Why cut out your own biohazard fan grill when you can just order one? Really, there's no need to be re-inventing the wheel if a part you need can be had on the
open market cheaply. Yet sometimes, even in the vast ocean of modding e-tailer
options out there, you just can't find that perfect piece. Why not cast your own? That's what I wondered when I went looking in vain for a bit of "sea turtle bling."
Casting perfect small parts requires some equipment and materials that are out of the reach of most of us. For example, the vacuum system used to pull air out of epoxy resin can cost $1000 or more. Some of this equipment I have, but it's unwieldy and the materials typically are bought by the gallon. Something I wasn't up for in this case. Then it occurred to me, "Could I mold and cast parts with materials and equipment that are commonly available to the typical modder?" Well, I can try!
Will I fail? Maybe. What's the fun if there isn't a bit of risk? I'm not going to do a "how to" and I have to admit I have a bit of experience doing this. However, the adventurous soul should be able to follow and, with a bit of experimentation (and maybe some well worded questions in our forum ), try it out themselves.
To begin, we prep/create a core. This will be used to make a mold which will later be used to cast resin emblems. I hit the local toy store and found a little plastic sea turtle I quickly named Joe.
Now, I like Joe and all, he was made by Safari Inc. in soft plastic, and they did an exceptional job on his detail. That said, Joe isn't quite perfect for what I want. His head is wrong, his flippers droop too much, and he's too thick...way too thick. In fact, he's also too big, about 2 inches in length. The larger the subject, the harder it is to both create a mold, and to cast a part (yes, there will be a quiz). We can correct some of this by only casting the upper half of Joe (his shell, head and flipper tops), but alas Joe will need a bit of "plastic surgery" to get some of his posture right. Nurse - hand me my scalpel!
The head and flippers get hacked off. It is a bit gruesome, but it has to happen. Don't worry, Joe doesn't mind. In fact I think he liked it (Look Mom, No Hands! Er...flippers). Really folks, it's just a toy. Please don't send me any letters.
After a bit of trimming, the parts go back on in better positions for my use. The change is subtle, but in the final casting it will make a big difference. I used 5-minute epoxy for the reconstruction. There are alternative adhesives that create less mess, but I like epoxy and it's easy to find (meaning it was in my desk drawer).
The next step is actually creating a mold. For this, Joe gets bathed in latex. Mmmm....Latex mold compound. This stuff releases ammonia gas, so it's a well-ventilated or outdoor job. In a shop, you could use a paint hood. The process will take many applications and maybe a week or two, but the results (I hope) are worth it.
We'll touch base with Joe sometime in the near future and see how he's doing.