didn’t like the open top so I made L-shaped bits (same 45degree cuts) and glued them on top. I flipped the whole thing upside down and glued more rods (I eye balled them) to the inside top. once dry, I righted the model and glued very thin rods on the seams of the “roof”, you’ll see them better in a mo.


Paint it Black! You can see the small rods here.

paint it black

Paint it Tin Bitz/Tinny Tin/Copper (whatever your brand calls it). This is a heavy base coat not a dry brush. I’ve highlighted the angle cut and the “rivets” I made for the door stopper. I basically cut tiny plugs from the same sized rod as the bars and glued them in place using tweezers.

paint it copper

Do a heavy dry brush of Boltgun Metal/Gun Metal/etc. Sorry for the lousy pic but the metallic paint really reflected the flash.

paint it metal

Stipple puke brown at random locations (I don’t feel like looking up the really long names for this colour from the vendors). I didn’t use the flash this time so its a more true colour image.

add rust

Lightly hit some edges with (drybrush) Mithral Silver/chainmail/etc.

silver highlights

Close up of the “rust” and the “welding” (small rods).


Final cell (yes the door still works).

finished cell

I still have some detailing to do and Ill post pics in my terrain album as I futz with it.

This is basically how I built this:

hirst cell

but I never wrote up instructions for that job (my bad).

I know it looks like a lot of work but allowing for the fact that I was making it up as I went and had to take pics along the way (and I forgot 3). Total time? 4 hours. 2 for construction (Night 1) and 2 for painting (Night 2). I could do the whole thing in two hours now if I sat down to build another. It really is easy once you get the hang of working with styrene.

Hope this helps you out, it really does add a whole new element to your modeling.

North Americans can look for Plastuct products at a local hobby store (I’ve never seen one that didn’t have some. Brits call it Plasticard I think. If people send me link info for their countries, Ill add it to our link section.



Posted in Terrain Building.

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