Tag Archives: design

Vacuum former; part 1

Years ago I had a freelance gig building a proof of concept model for a type of modular part. I whipped together a rapid prototyping machine out of a drawer, a bit of wood and aluminum scrap, my shop vac, some binder clips, and oven.

Not a bad test pull for hacking together a vacuum former from scrap on hand.

It was crude, cost almost nothing to make and worked pretty well. I ended up making a bunch of things with it, because it was fast and easy.

bianca armor

The lightweight armor for this puppet was pulled from solid resin prototypes in the course of an evening.

Eventually when the oven was replaced, I was asked not to put plastic in the new one anymore, since I had no immediate need for fast hollow plastic forms, I boxed it all up and put it in storage.

Returning to the former

Recently I found reasons to to develop a larger one, partly for some of the larger Drab Future models and partly for a friend, so I brought out the old machine and hacked apart an old space heater I’d had lying around along with some more scrap materials to try it out. Think of it as a ‘proof of concept’ basically to see what I ccould do in a night to get this up and running.

This looks like the heater;

Wired the whole thing into some frame made from aluminum.

And this is the arrangment with the new frame and binder clips

Once the plastic starts to droop, lift it off and drop it onto the platen and flip on the vacuum.

Things to look out for; As you can see the heat is a bit uneven, so I need to build a better insulated box and better distribute the heat over the entire surface and I don’t think the shop vac I was using had a very good seal.

It’d be nice to get this mini machine working, but it is hardly a priotity. I’m going to need something better, bigger, and more modular, but I’ll keep it around and use some scraps to fix it up.

Design Goals

  • Armor factory, want to be able to quickly form wearable suits of armor, estimate a maximum 2×2 foot max size needed.
  • Small foot print, Not a lot of room in the studio, so looking at an overhead heater, and storage space below the table.
  • Work surface as multi-use work bench table, large forming surface, want platen for 2” square frame and interchangeable for 1” squares as well as single hole for mold rubber evacuator.
  • Started drawing up some designs, based on a few ideas I’ve seen online;



    So I’ve begun by making the platen from parts I had on hand and looking at the size/shape of the work surface to see what will be useful and comfortable, mostly just holding up poarts to visualize and get the feel for it at this stage.


    I opted for 2×2 because that seems to be a standard size of available plastic sheet, and should allow me enough working space for even large parts of armor.


    This is about as far as I’ve gotten so far, and will need to consider picking up parts and materials to go any further.

    Parts List

    Looking at this list the estimate is about 300$ in parts, I’m hoping to make that less by being inventive…

  • ½-¾ MDF for table construction
  • ¼-⅜ Hardibacker for oven box
  • wood/metal support to elevate oven box
  • wood/metal frame to hold plastic
  • frame hinges
  • tracks for frame
  • clamps from track to frame
  • Heating element
  • Source of Suction

  • Expendable Materials

    24×24 sheets of ABS and/or HIPS at 1-1.5mm thickness
    Currently it appears that they run about 8-10$ a sheet, not too bad, but considering the ammount of test pulls I need to do… yeah.

    Heating element

  • Quartz patio heater
  • 50$ (might need two)
    26.5 x 5.2 x 14.2 inches


  • Modular Heater Kit and protoform plans
  • $235 (220 volt)


    Vacuum/suction source
    Looks like there are two options here, need to look at shopvac vs pump/tank. Shopvacs seem to be sorted by two factors, size and horsepower. I don’t need a very large one, but one that has a large force behind it. The advantage of a Ahopvac is that I won’t need to spend more time/money on plumbing and filters, and I’ll have an new additional tool for the shop. The downside is that it’ll never create as much force as a smaller pump/tank arrangment, and wouldn’t be able to pull double-duty de-gassing mold rubber.

  • Shop vac
  • I’m unsure what constitutes “enough” suction in terms of hp, it’d depend on the gauge of the plastic and other factors, but I doubt a shopvac could ever give “too much”.

    3hp 44$
    4.5 66$
    5hp 80$
    6hp 100$

  • Air tank + pump
  • I have a pump which should be rated pretty high, but needs testing as its been stored for awhile now. This solution will also require more set up for addign valves and fittings, but ultimately will be higher quality. Additionally plenty of pumps available online, ranging from $40-300+. The ratings for them refers to how many CFM, cubic feet per min, they can evacuate.

  • 3CFM $55
  • 33$ 5 gal tank
  • additional valves and fittings
  • Reference Notes

  • Can’t start a build like this without crediting Doug’s plans here;
    His machines represent the “right” way of doing this, and most of the examples you see online are modeled after his designs.
  • Another build worth mentioning is from Volpin prop’s blog
    He has built two and documented the builds for both of them, but I’m particularly impressed with the DIY nature of this first smaller build.
  • I’m very impressed with James of Xrobots.co.uk’s super simple Vacuum former tutorials here;http://xrobots.co.uk/vacuum/ It was his use of the Quartz heater that convinced me that it’d be a good idea.
  • Lastly I wanted to make note of this thread:http://www.tk560.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1867

    It appears he is using the same heater I have been looking at and a similar format and has been running into the same problems I would be, i.e. the wood oven box heating, so it’ll be good to study how he has solved them.

  • Drab Future toy production


    Its been a long road, from prototypes to molds/casting/assembly and painting, but I’m proud to announce that the new Drab future toys will be available through the Zerofriends web store this Friday, (Tomorrow!) and I can’t wait to see what everyone does with theirs.

    I’d hoped to do a full write-up including tutorial videos for each step of the process, but sadly my phone was stolen before I could unload all the material I’d been recording. Fortunately I did manage to document a lot of the process and am able to share that with you now.

    UntitledLetting the second batch of resin toys cure #drabfutureUntitledCast two of each toy as well as parts for 2 gynoid dolls #drabfuture

    I created prototypes for each of the seven characters in Drab Future. These began as kit-bashed models based from various toys, won from skee-ball games, purchased from grocery stores and randomly aquired.


    For each I sculpted their costumes over top the base model, and built accessories to show all the details.

    For John Henry I began with a firefighter toy which was a skeeball prize, won from a local arcade.

    needed to completely resculpt the face and mask, and add the straps and elements of his space suit.

    I spent hours sourcing the best parts to match the character’s costumes and props.

    I looked awhile for the a good way to mimic the texture of Casey Jones’ ghillie suit, who also began as a skee-bll prize firefighter, and eventually I settled on using gauze, treated with wax and liguid sculpy, and resculpted with a soldering iron.


    When it was time to make the molds I produced elaborate vent/sprues to direct the flow of resin and prevent air bubbles.



    I used around three gallons of silicone for the full set of molds.
    Had to go a bit heavy with the filler, almost didn't have enough silicone, but the last three toy molds should be ready to open tonight!

    Most of the prototypes did not survive the demolding process.
    The witness prototype didn't survive de-molding, but the mold should be good and I can always kitbash his remains #drabfuture

    One of the most exciting stages was seeing all the molds set up and preparing to pour resin for the first casts.
    30 molds, 4 gallons of resin, gynoid dolls and drab future toys ready to cast

    Two gallons of resin later I had an army of raw castings.
    Edition of five Drab future toys cast. Finished off 2gallons of resin, now time to clean and paint them up

    Next came clean-up, each toy needed a bit of time with the dremel and x-acto to have it’s sprue and flashing removed. I decided to leave the slight imperfections such as air-bubbles as a mark of their creation, a bit of character to each one.

    Then primer for basecoats
    Primer! Starting with 2 sets of toys to fully paint, #drabfuture

    Weathering and washes of powdered pigment

    And a bit of hand-painting

    The finished set



    Zerofriends Store

    Vader Strikes Back; Production design

    I was asked to help out with some production design for a video with The Stunt People. This is the follow up to their viral “Vader Strikes” First-person goPro lightsaber duel video. This also gave me the chance to work with my friend Alain Bloch of the Golden Gate Knights, the san Francisco based lightsabre choreography group I’ve been a part of over the last year.

    As usual I’ve documented the full process; Full gallery

    After scouting the locations I constructed a bunch of props that would fit into the scenes and sell the illusion that we weren’t on earth anymore. I created five light pillars, a collapsible door, various wall panels, a working monitor panel, warning lights, and a working Airlock door.



    The light pillars were multi function light sources, pulse/flash/flicker.

    Ready for the shoot with @thestuntpeople now to figure out how to get it on my car and over the bridge

    The Airlock door was able to open and close via a system of pulleys which I designed with help from Props2c

    This was a great project and lot of fun to pull together in a couple weeks.