Earlier this year I was approached by a pro wrestling company in my home city of Toronto in regards to building them some champion belts for their events. Having never build a prop like that before I jumped at the opportunity as I knew it would be a great leaning experience.
They wanted their belts to be bold and chunky to set their brand apart from other wrestling companies and events also they wanted some sort of back lighting to their belts, as well removable side plates so the symbols could be swapped out depending on who was the current champion in their events.
So lets get started!
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Step 1: Designing the Plates
So if your going to make anything you need a basic blueprint or design to work off of and that is what I have hear. In my experience this is usually the longest part of any build.
As you can see by the images, we went through a few shapes before the final designs were picked. Now I should say that there were a ton more designs we had made before choosing the 2 final ones, but showing them all would be silly.
Once a rough idea was established I did some final sketches in illustrator then turned the plates into a 3D file. To build the 3D files I used autodesk 123D, I did this for both the main and side plates, this gave my clients a better idea of what the finished plates will look like. These 3D files will also come in handy in the next step.
Step 2: Building the Master Plates
For this step I used
3D printer (optional)
auto body filler (BONDO)
all the sand paper (grit from 100 to 320)
Automotive filler primer (duplicolor)
.So in step 1 I said the 3D files would come in handy for this build and that's because I used my 3D printer to make the mater plates so I can later make molds of them and cast the plates in resin. Now if you are doing a project like this you don't need a 3D printer, I just have one and for this build it worked well. Also I am not showing both plates in all these steps as you may notice because the process for both of these belts was the same just a different shape.
The 3D print was done in several parts on my Makerbot rep2 and then glued together using 5 minute epoxy. The side plates were small enough that they could be printed on the bed in 1 part. Each plate was 12.5mm thick (1 half inch). After the glued had fully cured on the main plate I sanded them with 100 grit paper then filled the gaps with auto body filled, in this case bondo, but any filler will work. then sanded again with 100 grit. I repeated this till all the gaps were gone. Then I proceeded to sand going from 100 grit all the way to 320 grit. This took about 2 days to smooth the print out, I have never in my life had so much fun! HAHAHA!
Now you might ask why I did not use a filler like XTC to smooth the plates. The reason is that xtc filler, though a great product and I do use it for some 3D print work, has a tendency to pool in corners rounding out sharp detail. This would lead me to more work in the end.
After all the sanding was done I sprayed about 3 coats of automotive filler primer on the plate then sanded again and hit it with one or 2 more coats till the hole with was uniformed. This took about a day and a half to get done on both the main and side plates.
Step 3: Making the Molds!
For this step I used
Hot glue and glue gun
sulfur free clay
corrugated sign board or foam core
silicone (Smooth on mold max 25)
nitrile gloves (optional)
We survived the seemingly endless sanding and now it is time to make our molds!
First lay the masters out on a clean flat surface and position them in a manner that you feel you can work with. this will be different for each mold you do depending on the project. Then with you hot glue gun, glue the bottom of your masters and fix it to the work surface. Next with your sulfur free clay, model it in between the gaps between the work surface and your masters, this will stop the silicone from moving under your master sculpts and give you a cleaner mold in the end. Now using corrugated sign board or foam core cut strips about an inch taller then what you are molding and glue them about a half inch to an inch from your master (fig 1). Be sure to seal all the gaps on your newly constructed mold box, silicon will find its way out and cause an expensive mess, so double check that everything is sealed.
Now when it comes to silicone there are a great many on the market, each serving a purpose. Some are mixed by weight, so if you are using that type a gram scale is your best friend. You can also buy silicon that is mixed 1 to 1 by weight or volume, this is handy if you don't have a gram scale, however, silicone mixed 1 to 1 is more expensive. For this project I used Mold max 25 by smooth-on which is a tin-cured silicon that you mix by weight.
For each plate and side plated I needed about 600 grams of silicone if my memory is correct. I also added a bit of silicone pigment during the mixing process, this will help you know that your batch of rubber is fully mixed before you poor it into the mold box. This isn't necessary, but it is helpful. Now we play the waiting game. Each silicone has a different cure time, but in this case I just de-molded it the next day. I should also mention if you ware gloves (and you should silicone is sticky) do not ware latex, if the latex touches your silicon it will inhibit the curing. Also I didn't use a mold release because silicone only likes to stick to silicone. It is never a bad idea to use a release agent but normally you don't need to.
Step 4: Resin Casting
For this step I used:
Urethane resin (Smooth cast 300)
Automotive primer (Duplicolor)
Corrugated sign board
Urethane pigment (optional)
This is when things start to come together, we are now going to cast the resin! I used Smooth cast 300 by smooth-on, this resin is a 1 to 1 mix by volume and sets up in about 3 minutes so you need to work fairly fast. I mixed about 22 oz for each main plate and about 8 oz for the side plates. I also put some black tint in the resin to give it a gray colour after it sets up. The reason I tinted the resin grey is that once the part is painted, if there is a chip or scratch that forms from use you wont have bright white resin shining through the chrome paint job.
Next you want to set up your mold on your work space, add part A and B to your mixing cup (in this case I used smooth-on's measuring/ mixing cups) add a few drops of urethane tint and stir using a plastic or metal stir stick (this will help prevent moisture from getting into your resin thus preventing bubbles). Now poor the urethane into your mold and tap the sides to loosen any air bubbles that might be trapped. Since this mold used 22oz of urethane and is about 12.7mm (1/2 inch) thick it did kick off a little faster then 3 minutes. This happens when you are casting larger cross sections as there is more material reacting. If you were slush casting a part for example, you would notice it takes a little more time to kick off as the material would be applied in thin coats.
To get the curve in the plates, right after the urethane kicks off I placed the mold into a form I made form some sign board hot glued to a piece of scrap wood. I held the mold in place till the urethane had fully hardened, giving the plates a nice curve.
You may also notice some bolts that are embedded in the plastic, This was done simply by holding them in place and waiting your the urethane to set up.
Step 5: Finishing and Painting the Plates
In this step I used:
Sandpaper and wet sandpaper
Gloss black spray paint
Buffing chrome (Alcalad 2)
Now that we have our plates out of the molds we are going to inspect them for any defects like air bubbles or ruff spots. Luckily I didn't have any air bubbles so there was no need to use any filler.
Since we are ultimately going to thread EL wire along the inside perimeter of the main and side plates, we are going to have to add some holes for them to pass through. This was done with a rotary tool and apropreat attachment. I'm not sure the name of the bit I used, so if you are doing something similar to this, follow you heart :)
Next I gave the plates a sanding with 320 grit paper to smooth out any defects from the mold then hit them with automotive filler primer (in this case duplicolor) to fill in and smooth out the minor scratches left by the sand paper. Once the filler was dry and ready to sand, I did so, using 400 grit, then 800 and 1000 wet sandpaper. once dry I hit them with 3 or 4 light coats of gloss black spray paint (krylon fusion).
Now, when airbrushing with a buffing chrome you want to make sure you have a gloss black base coat or the chrome will be a fairly dull and transparent, the gloss black helps to give depth to the chrome finish. I also find that applying the chrome finish 45 minutes to 1 hour after you have applied your final coat of gloss black helps it form a tight bond to the base coat.
The alclad 2 buffing chrome I used is just that, after you have applied your final coat you need to buff it to bring out its full chrome effect. For this I like to use then same type of cloth you would use to clean eye glasses, as it is gentle and wont leave scratches in your finish. Also DO NOT top coat this finish as it will alter the look of the chrome.
Step 6: Cutting and Dying the Leather
For this step I used:
Black leather dye
Contact cement (suitable for leather)
Button snaps and snap setter
Acrylic leather finish
Now to cut some leather! I should mention I am not a leather worker, this was the first time I ever needed to do leather work for a job, so take what I did here with a grain of salt as there are so many awesome leather workers sharing their knowledge on the internet.
First I drew out my templates on some large tracing paper and secured it with a little bit of blue painters tape (fig 1). With a dull pencil I traced my cut lines (fig 2). After checking my work making sure everything was symmetrical I took my straight edge and with a very sharp x-acto began to make my cuts. I took my time with this as I only had enough leather to make the 2 belts (leather is not cheap). I should also make note to say that the leather I used was 9oz double shoulder full grain veg tanned cowhide (yes it is a lot of words to describe one thing), very awesome stuff! Moving on. I cleaned the cut leather with some alcohol, someone told me it would help the leather accept the dye better, not sure it it was true. Then, with a soft sponge I proceeded to rub two coats of black Fiebing's leather dye into the leather (fig 5). After the first coat was dray, I took a clean cloth wiped off the access and applied my second coat and allowed that to dry.
The reverse side of the leather is fairly rough so I glued on some black liner leather. To do this I first scuffed the belt with 180 grit sandpaper to allow the contact cement more surface to grab onto. On the liner leather I traced the shape of the belt so I had a better idea where to put down the glue (fig 6). I must also mention I applied the backing in several parts. I did this for 2 reasons, 1 the odd shape of the backing leather and the size of the belt made this necessary, 2, I had some of the electronics underneath parts of the leather that I glued down to leave a slight void that wire could be slipped through. Gluing the leather together is pretty easy, apply about 2 coats of contact cement to both pieces of leather allowing one coat to dry before you add the second, then once the second coat is just about dry to the touch merry the two parts together and BAM! They are glued. Barge and Masters glue are probably the best to use, I am in Canada though and they are hard to find here, so I used Le page, it seemed to work well. I also place the belts under some plywood with weight on top for 24 hours to make sure the bond was strong. I also made sure to cut the backing leather a little bit wider then the belt (fig 7). I did this to be sure the back was completely covered, and just cleaned up the edges with a razor so everything was flush. When all this was done I applied some acrylic leather gloss sealer.
Lastly with an awl I marked areas to drill out for the bolts of the plates to fit into as well holes for the snaps to go in (fig 8/9). This step is pretty self explanatory so I wont go into it. If you want to know how to get snaps into leather, there are a bunch of tutorials that will do a better job of explaining it then I would. Basically though, if you can hammer a nail you can set a snap :)
Step 7: EL Wire and Finishing!
In this step I used:
Rare earth magnet
EL wire power supply
So time to put everything together. I started by placing the plates in their possessions on the belts and used my awl to punch a hole where the EL wire will slide through. I then took the plates off and with and Xacto knife cut a hole where I had marked with the awl. I then attached the mounts for the EL wire power supple. On a quick side note the mounts I made using my 3D printer(fig 3).
I reattached the plates and secured them to the belt with nuts (hahaha). Next taking the EL wire I began to thread it through starting from the side plate. I added a small amount of CA glue ever few inches to make sure the wire stayed in the recess I had built into the plates. Once the EL wire was attached to the inside border the only thing left to do was to plug it into the power supply and turn it on! (FIG 4)
Now the only other thing I had to do was add rare earth magnets to the removable parts of the side plates. I attached them with CA glue and they held great (fig 5).
Step 8: And We Are Done... Plus a Few More Things Maybe.
And we're done!
Now one thing I left out was doing the stamping to the leather. There are a lot of great resource out there that will show you how to do it. So I figured I would leave it out.
Other then that I hope you enjoyed and maybe learned something! :)