From take-out coffee lids to airplane
interior panels, vacuum-formed plastic
is everywhere. And for good reason:
vacuum forming makes light, durable,
and cool-looking 3D parts. Here’s how
to cook some up in your kitchen.
My favorite childhood toy was the Mattel Vac-U-Form.
The pungent smell of melting plastic filled my bedroom
as I spent many hours molding little cars, bugs, and
signs. The way the flat plastic changed shape by invisible
vacuum power was magical and fun to watch!
Today, I use vacuum forming to make toy prototypes in
my own shop. I usually use a professionally made vacuum
former, but in a pinch I’ve used this ultra-cheap, homebrew rig with great results.
Photography by Bob Knetzger
Large, commercial machines have built-in vacuum pumps,
adjustable plastic-holding frames, overhead radiant heaters,
and pneumatic platens. The Guerrilla Vacuum Former
is much simpler. It uses your oven to melt the plastic, and
a household vacuum cleaner to supply the suction. All
you have to build is a simple wooden frame and a hollow
box. I’ll show you how to do it, then use the device to create
a tiki mask that also makes a great Jell-O mold.
Set up: p. 109 Make it: p. 110 Use it: p. 115
Bob Knetzger is a designer/inventor/musician whose award-winning toys have been featured on The Tonight Show,
Nightline, and Good Morning America.