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Kerry Beal

Vaquform - making your own custom molds

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My latest toy - a Vaquform tabletop thermoformer. Originally a Kickstarter - now an established product. Sold in batches - mine was the January batch and I received it today.

 

Here is the only thing I've done with it so far - I need to get some plugs made up.

 

This was a cast iron ice cream mold I had lying around - didn't consider the issues with getting it out again due to the shape. Live and learn.

 

IMG_4509.thumb.jpg.1227b4e41038e8fa9e9c8d69a208857e.jpg

 

IMG_4511.thumb.jpg.ab3e38e9e17f5a9ebca997a9deeb3853.jpg

 

Here is a link to the website.

 

 

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That's really cool. I don't have need or desire for something like that but I'm looking forward to seeing what you get up to with it. And once you get settled in with it, I'll know where to go if I ever need something custom. Rather spend the money with you than elsewhere if that need arises.

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4 minutes ago, Tri2Cook said:

That's really cool. I don't have need or desire for something like that but I'm looking forward to seeing what you get up to with it. And once you get settled in with it, I'll know where to go if I ever need something custom. Rather spend the money with you than elsewhere if that need arises.

Exactly! And I'll have to learn CAD drawing so anyone who can help will be greatly appreciated.

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1 hour ago, Kerry Beal said:

And I'll have to learn CAD drawing so anyone who can help will be greatly appreciated.

 

Look for a kid with a 3D printer and propose him/her a fun-fun trade: he makes the figure you need, you give him some chocolate in turn.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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32 minutes ago, teonzo said:

 

Look for a kid with a 3D printer and propose him/her a fun-fun trade: he makes the figure you need, you give him some chocolate in turn.

 

 

 

Teo

 

Indeed - great idea!

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3 hours ago, Kerry Beal said:

Exactly! And I'll have to learn CAD drawing so anyone who can help will be greatly appreciated.

First you have to decide which CAD program to get.  FYI - many are ridiculously expensive.  I learned AutoCAD in college - but I think many 3D printing or CNC milling shops use SolidWorks...  Many years ago, I got AutoCAD R14 with an education discount.... then, years later, a friend of mine went to the Phillipines and brought me a CD with about 15 different cracked CAD packages, including AutoCAD2000 which I still use to this day.

 

If you want to send me some designs, I can do the CAD work for you - but depending on how busy I am at work, my turnaround time may not be immediate but I'll do my best...

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There is a program for simple folk like myself called Tinker CAD that I played with a bit

 

 

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Right now the fellow who makes the Vaquform is helping me with a bar design

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Posted (edited)

CNC milling would give you perfect models, but it's pretty expensive. To be cost effective you need to produce quite a lot of figures, I suppose the breakeven point is well above 100 units. I don't know how many times you can use one of this thermoformed molds, so you must consider this cost too.

 

I would go with the 3D printer route. There are tons of ready-made models on online libraries, you just need to find a geek kid with good computer skills willing to help. You would cut all your learning curve time, considering how busy you are I suppose you have 98439843 better ways to spend your time than nerding with a CAD program.

This would help the geek computer skilled kid in his social life, since he could brag with his friends showing some chocolate figures and saying "I made the models for these chocolates and now we're going in full production!" (chocolate is always a nice way to impress some chicks, much much better than saying "I drawed this 3D model with my PC"). This would be good advertising for you too, all his contacts would see that it's possible to create chocolate figures of whatever shape they want, so it's much probable you'll find someone interested in doing business. Win-win for both sides.

There is the problem that the surface of 3D printed models is not completely smooth. You solve this problem just using a "polishing brush", don't know how it is called in English, I mean stuff like this, which is used for polishing copper and so on. Use that while wearing hardware gloves and protective glasses, of course. After polishing you get a perfectly smooth surface. Only downside is that all the sharp edges get rounded, which is really not a problem with molded chocolate (I'd say it's a desired feature).


But this is the MOST IMPORTANT thing: now you can make a video of you thermoforming a Han Solo action figure while screaming "I SHOT FIRST BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!". I'm eagerly waiting for this.

 

 

 

Teo

 


Edited by teonzo (log)
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I’ve chatted with my machine shop guys about CNC milling - I need clearer pricing for them.

 

i purchased a used 3D printer - it’s still in Buffalo awaiting smuggling. It’s the resin kind so much better resolution.

 

Today I’m going to hit a Value Village to find a few items to serve as plugs for my trials - sadly this evening I start my next 24 hour shift so I won’t be able to play for a while 

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Another thing that just came to mind. The problem with that kind of thin molds is that they flex and tend to not keep their shape. This can lead to some deformations. You notice this effect with the outer part of the thermoformed mold: the flat surface (the one outside the model, that is formed touching the base of the machine and not the model) will always tend to curve and bend. You can solve this problem giving more rigidity to your thermoformed mold. You get this by "breaking" the flat surface with something with a small radius (the smaller the surface radius, the more rigid the plastic, a flat surface has an infinite radius). You can buy some cheap O-rings and use them for this purpose. Cut some and place the strips alongside the mold perimeter, then place a whole ring outside the model (leaving some space between the model and the O-ring). The little cavity created by the O-rings will give much more rigidity to the thermoformed mold. Just think about water bottles: if the plastic surface is flat then it's really easy to compress a empty bottle, if it has a corrugated/wavy surface then it's much more rigid and more difficult to compress by hand.

There is the problem that you won't be able to scrape out the chocolate that will end in those indentations. Well, just wait for it to crystallize, then you'll be able to get it out when it's solid.

 

(I hope I've been able to explain what I mean, I'm ignorant about English technical terms and just used google translate for them)

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Pretty sure I understand what you mean. I think I’ve got some narrow diameter pvc hose material I could use.

 

i was also thinking I need to make some frames for around the shape so that the mold can sit flat on it’s edges if that makes sense. I have some Tomric bunny plaques where the shape sits higher than the sides and it makes them hard to mold flat.

 

Since most thermoform molds are unsuitable for scraping anyway I’ll likely use them for solid pieces that I’ll pipe in.

 

 

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What type of sheets will you use? Is it easy to get 3mm polycarbonate sheets (saw that 3mm is the thickest material this unit can handle). Very interested to see what comes of this experiment and hoping we get to try it out at the workshop in St. Louis.

 

Will have to come up with some shapes to bring with me and thermoform! 🙂  Wondering what materials are best for making the item to be thermoformed that I have the ability to work with... aluminum is out but wood, 3D printing, and plaster may be possibilities. Or, maybe join a maker group and start experimenting myself! I see this as potentially very useful for making custom molds of small quantities.

 

@Kerry Beal thanks for sharing your experiments with us.

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Posted (edited)

Found Vaquform's YouTube page, looks like you can thermoform tons of stuff (just needs to be solid enough to retain its shape under vacuum). 

 

 


Edited by curls added a 2nd video link (log)

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11 hours ago, curls said:

Will have to come up with some shapes to bring with me and thermoform!

 

If you're taking requests, I could use a zombie Jesus for Easter  🙃

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Used to use watered down PVA glue and plaster of paris to reinforce  plastic moulds. The PVA helps the plaster handle knocks without cracking. Can also add fibers like fibreglass (itchy) or other super thing fibrous materials that helps bind everything. 

 

Pour it into the back of the mould. You can't thump it but vibrating it to remove bubbles will be fine and tapping it as well. 

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9 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

 

If you're taking requests, I could use a zombie Jesus for Easter  🙃

Ah, yes, the "undead before it was cool" meme.

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On 3/6/2019 at 3:57 PM, Kerry Beal said:

i was also thinking I need to make some frames for around the shape so that the mold can sit flat on it’s edges if that makes sense. I have some Tomric bunny plaques where the shape sits higher than the sides and it makes them hard to mold flat.

 

Since most thermoform molds are unsuitable for scraping anyway I’ll likely use them for solid pieces that I’ll pipe in.

 

I suppose you start from pre-made plastic sheets, all of them having the same dimensions to fit the surface of your machine. So you can ask someone to build you some wood frames to act as a base for the thermoformed molds. You just need a rectangular frame that runs along the perimeter of the molds, so it will be ok for almost all the molds you will make (with the exception of the models that are as large as the Vaquform surface).

If you add an indentation (as I was trying to explain in my previous post) with a rectangular form that is just a bit smaller than the wood frame, then this would act as a "stoppage", keeping the thermoformed mold in place on the wood frame. Don't know if the thermoforming process causes shrinkage in the perimeter dimensions of the mold, this can be a problem.

I'll try to draw something tomorrow, trying to explain what I mean.

If you add the indentations at the correct places (perimeter and some internal ones if you have a mold with multiple cavities) then you should end up with a pretty rigid mold that allows for scraping too. You could even put it (with the wood frame) on the vibrating table of your Selmi, as suggested by @EatingBen.

 

This Vaquform machine gives you tons of potentials.

For example for next year's Valentine's day you can propose a sort of "high roller gift": for $100 (or whatever it costs) you can make a customized chocolate figure. Is there a better Valentine gift than a customized chocolate figure (a heart with her/his name, whatever) for your loved one? Everyone can have a box of bonbons, only she/he will have THAT chocolate!

 

 

 

Teo

 

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@teonzo - looking forward to your drawings. 

 

The mold doesn't really shrink - because the material is warm it stretches over the surface so stays the same size overall.

 

The experiments continued this afternoon - realize the frame that I bought to serve as a base was a little bigger than I had thought. I should look through all my short caramel bars and see what might fit in there. Probably wise to stick tack them together on the edges to prevent them jumping when the vacuum comes on.

 

IMG_4546.thumb.jpg.506566ef3965536e41fa50252d560b85.jpg

 

What I learned today - plug the little holes with something - otherwise the plastic will get sucked right into them. 

 

IMG_4548.thumb.jpg.34b98ca9d8197ad04cf26c9f2131f256.jpg

 

Bring the arm down fast so that the plastic sheet is as warm as possible when it touches the piece so it will pick up the pattern.  Also use completely flat objects. These guys don't lie flat so the plastic get's sucked right around them. Making it hard to get the tool out of the mold and then the chocolate out of the mold. 

 

IMG_4559.thumb.jpg.ab3b1f81d1a964d7e483df382c8a0514.jpg

 

Fixing all those little holes should make it easier to get the chocolate out without breakage. 

 

Regretting that I didn't buy the molded plastic kiddie tools I saw today - would have given me a more substantial piece and there wouldn't have been all the little divots to deal with. 

 

 

 

 

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The little things that will make the job easier and the result better is just details to be worked out along the way, looks like that thing does a great job of the basic purpose it was designed for.

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I think trying to make a chocolate mold out of most normal items may be problematic because most things are not shaped in the way a mold needs to be.  For plastic molding, the design needs to be slightly tapered so that the molded item comes out easily... so trying to vaquform using a standard household item will create problems....  I wonder if you can modify the item (like the tools) with some modeling clay or something to fill in the holes, but also to fill in the area that needs to be tapered?

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8 hours ago, KennethT said:

I think trying to make a chocolate mold out of most normal items may be problematic because most things are not shaped in the way a mold needs to be.  For plastic molding, the design needs to be slightly tapered so that the molded item comes out easily... so trying to vaquform using a standard household item will create problems....  I wonder if you can modify the item (like the tools) with some modeling clay or something to fill in the holes, but also to fill in the area that needs to be tapered?

Great minds and all that! Was also trying to think of a way do to half a figure without cutting it in half.

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10 minutes ago, Kerry Beal said:

Great minds and all that! Was also trying to think of a way do to half a figure without cutting it in half.


Could you embed items in some kind of material that will take an imprint to the depth you want then make plugs from some kind of material you can pour in the cavities and let harden?

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Just now, Tri2Cook said:


Could you embed items in some kind of material that will take an imprint to the depth you want then make plugs from some kind of material you can pour in the cavities and let harden?

Likely could - was hoping for a lazier way! 

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3 minutes ago, Kerry Beal said:

Likely could - was hoping for a lazier way! 


Fill the mold you just made to the depth you want with some material you can use as a plug? I'm generally looking for the easiest way to do things that will still get the good result so I'll have to think on this one a bit. It's not a task I've ever had need to find an easier way to do. :D

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