Vacuum Paper Forming

Discussion in 'Space & Aeronautics' started by Bionic Modeler, Jul 18, 2007.

  1. I decided to start a new thread. I am posting my method for wet vacuum paper forming. Anyone who has any suggestions an improvements is welcome. I have no ego to stroke. I developed this method myself as i was working on the 1/4 merc project. For pictures go to Builders. There are few pictures of my results there.


    OK here is my method. You can go all out and build a vacuum former or you can simply use a plastic bag, which will work but not as well.

    To build the vacuum former make a 4” deep box at least 12”x12”. Glue a piece of pegboard to the top. Drill a hole in the side for your vacuum hose. Use a shop vac if you have one. I don’t recommend your house vac as the airflow cools the motor. Once you pull a vacuum there is no more airflow and it will overheat (Your wife will be very angry with you). Shop vac’s cool separately.

    If you use a plastic bag make a platform about 12”x12” out of pegboard and place inside. When you place your mold inside in the middle of the platform insert the vac hose as close to the work as possible. Tape the bag closed around the hose and turn on.

    You can use whatever you want for a mold I made mine out of plaster and formed them from the actual card model part. Then with a little tooling and you have a pretty good mold. I also used Scott’s Plastic shingles and made molds from them. Once your molds are ready depending on the amount of relief (depressions, curves 3’d impressions) you might be able to use card stock. Wet it overnight to loosen the fibers or boil for a few minutes. Use a piece of saran wrap to cover the mold then place your wet card stock over the top. Then cover with a smooth fabric (T-shirt works good). You don’t want any pattern, as it will show up in your product. Then cover everything with a large piece of saran wrap. Turn on the vac and it will suck the air out forming your paper to the shape of the mold. Work it in to the depressions with your fingers and fingernails for any creases you want to show up etc. and roll out any wrinkles using a hard wooden roller. Do this for a few minutes with the vac running. Then uncover and Walla you have your part. Let dry then spray with clear coat or paint.

    For more demanding parts like those I made of the Mercury Fairing, use Viva Super absorbent paper towels. Wetting one piece, forming as above then coat with a layer of white glue while wet. Follow this same procedure three more times for a total of 4 layers vacuum forming each layer as you did in the first. Then let dry. The saran wrap under the paper will let it release from the mold. When it is almost dry remove it from the mold and remove the saran wrap from the bottom so it will dry thoroughly. Then when dry you can repeat the process dry forming it to re-define the reliefs a little more as it shrinks a little when drying. You can also paint the final product with a final layer of glue for a smoother finish. Paint to desired color and clear coat. The more clear coat you use the smoother the finish will be as there is a little texture from the paper towel and the T-shirt combination. But it isn’t bad. You can try different papers but the ones I suggest worked best for me especially when forming tricky curves. I practiced on a light bulb (for you helicopter enthusiasts) and got a near perfect smooth bubble. You can break the light bulb when finished to remove it from the mold.

    You can also use plastic parts for molds as well. However there are limits to how much you can form it. For really detailed parts cast paper mache’. That is another whole process. I have little experience with that but maybe others can help.
  2. rmks2000

    rmks2000 Member

    Very interesting technique!
  3. George B

    George B Senior Member

    Tim, thank you very much for taking the time to explain the procedure. I was thinking (I know not good), could you use one of those Space Saver Bags you see advertised everywhere as the vacuum enclosure?

    Ohhhhh I can think of soooo many things to make. You know what I'll be up to this weekend! bounce7
  4. cgutzmer

    cgutzmer Guest

    This is an excellent idea! I am gonna go check out those pics! An actual step by step tutorial here with pics would be superb :)
  5. Yes you could use those vacuum bags in fact that would be an excellent first choice.
  6. Hans Christian

    Hans Christian Active Member

    This is very interesting... :-D
  7. Mike_BAR

    Mike_BAR American Rocketeer


    Thank you for taking the time to outline your vacuum forming techniques for card modeling. It is quite intriguing and I hope to use this technique soon.

    As mentioned earlier the Space Saver Bags would be an interesting tool. In addition, I heard the food vacuum sealers would work too.

    Here is a typical example of a food vacuum sealer:

    Foodsaver Advanced Design V2440 Kit

    These units can be purchased at various retailers or on eBay. I believe that reconditioned units can be found on eBay at cheaper prices.

    I hope this helps.

  8. Gil

    Gil Active Member

    Problem with Food Saver Bags...,

    Food Saver bags are made of mylar and when sealed won't allow any water evaporation. They will apply a clamping force and can be heated in water in a microwave to soften the fiber making forming easier. Just make sure that the form material is capable of being heated without losing its structural properties.

    Separately I've tried this method using different textured surfaces made by Evergreen (Evergreen Scale Models) to obtain corrugation patterns. Use two sheets with the paper positioned between them and aligned so that the two mesh before using the vacuum to clamp the "press" together. One other point is that female molds are far easier to work with using this method than are male molds.

  9. Ponytail

    Ponytail Member


    This sounds good.:thumb:
    Is it possible to add some pictures of this "machine"?
    and: what is saran wrap?
  10. paperbeam

    paperbeam Member

  11. goney3

    goney3 Member

  12. cgutzmer

    cgutzmer Guest

    SUPER AWESOME! One step closer to being able to vac form - after my next trip to wally world anyhow....
  13. Mike_BAR

    Mike_BAR American Rocketeer

    Yes, I agree. Lots of good suggestions for home-brewed vacuum forming.
    Thank you.
  14. Mike_BAR

    Mike_BAR American Rocketeer

    Excellent point. I would expect to use the food saver bag for its clamping force, form the paper structure, then remove the piece to allow proper drying.

    Thanks again for the excellent suggestion.
  15. Got some great ideas here guys. Let's keep it going

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