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My DIY Vacuum Former Build Mk3

This is it, the ultimate attempt at making a decent vacuum forming machine. The mark II version was a total disaster as I was trying to be a smart ass and cobble together several different versions and methods that I had stumbled across in my google searching.

One such stumbling led me to Volpin Props while another led me to codemonkey crew and their respective table builds. It seemed like there was a common connection between these two builds and rather than try and copy the designs from looking at pictures i took the plunge and bought complete and detailed plans on making a Protoform Vacuum table as supplied at buildstuff.com.

The plans came as a downloadable PDF. I would also point out you have a limited number of downloads. I learned this after trying to download it multiple times to my iPhone and eventually being hit with a download limit. Luckily I was able to split the file into the respective PDF parts and then email myself them so I could download them wherever and whenever I wanted (although I can not share them before you ask, you have to buy the plans).

The plans themselves are a fantastic resource and I would highly recommend if your going to build a functioning and quality looking table first time then DO NOT do what I did and spend loads of cash on something that will ultimately fail. Buy the plans and do it right first time.

Now onto the build.
The first few elements of the table involved an easy enough 2x4 wooden frame build and this eventually gave me a much superior initial base than my previous attempts (things were definitely looking up here)

The next stage involved many many many hours of studying the metal frame and budgeting and eventually after converting allot of the measurements I decided to modify the different sizes of metal required to build the frame while dropping or substituting other pieces. Although I removed and changed areas, the actual frame remained true to the original plans.

The overhead oven area was my 1st MAJOR headache. These plans are basically designed for people in the US or Canada where shipping parts to build the machine are easy enough to do but over here in the UK it's a bit harder to find everything and also to have it shipped in costs A LOT. To that end I spent several hours googling and a few phone calls later I located the correct materials to start building my own special heating parts as detailed in the plans. If you have the money and can afford it buildstuff.com will ship you the parts needed to make the oven and therefore save you the time but as I said earlier I just don't have that sort of cash lying around.
After procuring the required Ceramic fibreboard for the princely sum of £40 for a 1meter square section I was set to begin cutting the individual sections.
The next issue I hit was how long each coiled NiChrome wire should be that would fit onto each board. Again looking at the codemonkeycrews build I was able to workout that each coil was about 13-14 inches long. Armed with this info I proceeded to eBay and bought 3 rolls of wire and unfortunately then had to spend several nights with one of the girlfriends knitting needles and coiling the wire by hand.... my fingers were quite sore by the end of it all as each final wire when flattened out was around 11.5 meters.

The final bit to the oven was the building of a holding frame. In the original plans this calls for the use of roof tile suspension frame work. Much like before I again had to go down  the longer and cheaper way by building what I can only call a huge Meccano holding frame and then attaching this to the oven which was then surrounded by a 1mm aluminum cover to prevent the wood from going on fire.

The Vacuum system was another expensive headache as I eventually plumped for a Vacuum pump from China (which came dented and without oil... but strangely with the empty oil containers???. I eventually got a slight refund because the seller admitted that my complaints about quality were valid. Lesson here, don't just accept things from eBay sellers if they are wrong as you have rights).
With the pump now in my possession I moved onto trying to locate an appropriate air tank and thanks to a local garage coming into my work I was able to obtain a second hand empty propane tank (much larger than I really needed but it was free). After ensuring the tank was completely empty I then filled it full of water and left it for a week. Upon returning to the tank the water was drained and after hours of trying to be overly smart in removing the tap for the gas I resorted to simply using a sledge hammer and off the offending valve fell; a bit worse for wear but I never intended to use the valve again anyway.

The remaining components for the vacuum system were then gathered over a few weeks and after leaving the propane tank outside for over 2 months (it was Christmas time so I had other matters to attend to) I then proceeded to hock all the components up. A test of the system revealed that the tank was able to hold a vacuum however there were a few minor leaks that after an extended period of time resulted in the built up vacuum dissipating. For the time being I was satisfied that the system worked basically as I wanted it too and as such any and all minor adjustments would be shelved for the time being.

 The next phase that I moved onto was creating the lifting arm. For this due to cost issues I was once again forced to alter my own designs from that of the actual plans. I made use of slimmer steel and instead of welding the parts together I drilled holes and bolted the frame parts to on another. This method did throw up many issues with stability etc and if you're able to I would stick with the welding option if you can afford it. In the end I was able to create a functioning, all be it a rickety lifter mechanism as can be seen by the images.

After this was completed I began to mount the NiChrome coils I has previously made month ago to the ceramic fibre boards. Each coil measured  approximately 14 inches in length and after making my own personal template using images from the codemonkeycrew build I was able to work out where each wire would need to be supported and also where each of the relevant end terminal points would need to be. With all these areas mapped out and the coils stretched to the corresponding 72 inch length I was able to construct the required 6 heating panels and fit them perfectly into the support frame above the forming surface.

After completing all the heating elements I then moved onto wiring all parts of the machine up. This machine is a monster and as such I actually called in an electrician to install a new circuit breaker box in my house replacing my 70+year old box with a more modern one with more fuses available. I then ran wire from the breaker box to a new 40Amp cooker socket in the room where I have set up the Vacuum former. Attached to the machine I also attached a smaller circuit breaker box and connected all the heating elements up to this and then connected this circuit box to the cooker socket. In all honesty I have most likely gone a bit overboard with the amount of fuses and circuit breakers etc but safety is something that is extremely high on my mind in using this machine.

Once I had completed all the wiring (i'm not an electrician so I'm not going to go into any further depth on how I connected everything up and please don't ask... i'm willing to risk my life NOT anyone else's) I ran a test and was rewarded with a very nice constant heat from the elements and the burring smell that follows the first exposure to heat when using ceramic fibre boards quickly burnt off.

I then began running tests on the vacuum tanks ability to hold a vacuum and after several attempts I have been unable to contain a vacuum in the tank for more than 30 or so minutes before the slow (and annoyingly hard to locate) leaks are manageable. With these tests done all parts of the machine were then connected up and ultimately I reached the end of a very very very long and costly journey. All that was left for me to do would be to make the machine look prettier but this is definitely something for a later time. Back to making props to vacuum form.

(Stage of build as of July 2015)

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Site Editor : Shadowmultimedia
Last Update : 2015
This is a Shadowmultimedia designed and operated site
This web site is intended for educational purposes. The pepakura files found here have not been created by myself although I have
altered some of them slightly in regards to size and layout if the size did not suit me personally.
In addition these files have been located via simple google searches and various facebook groups and can easily
be found by anyone via google or one of the various prop making forums out there.