Vacuum-formed plastic is everywhere, from take-out coffee lids and blister packaging to airplane interior panels. I use vacuum forming to make toy prototypes in my own shop. I usually use a professional machine, but in a pinch I’ve used this ultra-cheap, homebrew rig with great results. You just need to build a simple wooden frame and a hollow box, and then your oven melts the plastic and a household vacuum cleaner supplies the suction. I’ll show you how to build the device and then use it to create a tiki mask that also makes a great Jell-O mold.
Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former
Make durable 3D plastic parts.
- Duct tape (1)
- Polystyrene sheet, 0.030' thick (1) Use nearly any thermoplastic material. 0.030' is a good thickness, or try thicker if you need a stronger part. Standard sheets are 4' x 8', and a local plastic supply company may have odd sizes or scraps that will suit your project. [http://iasco-tesco.com|IASCO-TESCO] also sells small sheets of styrene in various thicknesses and solid colors.
- Urethane modeling foam, Last-A-Foam (1) You can make a form out of almost anything.
- Drywall screws (1)
- Floor nozzle attachment (1) for vacuum cleaner
- Plywood (1) I had some scrap 1/2' plywood, but you can use particleboard, framing lumber, an old dresser drawer, a deep picture frame, whatever. In the spirit of guerrilla building, get creative!
- Pegboard (2)
- Dowel or 2 x 2 lumber, or other small wood scrap
- Lumber, 2 x 4 ( 1-1/2' x 3-1/2' x 2') (4) I used fir, which is cheap, easy to staple into, and, being wood, reasonably safe to handle when hot. Scraps are fine.
- Coins or a piece of window screen
- Heat gun
- Oven mitts
- Shop-Vac or other vacuum cleaner
- Staple gun
- Surface gauge
- Tape measure or measuring stick
- Woodcarving tools
Bob Knetzger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an inventor/designer with 30 years of experience making fun stuff.