Introduction: Bending, Shaping and Strengthening Foam Armor (Cheap and Easy Method)

Picture of Bending, Shaping and Strengthening Foam Armor (Cheap and Easy Method)

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Putting complex bends and curves in EVA Foam armor can be tricky, since the foam is very elastic and flexible. Parts don't always like to hold their shapes, and the prevalent method (from my experience reading costume forums like therpf) for shaping foam armor parts is to use a heat gun. I didn't have a heat gun, so I decided to apply something I discovered when I was making my Iron Man Mark 3: paperclips are surprisingly good at holding form and shape.

My method basically involves cutting lines into the inside of an armor piece, lining the cut with a paperclip and then sealing it back up with hot glue. The best part about this method is that you don't have to go out and buy a heat gun if you don't have one. Additionally, it is really easy to re-shape if you so desire, and the paperclips actually do strengthen and stiffen the parts.

The materials you will need:
1) Foam armor part (pepakura is the most popular method for making foam armor)
2) Paper clips (Use large ones because they are thicker and sturdier)
3) Hot Glue gun
4) Pliers (Needlenose, and optionally diagonal cutters as well)
5) X-acto knife

In this instructable, I will show a fairly simple method to form, shape and strengthen foam armor, using an Iron Man helmet made from EVA foam floor mats.

CAUTION: Be careful when placing cut paperclip bits as these are sharp and can easily penetrate skin. I have placed this warning again at the end of the Instructable, so please follow safety precautions and exercise good judgement while building!

Step 1: Make a Cut on the Interior of the Foam

Picture of Make a Cut on the Interior of the Foam

Run the X-acto knife along the interior of the armor  part to make a slice. Run the knife along this slice a few more times until the cut is deep (~half the thickness of the foam)

Keep the cuts fairly rough (instead of clean cuts) as the glue bonds to the foam even better.

Step 2: Bend the Paperclips to Shape and Then Glue Them Into the Cut

Picture of Bend the Paperclips to Shape and Then Glue Them Into the Cut

Make a mental note of where you want the paperclips to be embedded. You could even use a marker and mark the locations. Straighten and use the diagonal cutter (or the pliers) to cut a paperclip to the length you need. Then bend it to the desired shape using the pliers.

Run the tip of the hot glue gun along the cut in the foam and then insert the paperclip and line the slit. Do this in parts because it is really hard to insert the paperclip into a slit that has been entirely covered in hot glue as you will definitely get hot burning glue on your hands!

To elaborate, you should cover half the slit with glue, embed the paperclip, and then wait for it to cool and harden. Then add hot glue to the rest of the slit and insert the rest of the paperclip. It is easy to embed the second half by just holding the first half through the foam. Do not worry about deforming the foam because adding the paperclip makes it really strong, and it will retain the shape of the paperclip.

Also, do not worry if the paperclip changes shape while you are doing this, because you can very easily bend it back to the correct shape through the foam. The foam will then hold to the correct shape.

Step 3: Results: Clean Up and Repeat As Necessary

Picture of Results: Clean Up and Repeat As Necessary

After the paperclip has been embedded, run the hot glue gun along the slit again to seal/coat and prevent the paperclip from getting dislodged. Snip off the unprotected tips of paperclip that may be exposed (This is where the diagonal cutter comes in handy). Glob on even more hot glue to make sure that the paperclips are definitely sealed. Keep in mind that these bits may scratch you or harm you if you do not attend to them! In the case of the face plate, you could easily put a sharp metal pin in your eye if it has not been sealed into the face plate well.


Stay tuned for my Iron Man Mark 7 project, and happy building!

Comments

Logan Kane Studio (author)2016-08-17

Awesome! Now I just need to make the helmet... :(

AceB5 (author)2016-04-27

buy a can of plasti dip and evenly coat and repeat until you get desired effect

ChadB20 (author)2016-04-12

I just tried a clothes iron on it and forms ir great with very little snell. Old tshirt in between

stormthirst (author)2015-12-01

I use my oven to mold pieces. No heat gun required - just a pair of gloves, a form and a tea towel. Put the piece on a piece of parchment paper on a baking tray (or buy a baking tray specifically for this), heat at 120C until the piece is really flopping, the apply to your form. Apply even pressure to the piece by placing the tea towel over the top and pulling tight.

Hello my friend, I would like to receive this model to make the mask, Can you send me for e-mail? domingosoliveira.f@gmail.com

Many Thanks

boomshakalacka12 (author)2013-09-22

Were did you buy the foam and how much did it cost?

I bought it at big lots. They have roughly 4'x6' sheet (I don't know the actual dimensions, I don't have any to measure right now) rolls of this foam for $18. These costumes require like 2-3 of these sheets.

The Rambler (author)2013-06-06

Nice job. I'm sure you've probably seen it before but there's also a way to strengthen the foam by painting it with layers of watered down glue, (http://entropyhouse.com/penwiper/costumes/helmsdeep.html) though you don't have the ability to reshape it after you're done. I've also heard you can form foam over a stove burner, though I imagine that would fill your kitchen with noxious fumes.

andyr23511 (author)The Rambler2013-06-06

Yes, but from my experience coating in glue, watered down glue barely has any strengthening effect, and even glue applied directly marginally improves it. You can't really manipulate or even predict the shape that it will take. Watering down glue is primarily used when the foam needs to be sealed and a glossy finish is wanted.

I would not recommend placing foam over your kitchen stove! Yes foam is known for releasing all sorts of stuff when heated and you don't want those fumes all over your kitchen! Basically the inconvenience of heating foam made me look for alternatives.

The Rambler (author)andyr235112013-06-06

Huh, I haven't really tried the glue method so that's good to know. You say you can't predict the shape it will take, did it warp when you tried it?

andyr23511 (author)The Rambler2013-06-06

No not really. It takes the shape of the foam, so I guess it's not really unpredictable. I'm guessing your results are unpredictable depending on what kind of glue you use? Unpredictable may be the wrong word here, so I'm sorry :P
The glue is more of a finish, to smooth and solidify the surface. It doesn't really strengthen or help form it.

imbatman-imbatman (author)2013-06-06

Would u have some templates because if u do could u email me them on nzbatman@hotmai.com thanks

Check this site out for files:
http://www.therpf.com/f24/foam-speed-building-filesntricks-im-extemis-v2-added-148889/

Andyr mentions it in the intro but this page specifically has a lot of files intended for foam builds. It also has a lot of tips for forming without using a heat gun, though this paperclip method still seems like a great way reinforce the foam.

andyr23511 (author)The Rambler2013-06-06

Yeah the focus of my instructable was doing something with an already created armor part, not actually making the part, so I did not include the links. therpf.com is a great resource for this kind of thing though! Are you trying to make some foam armor yourself?

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