I was commissioned to build a set of armor for the Red Lantern, Atrocitus. Aside from scratch-building the shoulder armor, I wanted to vacuum form the gauntlets for ease of construction and to also easily replicate two identical pieces.
To start any project, especially a vacuum forming project, research is key. I’ve learned a lot about this subject through friends and YouTube. Since I had already done some vacuum forming on the Game of Thrones, Jorah Mormont armor commission, I already had a good understanding of basic “buck” construction and the machine I was going to use.
First, I created a set of patterns based off of measurements that I took from the client. I transferred those to my wood of choice, which is MDF (medium-density fiberboard), and cut those out using a band saw. Then, I cleaned up the edges with a belt sander.
The following pictures show basic construction of the buck. All three sides, and the center spine, get secured to each other via wood screws. For the assembly process, I always drill pilot holes to help guide the screw and create a clean and tight fit.
[I did not photo document the below process so I will explain as best I can.]
After the initial frame work was created, I vertically stacked slats of MDF next to the center spine to help fill in the negative areas. Instead of screwing all those pieces together, I used wood glue to attach them to the main frame work and let sit until it dried. With the wood glue set, I proceeded to sand down any protruding wood with a belt sander and a rasp to help round everything out and make it all symmetrical. I then hit it with 150 grit sandpaper to help smooth it out even more. MDF is a very porous material- which makes it very easy to build with, but it does need to be sealed so as to not transfer unwanted lines into your finished vacuumed piece. With that said, I used bondo to “skin” it and seal up all the little nooks and edges to make one solid smooth piece.
Now that the buck form is finished, it’s onto the fun part of vacuum forming it! I have a membership at a local Tech Shop here in town thus giving me access to a Formtech 686 vacuum former, which is an outstanding piece of machinery. This type of vacuum former raises the buck from below up into the heated plastic giving a better alignment and pull.
In the photos below, you’ll see I lined up the buck and taped it to the grate keeping it lined up so it won’t move during the process. From there, I clamped in the ABS sheet and proceeded with the heating process. Finally, I simply push back the heating element and start the auto vac’ing process.
Below is a video I had some friends shoot of the process to help give you a better understanding of this process.
After the vac process is done I remove the buck ( still attached to the plastic),carefully cut off the extra plastic , and then wiggle the piece off the buck.
I hope this small tutorial has provided some extra information for any project you might have coming up. Vacuum forming is an amazing tool to use in costuming and also prototyping product. If you have any questions, please let me know so I can adjust this guide or work on future guides. Find me online at: http://www.facebook.com/allenamiscreations and @allenamis on Twitter.