Jun 172011
 

I’ve been thinking and talking about building a vacuform table for about a decade at this point. In the period between living with my parents and owning a house, it wasn’t a practical aspiration to act on. Once my wife and I bought our house, it became a much more tangible goal. The size and quality of our basement only made it even more plausible. Still, we’ve lived in the house for about two years now and I have yet to actually build the damn thing.

That ends this weekend.

There is no intrinsic difficulty to the concept of a vacuform table. The basic idea involves heating up a sheet of plastic, and then pressing that down over molds while using a vacuum to suck the air out of the gaps. A many-holed “platen” sits between the mold and the vacuum hose, which allows high-pressure, even evacuation of the air. A very basic vacuform rig can be accomplished with a home oven, a home vacuum, and a cheaply-constructed platen.

I’m planning to be a little more grandiose than that, building an integrated unit that contains its own oven “above” the vacuform surface. Once the plastic is heated to sufficient malleability, it rides down drawer rails onto the platen, and the attached vacuum does the rest of the work. Hit the links for a pretty close approximation of what I’m planning to build.

I’m specifically not planning to finish building it this weekend; just to start. If I finish, great, but I’m trying to set realistic goals. Just getting all of the parts together will be a victory, and probably build enough momentum to see the project through to completion.

I’ll try to document as much of the construction process as I can, and put it up here as a Page, for those interested in making one of their own, or just seeing how I did mine.

Jan 032011
 

I saw a lot of people glad to be done with 2010. The general feeling seems to have been that 2010 was a less-than-satisfactory year. For my part, I’m inclined to disagree: in March, I got a new job at an awesome company working with awesome people on an awesome project; in July, my groomsmen took me to Atlantic City; in August, I got married and then went on my very first cruise; in October, Cody and I went as a very convincing Rose and the 10th Doctor for Halloween; in November, my parents finally came down to Maryland for Thanksgiving; December featured one of our best New Year’s Eve parties ever.

So, y’know, go 2010. May 2011 be as good or better.

To that end as is custom this time of year, I have a list of goals that I’m planning to work toward this year. They’re not “resolutions” and they’re not carved in stone; either notion is folly. But they’re things I care about and want to get better at, which I think carries more weight.

  • Devote some time each evening to writing or playing guitar. The main thing here is taking care of my “daily chores” in WoW, and then setting it aside while I spend some time doing either of the above activities. Once I’ve put some good effort in toward either, I’ll allow myself to go back to playing more WoW. I love my WoW hobby, but I can’t continue neglecting my others!
  • Get better about watching my diet again. I’ve slipped a bit since the wedding, which is probably entirely unsurprising to anyone who’s gotten married. I haven’t backslid irrevocably or anything drastic, but it’s noticeable enough to me that I want to do something about it. So, I plan to. Having a Droid will, I hope, make keeping track of my food intake a little easier.
  • Finish unpacking the house. This includes getting some additional furniture (bookshelves) and also tidying up the pantry shelves so that we can actually start making use of the damn thing.
  • Build the vacuform machine I’m always talking about. I intend to for Halloween to be very interesting this year.

That seems like an ambitious-enough list to start with.

Oct 082010
 

I had this whole plan for what to write about today that congealed as I drove to work. It vanished when I actually sat down to write it.

Yesterday marked Cody’s and my second month as a married couple. So far, so good! It seems a little silly to celebrate these milestones, given the four-closing-on-five years we’ve been together. The relationship is solid, we love each other just as much (if not more) now than we did when everything was exciting and new, we live together well, etc. It still feels like an achievement anyway. Marriage! It’s this big, important word that, for us, represented no functional change in our relationship toward one another that nevertheless bestowed a reaffirming, reinforcing strength that I didn’t even know could exist. I heartily approve.

I decided to bite the bullet and forgo worrying about writing a tailor-made web app for play-by-post Firefly-inspired Star Wars game I’ve been planning for a few months now. Instead, I went with MyBB and will adapt it as the need arises. I’ve used phpBB in the past, but it’s always felt a little clunkier than it ought to. MyBB is very smooth by comparison. This doesn’t obviate the need for a character creation web app, but it’s one less technical hurdle to starting the game than I had before. It’s been a long-standing desire of mine to play/run a Star Wars game that used an adapted version of the 7th Sea rule-set, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Play-by-post is an odd fit for such a dynamic and fluid system, but one never knows until one actually tries.

November is bearing down on us, which poses two annoying problems. The first is that Cody and I are still at a loss about a concept for Halloween costumes this year. There isn’t enough time to do anything complex1 in the time we have—next year, for sure—but even within that constraint, it’s rough. The second problem is one of time management: NaNoWriMo is going to eat my time in November, which presents something of a blockage on both the aforementioned Star Wars game as well as the heavy WoW-playing fronts. Oh, to have just six more hours each day.

Hell, I’d settle for two.

  1. Like the various costumes I’d make with a vacuform table []

Toying with ideas

 Posted by at 15:07  No Responses »
Sep 292010
 

A friend planted an idea in my head that has already started to germinate, though it may not bear this year. He made mention that if he were to make cool costumes of the kind I mentioned, rather than using vacuformed plastic, he would use carbon fiber. I didn’t even realize carbon fiber parts manufacture was something hobbyists could do. I really need to stop thinking hobbyists are so limited.

Turns out, making parts out of carbon fiber isn’t all that difficult. It involves resin, which makes me a little sad, but it can achieve results at least as nice as HIPS1. On top of that, it’s substantially stronger as a result of being a composite and, oh yeah, carbon freaking fiber. It may also end up being lighter, though even if it’s heavier, it’s strength-to-weight ratio will be leaps and bounds beyond that of a plastic part.

Evidently, you can use carbon fiber to make all sorts of stuff: aerospace parts, automotive parts, cellos, or pretty much anything else you have a mold to put it in…like a costume. The process is straight-forward, if more time-consuming than vacuforming: make a mold, apply release agent, apply resin coat, lay down first layer of carbon fiber and press into mold, lay down additional resin/carbon fiber layers as desired for added strength/thickness, allow to set, release from mold. Trim, sand, polish, and so forth to taste. Done and done.

The obvious up side is that it doesn’t require nearly as much infrastructure (i.e. building a vacuform table). The downsides are working with resin and the cost. Low-grade carbon fiber2 costs around $20/yd2. HIPS, by comparison, costs $3/yd2. What you spend in infrastructure—I figure building a vacuform table with integrated plastic heating elements will cost me $150-$200—you quickly recoup in materials costs. I’m also not factoring in the resin costs into the carbon-fiber estimate.

I like the idea, though, so I may visit it in the future for a particularly special costume3. We shall see.

  1. High-Impact Polystyrene, or the plastic one would likely use for vacuforming []
  2. I don’t need ultra-fine supermesh stuff; I’m not making airplanes. []
  3. I’m looking at you, Iron Man. []
Sep 272010
 

If you’ve been here long enough, or are the sort to read a blog’s entire archive when you stumble across it1, you may remember my this entry I posted about Halloween last year. The time is approaching once again, and once again both Cody and I are a bit at a loss for what to do. We have a fallback plan, but neither of us is very gung-ho about it and want something more interesting. I’m toying with the idea of trying to finish my Vader costume from several years ago, this time by first building a vacuforming table and constructing the various armor pieces out of plastic rather than placemats. The downside to this is that it leaves Cody in the lurch about a costume, since she has no interest in a Padmé costume2. The implications behind such a pairing are a little disconcerting, anyway.

I finally got caught up with House this weekend. I had forgotten how much I adore that show. Looking forward to tonight’s episode, especially on the heels of the last one, though I don’t know when I’ll actually watch it. Cody hasn’t caught up yet and I don’t want her to get spoiled about recent events. Olivia Wilde continues to be mind-breakingly gorgeous, but Cody is absolutely right when she points out that it’s particularly true in House. Outside of the context of the show, Olivia Wilde’s sculpted features can get a little too inhuman. Almost certainly a function of makeup.

September has been a very tough month, though not for any particular reason I can point to. Cody’s been feeling it too; the entire month has just felt frantic and busy beyond justification. You’d think that with the wedding behind us, things would have settled down. I think some of the insanity may stem from all the stuff we set aside for the wedding, or perhaps tuned-out while dealing with the wedding, which is now coming back with a vengeance. Even work has been nuts for the both of us, though. Not bad, just crazy busy. I’m hoping things will settle down a bit in October…so that the craziness of Halloween can take focus. Ugh.

Never rains, but it loves to pour.

  1. Guilty of doing that many times myself. []
  2. Can you blame her? []
Sep 172010
 

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, we do things that provoke a predictable response that we then use to galvanize further action? Yeah, that’s a little vague. Let me clarify: the other day, Scalzi posted this. For the TL;DR crowd, the short version is:

Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

I shared this article with Cody; that’s the “doing something to provoke” part. This morning, Cody asks me, “So, do you want to be a writer, or not?” Enter: “a predictable response” part. I knew, on seeing that article, she would needle me about the fact that I haven’t really exhibited much in the way of writer’s ambition since I finished the zeroth draft of the novel back in November. I’ve poked at the idea of editing it ever since, but haven’t really done much.

Anyway, this exchange dovetailed nicely with a growing urge to try to actually write something here every day, if for no other reason than to practice the work of stringing sentences together. I’ve entertained the idea of actually having a readership for this blog, and enjoy that notion. The trouble is that whole ‘building a readership’ part that has to come first. When the desired end state starts taking more time than my patience allots, I slack off on actually getting to that end state, thereby never attaining it. This has been true in my for-fun modeling (oh, Star Destroyer project, I shall one day finish you!), in the notion of getting more into costuming and crafting-type things, in learning to play guitar, drawing, and writing. It’s a bad habit and needs to die a horrible, painful death.

So, pursuant to that, I’m going to start trying to write something here every day, at least 250 meaningful words in length. Meaningful, mind you, does not get to be in the eye of the beholder!

Oct 132009
 

I love and hate Halloween.

One of my ambitions in life is to get to a point where I can make awesome costumes. Darth Vader, a stormtrooper, Iron Man, and Night Owl (with Cody as Silk Spectre) are all on my list. Halloween gives me a great excuse to make these costumes without the expense of having to go to a con to show them off.

Now that Cody and I have a house, I have a place where I could actually make some of these. Unfortunately, we’re not quite settled-in enough yet to start doing that.

This is why I hate Halloween. Every year, I get excited about making costumes. Every year, I end up with a costume I’m disappointed in—if I end up with a costume at all. The last Halloween costume I was somewhat proud of was my Kosh costume—10 years ago (which reminds me, I should put Kosh on the costume list and take a crack at doing it with fiberglass instead of paper-mâché).

Perhaps some day, I’ll start making good on these unfulfilled ambitions. I can only hope that I can provide my kids with awesome costumes so that they never have to feel this perpetual disappointment.

So, yeah. Halloween is not the most uplifting time of year for me.