Sunday, January 4, 2015

Making Foam Helmets Practice 1

I'm always on the look out for new methods for making things.  While browsing Youtube, I stumbled upon a guy named "Evil Ted Smith" who had some awesome tutorials on making foam helmets and armor.  Evil Ted had some methods I have not tried before - namely using Contact Cement to bind foam together.  I have always used hot glue, and have been searching for a better alternative.  So this entry will be about my first attempts using contact cement.  In his tutorials he makes his templates using a head mannequin.  

I do not have one of these mannequins yet, so I am going to use a simple pepakura file, namely the same one I used to make my Captain America helmet.

I printed it out, and assembled it as a flat piece.

Since this project is just for practice and learning, I am using some leftover floor tiles.

One thing he used was a heat gun.  I've had my own heat gun for quite some time, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I have forgotten to use it for 99% of my projects.  So, it's time I use it again!

I laid out my templates on the foam...

...and traced them with a marker.

Then I cut them out using a sharp X-acto knife.

When I first started out many years ago as a packaging designer, I would often have to make up paper models using rubber cement.  Contact cement and rubber cement work very similarly:  Apply the cement to both surfaces you want to adhere.  Let the cement dry to the point of being tacky, then attach the 2 parts.

So, I assembled the pieces of foam into the piece below.

The joints did not adhere as well as I would have liked, as the shapes I lined up were not quite accurate.  Pepakura models have many cut outs to make the paper bend.  I did not make these cut outs and thus the middle part of the helmet was longer than it's supposed to be.

But the inside seams looked neat despite some overflow of contact cement.

I perched the helmet on my head, and I was not too enthusiastic about how it came out.

But it was a lesson learned.  So I went back to my paper model, and made the necessary cuts.

I then made new cuts to flatten the model on more foam, which I then marked.

Like before, I cut it out, applied contact cement and formed the helmet.

This time it came out a lot better!

Next I coated the helmet with plasti-dip to start sealing the foam.

I noticed that the seams kept splitting.  Since I'm experimenting, I decided to use wood filler to try filling in the seams.  I don't predict that this will work well, as the helmet is flexible.

When the filler dried, I sanded.

As I predicted, the filler didn't work too well, so I tried filling in the gaps slightly with some filler primer.

Followed by more plasti-dip.

At this point the added weight from the filler and paint was starting to split the seams even more.

So I used more contact cement to bind them better.

I wanted to avoid using hot glue for this project, as I really want to learn to use contact cement properly, but I caved in a little and used some hot glue to add some extra support around the seams.  Then I painted on some silver paint.

And brushed on some matte black paint.

The helmet is done, but it's very bland.  So I cut some more leftover foam....

... and started adding more elements, namely a strip down the middle.

I used contact cement to attach the strip, with hot glue on the edges.

Evil Ted also had a cool method for making bolts - used a rotary sander attachment on a dremel to sand in little circles.  I tried out this method on the helmet, and I think it came out quite nicely.  Plus, it also saves me a lot of money - I usually buy furniture tacks to make bolts.

Next I used another leftover strip of foam to make a face guard for the helmet.

Again, I cemented it on, with hot glue along the edges.

I added some more foam to spruce up the look of the face guard.  For these, I used only hot glue.

Then I repainted thew whole helmet with black plasti-dip.

Followed by silver spray paint.

While the silver was drying, I used my heat gun to add some texture.

The heat gun makes the paint bubble a little.

When the silver paint dried, I brushed on more black paint to create some weathering.

Next I painted on some more weathering with black acrylic.

Looking cool.

I also decided to use my new air brush - which I have had for a while, but again forgot to use with previous projects.

I sprayed on some browns....

...and then some oranges to give it a rusty look.

All-in-all, not too bad for a practice piece.  The next day I felt like doing some more practice, so I grabbed the first helmet that I made.

One other tool I do not yet have is a cement dispenser.  I plan on getting one of these soon.

 In the meantime I am using a silicone glue brush which I use on a lot of my projects.  Like resin and wood glue, the contact cement does not permanently stick to the bristles.

My supply of good shaped foam is running out, so I made do with a lot of weird shaped pieces. 

Like the previous helmet, all the shapes were formed with the heat gun and glued on with contact cement.

The edges were all reinforced with hot glue.

I also use my clamps on these since you need a certain amount of pressure to get the 2 pieces you are cementing to hold.

After a short while I had a new helmet forming.

The fit is good....

...but I need a few more pieces to hide my gullet.

So I glued on a few more pieces and added more 'bolts' with my dremel.

Then I gave the whole thing a coat of plasti-dip.

Followed by some gold spray paint.

Like the other helmet, I brushed on some black paint to create some weathering.

Then I used my airbrush to spray on some purples...

...and blues....

...and browns...

...and blacks.

Lastly I sprayed on some matte clear coat.

And I'm done.

The helmet fits well.

I love how well these helmets came out, despite just practicing a few new techniques, and relearning some old ones.

One last thing I made was this: a lazy Susan with my helmet stand screwed on.  Too often I get my fingers dirty and mess up a piece by simply trying to turn the helmet I'm working on.  This should hopefully make things easier.

Contact cement works well, even when using 1/4 inch foam (Evil Ted uses thicker foam).  I'm sure the thicker foam works better since there's more surface area for the cement to stick to.So far I like contact cement!  Soon, once I get a head mannequin and some more thicker foam sheets, I plan on recreating Evil Ted's methods for making templates and constructing a helmet from it.  Stay tuned for that blog entry soon!

Thanks for reading!


  1. Nice one, Shredder!

    Check out Lost Wax on YouTube -

    He's a brilliant artist and I've bought several of his plans. He uses blue foam camping mats - I assume they're available in the States - very common Down Under for camping, about half an inch thick, closed cell foam, and not quite as stiff as the floor mats. Might be worth a shot?

    1. Thanks Phil! I will definitely check it out!