As the mainstream media focuses its attention on maker culture, there's an undeniable bias towards big-name companies producing ready-to-rock devices like 3D printers. Even as their prices continue to drop, though, they're hardly impulse buys - but they're not the only way to bring industrial manufacturing methods into the home, and we have been particularly impressed with reddit user Morgan Gillespie's surprisingly simple vacuum-forming table as an impressive demonstration of the alternatives.
Vacuum-forming is a tried-and-tested means of moulding plastic without the expense of injection moulding systems. It works in much the same way as shrink-wrapping, but with thicker plastic: place an object on the table, cover with a sheet of thermo-softening plastic, heat, then pull the air out with a vacuum source to pull the soften plastic tight to the object. Industrial vacuum-forming tables are hardly cheap, but Morgan's build uses no more than a few sheets of laser-cut plywood, electrical tape, and a picture frame.
Designing the table in a 3D CAD application, as shown on his step-by-step image gallery, Morgan turned to a laser cutter - readily accessible to anyone with a reasonably-sized local hackspace or makerspace, or the patience to instead drill the holes by hand - to make some custom pegboard for the table's surface. With the wooden box made, his attention turned to the vacuum and heat sources - and in both cases the solution was readily at hand: the household vacuum cleaner and his oven.
The results are extremely impressive: using the low-cost table, Morgan was able to quickly and cheaply form shaped plastic visors for his and his wife's Halloween costumes - something that by any other method would have been extremely difficult to achieve.
The steps however are quite simple.
Place the sheet of plastic into the frame.
Place wooden spacers around the plastic to ensure pressure on the plastic.
Screw frame to oven rack board.
Heat oven to 350 deg F and place oven rack board and frame in oven.
Watch for plastic to droop to about half the height of the mold.
Take out of oven and slowly place over mold until edges of board make contact with vac table.
Turn on vacuum and watch it suction in the edges. Persuading them if needs be.
Wait for plastic to cool and remove from frame.
Cut plastic from mold with hot knife if you can't just pull it off.