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jegner
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Joined: 30 May 2003
Posts: 2122
Location: Texas, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 6:26 am    Post subject: Frequently Asked Questions Reply with quote

In this thread, we will try to organize the most common issues and solutions in regardes to making your vacuum form machine.
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jegner
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Joined: 30 May 2003
Posts: 2122
Location: Texas, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 3:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FAQ
Question: How much does a home vac-machine cost to make?

Answer: Depends on how much you can do your self, finding second hand or junk raw materials etc. For my MKIV machine, I think my total cost, including MDF, boards, Hardi-backer, a new shop vac and the nichrome wire was about $250. Most of that cost can be reduced, but you will still need the Nichrome wire and ceramic posts.

www.tk560.com/vactable4.html details my construction.
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jegner
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Location: Texas, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 3:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FAQ

Question: Is there a list of suppliers and materials for making your own vaccum form machine?

Answer: Each machine is different, and can be as simple as a board, with a hole cut in it, some window screen frames, and a shop vac. For purposes of this FAQ, the list of suppliers and materials to make your own Thurston James vac-forming machine looks like this:

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drcrash
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Joined: 04 Sep 2006
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Location: Austin, Texas

PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:24 pm    Post subject: vacuum formers on the cheap Reply with quote

jegner wrote:
FAQ
Question: How much does a home vac-machine cost to make?

Answer: Depends on how much you can do your self, finding second hand or junk raw materials etc. For my MKIV machine, I think my total cost, including MDF, boards, Hardi-backer, a new shop vac and the nichrome wire was about $250. Most of that cost can be reduced, but you will still need the Nichrome wire and ceramic posts.


Elaborating a bit on the second hand and scrimping business...

You don't need a shop vac. Any high-amp vacuum cleaner is likely to pull as hard. (Shop vacs used to be more powerful than household vacuum cleaners, but these days the more powerful household cleaners pull just as hard. The limitation is the wattage that fits comfortably on a typical household circuit.) You can find any number of good canister vacuum cleaners for $5 each at the Goodwill Outlet Store (a.k.a. Blue Hanger Store). They don't always have all their attachments, etc., but you don't need those. That should save tens of dollars right there.

(For more info on picking a good cheap vacuum cleaner, including how to actually test how hard they pull with a piece of craft foam, see my Draft of Chapter 2: http://www.tk560.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=466 )

I bought a new shop vac for vacuum forming, and ditched it when I discovered that my 1000-watt Shark hand vac actually pulled a little harder. And it's tiny, with plenty of CFMs for my small formers. A more powerful, full-sized canister vac can keep up with a shop vac CFM-wise, as well as pulling hard.

You also don't need the ceramic insulators for the Hardibacker 500 oven, because the Hardibacker itself is a fine electrical insulator. I'm using $10 worth of cotter pins and small washers instead, with little loops of stainless wire to connect the nicrome coil to the heads of the cotter pins. (You do need to put something across the back of the board, to keep fingers and things out, because the cotter pins are electrically live. But that's way cheaper than the ceramic insulators from infraredheaters.com.) That should shave tens more dollars off the price.

If you do want ceramic insulators---and you do need them for a metal-lined oven---you can find some cheap at the Goodwill Outlet store. They sell old waffle irons with nichrome coils for $2 each, and they each have about 24 ceramic insulators holding the coils in place, plus 4 pass-through post insulators. A couple of old waffle irons, and you're in business for $4. (These aren't donuts or posts though; you need to mount them in holes in sheet metal, or with some notched metal strips kludged up just for mounting them.)

You can save on nichrome from infraredheaters.com by buying somebody's extra---$30 is more than enough for two 2 x 2 ovens---or by selling off your extra to the next person who asks. The nichrome shouldn't cost more than $15 that way. If you need nichrome, ask around here (on tk560.com) before buying. If you have extra, let people know. Half a 10-foot piece of coiled nichrome fits in a sandwich bag and doesn't cost much to ship, so you can save almost half the nichrome price that way.

---

If you need small former, for things like masks or something comparable, you can make one that uses your kitchen oven for $20 or $30, in about an hour not counting a trip to the home improvement store and an office supply store. (See Draft ch. 2 link above.)

If you want a pretty good standalone oven for plastic up to 12 x 20, you can make one from a two-burner electric hot plate and some disposable aluminum pans for about $30: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=621858

For slightly more, you can get a $30 portable electric grill from Wal Mart and make a nice little over-and-under similar to Ralis Kahn's. With a couple of easy hacks to even out the heat, you can make a nice over-and-under oven on stilts for about $50.
http://www.tk560.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=390&highlight=overandunder

If you want a light-duty high vacuum system for a small former, you can make one using a $20 tire inflator pump and a $20 Wal-Mart air carry tank, for a total of about $60.

http://www.tk560.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=424
http://www.instructables.com/id/E791HNXF23Z39P6/

Better yet, find a tire inflator, or a nebulizer pump, or a Food Saver at the Goodwill Outlet for $2, and use that as a vacuum pump, so you can make a high vacuum system for under $50.

Such little pumps won't give you a two-minute turn around time, and won't last forever, but one should get you going and keep you going for a while---until you find another one, or find a good deal on a "real" vacuum pump on eBay.

You can also find various electric grills, waffle irons, and hotplates suitable for making a small former, for $2 each, at the Blue Hanger. (On any given visit, you're likely to find at least one of those things, and often several.)

So for less than $30 you can get going vacuum forming thin plastic, and for about $100 you can make a fairly kick-ass standalone vacuum former for small stuff, with high vacuum that lets you form thick plastic parts like a pro. (I've made stuff out of 1/4" hard plastic that you can stand on without bending it noticeably, much less breaking it.)

---

As Jim says, you can find almost everything you need for a vacuum former at Home Depot or Lowe's, and the rest at infraredheaters or McMaster. If you're in a hurry and have money, go for it.

If you want to save a little more money, and keep some stuff out of the waste stream, there are other places to look.

The best places I've found for finding vacuum former parts, and a lot of parts for other stuff, are:

(1) The Blue Hanger Store (Goodwill Outlet). If you keep going there, half the stuff you're looking for is likely to show up eventually, at an incredibly low price. Unfortunately it's hard to tell which half. The stock mostly turns over every couple of days---whatever they don't sell mostly goes to the dump---so if you go a couple of times a week for a few weeks, you can find a lot of usable stuff.

(2) The Habitat For Humanity ReStore, where they sell stuff salvaged from deconstructing houses, to raise money to build houses. They also sell new stuff that's donated. If you're looking for wires, switches, switchboxes, switchplates, crimp-on electrical connectors, pipes, plumbing fittings, windowscreens, various aluminum things, ovens, ranges, lumber, nuts and bolts, etc... they likely have something you can use for what you're doing, in good condition or new, for a quarter to half the price at a home improvement store. (Even less for the obscure stuff. I think I paid a couple of dollars for a sheet of Hardibacker 500.) If there's one near you, definitely check it out.

(3) If you have a local Craig's List or Freecycle list, check that out. People give all kinds of stuff away---notably hot water heaters---on Freecycle and the "free" list on Craig's List. You can also ask if anybody has something you're looking for that they'll give you. (Or on the non-free area of Craig's List, sell to you cheap.) That's also where I found my little Sunbeam portable grill, for about $15, before they started selling similar ones at Wal-Mart again for $30.

(4) eBay, of course. To get a good deal, it sometimes helps to know more about the stuff than the people selling it. For example, my Thomas oilless piston pumps were labeled "compressor motors," but I recognized them as Thomas Wob-L oilless rocking piston pumps, which work equally well as vacuum pumps. So I got great little vac pumps, never used, for $20 each (plus $20 shipping, unfortunately). Do some homework and be a little patient, and you'll likely get a better deal.

(5) A metal salvage yard, if you have a nice one near by. Mine lets me wander around the place pretty freely, even though they're not really supposed to. (It helps to wear sturdy boots and your own hardhat--$2 at the Blue Hanger--and look like you know what you're doing.) You can get great aluminum & stainless stuff for the price of the metal as scrap, by the pound. I've gotten some nice welded aluminum frames, aluminum tubing & corner braces, an aluminum propane tank and a big fire extinguisher tank, metal cases, etc., etc. I've passed up a bunch of other stuff that almost makes me cry to know it'll just get shredded and melted down. (I couldn't think of a use for the brain surgery tool set, but you never know when you'll need a big cranial screw.)

(6) Harbor Freight, for cheap ball valves and hose fittings, and some other tools. Most stuff at Harbor Freight---including ball valves, inexpensive multimeters and touchless infrared thermometers, crimp connectors, cotter pins, 1/4" and 3/8" hose fittings, etc.---goes on sale for a quarter to two thirds off every month or two. You can regularly get a multimeter for $3-5, and a laser-guided touchless thermometer for about $25. Amazing. Some stuff is only on sale on their web site---it's not listed in the ads, or posted in the store, but if you print out the web page with the price, and take it to the store, they'll honor it. Some stuff is only posted in the store, so if you have a local Harbor Freight, stop in when it's convenient.

(7) The wood cull rack at Home Depot or Lowe's. (Not all of them have one.) That's where they put the scraps from cutting wood for customers, and sell them off cheap. Often the scraps are sizable pieces of lumber or MDF for Real Cheap. Always check the cull rack when you stop by, if you have a regular need for MDF or lumber.

(8) The rest of Home Depot and Lowe's. Not the cheapest, but not expensive, and their prices differ randomly. If you have a list of stuff, go to both and buy each thing wherever it's cheapest.

(9) A local True Value or Ace. They'll often stock different things than Home Depot or Lowe's, even though they're smaller, and have a few things the big places don't. (My local True Value has aluminum windowscreen frame corners, and a great selection of hose and pipe fittings for my screwier experiments.)

(10) A plumbing supply store, in a pinch, if you're looking for an obscure fitting. There's one near you, if there's plumbing where you live. (You don't really need any obscure fittings, but if you want to put things together elegantly, it can be nice to have the right one fitting, rather than faking it with two from Lowe's.)

(11) Big Lots, dollar stores, etc., for miscellaneous things. (Like regular extension cords for about $1, if you want to wire each segment of a nichrome oven with a separate cord, or perforated aluminum grill toppers, or sometimes 1 lb. packages of modeling clay for $1.)

(12) McMaster Carr (www.mcmaster.com) or Grainger (www.grainger.com) for whatever you can't find anywhere else, notably a good assortment of check valves.

(13) Wal-Mart. About my least favorite place, but they have some stuff cheap, in particular the $20 7-gallon air carry tanks and $30 tabletop electric grills.
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Paul (a.k.a. Dr. Crash)

Tired of buying cheap plastic crap? Now you can make your own! www.VacuumFormerPlans.com
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