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Mattel VacuForm guidance?


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Esteemed builders and crafters extraordinaire,

I've always wanted to get my hands on some sort of vacuforming machine for general hobby/crafts needs.

So I'm reaching out to see what you would all look for in a used Mattel version?  Basically advise similar to what one would give in used car shopping.

I haven't really seen any new ones by other brands that I like but am searching.

Thanks in advance.

 

Edited by aurfalien
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Be wary of eBay listings that say it hasn't been tested, so the seller doesn't know whether or not it heats up.  In all probability that means they did test it and it doesn't work.  It only takes a minute or two, and an electrical outlet, to figure that out.  Knowing it heats up would add to the value of the unit, so it's only logical to take a minute or two and plug it in.

Sometimes the (hand operated) vacuum doesn't work.  There are (or at least were) eBay sellers that offered an "upgrade kit" that included some grease to regain the seal needed to get vacuum.  You don't get a lot, but you need all of what you can get.

Don't pay stupid money for one, even if you stumble into a never-used one.  The accessories and plastic included won't be of any use for model building anyway.  Most of these didn't get much use, they only got used until the plastic sheets supplied with it ran out.  The eBay upgrade kit cost about twenty bucks as I remember, and that was a while back.  For about $100 you can get a dental lab machine (used to make trays for impressions) that will outperform the Mattel unit.

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1 hour ago, Mark said:

Be wary of eBay listings that say it hasn't been tested, so the seller doesn't know whether or not it heats up.  In all probability that means they did test it and it doesn't work.  It only takes a minute or two, and an electrical outlet, to figure that out.  Knowing it heats up would add to the value of the unit, so it's only logical to take a minute or two and plug it in.

Sometimes the (hand operated) vacuum doesn't work.  There are (or at least were) eBay sellers that offered an "upgrade kit" that included some grease to regain the seal needed to get vacuum.  You don't get a lot, but you need all of what you can get.

Don't pay stupid money for one, even if you stumble into a never-used one.  The accessories and plastic included won't be of any use for model building anyway.  Most of these didn't get much use, they only got used until the plastic sheets supplied with it ran out.  The eBay upgrade kit cost about twenty bucks as I remember, and that was a while back.  For about $100 you can get a dental lab machine (used to make trays for impressions) that will outperform the Mattel unit.

Wow, thank you kindly Mark, great advise.

I did see a dental grade unit on Amazon for ~$130 but will look else where for variety.  It's largest complaint was filament heat up time but it's not like I'm cranking out parts for distribution or anything.

Thanks again.

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Micro-Mark sells them also.  I bought one some time ago and have used it several times.  Biggest challenge with them is the size of the clear plastic they supply.  It's short a couple of inches to be able to take advantage of the full sheet of stock.  I found a supplier of clear material outside of M-M that sells pre-cut sheets that fit perfectly and at a much cheaper price.  The unit M-M sells is a dental style unit and works pretty well.

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The dental unit uses 5" x 5" sheets.  You might be able to find a plastic supplier locally, and buy sheets up to 4' x 8'.  You can get plastic sheets on eBay, and probably Amazon too.  .020" and thinner can be shipped rolled up in a cardboard tube.  Get a razor knife/"carpet cutter" and a long straightedge, and you're in business.

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If you have a dental unit, the 4"x 8" sheets aren't going to work.

Here is the link for the Vac-U-Form upgrade parts . You can also check ebay for the clear sheets. If the hand pump isn't providing enough vacuum, you can attach a vacuum cleaner hose to the tube at the bottom of the machine.

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15 minutes ago, SfanGoch said:

If you have a dental unit, the 4"x 8" sheets aren't going to work.

He said 4 by 8 foot sheets. :blink: I know they exist--I used to have to buy them for work two jobs ago. We used them to make patterns. I carefully kept all the scraps, which were going in the trash, and I now have a lifetime supply of Vacuform plastic. :lol:

If you use at least .020-.025" plastic, it doesn't need the holes around the edges to work. .030" works even better. 

The Vacuform is great for making model airplane canopies, and also sometimes airplane "sheet metal." In Model Car World, it's useful mainly for windshields, but you can sometimes do hoods and trunk lids if that's what you need. Also good for hood scoops, bubbles, teardrops, and so forth. 

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I have a few  vac form machines. The first one I made. About 6 inch square unit. LOTS of plans on the net....make it for $20-35 works well. 

I use it about once a year.....the only thing it does well in my opinion is windshields.  'Parts' are to soft in details and hard to trim/fit. 

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.020" is available in rolls also, it's a matter of how much of the stuff you want and how much room you have to store it.

I used to sell hoods and conversion parts.  I didn't produce them, I had them run by a company that made packaging for commercial products.  That shop (at the time, not sure about now) made the blister packs for McGard wheel locks.  They had a huge machine (plenty of vacuum and heat, much more than a home unit) and used .020" sheet styrene by the roll.  They'd stick my molds on the side of other jobs, in areas that would otherwise go to waste.  My stuff would be in the cutoff area, after they ran off a job they'd pile it up and the owner of the company would give me a call.  I then had to cut everything out of the sheet and package them.

Molds were made of two-part epoxy.  The guy who ran the parts sold me a can of the stuff.  I'd make one master out of kit parts, putty, etc.  and he'd stick it in the machine before it got hot enough to damage the master and run me a few.  I'd then put the epoxy into those, however many molds I wanted (usually just one), and then work on the epoxy molds.  Those were epoxied to a wooden base, polished, and drilled with small gauge drills through the epoxy and wood so the plastic would pull down in critical areas.  Later I made the molds in reverse by pouring the epoxy over the master, like making RTV molds for resin casting.  I had it figured out to where I made masters for the upper and lower sides of a hood, and the finished pieces fit together when trimmed.

In the reverse molds, when the machine really heated up, the details came out pretty sharp, in some cases as sharp as a molded piece.  It would pick up detail from the drilled holes (they would show up as tiny bumps on the part) and even sanding scratches in the waste areas.  Remembering how good the industrial machine was made me give up on the Mattel unit pretty quickly, even after adding the upgrades.  There is just no comparison between the two.

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Wow, this thread multiplied over night, cool.

I've decided to go with a solution a bit more versatile which uses my Shop Vac and oven.

Less working parts to break as those will work for a very long time.  It's 12"x12" with an adapter in the background (6"x6"?).

vacuuform.jpg

 

* The unit pictured is by Pedro on Etsy.  After some perusing, I believe his to be the best for this sort of approach.

Edited by aurfalien
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I've thought about building one too (should work with a floodlight to heat the plastic) but the 5" x 5" dental unit should do for anything I might want.  Anything larger that I'm thinking about can (and likely should) be broken down into smaller pieces anyway.  Lately I'm revisiting things from the past, this will be one of them.

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I'll add my two cents, The problem with the VacuForm is the moving of the heated plastic over to the vacuum is done at angle where it can cause molds to move and thick and thin sided projects. Used mine for emergency lighting lenses and rear aerial tractor blisters at drivers compartment.

greg  

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