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Armor : Scratch-building a helmet

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: Scratch-building a helmet
« on: May 14, 2018, 06:28 PM »
Scratch-building a helmet
Lead Author: Sep Ho'ban
Edited by: MMCC Education Team

This tutorial is to introduce you to scratch-building your own helmet.

Scratch-built and 3D printed helmets

Before we talk about how, let’s talk about why

"I can’t afford one of the resin cast helmets from one of the vendors in the Supply Depot."
  • Good news! You can purchase a Rubies Jango Two Piece helmet for 30-50 dollars on Amazon: here, then all you have to do is replace the visor, the Range Finder and stalk, and fill in the seams, sand and paint.   This will get you a great looking helmet at a similar price to a scratch build, but with a lot less time and effort.
  • If you have access to a 3d printer, you could also print one of the helmets available on thingiverse, but there will be much sanding in your future.
"My head is weird (too large, too small), there is a very specific design element I want (be sure to check out this guide to confirm your designs fit the era you are building for), or I just want to learn new skills." 
  • Congratulations, scratch building might be for you!

Three popular scratch-building methods

  • 3D modeling and printing.  If you’ve never used Fusion 360, or even if you have, but you’ve never made a helmet, we highly recommend using Autodesk’s tutorial on how to make an F-1 Racing Helmet as a starting point for how to make your model.  Sep Hoban started with almost zero modeling experience, and F360 is how he modeled his second helmet (on the right in the photo above)
  • Pepakura (paper, resin, fiberglass). You can make changes to scale and sizing.  If you’re an experienced pepakura builder, you can kit-bash to get other design elements into your helmet.   There are a number of pepakura helmet files available for use here.
Bucket from a bucket

First off, you’re going to need templates.  There are several linked here. The helmet pictured above on the left was built using this one.

Sep chose this route for his helmet because he wears a size 8.5 hat, and based on available dimensions, none of the available helmets seemed likely to fit him, particularly when accounting for his glasses.   He used Adobe Acrobat to scale up the PDF templates to 110% when printing, as that was largest he could make them and still have every template fit on one page as designed.

The basic process during this build was:
  • Print templates at appropriate scale
  • Trace template onto home depot bucket with sharpie, cut out with a Dremel (or your cutting device of choice, Exacto, shears, scrollsaw, bandsaw are all good options here)
  • Dry fit to make sure the rough dimensions are satisfactory
  • Assemble using high temp hot glue on the OUTSIDE of the seams as they're more accessible during the build
  • Hot glue the inside of the seams once the helmet is more stable
  • Scrape the hot glue off the outside of the seams so it doesn’t get in the way of future bondo work.  Commonly used scraping methods are a razor blade, utility knife, or fingernails for this part). You can leave the hot glue on the inside seams.

The Dome

There are several options for creating the dome of your helmet.

  • Skateboard or bicycle helmet.  These are both popular options, as they have a good shape, typically come with padding, and it's fairly easy to fill in the holes by putting mesh or tape on the underside and filling the holes with bondo. 
  • Hard hat.  You can use a cheap hardhat by cutting off the brim.  If it has a “mohawk” detail, you can even keep that as part of your design, or fill it in with bondo.
  • Pepakura dome template.  You can use the included dome templates from the WOF files, either printing it onto card stock, traced onto a home depot bucket.

After printing and assembly, laid atop a failed hardhat attempt

You would then un-tape it, wrap it around a Home Depot (or similarly sized bucket), trace it with a marker of some kind, and cut it out using your cutting tool of choice.  Next, you need to glue everything in place.  You can use hot glue, super glue, expoxy or other gluing agent.  High temp hot glue is a popular choice, as it's easier to undo mistakes.
After initial assembly

It's wise to trim any less-than-perfect cuts, in order to get a better fit.  In this case, duct tape was added to the inside to cover the hole in the middle, at which point the hole was filled with hot glue.  A small piece of scrap plastic from the bucket was glued on the inside to reinforce it, and then bondo was applied directly atop this area.  While this may perhaps make perfectionists cringe, it's worth noting that this particular helmet is still perfectly structurally sound more than a year later.

Before bondo was applied, a sanding bit was used to smooth out as much of the unevenness as possible.  As a safety note, whenever sanding plastic, whether using sandpaper, a sanding bit on a dremel, or a hand or belt sander, always wear personal protective equipment, particularly safety glasses and a mask of some kind.  And when sanding down before applying bondo, wearing a face shield is a wise idea to protect you from glue shrapnel.

The inside of the dome

Not the dome

  • First layer

Initially poprivets were used instead of just hot glue because the plastic was fighting the shape, and the rivets are going to be covered by the brow ridge.

  • Brow Ridge and Mandible Layer

This stage involved the biggest design change.  Sep decided he wanted squared off cheeks instead of round, and altered the cut out for the mandibles. He also had to design the new cheek cutouts from scratch on card stock later.

Cheeks cut out, and a test fit

New cheeks and test fit

Experimenting with visor cut-outs and paint scheme

Important note: If you're designing a custom visor, make sure that at least 1/3 of the vertical area is cut out.

When working on the visor area, it's a good idea to leave some sort of cross bar for structural support and to prevent the cheeks from warping.  The cheeks are likely to move independently of one another without some sort of bracing.

Visor cut out with dremel

The Bondo (Oh, the Bondo!)

Many people who haven't worked with Bondo are intimidated by the thought of trying it out.  However, most of those same people, once they start using it, find that it's very easy to work with.  Bondo is the name brand for an autobody filler available in many stores or online, is very cost-effective, and a fairly simple product with which to work.

The directions call for a 1 inch line of the red cream hardener from the tube per golf ball sized amount of material from the can.  You need to mix it thoroughly until the resulting substance is a consistent color.  The more you work with it, the better you'll be able to judge your available work time based on how dark a pink your mix.  Pale pink gives you a longer amount of time to apply the bondo, but also means you have to wait longer before starting to sand.

Once you've mixed the resin and hardener, spread it on the desired surface.  There are many implements you can use; popsicle sticks, spatulas, or cake frosting spreaders are popular choices.  Once it's partially dry, you can smooth it with  a baby-wipe.  Doing this, though, will increase curing times.

Something to keep in mind is that multiple thin layers are usually a better choice than fewer thick layers.  Thick layers tend to give you results like this:

Once your bondo had cured, it's time for sanding.  SO MUCH SANDING!  Bear in mind that when sanding down your first coat, and possibly even your second coat, you’re probably going to end up re-exposing some plastic.

If that happens, that’s okay, just keep applying and sanding back until you get to your desired smoothness.

A coat of filler primer will reveal the areas that still need work. 

To fill small pin-holes and other areas, we recommend switching to Bondo Glazing Putty.  It doesn't require mixing, is much thinner, and lets you get a smoother finish before sanding. So apply the putty, sand it back and repeat until you’re happy, then do a coat of primer to see if there’s anything you missed.

Ready for paint

Now it needs a visor


Earcaps, Key Slots, Range Finders, etc.

You have a great deal of creative freedom, but you'll want to make sure that your designs stay within the CRLs for your chosen era.  The key elements of a Modern Era helmet are the recessed cheeks, brow ridge, range finder, key slots, ear cap, and T-Visor.  For a custom helmet to qualify as a Modern Era helmet, it must have a T-visor, and typically at least three of the other key elements.

The earcaps on the helmet in this guide was made from two layers of 3mm sintra with vent holes which were backed by black panty hose.  The hose was attached with hot glue, and the ear caps were secured to the helmet with E6000.

The visor was made from a $3.99 Harbor Freight Grinding shield with mirrored window tint.  The tint package included easy-to-follow instructions.

In summary

Making a bucket from a bucket isn't particularly difficult or complicated, but it will take some time, effort, and lots of patience.  As with any aspect of your kit, we highly recommend that you start, and maintain, a Work in Progress thread so that other folks can follow along, offer advice and suggestions, and learn a few things for themselves.

--MMCC Education Team--

« Last Edit: Jul 23, 2019, 09:50 AM by Raestin Ke'Varek » Logged
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