Creating a vacuum-formed fuselage is a cost effective way of producing aircraft fuselages suitable for any model-making activity, from remote-controlled aeroplane bodies to scale-model aircraft. Create your own DIY vacuum former from parts that can be purchased at any home improvement store. You can lower the costs of vacuum forming your fuselages by creating them in your own home using the DIY former, a vacuum cleaner and your oven.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- 2 x 4 boards
- Circular saw
- Wood screws
- Variable speed electric drill
- 1/8 inch drill bit
- 1 inch spade bit
- Duct tape
- Pet hair removal vacuum cleaner attachment
- 1 x 4 boards
- Polystyrene sheet
- Fuselage model
- Tank model vacuum cleaner with hose
- Oven mits
- Hobby knife
Build a box using the 2 x 4 boards and an MDF panel. Use a circular saw to cut the boards to 26 inch lengths and join them with wood screws to form a box that has an opening that's 24 inch square. Cut the MDF panel with the saw to 28 square inches and join to the frame of 2 x 4 boards to create the bottom of your vacuum box unit.
Drill a hole in the side of the frame through one of the 2 x 4 boards about one inch in diameter using an electric drill. To drill the hole start by drilling a pilot hole in the wood with a 1/8 inch drill bit. Place the point of the one inch shovel shaped spade bit at the pilot hole and drill a one inch hole into the wood.
Cut the pegboard to 28 square inches with the circular saw and place on the top of the frame. Tape the board in place using duct tape. Place a layer of duct tape along the seams of the vacuum box to prevent leaks.
Attach a small pet hair removal vacuum cleaner attachment to the side of the frame, completely covering the hole placed in the side of the box, securing it in place using screws.
Create another frame using 1 x 4 inch boards. Cut the boards to 25 inch lengths using the circular saw. Join the cut boards to form a frame with a 24 inch opening. Staple a 25 square inch polystyrene sheet to the frame, placing staples every ½ inch along the perimeter of the frame.
Place the fuselage model centred onto the pegboard. You may form your own fuselage model by carving a piece of extruded or expanded polystyrene foam found at a home improvement store, or from model clay found at an art supply shop. Existing plastic fuselages can be replicated using vacuum forming as long as you have the permission of the copyright holder for the fuselage in question. Check heat tolerances of any material you're using as a model, to be certain it can withstand temperatures of up to 163 degrees Celsius, which is the forming temperature of the polystyrene sheet.
Hook the vacuum hose from a tank type vacuum cleaner to the vacuum attachment.
Turn the oven on to broil and place the frame with plastic into the centre of the upper part of the oven, resting on an oven rack. Closely monitor the plastic until it begins to form a series of waves on the surface and then goes back to a level plane. When level, the plastic is soft enough to make the form. Remove the frame from the oven immediately, using oven gloves or potholders.
Place the frame that you removed from the oven onto the vacuum box with the plastic at the top, covering the fuselage. Turn the vacuum on. The vacuum created in the vacuum box, transferred through the pegboard, should suck down the plastic and cause it to form a tight plastic layer atop the fuselage. Allow the vacuum to run until the plastic begins to harden and then turn the vacuum off.
Lift the hardened plastic from the fuselage and remove the sheet of plastic from the frame. Cut the excess plastic away from the vacuum formed fuselage with a pair of scissors or a hobby knife to complete the piece.
Tips and warnings
- The plastic film and wood frame taken from the oven may be hot enough to cause burns if touched. Handle both pieces with caution until the materials have cooled.
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