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
-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.
-- 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.