The Omaha Maker Group has been busily preparing one of two entries for the PPPRS race at Kansas City Maker Faire. Since we got 3rd-place overall last year, we want to do whatever we can to be better this year. So we decided we might take some InstaMorph and, as part of the April Build Night, make a nice, level mount for the race transponder on an otherwise sloping hood.
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Step 1: Your Needs and Wants
Since we already knew the dimensions for mounting,all we'll really need for materials is:
- Some InstaMorph
And a few tools (not pictured):
- A hot plate or other source of heat
- A pot to hold your water and InstaMorph
- Some tongs, large pliers, or other means of retrieving the InstaMorph from the water
- A piece of scrap wood to apply pressure
- A level of some sort
Step 2: People Get Ready...
Start by preparing the surface, removing dust and dirt.
Note that our surface has a slope in two directions, making it difficult to directly craft a level mounting base; hence the InstaMorph.
Step 3: InstaMorph Get Ready...
There are some great detailed instructions on using InstaMorph from their website, located here. While you're there, check out the safety warnings and some other ways to heat the product, too!
The first step is to heat some water. The amount doesn't matter as long as it's enough to cover the Instamorph, but smaller amounts will heat to the right temperature faster, and larger amounts will keep heat better (which matters when doing adjustments to the InstaMorph. More on that later).
Next, rip you open a bag of the stuff. A little actually goes a long way - we had quite a bit of leftovers at the end of the project. But it melts down again, so it's easy to reuse leftovers.
Step 4: When All Is Ready...
Heat the water to somewhere around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You can go hotter if you want the water to stay warm longer, but you start risking burns.
Let me expand on that slightly: the InstaMorph itself is not very thermally conductive, so it won't be the plastic itself that burns you. On the other hand there will be hot water on the surface of the plastic, and there could be bubbles of it inside the InstaMorph that will pop and release water as you mold the plastic. So I don't recommend going above 150 or so, depending on your personal sensitivity to heat in your hands.
The thermal decomposition point of InstaMorph is 392 degrees Farenheit, so if you use the water method, you'll never hit this point. Unless you are using a pressure cooker to heat up your InstaMorph, in which case that one's on you.
The InstaMorph will start to stick to itself quite quickly. When it's clear, it's hot enough to start molding.
Pick the plastic out of the water, using tongs. If you test the water carefully (CAREFULLY!) with your fingers, you might be able to move the plastic in and out of the water with your fingers.
Step 5: Start Shaping
Once melted, separate a chunk of the InstaMorph from the rest, and hand-mold it to something approximating the shape you want.
The piece shown was about an inch thick. At that width it is a little resistant to being molded, but enough pressure will deform it. The ideal size seems to be about 3/4 to 1/2 an inch.
When the InstaMorph begins to cool, it will begin to get opaque and become harder to mold.
When this happens, put it back in the water for a time to heat back up. It won't lose much shape while just sitting in the water - it might if the water is boiling, but if you're in the 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit range you should be fine.
Step 6: Fine Tune It
After that, place it on the surface with a flat board on top, and begin attempting to shape it.
We used two levels - one standard bubble level, and someone's phone we were using as a two-dimensional level. You can get away with using just the bubble level.
The piece turned opaque fairly quickly. If I had to do the project over, I would probably have pre-heated the mounting surface with a heat gun or similar - that would have helped keep the InstaMorph ductile while we were leveling it out.
Apply force to the board itself since this spreads the pressure out, and allows a more even surface.
If you like, you can use a two-dimensional level to try and level both directions of the board at once. We found this to be an issue due to an uneven floor and poor calibration, so we stuck with the bubble level.
Step 7: Finish Him!
When you are satisfied with the levelness of the surface, just leave it alone to cool completely. A fan or other tool to blow air over it will speed the process on the outside of the piece, enough so that it won't accidentally malform on you.
We took the car out for a spin; that was enough to do it. When cool enough, the piece just popped off the hood.
After cooling completely, the InstaMorph is a hard white plastic similar to acrylic in texture.
During cooling, the piece curled slightly along its longer axis. This may have been due to the thickness of the piece. You could probably apply a more constant force (like a light clamp) while cooling to reduce this effect.
It has a surprisingly high elastic coefficient - we made a few bouncy balls from the extra plastic while we were messing around, and they worked better than any of us expected.
I trimmed the sides for a better appearance, drilled holes for the mounting screws, and spraypainted it black to match the mounting surface. Take note of the wood grain pattern on the right side of the piece - it actually took on the grain of the piece we were using to level it. You could use this effect to get a wood-grain look for a piece if you needed it, for example if you were trying to replace a piece of rotted wood with something that will last a little longer.
I started trying to cut it with a bandsaw. This worked fine for the two short sides, where the cut was relatively quick, but when trying to cut the first long side, the friction from the blade heated up the InstaMorph enough to melt it around the blade, and the blade was yanked off the track! You can see that even on the short sides the cut was relatively ragged as well, from the plastic melting and being pulled off instead of being cut off. I don't know if a miter saw would be a quick enough cut to avoid the heat issue, but after what happened to the bandsaw I was not about to try it.
I switched to a simple handsaw for the long sides, and that worked serviceably. I suspect a razor knife, used with successively deeper cuts, would produce a better edge if you wanted one.