This project is a basic vacuum former from parts totaling under $5, assuming you already have a shop vac or floor vacuum and a toaster. All the parts are avaliable from American Science and Surplus. This specific model has a ~5.5"x~5.5" area to form to. It takes a standard vacuum hose, and is sturdy enough to hold together with a vacuum on high and a compleatley sealed container. This is my entry to both the "woodworking challenge" (it's made of wood) and "make it real" challenge (I designed it in Google Sketchup). This is a good project for any runners up in the make it real challenge, since they can easily replicate their free 3D print as many times as they want, for just ten cents apiece!
I named it "Ruth" becasue the yardstick I used for the top of the box originally had "THE TRUTH" printed on it in blue, but when I cut it to fit on the box, it separated the "THE T" from "RUTH", so I glued both sides that said "RUTH" up, and named it that.
Step 1: Matherials
The obovious first step is to gather materials. You will need:
1 x wooden yardstick $0.3
3 x 30"x3/8"x2-1/2" wooden slats $0.15
2 x 16"x 1/16" dia. wooden dowels, or one 30" dowel, NOT balsa wood, must be hardwood. diameters up to 1/2" will work, but do not go below 1/16" $0.1
2 x about 6"-7" wooden frames. NOT paper, and must be thick wood, or metal to avoid bursting into flames. $1.5
1 x 1-1/4"x 6" pvc pipe (or whatever diameter fits over your vacuum. $1
1x sheet of thermoplastic (must melt without burning), your choice of thickness (thicker is less accurate to the actual thing, but stronger, thin is more accurate, but weaker). $0.5
1 x roll of masking tape, duct tape, or other flexible tape (not scotch or packing tape). $1
hot glue (n/a)
For those unfamiliar with vacuum forming, it is a technique of making 3D molds out of plastic which involved heating a plastic sheet until it is pliable, then stretching it over the form, and using a vacuum, or low pressure, to suck the plastic tight. Once sucked down, it takes a few seconds to cool, and can then be removed. It has been used for many well-known and even iconic objects, like the storm trooper helemts in STAR WARS, the Mythbusters "Buster V2" and much, much more. This simple mini vacuum former is good for anything smaller than about 6"x6"x6". The best part is than anyone can build it, with a budget of just $5!