Molding 101: Preserving Your Creation

Case molding as one example of the many different ways of preserving your masterpiece through molding

Molding 101: Preserving Your Creation


You may not realize this, but we deal with simple molding all the time in our daily lives, including the ice we put in our drinks which each piece of ice has been molded from the tray’s shape the water took as it was being frozen or to the cup cakes we eat that have been formed as the cake batter rose and fluffed in the oven inside it’s paper cup.

The mold process has been throughout history in human civilization with ancient weapons making when molten bronze was pored in a hollowed out sword shape out of stone; and even nature has produced some amazing natural molds with fossils embedded in rocks of extinct plants and animals.

Making a mold of your sculpture or object you need for your next project is the best way to preserve what you’ve captured and a way to be able to rapidly produce several pieces you need repeated multiple times over (i.e. scales, horns, spikes, or fake bullets).

I’ve used it as a way to be able to make armor out of a different/lighter material than what real metal armor would be or even to make what I need stronger and more durable than foam would be.  And if any piece of a finished armor build breaks or doesn’t last, I have a mold to make another one without re-sculpting it.

Poor Molding 

Poor mold for Borg Glove by Damaris Degen of Mystique’s world of Cosplay

Poor molding can be one of the fastest and easiest ways of making molds of your artwork or object you need mass produced. Typically the material used as the mold substrate is a liquid rubber such as silicone and/or a urethane based rubber.  The liquid rubber starts off runny and by adding and mixing a said amount of catalyst or hardener is what makes it eventually become hardened flexible rubber.

The decision to make a poor mold is based on how simple and or symmetrical the shape of what it is your trying to mold is.  For instance, if it has a flat surface to it and isn’t too tall or complex, glue it to a board, build some dam walls around it, spray mold release on the piece and then poor the mold.

A poor mold can be a little more complicated as a two part mold, meaning there is two halves to it as the piece to be molded is shaped and detailed all around as you’ll see in the galleries below. There you’ll find some tools and knives that I’ve made molds of for movie props made to be safer for stunt use.

The advantage with a rubber type mold is the flexibility to facilitate releasing a finished piece out and the incredible amount of detail it accurately captures after hardening.  There is always the pesky air bubbles, however, that manages to find its way to hinder the process which I’ll be addressing a little later down the article.

Tools and Materials Typically Needed for Poor Molding

Brush Molding

Brush molding is for those projects that are just too big, round or uneven

Silicone brush mold for Skull Knight arm armor

shaped to be considered for a poor mold; whereas it would take way too much liquid rubber to complete a mold that was pored.  Brush mold becomes smarter and more cost effective because of the control you have on where exactly the rubber goes and how thick.

There is one extra important step when building a brush mold where after the final layer of rubber is applied and hardened, and that is to make a hard (typically fiberglass) layer to the outside or on top of the last keyed rubber layer at the end to help hold/cradle the rubber to shape when the mold is empty.  This is called a mother mold.

Tools and Materials Typically Needed for Brush Molding 

Along with the tools used for poor molding, brush molding will add:

  • several disposable boar bristle chip brushes various sizes depending on scope of job – single use as each brush will harden as well
  • thickening agent for liquid rubber to help keep rubber in desired place and thickness to hinder drooping and “runny”
  • pre-made rubber keys to be added to last layer to help lock mother mold in place

It usually takes a minimum of three layers of brushed on mold material to acquire desired thickness.  The first layer is brushed on as a skim coat without any thickening agent added so the thin material can get into any fine detail easily.  The second, third, and any other layer has the added thickening agent mixed into the rubber to help hold the substrate in place without running off the piece.

Above, in the list, I mentioned keys to be apart of the last step in the liquid rubber phase of the mold.  Keys are a button, or knob shaped mini protrusion from the mold to help locate exactly how the mother mold will fit every time the rubber is placed back into it’s cradle of the mother mold to define the shape as an empty mold.

keys are also a term used for a channel, button, or knob that will be part of the break wall if the mold is separated into two halves or more to help relocate exactly how the mold will fit back together again.  The better the key system the less seam work to do on the casting.

Case Molding

Case molding is a more complicated way to make a mold, but done right will save on rubber material and give you better quality pulls with less finish work to the final casting.  If done properly, it may preserve the mold longer and you can get more pieces out of it.  It’s more complicated because of the many extra steps that are needed to complete the mold.

This type of molding has you working backwards a little where you actually finish the mother mold or outer shell first before any silicone is pored.  Since this is just an introduction, I’ll just do a quick list of steps that are involved in making a case mold.  I fully intend on doing a complete tutorial on how to make a successful case mold in the near future…but for now here’s a rundown:

  •  Most important is make sure the original sculpture is fastened to the surface (pre-determined board) and NEVER MOVES THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PROCESS.
  • Protect the sculpture with plastic wrap/foil to help keep any clay residue from getting on the sculpture.  If the sculpture is made of clay, be careful not to press hard against it as you work on the mold so you don’t damage any detail.  I usually spray a couple layers of high gloss clear over the sculpture to help give it a “candy coating” mini shell for added protection and smoother surface that will show up in the casting.
  • Wrap the protected sculpture with at least a 3/8 inch thick layer of modeling clay including any keys that will be represented and any poor funnels at the top.  Also, if the mold will be a two part mother mold, have a dividing wall with it’s own type of keys represented along the split point of the piece.  (see pics below)
  • Cover the board and clay with wax or a good mold release.
  • Lay up the first half (or all if only one full shell needed) of the mother mold over top of the clay as a medium to thick layer of fiberglass or desired hard strong substrate and allow to harden completely. Create a flange on the board as well.
  • Lay up the second half after removing the clay or whatever you used to represent the dividing wall and waxing the first side that has hardened already creating a flange on the board as you did with the first half.
  • After the shell is done and you’ve waited a good while for the mother mold to cure completely, drill some registration holes and screw the hard flange of the mother mold to the board the whole mold is built on.  This step is VERY important so you know exactly how to put this shell back over the sculpture without any of the 3/8 inch thick clay added earlier.
  • Remove the mother mold and then remove the 3/8 inch thick clay that was added earlier.  This clay was there to represent the shape and space the liquid rubber was going to take up during the poring process.
  • Before placing the shell back over the sculpture, drill tiny (1/16″) holes in several strategic spots on the mother mold as vents, so you can see the liquid rubber fill and push air out through the shell.  Relocate and place the shell back over the sculpture, that hasn’t moved, and secure the mother mold down tight on the board and screw or bolt the wall flange together if it’s a two part mold.
  • Mix the liquid rubber substrate according to the specs of the product.  It is highly recommended that the liquid rubber is put through the process of removing air out that was forced in during the mixing process before poring into the mold.  This is done with a vacuum pump and chamber.  This is optional but desired for a stronger, cleaner and better mold.
  • Poor the mold material slowly and push clay over the 1/16″ holes as they begin to have the liquid substrate begin to seep out.  In fact you can use clay to cover up any areas that may not have been well secured to prevent loss of mold material.
  • After the mold is filled to at least half way up the funnel spout, wait a full 24 hours or however long the product specs suggests for curing time before demolding everything.
  • Take it all apart and you may have to cut a sizable slit along any inconspicuous areas (the back) of the rubber to help remove it from the original sculpture.  Don’t worry about the cutting as the rubber will relocate exactly where it needs to be with only a minor line showing as it sits back in the mother mold.  Easy clean-up or finishing on the casting.
  • Now that you have a mold you shouldn’t have to worry about saving the sculpture unless it was a hard sculpt that could withstand the demolding process.  Cast your pieces however you’d like (i.e. fiberglass, roto-cast resin, etc…)

Hard Molds

Skull Knight shield hard mold, gel-coat and fiberglass

Hard molds, if cared for properly, can last a long time and withstand several more parts pulled out of the stiffer and stronger mold then it’s counter part as a flexible rubber mold.  The rubber will break down over time, whereas the hard mold could last as long or longer then the maker attends it to.

My personal choice of material and kind of hard mold is the fiberglass mold.  My experience has led me to believe the fiberglass mold is the most versatile and more widely used type of hard mold to be had.  It’s strength, when thick enough, is uncanny and has countless uses and sizes for differing mold applications.

One famous type of fiberglass hard mold is with the manufacturing of medium and large boat hull fabrication.  The hard mold will always keep its shape with minimal shrinkage and will last multiple parts pulled without losing any integrity if a consistent release agent is used each time.

One very important factor to be taken into account when deciding on a hard mold is that the sculpture or piece to be molded CANNOT have any undercuts or difficult shapes that fold over to create a “lock” making it impossible to demold a rigid piece from the hard mold, as the two (mold and plug) lock together.

Tools and Materials Needed for a Fiberglass Hard Mold

See pictures below for examples of fiberglass hard molds I’ve made in the past.

Plaster Molds

Brush molding plaster of a clay sculpture

Plaster molds combine both the brush molding technique with the characteristic of a hard mold.  It can also be pored as well, but most of my experience has been to brush mold to control air bubbles on the detailed surface for quality assurance.

Plaster molds are excellent for casting non-rigid materials in, like latex for mask making.  The detail the plaster mold captures is remarkable and therefore transfers onto the casting for an amazing end product.

Tools and Materials Typically Used for Plaster Molds
  • Gypsum cement – i.e. UltraCal 30 or Hydrocal (white cement)
  • water
  • large mixing containers
  • rubber gloves
  • burlap or long fiberglass strands – mixed in last layer for reinforcing and strengthening cement
  • disposable boar bristle chip brushes
  • large oven for baking finished mold to expel excess moisture
  • safety glasses

Vacuum Forming

Vacuum forming example

Vacuum forming is probably the least type of method used for mass production at home since it requires a system and/or machine that just isn’t economical or reasonable for personal use.  However, if I had the room and funds, it would be a top ten purchase for me as I would invent uses just to have one–cause it is a fun thing to do.

Vacuum forming is, as it says, forming a sheet of a thin plastic type of material over an object of desired shape by use of heat and suction.  The simpler the shape with no undercuts or “locks” the better.  So, I would say that this type of molding is opposite of what one is used to, as the part to be kept from the mold is made on the outside of the plug.  More like taking a skin from the shape that is desired.

The first thing that comes to my mind as a popular use for vacuum forming is with clone trooper armor and storm trooper armor.  And my own experience with vacuum forming is when I had to make lenses for the Viper helmets I was making during my time with commission work.

Quickie, “Down and Dirty”, Simple and Cheap

I confess that I’ve used this method more times than I’ve should, but it’s just as effective with results and gets the job done with little cost at all.  You can call this the disposable mold method, where the mold is just a one time use only.

The disposable mold type I’ve used the most is the “press” method.  The press method is when you push a shape into clay and make an impression of the object you use to create the desired negative…(i.e. bolt head, half round, etc).  You can press the shape as many times as you want side by side and produce a gang mold of several of the same shape if you need many castings of the same thing.

A good tip to know also, as a cheap simple method, is the use of clear silicone caulking as a substitute molding substrate.  All you need to do to speed up the hardening is a shallow bucket of soapy water and inject the desired amount of caulk in it and mix it up in the water and apply quickly to the plug or piece to be molded–mold is done, add mother mold if needed.  I’ve even used this method as a casting material for a fake, soft rubbery brain that I made using a pre-made jello mold.

I know there are other mold types I haven’t discussed here, but these are the most popular and the ones that I’ve used the most–so I hope you can take advantage of these methods and stay posted as I will do more detailed and elaborate instructions for each type in the Tutorials section here on my website.  Thanks for hanging out…so until next time, happy crafting!

Becoming The Man Of Steel

Side by side comparison of Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel vs my Cosplay

Becoming The Man Of Steel


So it took me long enough (about ten years) of being a cosmaker for other people, to then converting my skills to do actual cosplays for myself, and I’m excited to do one of my favorite comic book characters as one of my firsts.  I loved the newer Superman design that has been portrayed since the 2013 release of The Man of Steel with Henry Cavill as Superman.  The colors, the chainmail texture, the metallic muscle shading undertone and the “no external underwear” appearance.

Now I know I just said applying my skills, but I’m here to tell you I was just introduced to the other side of cosplaying that doesn’t involve the armor building I’ve been accustomed to.  The different techniques were in changing my appearance drastically with body building, growing my hair out, changing my hair color and removing the gray, shaving off my goatee, filling in my eyebrows, anti-wrinkle cream, and the list goes on…

Once I decided to make it happen, the research on the best suit that I liked was on the hunt.  Since I have no experience with textiles and sewing, this would be a costume that I would have custom made to my size.  And the best Super suit in my opinion is from YoungKnight Props Studio.

Receiving The Super-suit

Measuring chart for custom suit fabrication

After contacting the maker of the suit, they e-mailed me a list of instructions on what they needed from me (besides the money of course) before they would start the suit. One option was if I were to get a muscle suit to be underneath the super-suit. I opted out of this because the cost of adding a muscle suit was nearly doubling the cost for the whole job. It would have been worth it, but I couldn’t afford it at the time and I’ve seen some examples without the muscle suit that looked really good as well.

The most important thing I had to do was measure my body specifically according to a measuring chart they provided in the email. I was to give measurements in centimeters which gave me the clue this costume would be coming from overseas.  I also had to provide how long the cape needed to be to end at my ankles from the base of the back of the neck.

The waiting time for arrival was promised at 6-8 weeks, but it took a little longer since I ordered the suit to arrive before Halloween.  I understood the delay completely since this is the busiest time of year for any costume maker.

Unpacking the super suit from YoungKnight Props Studio

Christmas came early for me as I received the suit on a Monday the day before Halloween. So the suit did come right before Halloween, but I knew there was a lot of work to do before it can be worn complete. All the trim/armor pieces made of urethane were to be superglued to the suit and it had to be done as I was wearing the suit since I don’t have a mannequin of myself, yet. (I fully intend to make one for myself for future cosplays).

I recruited my friend Dave (Thanks Dave!) to glue down most of the trim pieces that I couldn’t reach. Since I didn’t get the muscle suit, the trim pieces were from a mold of a muscle suited costume and, therefore, were too big for my body so the pieces were strategically cut to fit.  There was an important, specific process recommended to do when supergluing the urethane pieces on.  The parts and suit where the piece would be laid had to be primed first with this and then glued down with this.

The suit did not come with a hard under sole for my feet, so I had to provide my own foot protection for walking around in wearing the costume.  I chose a size 12 woman’s thin sandals to be cut apart for the sole.  Since I wear a size 13, a woman’s 12 would stay hidden or undetected under my foot after painting it red.  The red paint I used was Rustoleum Sunrise Red gloss spray paint.  It’s important to note that the surface that was to be glued was masked off so as to not have the paint cover any of the area where the adhesive was applied.

The cape was probably the easiest thing to attach as all I did was locate the proper placement of the cape to the suit and added a Velcro system.  The Velcro on the suit was superglued the same way as the urethane trim pieces and the corresponding Velcro piece was hot glued to the cape material.

Changing My  Normal Appearance

As I am getting up there in age, and I’ve always kept my hair buzzed cut and maintained a goatee, just putting on the Man of Steel Super-suit wouldn’t pass as a recognizable Superman.  So I made some drastic changes to pull off a successful, but far from perfect cosplay.  This was a six month process as I had to grow my hair out and work out regularly to get in shape and lose some weight.

As it came time to don the suit and do a photoshoot I had planned with Vicarious Cosplay for my write up on her  in the Featured Cosplayers section to this site, here’s a list of extra things I did for my appearance:

  • coloring my hair to remove the aging gray evidence with product Just For Men dark brown.
  • getting my hair styled similar to the film’s (my hair still wasn’t long enough, though)
  • filling in empty (or bald) spots on my head with the product Toppik  dark brown
  • adding styling gel to hold my hair in place
  • shaving off my goatee
  • filling and coloring  my eyebrows with Maybeline mascara
  • temporarily eliminating my wrinkles with the product Plexaderm
  • Sucking in my gut, raising my ears and swallowing as a photo was being taken to reduce any sign of the droopy aging process…lol

These pictures were taken just 3 weeks apart from eachother

The Man of Steel Photoshoot with Photographer BriLan Imagery

Taking The Man of Steel to Holiday Matsuri 2018

Fun comparison to comic book where Poison Ivy successfully seduces Superman; picture taken at Holiday Matsuri 2018 with the amazing Alyson Tabbitha

Soon after the photoshoot with Vicarious Cosplay I got the chance to debut and test out my Super-suit at Holiday Matsuri 2018 at the Orlando World Marriot Center and I had an amazing time. This became one of my favorite cons I’ve ever been to because of the excitement of the people, the many terrific cosplays there and the Holiday atmosphere cause it’s no secret I love Christmas! The Hotel was decked out perfect for the season and parking was a breeze. Maybe parking was easy because I went early on the first day, Friday, but the line to receive an entry pass was incredibly long…even if one pre-paid.

I met so many incredible people and Cosplayers there and took several pictures to preserve the memories.  I particularly tried to find DC Cosplayers to have my picture taken along side for a fun instant collaboration.  My biggest highlight was meeting the great and sweet Alyson Tabbitha as she was a special guest invited to be there.  In fact my primary reason for a Friday appearance was because Alyson was showing up that day in her epic Cosplay of Uma Thurman‘s Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin.  I had a plan to have her help me re-create a theme from the Superman comics where Poison Ivy actually seduces Superman for awhile.  She truly is a wonderful person to her fans and all those who want to meet her!  I, of course, sounded and acted like a nervous goofball when it was my turn to get a picture with her.  Perhaps one day I’ll get the opportunity to do an interview with her here for my Featured Cosplayers page.

One drawback to this costume, especially if I’m alone as I was at Holmat with no handler or friend, is that the zipper is in the back to get in and out of the suit, and it’s tight and form fitting, so if I need to use the restroom I would need help.  I anticipated this as I stayed away from beverages until half way through the day and didn’t eat anything until I was ready to leave.  I also preemptively took some immodium pills just incase (if you know what I mean…lol)

Soon I will be taking my suit to do an outdoor photoshoot to include action shots and recognizable poses from the comics and movies.  As soon as this happens and I get the pictures back I’ll be posting a gallery of photos here, so stay tuned and thanks for reading.

The Man of Steel Outdoor Photoshoot by Photographer Melissa Blyth

Steampunk Gauntlet on a Budget Tutorial

Finished glove with rub-n-buff colored gears add ons

Steampunk Gauntlet on a Budget Tutorial


List of Materials
  1. A pair of welding gloves (preferably used) where you’ll only be using one of them.
  2. Leather dye Drk brown
  3. Faux leather material 1/2 yard
  4. Thin gauge copper sheet that can be cut with scissors
  5. Paper fasteners package
  6. Choice of add ons (gears, gauges, fan blades, etc….)
  7. Rub-n-buff metallic rub on wax
Tools Used
  1. Scissors
  2. Exacto knife
  3. Tape measure
  4. Hot glue gun
  5. Hot glue sticks
Procedure
  1. Used welding glove to be leather dyed

    To keep the project on a strict budget, it helps to have found a pair of welding or thick barbeque gloves that are used already.  If you don’t have a pair, try finding some at a thrift store and/or garage sale.

    Depending on the color the glove is, you may have to dye it a color that will help blend in with a steampunk look.  I used dark brown to mask the blue that I started with.  Follow directions on the dye bottle.  It took three coats for my glove.

  2. Dyed leather glove with accessories to be added

    I was ambitious and thought I would fit everything on the glove you see in the photo, but once I saw it come together, I was able to weed out what I really needed to make it look proper. Sometimes less is more.  Plan out what you want to use ahead of time and it’s okay to have a lot in mind to start with, because you can always decide otherwise.

  3. Sections fabricated separately

    To make this glove look more the part as a mechanical gauntlet, you’ll need to cover it with as much of the copper sheeting and fake rivets (paper fasteners) as possible.  What made this a simple and effective build was making each section separately and then adding them on after.  The simplicity was with not having to go through the thick glove with stitching, cutting, poking, or threading to the inside.

    Measure how big of an individual section you want to address first and either mark the faux leather or cut a pattern and then transfer onto the faux leather the shape to be cut out.  Cut it out of the material.

    Next you’ll want to take the same shape of the copper sheeting, but smaller so the faux leather material has a boarder of 1/8″-1/4″ appearing behind the copper sheeting.  You should have a thin enough gauge copper to be able to use scissors for cutting.

    Center cut shape of copper sheeting over top of the faux leather material and plan, mark and space out where you want the rivets to appear along the boarder of the metal.  It’s not necessary to glue the metal to the material because the rivets (paper fasteners) will go through and fasten together the two shapes together, but you can if you want so the two don’t move before the process is finished.

    With the exacto blade, poke through and cut a small slit through both materials where the center of the rivet will be located. Then take a closed paper fastener and poke the shafts through the slit and then spread the shaft apart tightly against the back of the faux leather side.  Repeat for all planned rivet spots.  Try to plan the direction of where the feet of the paper fasteners will end after opening so they don’t stick out past the boarder of the faux leather material.  If that happens though the fastener’s feet are thin enough to cut out of the way.

  4. Sections added on with hot glue

    Hot glue assembled sections in place, concentrating on the edges.

  5. Begin finger wrap sections and test fit

    The fingers are a little more involved since you’ll be making many sections. Each finger has at least two “rings” or copper wraps between each knuckle.

    The same principle applies where you have a faux leather backing under copper sheeting strip with only 1/8″ boarder.  You’ll need to measure each section of each finger because the length around and distance between each knuckle changes frequently.  I did find, however, I was able to use the same measurements for some of the finger sections.  Most fingers have only two rivets except the thumb, forefinger and pinky because three sides of the finger are exposed, so I put another rivet on the side for visual stimulus.

     

    There should be at least an 1/8″ overlap where the two ends of the “ring” come together where you’ll need to poke the paper fastener through both ends (two layers of faux leather and two layers of copper sheeting).  Once you make the wrap held in place by the paper fasteners, you can slide the “ring” in place on the finger.  It’s good to have it a little loose with a gap between the glove and the wrap because once the finger is in place in the glove the space becomes filled.  I put a dab of hot glue on the underside inside any gap to hold the “ring” in place.

  6. Near completion, stiff enough to stand on its own

    Repeat step 5 until all the digits are filled.

  7. Finished glove with rub-n-buff colored gears add ons

    Add any gears, gauges, or cool steampunk related props to the glove for more esthetic purposes.  I like putting gears next to each other to give the impression that they are actually turning something.  I was able to choose gears that were compatible to my paper fasteners so they actually spin freely.

    I used Rub-N-Buff on anything that wasn’t metallic looking already which matches the steampunk theme.  Follow directions on the package.

 

Happy Crafting!  Let me know if you choose this method and comment below how you did…

Skull Knight from Berserk Manga, Armor Build, Full Tutorial

Skull Knight full costume, fiberglass

Skull Knight from Berserk Manga, Armor Build, Full Tutorial


I’ve seen some other cosplay attempts at Skull Knight and they were okay, but I’ll tell you right away here that the secret to the success of this armor build and what sells it is the form or tight fitting of the skull helmet on the head.  The others were too large because their helmets were designed to put on over the head, so it had to be large, like a motorcycle helmet so it gave a bobble head effect.  I made my helmet hinge at the top with the natural seam down the side where SK’s (Skull Knight’s) rivets show up giving a slim skull effect like the pages of the manga.

 

This post is a complete tutorial on building a full armor costume for the Berserk manga series by Kentarō Miura.  It is different than my other tutorials where, here, I tell you how I did it instead of instructing you what you should do.  I freely confess that this is the more difficult, time consuming, and more expensive way of going about it.  So I know most of you wanting to build your own may not go about it this way.  The way I chose to build it is how a production company would go about it, maybe, and gives it a higher quality with durability and control of detail.

The costume was conceived out of the Life sized bust I and @berserkstatues of skullknight.net collaborated on and produced as a collectible statue.  One of the recipients of the bust commissioned me to make the full armor costume build for him to cosplay in.  Fortunately for me I had the privilege to test fit it and cosplay myself at a few cons to get the kinks out.  Fun Times!

Skull Knight Bust from Berserk Manga

Reference from the pages of Berserk manga of Skull Knight

So I’m going to start this tutorial from the skull down since that’s how it began. I’ll update my Instagram account with posts promoting each section as I complete it. If you clicked on a link that took you here and I’m not finished, follow me if you have an Instagram profile and you’ll get updates as I complete each section. I’ll also be sharing on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Skull Helmet

Skull Knight from Berserk manga WIP clay sculpture

As a trained special effects makeup artist and prop maker I immediately knew that I was going to sculpt the skull and most of the armor out of clay first and then make molds to give me maximum control of detail and function.  Again, I know this is not the efficient and least expensive way that most cosplayers would taught about, but it is the way I know best as a professional.

I began by studying the manga and receiving a small scaled statue from Derek of @berserkstatues for reference material and made measurement conversions to life size.

To begin sculpting, I mounted a realistic looking skull prop, as an armature, on a board and began wrapping clay on it keeping some of the shape intact to help me keep defining the skull.  However, it took a lot of clay to get the scaled measurement that the armature skull detailing only helped at the beginning.  Plus, SK has defining character features, like his brow, that’s separate from a real skull.

Another recognizable aspect to SK is the spikes on his forehead, which I used a different type of clay, known as Roma #3, that is more rigid and holds detail better.  I had to wrap the clay around stiff gauged aluminum wire to maintain the spike shape and stab it into place on the clay forehead.

Once I received approval from Derek I then proceeded to the molding stage of the helmet.  I wanted to begin molding right away so I could then cast a rigid piece from the mold to use for fitting and sculpting the spiked collar, because I know I would have damaged a clay sculpture otherwise.

I carefully removed each of the nine spikes from his forehead and made a two part poor mold. (see pic below)

For the skull helmet, I decided to use my case molding skills as I believed it was the best method of molding this type of plug (original sculpture to be molded). If I haven’t done it yet, I fully intend to do another tutorial on case molding alone soon.  See pictures below for the case molding method.

 

Once the mold was finished and I removed the sculpture from the new mold, I was able to cast a rigid (fiberglass) piece to have for the spiked collar build.  A hard piece was important to keep from damaging a clay, delicate, sculpture had I used it.

I want to take a little time giving the formula I used for casting fiberglass pieces from molds.

  • First skim coat inside empty mold, 1 part polyester body filler (bondo) mixed with 1 part polyester high building sandable primer, catalyzed together with each respectable hardener.  Allow to cure until gloss sheen is replaced with a dull matte surface.
  • A putty with a pudding like consistency made of polyester fiberglass resin mixed with cabosil/aerosol micro-balloons.  WHERE A MASK WHEN MIXING!  The putty after mixing and adding methyl ethyl ketone peroxide for hardening is brushed in to smooth out the hard lined detailing of the mold to inhibit air bubbles when laying down fiberglass matte.
  • Polyester fiberglass resin catalyzed with the same methyl ethyl ketone peroxide above wetting fiberglass matte sheets and forcing it to lay over top of the inside of the mold with no air between layers.

The reason I like to use my mix of bondo/polyester primer first instead of the popular gel coat method is because once I “pop” a fresh piece from the mold  I can sand smooth any imperfections from the casting or even my sculpture if I didn’t get all my fingerprints out of the clay sculpt before molding.

Spiked Collar

I chose to sculpt the collar and spikes out of foam because most of the surface is symmetrical, smooth and the shapes could easily be captured more efficiently with foam.  See my blog post on sculpting to see the benefits and tools used for working with foam.

Even though I was able to achieve quick results with the foam, I was immediately slowed down by having to fiberglass and bondo over the foam to get the smooth, hard shell needed for molding.  Anyone who has bondoed before knows how much sanding has to be done…this took forever, it seems, bet well worth it to get the desired outcome. The spikes were to be silicone poor molded, where the collar, I chose to do a hard fiberglass mold. I only molded one of the spikes, since they are all the same.

Skull Knight life sized bust fiberglass sculpture, pre-mold, pre-paint

 

 

Introducing Trent the Mannequin

I’d like to introduce you to Trent, a main contributor to the project.  He’s slim and strong and never complains about anything, even when he’s been “taken apart at the seams…”

Trent the mannequin from Barr Display supply for Skull Knight build

Having a mannequin to build off of is probably the first thing I thought of using to be able to create this costume fully.  It was important because I could work on other parts of the costume independently from other sections while some armor parts were occupying areas of the mannequin that were being molded.  It was also nice to have someway of assembling the costume onto a subject seeing how it would look and function all together.

3D reference for sculpting armor. Art of War’s 1/10 scale Skull Knight statue

Before I show my progress on the armor any further I thought I’d give you a shot of the new reference I used for scale, shape and style for the costume.  I can’t believe the client trusted me with this VERY rare Japanese Toys R Us Exclusive. The statue was never sold directly through Art of War, which goes to show the dedication to the success of the project.

Breastplate Merger With Spiked Collar

 

Clay can get extremely heavy when building up it’s thickness for any sculpture, particularly whole body armor, so I began bulking up the mannequin armature with plastic wrap and duct tape to reduce the amount of clay I had to use.  Clay can also be quite difficult to remove as it leaves behind a smooth layer as you would try to scrape it off, especially during a hot Florida summer as the clay becomes softer and more sticky.  So a pleasant surprise I had by using plastic and duct tape first insured a clean mannequin when complete.

As you can see from the pictures above, I included the fiberglass collar as part of the breastplate and back shoulder armor to eventually be molded as one unit.  The stomach and back scale armor is part of the solid unit, but after casting it all as one out of the mold, you’ll see how I separated it all as a movable unit.

Brush molding with silicone was my choice of capturing the sculpture.  See pics below.

 

I casted the part out of fiberglass using my formula from above.

What’s nice about armor builds that may require aging and/or hammered metal look is that the surface doesn’t always need to be perfectly smooth.  Sculpting out of clay can leave fingerprints and imperfect surfaces and tool marks during the sculpting process.  This was my plight and I was able to sand a lot of it off after casting, but I purposefully left some visible for that weathered look which helped me with the paint job as well.

 

Arms and Legs Armor

Again, having a mannequin to work off of was a great advantage for me.  I was able to disassemble him and work on different parts of the costume as other parts occupied his main body.  The mannequin’s arms, for example, were small enough that I could work with the sculptures and molds on a table top for ease and comfort.

As I completed a clay sculpture section of the arms, like the forearm gauntlet, or the boot armor of the legs, I would immediately mold them and cast a solid fiberglass piece before going on to the next section of the appendage.  This was to avoid taking the chance of damaging the finished clay sculpture, had I kept going with clay all the way up.  Another words I took it one step at a time.  See various stages of the sculpting and casting below in pics.

 

Even though most sections of the armor build started off in the clay stage, I sometimes went with a different material for the original sculpture like I did for the beginning of the spiked collar build.  Another section I chose to use something other than clay first is the gauntlets for SK’s arms.  White EPS foam gave me a quick shaping, but then I foiled and fiberglassed and then bondoed the surface hard and smooth for molding.

EPS foam beginning sculpture of Skull Knight gauntlet build

The knee guards were fabricated by using generic knee guards I found at a thrift shop in the tool section. Once I had a mold for the spike coming off the back of SK’s boot, I used multiple castings of that spike for the knee guards. A mold of the completed knee guard was then made for fiberglass reproduction.

 

Sword And Shield Fabrication

Once again I took the 1/10 scaled measurements of the statue and converted it to 1:1 scale for the sword and shield in this case. Zero clay work for these parts, but after fabricating each piece I made a mold, of course, for both of them.  I had success with making only half or one side of Guts’ Dragon slayer sword and molding it so I was able to cast two parts and put them together, therefore, I repeated the same concept with Skull Knight’s sword. The hilt for the sword and the build up down the thickness of the shaft of the sword was a foam base fiberglassed and finished with bondo.  The thorns on the hilt was added with Apoxy Sculpt.  See pics below.

The shield started out as EPS foam.  Once I had the right shape and size, I glued aluminum foil with spray adhesive over the foam to protect it from the resin melting it away during the fiberglass process. After the fiberglass fully cured and hardened, I bondoed and sprayed high building polyester primer over the finished sanded bondo and sanded, sanded and sanded even more to get it perfectly smooth.  The thorny rose emblem on the center of the shield was added with Apoxy Sculpt.  The shield mold was a fiberglass hard mold instead of silicone.  I just had to wax the heck out of it and made sure there wasn’t any “locks” in the sculpture.

 

 

Fitting The Armor

I took my experience of making a complete Star Wars clonetrooper suit and applied it here with SK’s armor.  Much of the same concepts, materials and applications were used to make Skull Knight a successful cosplay.  Below is a simplified drawing of the strapping system used on both the clonetrooper and Skull Knight.

Strapping system for Skull Knight costume. Identical to Star Wars clonetrooper

The blue straps represent 1″ non-roll elastic (black).  The black straps are 1″ black webbing.  Red and yellow is for 1.5 ” heavy stretch elastic (black).  The belt made of the black 1″ webbing material is fitted with a parachute buckle and the end straps have the female portion of 5/8″ metal snaps where the male snap sections are epoxied to the cooresponding inside surface of the armor where the strap connects.  The stomach and back scale armor is worn being held up by suspenders made out of the 1″ non-roll elastic.

The spiked collar and the connected rib cage not represented her is just a slip-on over the head, resting on the shoulders with foam for comfort to inhibit the weight.

Other materials used to facilitate functional costume fabrication were as follows: super glue, Velcro, epoxie glue, cushion foam for padding, hot glue, rivets, grommets,string laces, and leather belts.

Another very important part of selling this costume is with the very first thing the cosplayer will put on before any of the armor and that is a full BLACK one piece lycra spandex bodysuit with hood and jaw cover so that any exposed body part not covered by armor appears black and unnoticed.

But first before the armor gets fitted on a real body, Trent the mannequin gets the honors of putting on the suit of armor for the first time.

 

Let The Painting Begin!

I’d like to share with you one of my favorite tricks when I go to surface armor builds before painting.  It replaces the use of primer and leaves a good hammered/weathered effect to the costume.  The product is called rubberized undercoating for automotive use.

My first step before painting any weathered armor effect.

It sprays on black with a bumpy texture and dries quickly so it doesn’t run or drip.  The adhesion is incredible and paint sticks to it as well as a good primer.  The texture is that of a hammered metal look and helps with the dry brushing step in the paint job.

 

A total of only four colors was used to achieve the finished costume (with the exception of a few more colors for the sword and shield).

  • Modern Masters Iridescent Silver (opaque formula) – First coat sprayed on over entire armor.
  • Acrylic latex Burnt Sienna and Black with a touch of the Iridescent Silver mixed with 65% water – A brushed on dark “wash” in sections immediately wiped off with cotton rag for dark recess accent appearance.
  • Acrylic latex White mixed with the Iridescent Silver – Dry brush technique accenting high points and hard line detail.

 

 

Skull Knight armor painted and test fitted

Cape And Kilt

I found a terrific drapery material at Joann Fabrics that was light and had a good texture that matched the SK model I used for reference.  It was important that I ripped and fringed the bottom of each the cape and the kilt to give it a worn, aged look.  I had to tear it and not cut, because cutting with the scissors is too obviously square cut and clean.

Both the kilt and cape were cut to size and female snaps were installed several inches apart at the top inside of the fabric and the male receiving snaps were superglued at the corresponding points inside the armor for installation.  I used thin black liquid leather dye to darken the drape fabric.

Fitting The Costume On A Person

A VERY important step when getting ready to fit the armor on a person with this particular costume, made of fiberglass, is making sure it’s clean and devoid of any sharp burrs of glass and fiberglass dust.  OUCH and ITCHY!

The Cosplayer sporting this armor has to have a handler with them.  The legs and arms are easy enough by themselves, but the collar and rib cage with attatched shoulder spiked armor has to be carefully slipped over the head.  The opening of the rib cage/spiked collar armor is large enough for the person to have put the helmet on first, but if he so chooses to wait until after slipping on the chest and shoulders, the helmet will need to be put on by the handler.  Arm reach is limited with everything on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sculpting 101: Choosing What To Use For Your Masterpiece

Berserker, Guts’ Armor clay sculpture

Sculpting 101: Choosing What To Use For Your Masterpiece


This post is an introduction to different media you can choose from to make your project.  I highlight mostly what I’ve used in the past and I’ll tell you now that there are many more different ways to “make an omelet” so I can’t say I’ve given you all the materials you can choose from.  I believe these ways are still the most popular so you will probably already have an understanding about what I’m talking about in each section.  The order of appearance down the list doesn’t reflect importance of use either.  You may also have an idea already what you want to use.

Modeling Clay

Oil based modeling clay is my preference for projects with great detail and jobs that will require molding for producing a rugged final piece.  Clay is easy to work with and you can quickly change shapes and texture with a push of your thumb.  A stiffer clay is designed for holding refined detail, where a softer clay for ease of making big shapes.  I usually go with the medium clay that has some properties of both.

If you are making a large sculpt, such as a helmet or a slender project with protrusions, an armature or structure is needed to wrap the clay around for stability.  Stability is not really needed for the large i.e. helmet sculpt, but taking up a lot of space on the inside of the mass will save on using a lot of clay.

Taking up space inside mass of large sculpt to save on clay and keep sculpt lighter in weight.

Wire armature for structure and stability.

I mentioned oil based here in the beginning because you can walk away from the sculpture for days at a time without worrying about the clay drying out or cracking like in water based clay.  My clay of choice that I use most often is Chavant NSP (non- sulfur-plasteline) medium. 

Tools needed:
  • Hands and fingers–80% of what you use on clay will be what you do with your bare hands.
  • Clay sculpting tool kit
  • Rolling pin
  • Rubber mallet
  • Various stiff sponges and rubber coarse stamps for pressing in texture detail
  • 90% isopropyl alcohol and stiff small brush for smoothing out finished sculpture

 

Super Sculpey

Various LOTR 1/8 scale trolls, last one on the right WIP Super Sculpey armor.

I’ve always known Super Sculpey to be a form of clay for statues and smaller scaled projects.  It’s advantage is after you’re done with your sculpture you bake it and it becomes hard which can be considered a finished project after painting.  It comes in several colors and if you get the beige and are sculpting a human form its color remains an almost near perfect shade of flesh after baking properly.  It also has different densities for detail sculptures.  Once baked hard you can also sand drill and tool it for further workability.

An armature applies here as well for a stable work piece.  Keep in mind you’ll be baking it so what you use has to handle the heat.  I’ve twisted aluminum foil together, with some wire, real tight as a type of armature and it works well to conduct the heat on the inside for real thick areas of Super Sculpey.

Tools needed:
  • Much of the same tools will be used here as in the modeling clay section above
  • Clay softener for Super Sculpey and small, stiff brush to smooth final details.

Aves Apoxie Sculpt

 

Aves Apoxie Sculpt is almost like duct tape with it’s many uses.  It is a two part equal mix that becomes harder to rock hard after 24 hours.  I haven’t done an entire sculpture in it yet, but I know some artists who prefer it to be the soul material for their piece.  I love it for it’s strength and workability after it hardens.  Ways that it can be used for varies from sculpting, bonding pieces together, filling in voids or holes, and even stopping leaks as it was originally designed as a plumber’s paste for water pipes.  It, like Super Sculpey above, can be sanded, carved, filed, and drilled after it becomes hard.

As you work with the material after mixing (follow directions how to mix on the containers) you’ll notice it will start to get warm from the chemical reaction, and it will feel  more and more stiff at different stages of the reaction. You’ll find you’re own preference of workability as time goes by.  It will hold detail a lot better as it gets closer and closer to becoming hard.  Simple water is used to smooth the surface.  I always have a cup of water with me while working with the stuff and continually wet my hands to prevent the material from sticking to my skin.  The Aves company recommends wearing gloves, but I personally can’t work with it wearing them.

Tools needed:
  • Much of the same tools will be used here as in the modeling clay section above
  • Water is used for smoothing substrate
  • Sand paper and files for after it becomes hard

EPS Foam

 

EPS (expandable poly styrene) or Styrofoam is another favorite of mine–except for the huge mess it leaves after carving.  If you have an extra large project to make, EPS foam is perfect because of how light and versatile it is to work with.  It can also be quite challenging as well.  You will be summoned to hone in a different set of sculpting skills than clay as with foam you’re taking material away or removing to get your shape.  Clay mostly requires you to add on and shape multiple building-up layers.  Imagine you’re Michelangelo chiseling away marble or stone from a huge slab to get a shape you see on the inside.

With foam you can cut, chop, saw, slice, chainsaw, file, sand, and even control melt/burn to achieve your desired output.  If you burn or cut foam with a hotwire or hot iron WEAR A MASK OR VENTILATOR!  The fumes are hazardous to breath in.  The advantage of being able to burn your cuts is that there is no foam bead mess.  It just melts to itself cleanly.

You’ll notice some of the pics for EPS foam above shows some examples with aluminum foil wrapping and sealing the finished foam form.  This is to protect the foam from the fiberglass resin that I coated it with to make a hard shell for molding purposes.  Foam has a few chemical enemies that immediately melt and pit the surface of the foam upon contact.

Tools needed:
  • Hand saw and/or keyhole saw
  • Utility knife, old kitchen knife, exacto blade
  • Depending on size or scope of project an electric chainsaw
  • Rasps, horse brush
  • Sandpaper coarse (40 grit) for shaping, fine (180 grit) for smooth finishing
  • Hotwire for burn cuts
  • Hot iron for large burn cuts or “hogging” out large sections

Urethane Foam

 

Urethane foam has a remarkable property that allows you to capture incredible sharp detail into your sculpture.  The cells are much closer together than in EPS foam and the beads and/or structure of the foam is finer.  This makes for easier cutting and tooling the surface.

What I love most about this type of foam is that I can polyester resin coat my finished sculpture right on top of the foam without having a protective layer as you would for Styrofoam.  Having a tough “candy coating” shell helps protect the foam sculpture for the next step in the process.  For my cylon head, I then bondoed some of the line detail back in and then sprayed it with a high building polyester sandable primer to finish him off before molding.  Here he is getting ready for the molding process after a high gloss paint job:

Smooth “candy coated” shell over urethane sculpture before molding.

Tools needed:
  • Much of the same tools are needed as with EPS Foam
  • Dust mask required because of the tiny foam dust is hazardous to breath in

 

Eva Foam and Floor Mat Foam

Floor mat foam material for Tavion Cosplay by Damaris Degen of Mystiques World of Cosplay

If you’re a serious cosplayer, you should know all about EVA foam.  It’s the most popular choice for comfort because it’s so light and soft to wear–not to mention it’s incredible properties with flexibility to take any shape over body parts and holding details cut into it.  I’ve seen some wonderful armor builds that would fool almost anybody to believe it’s real armor.

One tip I learned that I found important is know your cut.  Another words cut out templates out of card stock or cardboard first and test fit on a form or yourself somehow and then transfer the correct shape onto the foam before cutting.  You’ll save time, money and head aches.

Hot glue is my choice of glue for connecting the foam to itself, plastic, and strapping.  However, a real cool affect I’ve used for armor builds is hammering large snaps to connect layers of armor together where the exposed snap looks like armor rivets.

Floor mat foam is a similar form of EVA foam and can be treated the same way for your builds.  The picture provided here for Eva and floor mat foam is from my friend Damaris Degen of Mystique’s World of Cosplay on her build for her Star Wars Tavion Cosplay.  I suggest following her because she’s fantastic, and keeps no secrets how she does her magic.

Tools needed:
  • All sharp cutting hand tools–scissors, utility knife, breakaway blade knives
  • Cutting board or hard smooth surface, straight edge guides
  • Dremmel tool for carving in details
  • Hot glue gun with hot glue sticks
  • Heat gun for shaping foam around contours (i.e. body parts…be careful, extremely HOT or do on a mannequin)
  • Rulers, tape measures, tailor tape measure
  • Plasti-Dip spray coating for giving the foam a hard candy coat finish when complete.
  • Body forms or mannequin

PVC Pipe, Shapes and Board (Sintra)

I have the greatest success with PVC shapes and boards for jobs that need a quick turnaround or projects that show me faster results and progress.  There are so many pre-fabricated shapes available in PVC such as all the different diameter pipes, plastic planters and bowls (which I used on my Life Size Nutcracker), and various thickness of PVC boards or sintra that is easy to cut.

I must confess that after starting to work at Vital Signs of Orlando, Inc I now have the advantage of a CNC router table for exact cut shapes out of sintra board, such as the clock arms and gears above pic.

Computer controlled cutting table

Tools needed:  

  • Hand saw, hack saw
  • PVC Cement for gluing pipes and/or layers of board together

 

Wood

I’m assuming that the first material ever used for 3D art was probably wood.  I’m also assuming most people, if you’re my age, had wood shop in middle/high school and got to make a bird house.  Everyone, I’m sure, has had some kind of experience with wood in their lifetime.  I like working with wood because there are so many tools made or invented just to deal with certain aspects of it by either cutting, filing, carving, drilling, gluing, screwing, and even staining and painting.

Wood is incredibly easy to manage with experience and has so many uses.  It is also readily accessible from many local sources such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware stores.

Looking at the gallery of photos above can give you an idea of how I have used wood before including using branches of a tree on my log reindeer.

I’ve learned a fascinating new technique since working at a sign shop which is sandblasting.  Here, the face of a cedar board gets sandblasted to get a desired woodgrain and custom signage.  Anything on the board that is to remain the surface of the original board gets a rubberized, tough, masking material that causes the sand to bounce off and not penetrate the surface of the board.  Anything not masked off gets pushed back and the beautiful woodgrain is exposed.  See sign pics above.

Compressor, sand, tanks, air hose, gloves, hood, and sand

Tools needed:

  • Manual hand or power saws (circular saw, jig-saw, chop saw, reciprocating saw, etc..)
  • Drills and drill bits, hole saws for use with drills and paddle bits
  • Files, chisels and sandpaper
  • Bar clamps and large vice-clamps
  • Wood glue
  • Planer
  • Wood lathe for spinning wooden dowel rods and filing specific shapes (i.e. baseball bat)
  • See above picture for sandblasting

Metal

Metal can be cumbersome because of it’s weight and difficulty in cutting, shaping and bringing together by welding if you don’t have the experience or the right tools.  But, nothing beats the real thing and I’m betting most replication in cosplaying armor and weapons or faux finishing is trying to copy metal’s appearance.

Some metals however can be easier to work with like aluminum and copper because they are lighter and softer.  Aluminum is my choice of metal that I have most experience with, which happens to be the choice of metal I use most often in my job as a sign fabricator.

The choice of metal for the fandom culture probably isn’t wise as a cosplay piece for safety reasons.  I can’t imagine wielding a real sword, at a Con, being Guts from Berserk manga as monstrous as his prop is.  But a real metal sword hanging on a wall with all your other collectibles and props is paramount.

Tools needed:
  • Metal cutting saw blades on power saws
  • Cutting torches (oxy-acetylene, plasma)
  • Wheel grinders
  • Welder-stick, mig, tig
  • Safety gear for heat and light (gloves, dark cutting shades and welding helmet)

 

Again, I haven’t shared everyway or everything you can use to build your projects from and if there is anything you believe important I left out with even talking about the materials highlighted here, please feel free to comment below and I will incorporate your ideas here.  Thanks for hanging out here for a while and good luck on your next project!  I’d love to see what some of you all are making and using to create your Masterpiece!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Size Nutcracker

Life size nutcracker using plastic pots, planters, and PVC pipe.

Life Size Nutcracker on a Budget Using Plastic Pots, Planters, and PVC Pipe

Materials Used:

I used links so that you can get a visual representation of what I’m talking about and not necessarily for purchasing recommendations.  You may already have several of the items and tools listed below.

  1. (3) 4 in. X 2 ft. PVC for the legs and feet.
  2. (2) 3 in. X 2 ft. PVC for the arms.
  3. (2) 3 in. cap PVC for the shoulders.
  4. (1) 10 in. round valve box for pelvis/lower body.
  5. (1) 13.25 in. X 14 in. classic planter for the upper body.
  6. (1) 14 in. X 5.5 in. planter for neck.
  7. (1) 9.055-in x 8.622-in Planter for the Fez hat.
  8. (1) 12 in. x 10.95 in. Black Plastic Planter for the head.
  9. (1) 0.99-in x 14.98-in x 1.25-ft) Radius Edge Spruce Board for base.
  10. (1) 2-in X 3-in x 8-ft; Actual: 1.5-in x 2.5-in x 7.9375-ft) wood stud for inside of left bent arm.
  11. (1) 2 X 4 X 8′ treated stud for inside the two legs.
  12. (1) 1-in x 4-in x 6-ft; Actual: 0.75-in x 3.5-in x 6-ft) Pine Board for arm mounting.
  13. (3) 5/16 in. X 6 in. threaded rod for arm and left hand mounting.
  14. (4) Styrofoam Ball  4 in. for feet and for hands.
  15. 3.125 in. X 36 in. X .09 in. (thick) plexi glass for belt.
  16. (1) can of Valspar 12 oz gloss lovely bluff color spray paint for face and hands.
  17. (1) can of Valspar Plastic Black gloss for boots and belt and fez.
  18. (1) can of Rustoleum Hunter Green gloss for pants and under shirt.
  19. (1) can of Rustoleum Sunrise Red gloss spray paint 12 oz. for coat.
  20. Assorted acrylic paint colors for hand brushed face.
  21. Modern Masters Iridescent Gold for gold brushed on detail.
  22. Modern Masters Pewter for silver brushed on detail.
  23. (1) Table Leg (Actual: 1.375-in x 28-in) for scepter below the hand.
  24. (1) 1-3/4 in. Lrg craft finial for top of scepter.
  25. (1) Pine End Table Leg for scepter above hand.
  26. (1) 5/16 x 9 Aluminum/Steel Hook And Eye Turnbuckle inside of hand for mounting scepter .
  27. (1) pair plush leg warmers white for hair and beard.
  28. (1/2 yard) of gold 3 in. fringe for shoulder ranks detail
  29. (24in.) Metallic Twisted Cord for top of Fez detail.
  30. (4) tassels/chair ties 27 in. for Fez detail.
  31. (1) 1 3/4 in. wood ball knob for top of Fez.
  32. (1 roll) 7/8 in. X 9 ft. gold ribbon for chest detail.
  33. (30 in.) 1.5 in. wide red felt ribbon for lower Fez detail.
  34. (1) pack assorted rhinestones 7-18 mm clear, gold, primary
  35. 1.25 in. drywall screws.
  36. 3 in. drywall screws.
  37. (1) tube DAP ALEX Plus 10.1-oz White Paintable Latex Caulk for seam work.
  38. Lightweight spackle for seam work.
  39. Duct tape (because what project is ever made without it?!)
  40. Masking tape and paper for shielding off different colored areas of paint.
Tools Used:
  1. Cordless drill
  2. Circular saw for cutting wood
  3. Mitre box and hand saw for cutting left arm 3″ PVC at a 45 degree angle
  4. Hot glue gun with glue sticks
  5. PVC cement
  6. Super glue gel formula
  7. Tape measure
  8. Utility knife
  9. Putty knife or bondo spreaders for spreading spackle
  10. 220 grit sandpaper for sanding spackle
  11. Assorted drill bits 5/16″, 1/8″, 3/8″
  12. counter sink bit
  13. Safety glasses
Procedure:

Basic nutcracker parts laid out

  1. Screw bottom of main upper body planter to top lid of valve box with the 1.25 in. screws. Use at least 4 screws. Set aside for later.

     

  2. Cut one of the 2′ X 3″ PVC pipes in half with the mitre box at a 45 degree angle.

    You’ll need to repeat the same 45 degree angle cut for the 2 X 3 wood to go inside the arm for structural support and  for mounting hand and then arm to body later. The wood must also be cut the same length each section of the PVC arm is as well. Make the lower part of the arm’s wood a little shorter, though, so the foam ball hand can tuck inside the PVC for another step later.

    Slide the piece of wood inside what will be the upper arm PVC, drill and counter sink at least three 1/8 inch holes along the middle back of the arm so you can screw the wood inside the PVC snug tight using the 1.25″ drywall screws. The counter sinking will allow the screws to sink inside the wall of the PVC so you can hide the screw heads later with caulk and spackle before painting to make them disappear.  Using the PVC cement, you can then glue one of the 3 in. PVC caps to the upper arm after the wood is set to the top flat part of the arm. (see pic above).

    Now you can repeat the same with the lower part of the arm making sure the angle of the wood matches the angle of the PVC so when you get ready to put the two arm parts together, the bend of the arm looks right.  Once the wood is mounted in each part of the arm you can use the super glue to stick the two parts together along the 45 degree angles making a perfect 90 degree bend of the arm. The super glue is only a way to help hold the arm together because you want to use a 3 in. screw countersunk at the elbow to screw the two pieces of wood together that are inside the arm now.  Make sure you pre-drill through one of the pieces of wood so the wood won’t split. You’re doing this somewhat blind because the wood is inside, but you know exactly where it’s at. Set arm aside for later.

  3. Mounting the leg parts to the base.

    Cut (2) 24 in. pieces of treated wood from the 8 ft. 2 X 4 treated lumber you bought to be the inside of each leg. Pick a location closer to the back of the round base where the legs will sit and trace the ends of the boards (about 6 in. apart) and pre-drill three holes inside each traced mark that will fit inside the board when screwed on.  Flip the round base over and countersink the holes so the screw heads will be inside the wood and the base will lay flat without the screw heads making the board uneven on the ground. Now you can screw the 2 ft. boards to the base using a total of (6) 3 in. screws between the two–three ea..  Slip the 4 in. PVC over the boards.

     

  4. Foot and Body Installation.

    With the third 2 ft. long by 4 in. round piece of PVC I had you get will need to be cut in half length wise so it is shaped like a long “u”. You’ll only need (2) 6 in. pieces for each foot, but cut as much as you can of the PVC length wise because it’s easier to make that kind of cut as a whole piece so you can clamp it down for ease and safety. The foot pieces go right in front of the legs on the round base and you’ll need to notch the top of the foot so it will fit closer to the legs. I just caulked them down and filled the gaps between the leg and the foot so when dry, the caulk makes a strong seal.

    One of the 4 in. styrafoam balls will need to be cut in half and then one of the halves be cut in half again for the ends of the feet. Glue them in place with the caulk.

    With the excess from the treated 2 X 4 you used for the legs you’ll need to cut the length of what the bottom of the inside of the valve box from the body you assembled in step one.  Screw the board bridging the tops of the two legs to the wood inside the legs with 3 in. screws making sure it’s centered.

    Now you can mount the body to the legs.  You may need to cut or round off the square corners of the bridged board because the valve box is round on the inside.  Screw from the outside of the valve box into the wood on the inside at least two screws per side.

  5. Putting in structure for arm mounting.

    The first part of this step will be cutting the ridge or lip off of the top of the body planter.  You’ll see by comparing the pic here to the picture on the first step which still has the ridge on the top.  You can do this by using a sharp utility knife.  Be Careful! (JPs FX Creations is not responsible for any accidents you acquire by attempting this project). It’s not that difficult with the nature of the pot’s thin plastic properties.

    Next, using the 1 X 4 X 6′ piece of wood cut a section to fit inside the top of the body which will help hold the shape of the planter and will be accepting the hardware for each arm to be mounted.  A slight angle needs to be notched at the ends of the board to fit snug with the tapering of the planter.  Use two 1.25 in screws per side for holding in place.

  6. Mounting the arms to the body.

    If you haven’t already done it; glue the 3 in. PVC cap on the remaining uncut 3 in. PVC pipe with the PVC cement.  Next you will need to drill a 5/16 inch hole all the way through (both sides of) the cap and PVC pipe at the top or shoulder to be used for mounting the arm to the body.  My holes were near the bottom of the cap. You will then need to thread one of the 5/16 threaded rod through the holes so three inches is sticking out from the inside or arm pit area.  Because you drilled exactly 5/16 in. hole and the rod is 5/16 in. it may be difficult to twist into the holes,  I just put my rod inside the end of the drill and was able to screw it in faster.  Repeat the same process for the other arm.

    Now locate where the arms will fit best and make a corresponding mark where you will drill another 5/16 in. hole through the body into the 1 X 4 piece of wood mounted on the inside.  Drill the hole at least 3 in. deep.  If you want the arms to rotate, ream the holes in the wood a little or use the next size drill bit up (11/32).

  7. Mounting the planter to be the neck area of the nutcracker.

    For this step you’ll be working with the  14 in. X 5.5 in. pan type planter for the neck upside down. You need to repeat the same process of removing the pots lip or upper ridge with the utility knife as you did with the body planter’s top ridge.  Cut the bottom flat portion out completely so you have a large hole that you can reach inside with your arm.  (see pic above)  You’ll then need to make a vertical cut all the way down the height of the planter so you can adjust its size by overlapping the cut edges.  Change the size so it will fit snug inside the upper body and wedge it in between the wood and plastic of the body planter. To help keep the shape of the neck after overlapping to fit reach inside the neck hole and use duct tape along the overlapping edges seam.  You will also need to duct tape the inside bottom of the neck to the inside of the upper body where they come together.  No screws necessary.  You can see a hint of the duct taping job I did on the picture above.

  8. Raw nutcracker in his Christmas home spot.

    Now let’s get his head and hat on.  With the 12 in. x 10.95 in. plastic planter for the head, and after you cut the lip or top ridge off, flip it upside down and place it on the top of the neck planter that was put in place with the last step you completed. It will cover up a lot of the neck piece. Make sure it’s centered and pick four spots at the edge that you will be screwing it to the neck.  Make sure two of those screw spots will be close to the back and will be hidden by the hair later.  Countersink so the screws will be hidden a little into the pot’s plastic.  It won’t be as much as countersinking into the wood because the planter is not as thick.  It will just help with a later step in hiding the seams with caulk and spackle.  Screw the head in place.  Now take the last planter that is designated for the Fez and flip it upside down as well.  You won’t need to cut the lip off of this one since it’s so small.  Take a look at the picture below for step nine and notice the placement of the hat on the head.  Note how the fez is high on the head and pushed back giving a big void behind the head.  This is so the face will appear bigger and there will be a place to stuff the hair up into the hat.  Screw in place the best you can wherever the fez is close to the head.  you don’t need to worry about countersinking because the screws on the fez hat will be covered by ribbon.

  9. Almost ready for paint! Nose, belt and scepter installation.

    Nose-You should still have at least one quarter of the round foam you cut out for the toes. Slice a 3/4 in. section off so it’s flat on both sides. Pick the center of where there will be a face on the head of the nutcracker and trace out with a pencil where it will go.  You will probably need to sand the back of the nose slightly where it fits against the curve of the head planter so the nose will have a tighter fit.   I poked a couple of nails into the foam and drilled tiny holes for the nails on the corresponding position on the face so when glued with caulk the nose wouldn’t sag while drying.  Let enough of the caulk ooze out the side and smear with your finger or spreader to give a tight seal.

    Belt-We will be using the 3.125 in. X 36 in. X .09 in. (thick) plexi glass for the belt.  I actually bought a piece of 36 in. X 24 in. piece of plexi at Hobby Lobby.  There was no UPC symbol or part number on the receipt, so that’s the best source I can give you.  You can almost use anything similar to get the desired effect.  The best way to cut this thin of material is with a straight edge and an exacto knife.  You just have to score it and not go all the way through and snap it apart.  With the 3 or 3.125 in wide by 36 in. piece, wrap it around the nutcracker covering the seam between the lower body (valve box) and the upper body planter. 36 in. is about 4 in. larger than the body, but that’s good because you will need that to overlap in the back to secure the belt as one piece.  Glue with the super glue the 4 in. overlapped section to itself.  Do not secure it to the body yet. Next you will be screwing the belt to the upper body planter only if you want to have him rotate a quarter twist.  Pre-drill two 1/8 in. holes at the top back of the belt preferably  through the overlapped area where you just glued.  You need to pre-drill the belt because it will crack or shatter if you don’t.  Using the 1.25 in. screws, fasten the belt to the upper body planter.

    Scepter-Start by drilling a hole as thick as the 5/16 X 9 in. turnbuckle body through the center of one of the 4 in. styrofoam balls all the way through.  Remove the hook and eye from the turnbuckle so the middle body is the only thing you’ll use and shove it in the hole you just created in the foam ball. It may be slightly shorter than the ball, but the threads of the finial and the chair leg will reach in to the threads of the turnbuckle body and will tighten nicely.  Don’t put them on the hand yet till it’s installed completely on the arm.  It will be lighter and easier just dealing with the ball without all the extra weight. You’ll be using the 3rd piece of 5/16 in threaded rod for the next step.  Drill a slightly smaller hole than 5/16 into the ball hand perpendicular to the turnbuckle.  Only drill half way through the ball-you’ll hit the turnbuckle anyway so you won’t be able to go all the way through.  Screw in the threaded rod into the hole on the ball.  Making the hole a little smaller will give a tight hold on the threaded rod since the foam will compress around the rod.  Now drill a slightly larger hole into the wood inside the left arm bend in the center, at the wrist, long enough for the threaded rod to go in. You can inject a little caulk in the hole. This will hold the hand in place.  For an extra added hold counter sink some holes at the end of the wrist outside the PVC close to where the ball enters the arm.  Screw in at an angle towards the ball (slowly so the threads of the screw will bite into the foam) with the 1.25 in. screws.  See picture below for visual instructions.

    T.b. represents the orange turnbuckle. T.r. represents the 5/16 in. threaded rod. The brown inside the lower arm is the wood, and the purple dots are the screws.

    Once the hand is in place, you can screw in the finial to the top of the foam ball hand and then screw on the chair leg to the bottom.

  10. Let The Painting Begin!

    Okay, almost ready to paint.  There is still an important step that has to be addressed before any paint goes on him which is dealing with all the seams,  screw heads, and any holes that you acquired during fabrication.

    Using the caulk, inject it into any large gap, seam and/or countersunk surface and smooth the caulk out with your finger or spreader.  The caulk will shrink a little when it dries and then you’ll need to spread lightweight spackle over those same areas.  Allow the spackle to dry completely and then sand the surface with 220 grit sand paper.

    I gave a list of the colors I used to paint my nutcracker, but you, of course, have the liberty to paint him however you choose.  Pick a paint that is specifically designed to stick to plastic well.  The PVC arms and legs should probably be primed first because I had an issue with the tape pulling some of the paint off.  I have access to a compressor and an airbrush, so I airbrushed rosy red cheeks on the face before hand painting the face.  Modern Masters gold was brushed on and not sprayed on his shoulders and belt buckle.

  11. Putting on the details.

    Now that the painting is done and fully dried the details can be applied to finish your masterpiece. Most of it will be fixed on using hot glue, so if you’re not familiar with how to us a hot glue gun try learning really quick.  Be careful, THE TIP AND GLUE COMING OUT IS EXTREMELY HOT!

    Anything that wraps around, like the ribbon and rope for the Fez, or the fringe for the shoulder ranks need to be pre-measured before cutting. Once cut, glue in place.  For the twisted gold rope at the top of the hat, I wrapped the gold tassels around it first before gluing on permanently.  See above picture for placement of other add ons like the rhinestones.  Of course, like the paint, you can do what ever you want to make it your own.  Have fun.

    The absolute last step is the hair and beard which is made from the white leg warmers listed above.  It only takes one of the two in the pair from the package so if you’re ambitious you have hair for another nutcracker some day.  You’ll need to cut the warmer in half up from the opening to have one long complete hair layer to wrap around and tuck under the back of the Fez/hat opening.  It will be a little too long and go past what you need, so this is where you get the beard material from.  My beard on my nutcracker is approximately 4 in. wide by 7 in. long. Cut the beard out and hot glue under the painted mouth of the face and body.  Cut the excess hair to fit around and inside with a proper look and glue in strategic places to keep the hair on the head but with a little flow or “body”.

 

 

Once you finish your nutcracker, contact me and send me some pics.  I’d be happy to post them here in my blog.  Happy Crafting!