Last week in this series, I took a look at how you take a rough kit of plastic and bring it down to a workable pile of plastic. Rough cutting brings the vacuuformed parts into recognizable shapes, and gets you closer to the part where you begin to assemble the suit as a whole. Before you get to that point, however, there’s some more refinement needed.
Trimming a suit is a lot of work: it takes quite a bit of time, and if you’re doing it by hand, it can be painful (wear gloves - it prevents blisters) and time consuming. What you’re left with is edges that are rough, sharp and need some additional love. In this instance, I’ve been using shears which allow me to get a bit of precision with where I’m looking to cut. The downside is that once I’m done, it leaves a bit of a mess:
There’s rough, jagged edges there. That comes from where I close the shears quite a bit, almost to the point where I snip off the plastic completely. What needs to happen next is to cut off the burs and the marks on the edge where the sheers cut into the plastic. The edges of this armor need to be smooth. There’s three tools that I’ve used to take care of this: a dremel, a power sander, and a piece of coarse sandpaper.
The dremel is a very helpful tool here: it allows me to grind away some of the more troublesome bumps, and for parts where I can’t use the sheers, such as really tight corners or the helmet’s eyes sockets, it allows me to carve down the plastic to where I need it to go. There’s a bunch of attachments that came with mine, such as saw and drill bits, but the ceramic rotory pieces helped the most.
The dremel takes care of just some of the work, however: because the bits are so small, it’s hard to get a consistent, smooth surface. To that end, I’ve got a hand-held, power sander, which works wonders when you’re trying to get a uniformly smooth surface. The smaller bumps that remain after the part has been dremeled get smoothed out, and you’re left with a piece that’s pretty much complete.
One safety tip here: dremels and power sanders are loud, especially in an enclosed work space. I can’t recommend ear protection enough. If you’re using a cutting wheel? Wear eye protection as well: those things can break, and when they do, they tend to hit your face.
The power sander is good for flat surfaces, so for curves, like where arms and shoulders fit, coarse-grade sandpaper does the trick: it takes out any remaining burs, grooves and cut marks, and smooths out the edges of the armor. Hitting each surface with a fine-grade sandpaper once all of this is done is a good idea as well. One last thing to do is inspect the corners, and to hit those with some sandpaper
Then, the part is done: you have a smooth piece that is ready for the next step. Onto the next one, and the one after that. There’s a lot of pieces here, and each one needs to be cut, smoothed out and inspected: the entire process took me about 30-45 minutes for the larger pieces, and a bit less for the smaller ones.
Photo Credit: Ashley Fraser