Introduction: Very Simple Vacuformer

Picture of Very Simple Vacuformer
This design was inspired by this: but designed to be super easy to make using off the shelf parts and minimal machining. Instead of using laser cut or 3D printed parts, we will use toilet flange extenders, available at Home Depot to make the base and the clamp that will hold the plastic to be formed (disposable plastic plates work great).

You will need the following:

3:  Closet Flange Spacer Rings (Home Depot has "Raise A Ring" from Sioux Chief Mfg. (model 886-RQ), but others might work. Some other types don't have as many holes and might benefit from drilling a few extra.)
4:  1/4" x 4" hex bolts
4:  1/4" x 3/4" to 1" machine screws with countersunk head
8:  1/4" hex nuts
1:  1 1/4" x 1/2" PVC bushing (should have a flange on one end to serve as a good gluing surface, the other end should roughly fit your vacuum cleaner)
1:  4"  PVC clean out cover plate (has a small hole in the center that will be drilled out to more or less match the inner diameter of the bushing).  A 5" clean out cover plate also works and is a little easier to glue (it overlaps more).  You can substitute anything flat made of PVC that covers the flange opening. 
1:  18" of rubber weather stripping (I used Frost King EPDM Rubber Weatherseal 5/16" wide, 1/4" thick). 
1:  Can of PVC cement (I used Weld On 790 Multi-purpose)

The cost of these parts (excluding the weather stripping and cement) is about $16.

Step 1: Drill Hole

Picture of Drill Hole

First, drill out the center hole of the the 4" PVC clean out cover plate.  Make it about as big as the inner diameter of your PVC bushing (make sure it is not too large so that the bushing doesn't have enough surface area to attach to).


Step 2: Glue Parts

Picture of Glue Parts

Follow the directions on your cement to glue the bushing onto the cover plate (line up their respective holes).  Next glue the cover plate onto one of the toilet flange extenders.  Make sure that you glue it to the side without the countersunk holes.  The countersunk holes need to be on the top so that the nuts used to attach the vertical guide posts (the 1/4" x 4" bolts) will not protrude that much.  Use the attached bushing as a handle to enable good positioning of the cover plate.  The 4" cover plate almost exactly fits in the flange hole so it is a little tricky.  Use plenty of glue make sure there are no gaps.

I've also included pictures of a base made with a 5" cover plate.

Step 3: Finish Base Assembly

Picture of Finish Base Assembly

Use some rubber weatherstripping to make a circular gasket around the top rim of the base.

Depending on your vacuum cleaner and specific bushings, you may benefit from constructing some sort of gasket or spacer to ensure a snugger fit.  I used some ShapeLok plastic to make the inner diameter of the bushing more closely match my vacuum cleaner tube.

Insert the 1/4" x 4" bolts into 4 of the 8 holes in the flange extender, and attach with nuts so they form the vertical guide rails that the carriage will slide down on.

That is pretty much all there is to it.  Now you just need to mount a plastic sheet between the two flange extenders that serve as the carriage, and it is ready to use.

Step 4: Mount Plastic in Carriage

Picture of Mount Plastic in Carriage

Cut out a circular piece of thin thermoplastic with a diameter about equal to that of the outside of the flange extenders.  Cut out notches for the 8 bolt holes.  I recommend making a template and using it to trace the proper outline on your source plastic sheet.  Plastic picnic plates work very well as source material.  Salvaged clamshell packaging and 1 gallon milk jugs are also good sources.

Sandwich the plastic between the two remaining flange extenders and clamp them together using the 4 1/4" x 2" bolts and nuts.  Be sure to use a consistent set of holes so the carriage can slide down the guide bolts. 

Step 5: Use the Vacuformer

Picture of Use the Vacuformer

Slide the carriage over the guide bolts and then place the object to be vacuformed underneath on the base.  Depending on the size and shape of that object, you may want to make a slightly elevated platform with some holes drilled in it to raise it up and to provide multiple paths for air to be sucked out.  However, many objects can be used without any further modification.

The carriage should be able to remain above the object simply by friction between the bolt threads and the edges of the carriage holes.  Place the base on the end of a vacuum cleaner hose and then use a heat gun to soften the plastic sheet in the carriage.  I've used a Wagner HT3500 on high at 1150 Fahrenheit but I'm sure other settings or other heat guns can work fine.  Once the plastic looks soft (it should be smooth and droopy, and for some plastics the color might change), turn on the vacuum and lower the carriage down the guide rails until it contacts the rubber gasket on the base.  At that point the vacuum will almost instantaneously suck all the air out and you are done. 


MysticHobo1982 made it! (author)2014-06-13

I used a PVC 90 degree corner connector to attach my shop-vac which allows me to clamp it into a vice to keep it stationary but still able to connect my vacuum. My local Home Depot had everything in stock. The cost was about $30 since I had to buy PVC glue and a whole package of weather stripping.

One small suggestion I have is this: if you are planning to vacuform small things you need to either drill several smaller holes for the vacuum intake, create a perforated plate for them to sit on or install a small screen to keep parts from falling/getting sucked down into the vacuum.

bfignar (author)2014-05-08

Went to your workshop and then made and used it with a class of fourth and fifth graders. Ended up making chocolate molds from designs they printed on our makerbots. Crazy fun and pretty amazing. Modified it a bit by adding a stand that clamped to a work surface so it was a little more "hands-free" and made multiple frames so we could produce a little faster. Thanks so much!

ekpuz (author)bfignar2014-05-10

Glad that worked out for you. I've thought about offering to do some sort of workshop or something at a local candy supply store (they have a ton of chocolate and molds). This is really well suited for that application. I would love to see a picture of your modification and others may benefit as well.

doncrush (author)2014-02-16

Found all of what I needed at my local Home Depot. I like this former better than the one I made out of a plastic container. Though I did re-purpose the air flow distribution plate from that project.

Next stop for this project is a "E" for engineering in STEM at the local Science Center (The Lancaster Science Factory).

brianmmcfadden made it! (author)2014-02-04

I made one of these, but I couldn't get all the parts from my local Home Depot or Lowe's, so I had to improvise with the laser cutter. I found the Raise-a-Rings, but couldn't find any useful cover plates, though I did find a useful coupler that connected to the shop vac. I lasered a new vacuum connector plate, a few spacer rings that I could stick together with MEK and stack on top of one another, and a cover plate with a ton of tiny holes. I changed the carriage a bit to add 4 magnets in place of the short bolts. Getting the plastic plate into the carriage is easy and quick now, and the plates only need to have 4 holes drilled in them for the guide posts. No notch cutting is necessary, and the drill press can prepare a hundred or so plates at a time. I also cut a circular hole on the end of a 1"x4" so the whole thing could remain level while sticking off of the side of a table. Here are some pictures.

ekpuz (author)brianmmcfadden2014-02-05

Thanks for sharing. Coincidentally, I just ordered some magnets to try to do the same thing. It looks like you've proven that it should work well.

sandrak320 (author)2013-12-12

My brother got one for Christmas one year. It was fun. It came with molds and plastic sheets.

GrfxGawd (author)2013-11-21

I think this project sucks, so much so I gotta do one myself! Excellent Ible!

ekpuz (author)2013-11-17

Another cool idea is to use magnetic sculpture toys to build interesting shapes and use those as the model to vacuform. This could be useful for prop making, cosplay elements, for art, ornaments, etc.. The nice thing about the magnetic structures is they can be taken apart in situ making them easy to remove.  It may take some trial and error to get the right temperature and vacuum so that holes don't get blown through the gaps in the sculpture.

nixiadel (author)2013-11-17

This could great for Christmas gifts. Take one of your items and fix it to a board (with a hole for suction) ad short side walls to simulate the sides of your gift box and... ta da! Custom vacuform mold to hold your gift and make it look perfect. You can even do the same thing for the small odds and tods in your travel kit or purse pocket apothecary. (Currently an altoids tin holding: little bottles with allergy tablets, pain pills, .17 oz lotion tube, etc and lots of rattling around) Can't wait to try this.

ekpuz (author)nixiadel2013-11-17

Great ideas! One thing to keep in mind when making molded holders for other objects is that the plastic will want to wrap around the object, making it difficult to impossible to remove (let alone to use as a custom molded tray). You can avoid this problem by temporarily modifying the shape of the object to make sure it doesn't have any undercuts. Depending on the object this could be done with tape, cardboard, clay, etc..

Chunky Mulroney (author)2013-11-12

NM next time I'll watch the video and ask questions later. Would love to make this bigger for larger projects. Great job btw.

Indeed, bigger would be sweet! What source material could be used for making parts in a 3'x1' box? Ideas?

ekpuz (author)legionmanchild2013-11-17

This Instructable uses screen frame materials and an oven to heat the plastic:,-cheap,-upgradeable-sheet-plastic-vacu/

I've never tried that but it looks pretty flexible.

CuriousAboutManyThings (author)2013-11-15

If possible, you can also improve your results by heating the object you are wanting to take a mold/casting from prior to pressing the plastic sheet against it. By heating the object, it will take the plastic longer to cool (once it comes in contact) thus being moldable for a longer time.

MrGreggan (author)2013-11-15

I often see old foosball tables at thrift stores and think they would make a great vacuum forming base.

trans4mation (author)2013-11-14

Han Solo, anybody? Great instructable!

snoopindaweb (author)2013-11-14

Finally a "Poor Folks" do able, Thank You. P.S. For the flat they sell Guitar pick guard material on the net & (maybe) a music store. ~(:-})=

scifiguy451 (author)2013-11-14

Could you instead use a toilet flange for the base? It would save some assembly.

You would still need a bushing to step down the 3" hole to the size of your vacuum.  And that may make it ultimately a litle more expensive.

ekpuz (author)scifiguy4512013-11-14

Yes. I recently ran a workshop building these and some people did exactly that. I think they didn't actually use the existing fitting. They just glued the bushing onto the bottom inside of it. From a cost perspective, I don't know what they paid for the flange and if that was more or less than the spacer + end cap.

scifiguy451 (author)ekpuz2013-11-14

I've been wanting to play around with vacuum forming for a while, but haven't had a good reason to, so I've been hesitant to build a big box.

But this looks like a great way to play around. Especially using plastic plates.

Great idea, great instructable.

Lectric Wizard (author)2013-11-13

Thanks for this , fantastic idea. Added it to my list of projects... Cheers!

Chunky Mulroney (author)2013-11-12

Two questions where exactly does the vacuum attach? The underside of the base?

lonesoulsurfer (author)2013-11-12

Great work man - nice and simple and looks like it works a charm.

andrea biffi (author)2013-11-12


foobear (author)2013-11-12

love this, thank you

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