Making an MDF Layered Skull Using 123D Make




We have been playing around lately with making 3D sculptures using 123D Make to make sliced objects that can then be cut out on thin sheets of MDF and reformed to make something three-dimensional. It is something we are experimenting with and this 3D skull was our first attempt at just that.

Make sure you watch the video, as it shows more of each of the steps.

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Step 1: Applying the Patterns

The patterns are created in 123D Make by slicing a 3D model into thin layers. You set the thickness of material, slice direction, etc. If you want to see how to do all of this in 123D Make, we highly recommend you check out the Instructable from PenfoldPlant called How to Slice Up a T-Rex in 123D Make. He does a fantastic job of explaining how to use the program and his in fact, the main guide we used in figuring it all out.

As far as the skull goes, we used a model of a skull that was already present within 123D make, since this was kind of a trial run.

Aside from all of that, once we had all of the patterns printed, we cut them down a little bit and then glued them to a 1/8" thick piece of MDF. Once dry, we also cut each of the patterned panels down a bit using the band saw.

Step 2: Cutting Out the Slices

Each of the slices were cut out with the scroll saw. Round pieces were cut close to the lines provided and then sanded up to the line on the disc sander. Pieces with more unusual shapes were cut directly on the scroll saw and exactly on the line.

We found that storing all of the pieces in a box is a good idea, because there are a LOT of pieces.

Step 3: Gluing the Sculpture

Gluing all of the pieces together is incredibly simple (for this sculpture) and only requires assembling them in numerical order, which each piece is labeled with. We decided to leave the paper on each of the pieces, since we assumed the glue would just soak through and wouldn't be an issue. We were right. I actually dropped the sculpture several times while working on it and it never came apart.

We used CA glue to glue it all together, though wood glue would most likely work as well, however you would most likely have to clamp the piece every so often.

One option 123D make gives you, is placing dowels or pins into the print to allow for alignment later on. We opted to not use this feature and admittedly this was a mistake. As you can see, the skull is a bit oblong. That is directly related to the fact that we had no way of aligning the pieces toward the end. Lesson learned.

Step 4: Resin (optional)

We coated the whole thing in resin once it was assembled. This was just a precautionary measure, since we weren't sure how well the CA glue would hold. We have worked on a few other sculptures since then and can honestly say this step is probably unnecessary. Though you can still do it if you feel you need some extra holding strength. The resin does soak in and hold tight really well.

Step 5: Sanding and Shaping

Since the whole piece is pretty unsightly once it is assembled, sanding and shaping it makes a lot of sense. This works out great, because MDF is insanely easy to sand and shape in this manner. Unlike regular wood, there is no grain to deal with. MDF is actually quite a pleasure to work with for this application.

We used a combination of the belt sander, disc sander and various rotary bits to shape it exactly how we wanted. It only took about 30 minutes or so to shape the entire thing.

Step 6: Paint and Finishing Steps

We just undercoated it in black and then put on a silver/chrome color dusting. This allowed the eyes to remain somewhat black.

As you can see, the edges of the MDF are still visible in some spots, which is one of the kinks we are still working out in this process. We believe that coating the entire thing in something like wood glue or CA glue could help seal that up and help achieve a smooth finish.

Like I said, it is a process we are learning, and one that we have work all the kinks out of. So, we'll see what works best as we progress.

We hope you enjoyed this DIY project and the video that goes along with it. If you have any questions or comments please let us know, we'd be more than happy to help you out. Thanks for checking out this Instructable.

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    8 Discussions

    Mugsy Knuckles

    2 years ago

    If you put two holes in your 3d model from top to bottom, you'd get what amounts to index holes on your patterns once it's sliced. then you can drill those out and run a soda straw or something down the holes to align the pieces during assembly.

    3 replies
    waylightcreateMugsy Knuckles

    Reply 2 years ago

    We figured that out once we were done. Rookie mistake, haha. We are working on a larger one and definitely using registration holes and dowels. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Mugsy Knuckleswaylightcreate

    Reply 2 years ago

    It's super easy for me to sit here and point that out, because I wasn't busy doing all this other stuff! I am the Monday Morning Quarterback.

    Uncle Kudzu

    3 years ago

    Your project looks great!

    Years ago I tried to do something similar freehand with 1/8 plywood, but the method you show with 123D Make is way more accurate. Thanks for sharing this!

    1 reply

    3 years ago

    Nice! I've layered up and carved mdf for a few different things, and you're right - it's almost joyous to work with compared to wood! :)

    Nice project, good instructions. Well done!

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks. Yes, it carves like butter. I wish I would have known about it sooner.