Step 10: Construction - Side Panels

The two side panels presented a unique challenge for this project, being that the entire surface is curved both vertically and horizontally.  Secondly, they are only about 1/2" thick, and thirdly, I need to make sure I can fit in LED's that will adequately light the 2 chambers.  I decided the best solution for this problem would be to vacuform the shapes.  Problem is I don't have a vacuform machine.  Solution?...  fake it.  I managed to simulate the process using only an oven.  I'll explain more about this in a moment.  I first needed to build a form for the two sides.

The first thing I did was to cut out the shapes of these 2 sides from 1/4" MDF so I would have the proper shape to work with.  The next step was to go into the 3D model and grab the cross sections of the curves.  I did this every 2 inches or so and cut out the shapes to create a rib structure on the base plates.  I then filled in the gaps with scrap wood and applied a coat of Bondo over the surface to fill in any low spots.  After some time under my hand sander, I had a surface that looked like picture 1.  You'll notice they are a mirror of each other and represent the shape of each side.

The next step is to shape the plastic sheets to these forms.  I cut down 4 large pieces of styrene sheet plastic to about 3" larger than the form.  I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.  Since putting the plastic right on the rack would be a bad idea, I picked up a small panel of glass from IKEA for something like 5 dollars and put it in the oven.  This piece of glass is slightly larger then the pieces of plastic I'll put on them.  Once the glass was warmed up I tossed the first sheet of styrene in the oven.  I keep a close eye on it, checking it every 15 seconds or so to see if it was soft.  It probably took about a minute.  Used a pair of thick work gloves, I pulled the sheet out and immediately started pressing it over the form for the first side panel.  Once it cooled and the plastic hardened, I now had the curved surface.  You can see what this looks like in picture 2.  I repeated this process 3 more times to give me the main pieces needed.

Using the blueprints, I traced the patterns onto these pieces and cut them out using both my band saw and Dremel.  I also cut out all of the inner holes and shapes.  Picture 3 shows the result of this work.  The vent covers also spent some quality time on the drill press drilling many many holes.  Tedious.  Next up is the spacers.  I cut out a ton of small 1/2 inch blocks and glued them all around the edges and around the middle for support.  The top piece was then glued to these and I had a good solid surface.  These blocks also locked the shape, preventing the panels from being able to flex- important.  Picture 4 shows a panel glued together and drying.  The blue painters tape is there to hold the whole thing together while it dries.  I had a roll of aluminum tape that I used to cover the light chamber, making it as reflective as possible.  This worked great, as aluminum tape is incredibly thin and very reflective.You can see in picture 5 how shiny it is.

I unfortunately don't have a picture, but the 2 LEDs were also added at this stage.  One on each side of the chamber, and the wires were joined to run through one of the supporting posts that will attach to the main core of the body.  The last image, picture 7, shows one of the side panels temporarily attached to the core with the corresponding handle in place.  It's starting to look pretty good.

The last step was to build up the rounded edges.  I used Apoxie Sculpt fill in the edges, smoothing them out as much as possible.  There is a picture of the clay in place during the texture gel step, so be sure to look for it.

Materials Used for This Section
Wood Glue
Styrene Plastic Sheets
Aluminum Tape
Painters tape

Tools Used for This Section
Band Saw
Belt Sander
Hand sander
Drill Press
Thick pair of garden gloves