Monday, January 4, 2016

Vacuum Formed X-Wing Pilot Helmet

4 Years ago this month I began taking photos of all the steps for my many creations and started TIMBO'S CREATIONS!  It's been a fun 4 years!  My very first blog entry in January of 2012 was about making pepakura X-Wing Pilot Helmets.

You can see my original very first posting by clicking here.

So to commemorate that very first project I decided to make a new X-wing pilot helmet!  But since I've learned a whole bunch of new tricks and techniques, I'll be making this helmet a little differently.  Recently I built a new Vacuum Former and it works great!

At the same time as I built the former, I also made a mold for a Stormtrooper helmet.

And it came out pretty well for the most part.  The face plate worked quite well.

...and now I want to make some X-Wing Pilot Helmets.  Followers of my blog might remember me trying this a few years ago with some success.

One big mistake I made back then was cutting the helmet in half from the side instead of down the middle.

This time I'll do things differently.  At the time I made the helmet above I was still quite a newbie and making helmets.  Actually, I still have a lot to learn...
My first attempt at making a mold for the X-wing helmet involved using a Halloween costume of an X-Wing pilot I found, which included this cheap helmet.

Without getting into too much detail, my first molds did not turn out well when vacuum forming.  Below you can see the molds (which are black) and the first pulls (white).

The thin, cheap plastic helmet I originally used for this mold was also most likely vacuum formed - and the heat rippled the surface.  I was hoping that the high temperature spray paint I used on the molds would have shielded it somehow, but it didn't.

I tried working with the only pulls I was able to make, but it did not look good at all.

However, when I made the helmet molds years ago, I used only cardboard, wood filler and foam to make the molds, and they survived just fine.  The pulls I made back then may look a little rough, but that was mostly because the molds themselves were rough.

I didn't keep those molds, so I started over again, this time making the helmet whole, using pepakura files.

Next step is to apply fiberglass resin and fiberglass cloth.  I laid down a plastic tarp so that if any resin drips onto it, it should come off pretty easily.

I'm also going to use my lazy Susan helmet stand so I can turn the helmet without touching it.

To make things easier on myself I'm going to apply the fiberglass and resin to the top of the helmet first.  In the past I've used spray adhesive to tack on the fiberglass to the paper model first, then apply the resin.  It worked a good amount of the time back then, but this time I'll be using 3M Super 77 spray adhesive - which I've heard works very well.

I sprayed it on and layered some fiberglass.

The Super 77 actually does do a good job.

Next I began applying the resin.  First on the outside...

...then on the inside with more fiberglass.

When inside and out was dry I used my dremel to begin sanding areas - mostly edges with sharp pieces of fiberglass.

With the whole helmet covered in fiberglass and resin, it's now rigid enough to begin adding some expanding foam.

This process takes some time.  You need to add a small layer to allow the foam to dry fully before adding additional layers. 

After about 5 or 6 layers the helmet was full of foam.

Next I used a small saw to begin trimming and shaping the foam to nicely fit the helmet.

During this process I noticed that the foam felt spongy.  This means that there is uncured foam inside that didn't harden.  So I used my drill to make some air holes for the foam to cure.

After letting it sit for a couple hours it still felt squishy, so I simply cut away that area and found a whole bunch of uncured foam.  But now that it has air it should harden.

When it was finally hard I used my mouse sander to sand the whole helmet.  This did 2 things: the first being that it started shaping and grinding down the resin, and it also roughed up the surface... preparation for Bondo.

When the Bondo dried I began sanding.

After I finished my first of many rounds of sanding, I gave it a cleaning with a wet rag.

Usually I would add some filler primer to begin filling up holes and smoothing out the surfaces, but instead I used some high temperature engine spray paint.  This stuff is a lot thicker than most spray paint and in my opinion does a better job of filling and smoothing out.  It is however, not as easy to sand...but that's what power sanders are for.

After a little sanding I could easily see spots that needed more filling.  For this I used wood filler max, which is just like regular wood filler only a lot stronger.

Then I sanded once more.

After a little clean up I applied more Bondo.  The angular surface is now becoming more rounded.

When the Bondo dried I sanded...

...then applied more primer.

At this point I needed to straighten out some of the curves of this helmet, so I reprinted some of the pepakura file, mounted it to cardboard, cut it out and glued it onto the helmet.

Then I began adding some elements that aren't part of the pep file.  These include what look like bolts, so I'm going to use some furniture tacks.

I can't simply push them in since the Bondo is very hard, but a hammer will do the trick.

There are also 2 small boxes on each side of the front of the helmet.  For these I'll use some wood cut to size, and sanded.

Then it was time for more Bondo...

...followed by more sanding...

...then more primer.

When the primer dried I did a little fine sanding, then added wood filler to the spots that needed it.

Then I sanded with finer paper.

Then some more black spray paint.

I let it dry overnight and the next morning I decided to compare my newer mold with the previous (failed) mold.  I noticed that the previous mold - which was made from an existing X-wing pilot helmet Halloween mask - had a second curve on the sides that went around the top of the main curve.

This was something I failed to notice earlier and it's hard to see on the originals used on screen since they are usually painted.

So using some cardboard I recreated these shapes.

Then I glued them to the helmet.

Next I added Bondo...

...then I sanded, cleaned and added another coat of primer.

At this point the helmet has the shape that I want.  There's still various areas to fix up, but it's a good time to cut this thing in half so I can make molds for vacuum forming.  So with a marker, I drew a guide line for where to cut.

Next I took a lot of time cutting this thing in half.  I used several saws to make sure I didn't damage the helmet much.

With the helmet in half you can see where all that uncured foam was from earlier.

So I added some more expanding foam to make sure the insides were solid.

Once the foam hardened I used a saw to level each side.

Now the 2 halves sit flat on the table.

Next came more sanding (by hand)...

...followed by a little more filler.

To make sanding easier this round, I wet a rag and rubbed it against the filler I applied.  Since this wood filler is water soluble, the wet rag smoothed out the filler nicely.

Then I used some very fine sandpaper to finish sanding.  After that I cleaned it, applied another coat of black paint and let it dry overnight.

The next morning I sanded the molds with a fine sanding sponge.

There are still a few imperfections, but I decided to try it out on the vacuum former.  So I set everything up.

Before I do anything else I applied some baby powder to the mold.  This will (hopefully) make it easier to remove the casting.

Then I vacuum formed the left side.  It came out perfectly!

Next I vacuum formed the right side.  This side also came out well, except for a little pop in the plastic located under the Mohawk in the front.  But this piece will be cut away, so all's good.

I'm happy that both sides vacuum formed well without any distortions.

Next I cut out the pieces and freed the molds.  The baby powder worked well.

Putting these 2 sides of the helmet next to each other, you can see that it looks right...

...especially when you compare them to the commercially released Halloween helmet - which is crap.

And as for my molds themselves, they are still intact.

Next I used some sharp scissors and a round sanding bit in my dremel to shape the helmet's trim.

To attach the 2 halves I'm going to use some leftover strips of plastic to form a new Mohawk.  For my first unsuccessful helmet I used PVC pipe cement to stick this on, but found out that stuff melts the plastic if its thin.  So I'll be using hot glue.

I glued and clamped the strips to the Mohawk on one side first.  I did this slowly, making sure the glue set before removing the clamps.

Then I attached the other side.  This part was harder since I could only clamp the ends.  I wound up holding it tightly with my hands.

The strips I have aren't long enough for the entire Mohawk, so I had to use 2 strips.  Here I taped down the ends of each strip while gluing.

But after a short while the helmet was whole!

Because the Mohawk gets wider towards the back, the strips don't go all the way to the edge.  Plus there were some spaces that the hot glue didn't fully fill, so I used some sealant to fill in the spaces.

Then I let it dry for a few hours.

Next I cut some plastic to form a new front for the Mohawk.

...which I glued to the front.

Of course at this point the front started coming apart.  Not good.

So I removed that piece I glued on and used rivets to keep it together.

I then recut the plastic for the front of the Mohawk and glued it on.  This covered 2 of the rivets - unfortunately 2 are still visible.

Next I cut some strips of black crafting foam...

...and began gluing them to the rim of the helmet.

Next I did a little more filling with some watered down sealant and let it dry.

Next I applied some primer to the helmet.  This was mainly done to fill in and prepare the foam and the sealant for a final paint job.

When that dried I applied some glossy white spray paint.

As I let the helmet dry overnight I drew up some templates in Adobe Illustrator and printed them out.

I then cut them out...

...and then taped them to the helmet the next day.

Then I traced the templates...

...and began painting in the details.  I started with the lightest colors first - yellow.

Then I added in some reds...

...followed by black.

After all the colors had dried, I began the first round of weathering with some watered down black paint.

Next I thickened the lines with more black...

...then added some gold details...

...followed by more black.

Next I used some silver Rub 'n Buff to create some more scratches and weathering.

Then one more black wash to complete this gritty helmet.

When all the paint fully dried I moved it into my workshop and used some fine sandpaper to bring out a little more of the white underneath.

Then I cleaned up the dust and sprayed on some clear coat.

And I'm done!!!

Below is my new helmet along side my original 2 helmets.

The vacuum formed helmet is considerably lighter than my original 2 helmets.  This makes it much easier to wear.

I will eventually make a visor and some padding for the insides - not to mention more vacuum formed helmets. But for now I love how this turned out!

As always, thanks for reading!


  1. Timbo - long time, no comment! As always, loving your work. All the best to you and yours. Phil

    1. Thanks Phil! Good to hear from you. All the best to you and yours as well!

  2. Do you sell pulls of this? It looks great!