For April, Instructables was kind enough to send us at CRASHspace a bunch of InstaMorph thermoplastic to play with. The build night was a lot of fun and birthed a ton of little projects, which on their own would make for rather thin tutorials. This instructable is to share the things we came up with, as well as some of the tips we discovered for this material.
Step 1: About InstaMorph
This stuff is pretty fun. It comes in bags of little white pellets, and you pour as many as you need into some hot (not boiling) water. When it's hot and malleable, it becomes clear, and then grows more opaque as it cools down again. It's even reusable, just heat it up again in hot water.
When it's in small pellet form, it heats up pretty quickly, but if you let it cool into a big mass (see the photo of the white blob in a red bowl above), it can take hours to get soft again. Because of this, we only poured the minimum necessary into the hot water, and saved the rest in pellet form until needed. Our recommendation is that if you have some extra plastic that you want to save for later, stretch it out into long strings, or flatten it as thin as you can. Basically, maximize the surface area, as it will soften much much quicker that way.
Step 2: Heating Options
We tried three different methods of hot water production:
A hot plate, big pot, thermometer, and tongs (or comically-large tweezers)
This was the easiest method in terms of replenishing hot water. It was always on the heat, and as long as I kept an eye on thermometer, I knew that it was always at their recommended 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The drawback to this method was that we didn't have enough hot plates and pots for everyone there, and when putting multiple projects in the same pot, you have to be careful to keep them from touching, lest they stick together. A large pot is very helpful for making large items, like a mask (keep an eye out for that upcoming 'ible).
Hot water kettle and bowls
If you fill a hot water kettle like this one, it will heat water surprisingly quickly and then shut off when it hits boiling. You can have individual bowls for everyone participating and pour the hot water into each bowl. When it gets too cool, you can simply pour it back into the kettle and pour out some more (the water stayed quite hot enough in the kettle for a while, so mixing warm water back in didn't make much difference to the overall temperature). This is probably the easiest method when working with a larger number of people, as you can easily keep the kettle and its base right where you are.
Microwave and bowls
The people on the side of the table nearest the kitchen actually wound up running to the kitchen to pop their bowls of water in the microwave for 30-60 seconds when it got too cool. This works perfectly well too, and they liked that the microwave could help heat the plastic directly as well. The best option largely depends on your proximity to either a microwave or a kettle.
Step 3: Ergonomic Knife Handle
Chris decided to make an ergonomic knife handle. He worked from a handful of pellets, molding them around the handle of an xacto knife, then dropping them back into the hot water to soften. This is something that we found universally helpful. The functional molding time of the plastic is fairly short. You can make it hotter so it will stay malleable longer, but you'd then need gloves or some other tools to hold it. Instead, we would work with our items, drop them back into the water for a minute, pull them out and work some more, and repeat many times. It takes a little patience.
This handle wound up really neat and would be a good modification to this craft knife. If only Chris weren't left-handed and the rest of us could use it...
Step 4: Custom Knob
Daniel has been working on some interesting retro modules and playing a lot with old hardware. So when he needed a knob for a switch on an old box, he decided it would be a good use of the InstaMorph. He made a long, flat piece, and wrapped it around the shaft to mold it. It took some experimentation to find out just how hot the plastic needed to be to stick to itself when wrapped. If you let it cool too much, it won't stick, and will try to unroll to the flat state it was in before. Wiping the water off before trying to get it to stick to itself is also helpful, though paper towels will stick to it if you let it cool too long with them in contact.
Step 5: Custom Stands
Jay, our resident blinky-light enthusiast, decided to create some custom stands. He usually wears this light up, 3d-printed badge on his bag, so he formed a ball and pressed the badge into the top. When it cooled, he colored the whole thing with a paint pen, which worked fairly well.
Daniel also tried making a holder for screw bits, making the base from pellets that were melted enough to stick together, but not molded enough to be a solid chunk of plastic. You can see in the pictures how he used pliers to place the bits into the plastic while it was still in the bowl. In the end, he determined that a thicker layer of pellets is called for when you don't compress them to a more dense piece of plastic.
I also made a stand for a magnifier from a third hand tool that had fallen off. It takes a while for the plastic to cool to a point where it can support a heavy weight without deforming, and this particular shape doesn't have a particularly good way of resting it, so I had to hold it for about twenty minutes while it cooled to make sure it had a good hold on the magnifier.
Step 6: Camera Hacks
If you look at the CRASHspace flickr page, you'll see the fruits of our auto-uploading CRASH cam. Mike decided to try for a couple different holding options, making a mini tripod and a wrist brace, both of which attached to the camera with a 1/4"-20 screw that he scrounged up from shop one.
The wrist brace opened on the top, but was surprisingly secure.
Step 7: Diffusers
It's an ongoing joke that it's only a matter of time before Crashspace is overrun by LEDs, so it's no surprise that we found quickly how well this stuff works as a diffuser. Jay even formed a disc of InstaMorph on top of a Neopixel/Gemma ring so that it slots in nicely and keeps the Gemma in place.
Step 8: Mask
I spent quite a while making a large, thin pancake of plastic for a stand for our mascot Sparkles, but when it reached the size of my face, that plan went right out the window. Keep an eye out for a full tutorial on making an InstaMorph mask in the next couple days. Until then, enjoy the pictures.
Step 9: Pirates and Cheerleaders
Part of the fun of this event was all of the random play involved with the tinkering. Mike's early experimentations resulted in an eyepatch, and Daniel rounded out the night making a cheerleader from popsicle sticks and soldering sponges. As always, when making InstaMorph connectors, make sure the plastic is hot enough if you want it to stay in a certain position.
We have fun at Crash. :) Come visit if you're in LA!