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How to make a simple vacuum former

By August 28, 2013 building, design, diy, misc., projects 10 Comments

A vacuum former has been one of my long term “wants”. I’ve never actually had a good reason to own one, and even still have no particular good use for one, but regardless, I decided to build one (or at least prototype one).

Don’t know what a vacuum former is? The idea is that you heat a sheet of plastic to the point of it drooping, lay it over an object which is sitting on a plate.  The plate has a bunch of holes in it, which suck the air out from around the object. This vacuum pulls the flexible plastic as close as possible to the object, making a tight fitting mold.  Once the plastic cools and hardens (which happens very quickly) you can release the vacuum and separate your object from the newly created mold.

The process of successfully molding an object is probably a subject for another post. This post is about building the tool itself, and since I’d never built or even used one of these before, I decided to built a rough prototype. It’s fairly simple, but I did learn some things that I’d do differently next time. The biggest change would be when making the frame that holds the plastic. I would fix the bolt in the bottom of the frame, open the hole in the top frame, and use wing nuts to  tighten the two pieces together. The way I did it doesn’t allow for much compression, so the plastic sheet slid around a bit.

(This was also my first attempt at making a how-to video for the site. I’d love your feedback on it. )

 

Do you have experience using or building a vacuum former? I’d love to have some tips and improvements, so let me know in the comments below!

  • http://twitter.com/tobbel Tobias Lilja (@tobbel)

    Great video, really straight-forward build process with no unnecessary frills. Feedback on the video: more detail on materials and tools used would be great. If it doesn’t fit in the video format, perhaps post in the accompanying blog? For instance, what’s the name of the metal things with teeth on the outside and threads on the inside? Also, what kind of plastic did you use for the form? Would love to see an end result using the mold!

    • Bob

      awesome feedback Tobias, and you’re totally right! Thanks! I’ll get some updates added to the blog post with that info.
      Thanks for watching/reading and commenting, it really helps me make better content and I truly appreciate it!

      • Donnie

        Bob…just watched your videos on vaccum former, and ‘on air’ sign. AWESOME. I can’t wait to make a vaccum former and figure out what the heck to do with it.
        I’m surprised the MDF can take 400 degrees in the oven!
        How long did you leave the frame & plastic in the oven?

        • Bob

          It really depends on the plastic that you choose and the temperature that you’re using. You’re just looking for it to droop enough that it can fully cover whatever you’re forming. In this case, it was about 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

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  • http://www.blogofastudent.com George DeCherney

    What kind of plastic did you use? where did you get it? I would be happy to go through an affiliate link for some sheets :-) I am interested in making something similar to your on air light.

    • http://iliketomakestuff.com Bob

      I used really thin polycarbonate for this. I just looked on Amazon and couldn’t find it thin enough (and it’s more expensive than Home Depot)
      I appreciate the help, but getting it locally would probably be much cheaper for you.
      Thanks!

  • Marco Principio

    I have no experience with this process, but might you get a better fit with the plastic by continuing to heat the plastic with a heat gun while the vacuum is drawn? Or is there some drawback to this I am not envisioning?

    • http://www.iliketomakestuff.com I Like To Make Stuff

      You’re definitely right. Using a heat gun is a good way to localize heat in areas that didn’t draw in as much as you want. Also, the thinner the plastic the closer the form. It’s something I’m still learning too, as I don’t do the process that often.

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