Instructables
Picture of Lifecasting - hands
One of the engineers I work with was fascinated by a hand casting booth at the 2005 Ann Arbor Art Fairs. The operator would, for a nominal fee, mix a container of goop into which the customer would insert their hand, or occasionally couples would insert their clasped hand. A smaller container was used for children's hands.

After a few minutes, they would wriggle their hands free, and the operator of the booth would pour a plaster compound into the mold, and have the customer return in 30 minutes for the finished piece.

My coworker didn't pay to have his hand cast, but instead did a little research online, and for Christmas obtained all the materials and did casts for all his nieces and nephews.

Since that time I've wanted to do it for my children, but for various reasons never did so. I decided I would try this out for mother's day - if I make four molds, one for each child, then make three castings from each mold I would have enough for a complete set of four for their mother and each grandmother.

This is a Mother's day present I can really sink my hands into!
 
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Step 1: Requirements and Preparation

Picture of Requirements and Preparation

Materials

Alginate

This molding compound forms a rubbery elastomer within minutes of mixing with water. Captures impressive detail, while being flexible enough to prevent entrapment of the hand. It dries and shrinks over time, so it's not suitable for more than a few castings. I used ALG-390 from Special Effect Supply Corporation, which is a 3 minute set alginate.

Casting Plaster

Many plasters are available for casting, you can even use the inexpensive local plaster you find in any hardware store. I used a particular formula called Hydrostone which features high strength, and high detail. This also came from FX Supply, as item HYD, and is a 20 minute set plaster.

Mold containers

I used 1/2 gallon jugs, 1/2 gallon juice bottles, and 2 liter pop bottles. The only difference was that when I needed to cut away the mold, the plastic juice bottle and 2 liter bottles were a little harder to cut.

Hot water

A cold mold is uncomfortable, so start with hot water. By the time you get it mixed it should be at a comfortably warm temperature.

Machine screws and nuts

If you don't want to break the mold, you have to have something sticking out of the casting once it's hardened in order to pull it out. Can also be used to mount the finished piece onto another project.

Small pieces of cardboard

Used to hold the screws in place while the casting cures.

Tools

Mixer

I used a cordless drill and one egg beater. A regular mixer should work, and for large batches a jiffy mixer (paint mixing drill attachment) is recommended. Don't plan on mixing this by hand as there isn't enough time. Also note that the plaster is abrasive and may damage the beater.

Scale

These materials settle and compress so they should be mixed by weight. However, the working range of the mixture is pretty good, and in a crunch I believe suitable result can be obtained from volume measurements which will be detailed below. I'm using a postal scale that can measure in tenths of ounces up to 10 pounds, which is the range needed for small hand molds and casts.

Containers & cups

You'll want to stage your materials, measuring both the water and powder into separate containers, and then mix them together. Therefore you'll need containers suitable for holding the pre-measured materials. The cups are useful for scooping powder out of the supply buckets.

Watch or Timer

You'll need to time the molding process fairly carefully to obtain good results, so keep a timer handy. When you're elbow deep in any project it can be hard to accurately judge time.

Box knife

Used to cut the molding container top off, and later cut the container away from the mold when you want to break the mold.

Long sharp knife

I found it necessary to cut and level the top of the mold so the cardboard holding the screws was level. A knife long enough to cut all the way through prevents tearing the mold.

Scissors

Used to cut the top off the molding container, and is more convenient than the box cutter for some containers once the cut is started.

Pocket multi-tool

Used for a variety of tasks, depending on your skill and the tool it may replace several of the other tools.

Plastic forks, paper towels

Not necessary, but you may want them on hand for various tasks, such as scraping hardened molding and casting materials off various surfaces, cleaning spills, etc.

Please note that while the materials are not generally toxic (check with your supplier), you should not use any of these tools for food later.

Workspace

Tool/Material layout

You'll need a full table for your first time. It can be done in a smaller space, but room to work is helpful as you may be worried about time during the molding stage, and looking for a spot to set the water pitcher is a distraction.

A chair for the person whose hand is being molded is nice. People tend to shift their weight frequently when standing, which can cause a mold to be damaged while setting.

A utility sink is useful for later cleanup.

Assistants: This can be done alone, though in my case I had four eager assistants helping me by taking pictures, holding containers during mixing, and providing opportunities to practice my collision avoidance and balance during the process.
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OK, I wanna try that now, would be kinda fun to stick my hand in alginate, actually.
Brilliant! Just brilliant. Well done.
This is just one awesome instructable I came across. A great write. Thank you for sharing.
Lethrwolf1 year ago
Once you have made the alginate mold, you can pre-cut it in half BEFORE you pour the casting solution. You would then put it back in the carton you made it in, if you cut it off carefully, and use wire, or other binding device, to make the whole thing tight. There may be a slight line from the mold being cut apart, but, with practice, you could probably minimize this, perhaps cut the mold in half at an angle rather than straight into it, would minimize the line. This would also be a great time to add a small air vent to any area that may need it, in the alginate mold. I have seen this done before using a fat stick and other items to make candles, using wax as the casting.
would this be strong enough to hold a guitar on the wall?
stienman (author)  thankyouforthevenom1 year ago
You'll need to check out the properties of the compound you use for the final object. I suspect hydro stone would be, it's rated to 2,000 psi or so, but it can be broken with very sharp blows. You can also reinforce yours with wires internally before pouring the compound into the mold.
(removed by author or community request)
I WAS JUST THINKING THAT!!! The resemblance is actually kinda creepy...
CrLz2 years ago
Beautiful, a great idea!
minerug3 years ago
Will this technique work for a mould of a clenched fist? I'm not sure if I'll be able to get my hand out
stienman (author)  minerug3 years ago
Yes. In fact on step 16 you'll see there are two clenched fists that I pulled, and two open hands.

The alginate is very flexible, and will stretch and move quite a bit without tearing. An adult clenched fist will be able to come out quite easily.
Thanks, I might do this for a fundraiser at school
Bigfoot233 years ago
Very helpful Instructable; I just tried it myself and it's almost creepy to see your own lifeless hand... Thank you for the inspiration.
LadyBoi3 years ago
I've done this project one afternoon in art school with alginate and plaster of Paris. It turned out beautifully and was a great experience. Since then, I've seen in a craft show a man who sold moldings of hands placed so they could hold a business card, a toothbrush, etc... There even was a, ahum, male body part made for stacking bracelets (my grandma was a bit shocked upon seeing this!) Quite entertaining.
Thanks for the detailed instructions, I had forgot a few details. Maybe I'll try to make a business card holder with my hand!
btornatore4 years ago
Try flexwax to make the mold. It melts at a low temp, gets lots of detail and can be used over and over.
cartola5 years ago
Wow, I´ve made more with liquid silicon. Much better than plaster. Children can play with them without beeing afraid of breaking. And you can also try to use the same mold to do more than one copy, as the silicon is flexible and the hand gets out of the mold without breaking it.
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COOL!!! I want to make a mold that you can use it many times without break it!!!! can i create a plaster hand and then use it to create the mold with liquid silicon? Well hope that works!!!! If someone know Please tell me how to do it, or if my idea can work then thumbs up for me jajaj!!!
Hi. In my experiments I noticed that the liquid silicon will get glued to the plaster. I think maybe some oil can keep them separated. Probably the best way to do a reusable silicon mold is make it in parts, otherwise I guess you won't be able to get the plaster hand from the mold without breaking it. There are some instructables around here that shows some ways to do two part molds. The alginate mold can be used some times, but it is not a very resistant material and even if you don't break it it will probably not be usable for more than a week. To try to make it last more time, keep it involved with a humid towel. Good luck!
vandal11385 years ago
For some reason that hand looks kinfa freaky like that.....
vandal11385 years ago
You can never be too sure about those pesky toddler zombies. They scream "NO!" as they climb on the table and attempt to eat your brains. Unless Yo Gabba Gabba is on. Then they behave.
cartola5 years ago
Very cool, here is my experiment pic! The bigger is mine, the medium is from my 4 years son and the smaller is from my 2 years son.
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antipoda5 years ago
Alginate is actually the best compound to use for molds with children as models. I had my hands and arms cast in plaster - at art college - and trust me, it hurts. It hurt enough for an adult to be very uncomfortable, so with children it would be even more difficult. Alginate does not warm up a lot and does not expand, the expansion of the molding material causes joint pains, from the pressure and it heats up enough to be close to painful. Alginate is also more gentle on the skin. To make a mold for more copies, it might be better to plan better the poses, and to do the mold in two or more parts, not just cut up a mold. Then you can see trouble before it happens. Since alginate is slightly pliabe, it's more forgiving than plaster. I molds of both my arms above the elbow made, and we copied them in resin - the same stuff used to make surfboards - with some marble powder mixed in. It was a lengthy process, over an hour for each mold - making barriers, to make sure I could remove my hand without breaking the mold and after curing the resin we did have to break the mold. One copy took maybe five hours for a team of three adults to make. Lots of work.
To ensure fine detail in the plaster pouring stage make a thinned out plaster slip. Pour a small amount in the mold and rotate. Remove excess and repeat 2 to 3 times, then do your final fill. You can also hollow at this point by filling a balloon to take up space or some other filler. Be sure to coat with petroleum jelly or silicone spray to remove.
seeem5 years ago
Air, is your enemy in both alginate and the 2 plaster stages. Alginate + plaster - you can't help put air in to, as you need to mix them both with water to start the chemical reaction. Both alginate and plaster, you can bang in containers, to try to get the bubbles to rise (mind splashes) but one thing you can do to help your final cast immensely, is to fill the alginate mold with water, then tip the water out, gently swill a small amount of plaster around the mold, turning it upside down and everything, then carefully pour more plaster inside your mold, always tapping the mold on a surface. Don't just pour plaster in, and think it will be ok- air is the mold makers arch enemy!!! You can experiment with making a one peice mold, and cutting it down the middle, fill both sides then stick em together- although I reckon you'll get flash lines. And the correct term for "Overhangs" is Undercut :) Happy molding - make a candle :D
seeem seeem5 years ago
Oh! I forgot to say- the air bubbles, before you put the hand in the alginate, paint the awaiting mixed alginate on to the hand, THEN put it in the mix, this helps make a skin of alginate which will join the rest of the aliginate in the tub. It's not always 100% but it helps.
alhuitt6 years ago
You have seen those life size plaster paris decorative hands that are made for a way of hanging your jewelry? You could make one of your own hand and give it to a friend as a gift.
I was just thinking, I'm going to make one of this, and get a small threaded rod, and stick my semi-open cast into my wall! And I shall hang my keys, or hat from it. Stellar instructable!
I do these, but I cast the hands in acrylic resin instead of plaster - you can get pretty much any color, and if you feel creative you can use plain clear resin and toss in glitter, sprinkles, anything interesting...
You cast the hands in acrylic resin? Do you use the same molding material? I was wondering if the wetness of the mold messes with the resin. I cast hands and would love to do some in acrylic. Also, how do you fix all the imperfections? Some of my hands http://www.photobucket.com/marylouart
Yeah, I've used plain old dental alginate as the mold material, and then the 2 part resin mix from the craft store. I've only ever done baby hands, but an adult hand would be pretty much the same (it would just take a LOT longer to dry). The way I do it is to stick the hand in the mold, wait for it to set, remove the hand, and then I let the mold sit for another minute or so. Pour the liquid acrylic in, and very gently tap the bottom of the mold against the table (although if you have access to an agitator, they work really well - my father in law owns a dental lab, so I can use his agitators whenever I want. They aren't really necessary, though). Surprisingly there aren't too many imperfections, mostly because babies pretty much only have closed fists. For adult hands, if you don't mind a frosted look, you can use a dremel with a felt bit to smooth the whole hand. If you don't mind extra work, you can also hand buff the acrylic with those 4 sided nail buffing bars. It doesn't get it as shiny as newly poured acrylic, but it looks good with colored acrylics.
Thanks rhondalicious, great info.
=SMART=6 years ago
wow, very good, so much detail and techniques described and a fantastic outcome, a very original present :D
This is one of the best Instructables I've read yet! In the lobby of Baylor Hospital in Dallas, there is a display case filled with many "life casts" of people's hands (both famous and everyday). I thought it was creepy the first time I saw it, but I think having casts of family members would be wonderful. Particularly as time passes and kids grow up/old folks pass on. Excellent job!
tinker0006 years ago
Another way to do this would be to use warm paraffin like that goofy warm wax arthritis thing. Just dip your hand into the wax and then cold water making sure to make the wax mold fairly thick (dipping it a few times). When you think the mold is thick enough and while it's still warm gently remove hand and allow to cool. After filling and allowing fill to harden put hand in the freezer for 1 hour. then carefully break wax away from casting.
A tip!for larger hands and longer arm reach ( up to your elbow) use a pvc tube! just cut it in two halves vertically ( with a dremmel ) and then just put them together again with duct tape, and duct tape too the hole in the bottom , now your vessel is reusable! and if something goes wrong ( like you cant pull out your arm) all you have to do is remove the duct tape open the tube, and remove the alginate!
foobear6 years ago
the poem is the best part! =)
Shifrin6 years ago
An idea... My father and my sister did an awesome molding project like this once, they wanted to make a billiard cue holder for themselves... they molded my fathers hand in the correct position to hold a cue and it did not turn out to well, maybe this one would work, also it would be cool to make like a cup holder, camera holder etc. Good luck! ~ Ale Shifrin
Wow. Simply Marvelous. You are a great example to fathers/husbands/son-in-laws everywhere. =P Great Instructable.<br/>
Gnome6 years ago
What an instructable! Very detailed!
hcold6 years ago
The hand in the box of lights really freaked me out as it took me a while to see them. Great instructable though, I'm still curious about making the mold. When the hand is taken out, is it still slighty malleable but it returns to the hand shape?
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