Introduction: Vacuum Formed Protective Equipment (Made at TechShop)

About: My background: -over 10 years of welding experience and an AS degree in welding technology. I am also a welding instructor at TechShop Menlo Park. I am proficient in TIG, MIG, SMAW and oxy-acetylene. -seve…

One problem with playing contact sports as an adult is injury.  I play beer league hockey, and a few months back I took a slapshot to the thumb.  Unfortunately, I fractured my thumb in two places.  I have decided to make an addition to my hockey glove to help prevent further injury.

To make your own protective equipment you will need access to a vacuum former (I used the former at TechShop Menlo Park), a vertical bandsaw and dremel tool.  You will also need sheet of some kind of plastic that is compatible with the vacuum former (I used PETg).

Step 1: Preparing the Part to Be Formed

If you put something that lacks rigidity in the vacuum former, your form will come out squished.  Since a hockey glove can flex and bend, I filled it with some things I found laying around the shop.  The head of a sledgehammer and some plastic garbage bags seemed to do the trick.  Aluminum foil can also be used to fill your part so it wont squish under the vacuum.

Step 2: Preparing the Vacuum Former

After you have stuffed your part to increase its rigidity, you will need to align your part in the vacuum former.  I want protection for my thumb and the top of my hand so I align my glove so that it will form around the part that I want.  Also take care to make sure that your part doesn't crash into the machine as you raise it up into the soft plastic.  See my pictures to see the empty vacuum former and a shot of the former with my glove in position.  The piece of plastic will sit in between those two white squares you see on the former.

Step 3: Preparing the Former Continued

After you have confirmed that your plug (the glove) fits in the opening, the next step is to put the piece of PETg in the vacuum forming machine.  In this picture you can see my piece of plastic in place and the hockey glove sitting down inside of the machine.  Once the piece of plastic is in place you will need to slide the heater over it (as seen in the second picture).  Leave the heater on the plastic until you notice the plastic starting to droop (only slightly, if you let it get too hot it wont form very well).  When you see the plastic drooping, lift your plug (the glove) into the soft plastic.  As the plug (the glove) touches the plastic, hit the vacuum button.  Wait a second and turn the vacuum off.  Now you are ready to free your part.  Push the release button to help free your plug from the plastic.  You are now ready to remove the plastic (most likely with your plug stuck in it).

Step 4: Free Your Part From the Plastic

There are several techniques that you can use to free your part from the plastic.  You can try to use compressed air to loosen the plastics hold of your part.  I got lucky and my part came out with just a little wiggling of the glove.  Once you remove your plug from the plastic you are ready to move on to the next step where we will trim away extra material.

Step 5: Trimming the Plastic

I trimmed away the extra material in two steps.  To remove large pieces of unwanted material I used a vertical bandsaw at the TechShop wood shop.  After using the vertical bandsaw to remove the large pieces of material, I used a dremel tool to trim it to fit exactly the way I wanted.  You can see the part after using the dremel in the second picture.

Step 6: Great Success!!!

Now the piece of plastic is trimmed to fit my glove just how I want it.  I will most likely tape the piece of plastic to my glove with clear hockey tape.  There are several other ways to attach the plastic to your equipment like using elastic or some kind of bungee cord.