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How to Make Your Own Prototypes : How to make your own Plastic Vacuum Former
by sheekgeek on February 23, 2007 Table of Contents License: Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Intro: How to Make Your Own Prototypes : How to make your own Plastic Vacuum Former . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 1: Gather the Pieces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 2: Start Building . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 3: Prepare the Jar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 4: Adding the "port" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 5: Make it Air Tight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 6: Put a Lid on it! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 7: Use it . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 8: Stetch it over the part . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 9: Done with Molding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 10: Clean up the Edges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 11: Building Bigger... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . step 12: Closing Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Related Instructables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Advertisements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 6 7 7 7 7

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

License: Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa) Intro: How to Make Your Own Prototypes : How to make your own Plastic Vacuum Former
Make a Plastic Vacuum Molder using parts around the house. NOTE --This article was originally posted at SheekGeek. This is my first tutorial or instructable. Plastic vacuum formers are an important part of prototyping. If you need a nice plastic robot body, or custom case for a project you are doing, get your tools, 'cause this one's easy to build and fun to play with. The vacuum former uses a simple concept. They use the power of a vacuum to suck gooey plastic sheets very tightly around an object you place in them, making a 3D copy of pretty much what ever you want. Plastic vacuum formers are usually big, expensive machines; however we don't always need to make huge pieces for our projects, so these machines would be pointless to have, or at least that's what I tell myself so I won't want one ;) Our molder will have a good size for most projects that you probably deal with. If you get confused or just want to see what I am talking about, watch this short clip showing the video of a vacuum form I made.

step 1: Gather the Pieces
The main parts to this machine are: -A top; which is the place that the object to be copied is put and the magic happens. This has holes drilled in it so the suction is about the same over the whole surface. -A hollow cavity, like a strong, airtight box. This is to get the same approximate suction on all parts of the top -A vacuum cleaner (shop vacs are a pretty good choice because they have a lot of suction, but a normal vacuum cleaner will work too.) This is the source of the suction. -Two frames to hold sheets of plastic. This can be two picture frames, or something made of Popsicle sticks. The first plastic molder I made was a test run of what I wanted, but it worked so great, that I usually use it for all the small parts I make. I will first tell you how to make one of these, you don't have to build it, but it will show the concepts of how and why the machine works. The bigger machine is described later in this article. Parts list for very small plastic molder: 1 - Plastic peanut butter jar or similar. (Don't use glass, you'll need to cut it some.) 1 -2 liter coke bottle or similar. 1 - Home vacuum cleaner, or similar. A few sheets of saran wrap. Some good tape, like electrical tape or duct tape. Tools needed: -- A good sharp cutting knife or razor (be careful don't cut yourself!) --An electric drill with a small drill bit, a Dremel works nice with the standard 1/8 inch drill bit. Ok, got it all? Let's start.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

step 2: Start Building
First, drill a bunch of little holes in the lid of the jar, spaced about 1/4 of an inch apart. Try to evenly space them in a grid pattern. This will become our "workspace."

step 3: Prepare the Jar
Second, cut a hole in the side of the peanut butter jar just large enough that little more than the tip of the 2 liter bottle top will fit through it.

step 4: Adding the "port"
Then use the knife to cut the top off of the coke bottle, Put the top of the bottle through the hole in the jar from the inside like this:

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

step 5: Make it Air Tight
Now saran wrap and tape the whole assembly. (Make sure to get saran wrap in the threads of the screw top of the jar.)

step 6: Put a Lid on it!
Put the lid back on the jar. The whole thing should be air tight except for the holes in the top. For plastic, I use the sides of one-gallon water jugs or milk jugs. Cut off the sides of the jugs and clamp them (or hold them somehow) between the two frames.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

step 7: Use it
Select what ever object you want to copy. Some tips on selecting objects: -- Make sure that the object is not tapered on the bottom. This will make it impossible to get out of the plastic shell we are making. -- Make sure that the entire object fits on the workspace leaving plenty of holes around the edges. --Make sure the object can stand the pressure and heat of the process, otherwise they will deform or melt. --Make sure the object is not too tall, if it is too tall, the plastic will be stretched too much, and become too thin to work with. --Make sure there isn't too much detail on the object. I chose the body of a tiny RC car. Now place the selected object onto the workspace and put a spacer under the object so that the final product will look better. Use the vacuum cleaner's attachment hose to connect the vacuum cleaner to the 2 liter bottle top on the vacuum former. Heat up the plastic between the frames with a heat gun or hold the plastic over the burner of an electric oven until the plastic starts to get gooey and sag in the middle. HDPE plastic will turn from white to clear when its warm, this is normal. DO NOT use a gas burner; it will catch the plastic on fire which is not good.

step 8: Stetch it over the part
Once the plastic is good and saggy, slowly place it over the object. The plastic will stretch over the object. Try to get a good seal all around the object, it should be air tight to get maximum suction. Once the airtight seal is formed, turn on the vacuum. Don't keep it on, just hit it with a good second-long burst.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

step 9: Done with Molding
The plastic will suck tight to the object and the workspace. If when you turn off the vacuum cleaner, the plastic is still gooey enough to try to come up slightly, hit it again with another burst from the vacuum cleaner. It should be done by that point. Hold it steady as the plastic totally hardens. When it is done, leave it alone for a little while so the plastic can cool off. Once the plastic is cooled, take the frames off the plastic. It should look something like this:

step 10: Clean up the Edges
Cut the extra off and put it in the recycling bin and you are done!

step 11: Building Bigger...
Get some more practice with it; see what you can do and how it all works. If you would like to make a bigger vacuum forming machine, you will need the following: --One 5 gallon plastic trash can with an approximately 8x12 inch rectangular top. --One 8x12 inch metal baking pan --One or two tubes of silicon caulk. --One 20 ounce coke bottle or similar. --Two picture frames about 8x10 inches. Do basically the same thing as above on a larger scale. Drill a grid pattern of small holes in the baking sheet. Cut the bottom off the 20 ounce coke bottle. Cut a hole just large enough for the 20 ounce bottle near the bottom of the trash can. (Now here's where I have had a bit of a problem, you may need to reinforce or brace the inside of the trash can and/or the bottle with some wood or something before you go on, otherwise, it'll collapse under the vacuum some. It hasn't caused too many problems for me, but it could for you.) Put the 20 ounce bottle in the hole in the trash can and caulk the seal between them pretty strongly to make sure that it is air tight. Then turn the baking sheet up side down and caulk it to the trash can. Let dry, and you are done.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

step 12: Closing Thoughts
Large plastic sheets are available online from many suppliers. Check out the United States Plastic Corp. for material, or be creative and use things around the house. If you find anything good to use that's freely available, please add a comment for others to use in their projects. When you are finished with the plastic mold, you can fill it with either fiberglass resin or Alumilite to get an exact copy of your original object.

Related Instructables

Make a good, cheap, upgradeable sheet plastic vacuum former by drcrash

Rapid Technique: Preparing Plastic #11;CNC Milling "Blanks" for Parts Used in#11;Prototyping Scientific Equipment by siderits

St. Patrick's Day Chocolate Shamrocks by rogers236

Plastic MoldsAn Intro by DEsterline

Venturi Vacuum Degassing Apparatus for use in Rapid Biomedical Part Prototyping by siderits

Custom made; shaped, flavoured and coloured chocolates. by thydzik

Making a custom Platinum Diamond engagement ring by chrisparry

Duplicate Toys by casting plastic resin by philippine stuffs

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Comments
50 comments Add Comment view all 184 comments

spudstud says:
This is very helpful. I am having a hard time finding the plastic sheets you refer to. Could you post a link?

May 23, 2010. 12:31 PM REPLY

kitten55 says:

May 19, 2010. 8:56 AM REPLY This looks easy to make. But with it being finished, how do i use it? like, how does it suck?...or is just a replica or an actual working vacumm.

XOIIO says:
How did you make the popsicle frame so that it was even?

Apr 25, 2010. 9:20 PM REPLY

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

sheekgeek says:

Apr 26, 2010. 9:56 AM REPLY I made something like a "rabbit" joint at the ends of the large popsicle sticks so that they fit together evenly. Then reinforced the corners by gluing smaller popsicle sticks across the corners, but only on one side. This left the other side flat. Making two of these allows you to clamp plastic between the two flat sides. You can use any kind of frame for this though, Dollar store picture frames are another idea I had. Goog luck!

XOIIO says:

Apr 26, 2010. 11:53 AM REPLY Sweet, thanks! I plan n making this, then the garbage can sized one and ordering sheets online, then once I learn to weld I will make one like MythBusters did.

duck_tape_ says:
Would using screen (like for a screen door) work?

Apr 25, 2010. 4:07 PM REPLY

Fizzxwizz says:
Here is a good list of HDPE products http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-density_polyethylene

Apr 24, 2010. 1:44 PM REPLY

Bostonians says:

Jul 28, 2009. 11:41 AM REPLY I do not have a heat gun nor an electric stove burner. Does anyone else have any recommendations for heating the plastic? Great instructable

Culturedropout says:

Apr 24, 2010. 8:13 AM REPLY Late reply, but it might help someone. Years ago, I was building a replica of a sci-fi robot and needed a clear curved/bubble faceplate. I put a piece of plexiglas over an old electric space heater set on low and it worked great. I didn't have a mold; I just softened it and then held it horizontal and let it droop a bit, and repeated the process until it was the shape I wanted.

Bostonians says:
thanks

Apr 24, 2010. 9:19 AM REPLY

sheekgeek says:

Jul 29, 2009. 4:32 AM REPLY You really need an electric heat source. Anything with an open flame will melt the plastic and make it useless. You can attempt to use a hair drier, but I really don't think that'll work well. You are better off buying a heat gun. They are pretty useful if you do other projects and crafts.

itsthatsguy says:

Oct 3, 2009. 7:13 PM REPLY I used a blow torch, i used the highest flamer size and waved it rapidly over a 6x6" plastic sheet, the plastic was thicker than most vacuum forms s that probably why it worked, But if you move the heat enough it won't burn a hoel through it.

Lance Mt. says:

Jan 21, 2010. 2:47 AM REPLY Question. Milk bottles are used in a food context so if you cleaned said milk bottle plastic THOUGHLY after melting/shaping would it still be food grade?

Cheers, feel like making a huge one. Chris

1tri2god says:

Apr 23, 2010. 10:57 AM REPLY Food grade is an measurement of sterility of the manufacturing and shaping process as well as lack of impurities in the actual content of the container itself. So in theory, as long as the milk carton was THOROUGHLY cleaned, as well as your vacuum forming device, you'd be pretty close to the spirit of the description. I can't speak to the measure of off-gassing that plastics do when heated, though (as you'll note that milk containers use a different plastic than, say, the ones intentionally designed for use in the microwave). Hope that helps! All around, a great instructable to get novices into the art of vacu-forming!

Lance Mt. says:
Thanks.. I'll see how it turns out before I start a cancerous pet-project.

Apr 23, 2010. 6:38 PM REPLY

stupidstickanimations says:
ive been wanting to do something like this for a lego gummie instructable :D

Apr 23, 2010. 5:33 PM REPLY

kudoskun says:

Feb 27, 2007. 2:01 PM REPLY Instead of the coke bottle...couldnt you use a vacuum attachment for easier hook up? Probably one of the lesser / if ever used ones.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

servion says:
thats right. and you avoir collapsing problems with the bottle...

Mar 22, 2010. 2:14 PM REPLY

Lance Mt. says:
Hot water. And alternate to heat gun for those cheap like me.

Jan 21, 2010. 3:25 AM REPLY

Skye-hook says:

Feb 2, 2010. 8:16 PM REPLY There is also a much easier way! Though this way sounds fun. ShapeLock plastic pellets you melt with hot water only can be used easily for most things like this, however- you need to have it definitely ON the item you want to copy or add to before melting with hot water,. Otherwise, working with it after will leave you with bumpy products you must try harder to make look good. So there are times you'd probably want to use a thin plastic sheet instead. Many things can be done with though, & it's strong. Can also be used for emergencies. I love it. * See ShapeLock.com. Gotta try this way on Instructables though, sounds really fun!

scarabeetle101 says:
Would the plastic sheets used in laminators work?

Dec 15, 2009. 2:15 PM REPLY

kewlkiwi says:
"Would the plastic sheets used in laminators work?" Probably not advisable, since they contains 2 (or more) layers of different plastics with different melting points.

Dec 21, 2009. 4:07 PM REPLY

The inner layer melts at a much lower temperature than the outer, so that the inner layer sticks to the paper being laminated, while the outer layer is unaffected by the heat.

gelicab says:

Jul 5, 2009. 7:02 AM REPLY I need to make 2 plastic cylendars kind of like ink pen style. Where ifyou turn one the pin will come down. Does anyone have an idea of how to do that? Thanks

scarabeetle101 says:
Why don't you try just replacing the ink thingy with a needle?

Dec 14, 2009. 10:51 AM REPLY

itsthatsguy says:

Oct 3, 2009. 7:16 PM REPLY I built one using a massive shop vac, it works really well, preliminary tests showed i need a better way of heating plastic... might make a Plastic "Furnace"-aside from that it works very well. made a few plastic models of electronic components (Capacitor-rectifier-Quarts crystal) Jul 28, 2009. 4:16 PM REPLY thank you very much for your free site...i really hope this helps me creat a prototype for my invention...my question is i am looking for a soft non degradable plastic for medical ..use... or where i can go or see plastic samples..use. thanks again

katita says:

sheekgeek says:

Jul 29, 2009. 4:39 AM REPLY I'm really not sure where you can find medical grade plastic. The best idea I can think of is to make some prototypes yourself to get the shapes the way you want, then go to a company that will help you with manufacturing such as Enventys. http://www.enventys.com/ or IDEO http://www.ideo.com/ They have the experience required to help design, fabricate, and manufacture medical devices that can be implantable.

katita says:
thank you sheekgreek..i will note these ideas and follow up...i must get this product on the market asap...

Jul 30, 2009. 6:49 AM REPLY

Dr. Tarantula says:
what kind of plastiac do yu recomend

Jul 8, 2009. 2:38 PM REPLY

gearhead1951 says:
For larger, sturdier version try lindsaybks .com and check out Vince Gingery's offering

Jul 3, 2009. 2:47 AM REPLY

rocketman221 says:
Nice I have been wanting one of these for a while now. I found a site that sells thermoplastic .

Jun 14, 2009. 12:49 PM REPLY

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

Stephen D. Alverez says:
Where do i get the plastic, is just any plastic? Great idea though. really gunna help me

Jun 14, 2009. 6:22 AM REPLY

sheekgeek says:

Jun 14, 2009. 10:42 AM REPLY I used the sides of milk containers. There are other places you can get plastics, US plastics is a good company. Make sure you get a thermal plastic. Certain kinds like PVC are very dangerous to use for this purpose (as in the fumes they release can kill you) so just be careful. Milk containers are made of HDPE. You can google and look at other instructables here for other types, I've only used the milk jugs. Good luck!

Stephen D. Alverez says:
Thanks a ton!

Jun 14, 2009. 10:45 AM REPLY

fxguy2000 says:

May 27, 2009. 7:36 PM REPLY thanks I made a vaccum form machine myself using a box hung upside down with a heat lamp inside and a vaccum on the bottom so that I can heat the plastic and just drop it down on the form with the vaccum bed turned on. my machine is about 18' x 18" and is wired with two switches one for the heat lamp and one for the vaccum I will be taking pictures and how to make it soon ok. later May 26, 2009. 9:07 PM REPLY for your step 9 you say to hit the vaccum again that is fine but I also found that if you have a wet cloth on hand you can wipe the top of the plastic in the areas that are hard to form and it will cool down the plastic at the same time the vaccum is cooling the bottom of the plastic

fxguy2000 says:

sheekgeek says:
great tip!

May 27, 2009. 3:31 PM REPLY

vernonstien says:
Quick and dirty, kinda green too, I like it.........

Apr 14, 2009. 4:30 PM REPLY

bobtannica says:

Nov 8, 2008. 6:56 AM REPLY Milk (and water) jugs in the USA are made of HDPE. My first question is how hot should the oven be preheated to? Question number the next is how does one "plastic weld" HDPE? Thanks. Great Instructable!

snowpenguin says:
There is no oven involved. A heat gun is used.

Mar 22, 2009. 12:24 PM REPLY

chuckularone says:

Mar 20, 2009. 6:34 AM REPLY This thing was so easy to make and use! The whole project cost me $12.00 $11.00 - Heat gun from Harbor Freight $1.00 - Roll of electrical tape $0.00 Everything else. Thanks!

snowpenguin says:
Many of us have the tools and tape, so it is mostly free :)

Mar 22, 2009. 10:51 AM REPLY

micah1_8 says:
I wonder if you could use homemade tyvek for your plastic sheets.

Feb 23, 2009. 4:20 PM REPLY

Audreyvgs says:

Feb 21, 2009. 8:46 PM REPLY For a chocolate mold, I'd be more inclined to use a food grade silicone mold, its really easy to use, its also a 2 part mix. Its also easy to get your original out of.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Your-Own-Prototypes-%3a-How-to-make-your/

jensenks says:

Feb 20, 2009. 12:04 PM REPLY A thought on the larger model - a common picnic cooler is already airtight and comes with it's vacuum hookup already in place (the water drain). All that would be left is to secure that perforated top. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this! I really enjoyed it!

Somebody... says:
Hey would this work if you used a melted vinyl record as the plastic to mold over say...a bowl or similiar dish?

Jun 23, 2008. 4:28 AM REPLY

Grey_Wolfe says:

Aug 16, 2008. 12:38 AM REPLY That might be interesting, but I'd like to warn you that some particularly nasty fumes come off of vinyl when heated. Make sure it's a VERY well ventilated area. And don't do it with kids or pets around. Just some advise from experience. If you do try it though, please post your results.

Somebody... says:

Sep 20, 2008. 7:31 AM REPLY I didnt use the vacuum former but I did manage to get a bowl shape using another method...I got some various shapes but here is one I got using a red record...

8bit says:
Was it heating and allowing the plastic to sag?

Dec 17, 2008. 11:44 PM REPLY

Grey_Wolfe says:
That's pretty interesting, and impressive. What method did you use, if I may ask?

Sep 26, 2008. 1:00 AM REPLY

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