Disclaimers first! This is quite conceivably the most ghetto way to vacuum form known-to-man (or woman). We know that! You should watch the 501st guys cringe when we tell them how we do our vacuum forming. But, it does work and is a great solution for people who don’t have the space or money to have a more industrial setup.
Ok, disclaimers done. On with the tutorial…
Vacuum forming is a process in which a heated and softened piece of plastic is sucked down onto an item by means of a vacuum. This is the way they create blister packs for CD players, and all that plastic packaging that is impossible to open. It’s perfect for creating helmets and other lightweight plastic shells.
- 6 foot long “L” shaped window bracket frame
- 3/4 inch bolt and nut
- baking pan
- peg board to fit inside pan
- weather-stripping (with one adhesive side)
- strong vacuum cleaner with a narrow hose attachment
- drill with hole cutting drill bit
- dremmel with cutting wheel attchment
- Do-It-Yourself Vacuum Forming (the book we used to teach ourselves how to do this)
First, you need to build a frame that you will mount your plastic on. Measure the inside of your oven. This is very important! Your frame needs to be able to fit inside your oven, and nothing would be worse than building your frame and vacuform table, to discover that it won’t fit!
Let’s assume that you have an oven that is 20″ wide and deep. You’ll need a few inches wiggle room, so let’s build a frame that is 16″ wide and deep. It doesn’t need to be a square frame, but it will make things easier later.
Now we’re going to bend the L shaped window bracket frame into a square frame. Take a sharpie and mark on the window bracket where the corners of the square frame will be. Start about 4″ from the end of the window bracket. So for this example with the 16″ per side square, you will mark at 4″, 20″,36″,52″.
Take your dremmel and make perpendicular cuts on the marked L side, all the way to the bend at the center of the L. You can then bend the frame into a square, overlapping the two ends by several inches. Cut of any extra bracket.
Drill a hole through the two layers of the frame and put a bolt and nut to attach your frame together.
Now you need to build your box! Whatever your frame size ended up being, you’ll need a box approximately 1-2″ smaller than your frame, and with sides at least 1 1/2″ tall. This box needs to be airtight on the sides and bottom, plus able to withhold a weak vacuum, so it’s strongly recommended that you use metal. It also needs a flat surface along the top edge.
You know what satisfies all those requirements? A baking pan! (Hey, we warned you this was going to be ghetto.) There are lots of baking websites out there where you can find the exact size you need for your box.
With a 16″ frame, we ordered a 14″ baking pan with 2 inch high sides. Make sure the sides of your pan are high enough that you can cut a hole size you need. You’ll need to cut a hole in the side for your vacuum hose. Measure your hose diameter (we used a shop vac, and used a nozzle with a 1″ opening), and cut a hole in the side of the box with a hole maker bit for your drill.
Take your weather stripping and stick it down on along the top of the pan.
The last things you’ll need are a piece of peg board that will fit inside the opening of the pan and something to prop that pegboard up so that it is flush with the top of the pan. We used wood cut ends that we “rescued” from the trash can near the table saw at Home Depot.
And that’s it! Now you have a vacuum form table! On with the vacuum forming.