I recently needed 12 fake candlestick phones for a musical ("Crazy For You"). Real candlestick phones are incredibly expensive, and even replicas were too much for my budget. All 12 needed to match as well. I decided to make them all.
I wanted to match the shape of the bases to the real thing, but it would take too long to sculpt 12 bases, and casting them would be too expensive. It looked like it could be vacuum formed. I've worked with plastics in the past, but never with a vacuum former, though I've seen some in action. I couldn't spend a lot of time or money building a vacuum forming machine for this project; I figured if I liked what it was capable of, I would build a nicer one after this project based on what I learned.
After researching what I needed, I found I could build one for free. I already had the necessary components in my shop. I figured many prop makers will already have these parts as well, so I am sharing how I did it.
Step 1: Gather your materials and tools
For me, this vacuum forming machine was free, but that's because I already had all the tools and materials. These include:
* a shop-vac
* a heat gun
* some scraps of MDF
* some scraps of lauan
* spring clamps
The tools I used were a drill press, a table saw and a small hand saw, a combination square and a pencil. I also used a bit of glue and some grid paper.
You can substitute some of the tools used as well as the precise materials needed. The shop-vac I had cost $25 new, and the heat gun was $25 new as well, both from the big-box hardware store. So if you had to buy everything for this, it would only be $50 for the equipment and a couple bucks for the materials. Even if you never vacuum form again, you can still use the shop-vac for cleaning your shop and the heat gun for other projects.
The plastic I was using was a thin sheet of Sintra, which is a brand of expanded PVC. It was about 2-3 mm thick, and I cut it into smaller squares using a utility knife and a straightedge.