Fiberglass Armor Construction: Build the Base
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Building the Base

Depending on the shape of the piece you are going to need a base to build it on. There are a variety of different ways to make the base. Here are a few examples:

  • For the crown that is part of the costume of another person in the group we needed a gently arcing slope that would cause the crown to curve back over the head. For this we looked around for a while until an idea dawned on us. Where I live there is a large turtle in a sand area for kids. We took that turtle and filled in the indents on its shell with clay and took a cast of that with plaster bandages.
  • For the shoulder amour I needed a gently sloping shape that would go over my shoulders and the amor on the front and back. To do this we used some heat form plastic and bent it to roughly the right shape.
  • Most of the other pieces that were made had to be pretty body specific. For these pieces I was wrapped in plastic wrap and/or covered in Vaseline and had plaster bandages put on. The bandages were then dried with a hair dryer until they had set.
A few ways to build bases. (Note: Having ones legs wrapped in cold wet plaster bandage while wearing shorts outside in December while standing barefoot on cold blacktop is *not* fun. I know it sounds fun, but trust me, it isn't.)

 

This is the turtle cast from above, with a plaster face cast and some pottery clay to fine tune the slope, all fiberglassed together. There is also a pattern taped to it (see next page for patterns) but its the only pic I have to show what happened to the turtle cast.

All the bases that we made were in and of themselves not strong enough to work on directly. The plaster bandages were maybe two to five layers thick and could easily be broken with mild pressure. The heat form plastic held its shape but was very flexible. To reinforce these to be able to handle the weight of the plasteline and my putting pressure on that plateline while working with it they needed to be reinforced.

The easiest way to do this was with fiberglass. This made sense because I was already going to be making the rest of the costume from fiberglass so I had the materials and safety equipment around. Plus I have not thought of another way to do it that would be as fast of as strong or as cheap.

Laying the fiberglass on these pieces was very easy. As bases they do not have to be perfect or look pretty.

Once the plaster bandage was reinforced with fiberglass I needed to build a support structures for most of the casts. The structure was needed to make it easy to work on the pieces and to keep the models from resting on, or touching, the ground. In some cases, like the legs and arms, I was working around the piece completely. And for others like the chest I wanted to have things vertical so they would be easier to work with in the bathroom and be oriented like the final piece.

Plaster cast of my chest with fiberglass reinforcement and some layout marks. This piece is also fiberglassed to a pipe T joint support so it can stand upright.

For the shoulder base I had to build a base that I could secure it to. Even with the fiberglass on it the piece was still too flexible. So I took a cardboard box, cut it up and then fiberglassed the base to this. This kept the ends from flexing and made the whole piece very strong and sturdy.

For pieces like the legs and arms I first took some metal pipe and some pipe T joints and fiberglassed those to the insides of the pieces. The fiberglassing of these pieces was sometimes very tricky, so I would make up for that by using a lot more resin and just laying more glass. In the hopes that when the thing cured it would be strong enough and have enough contact between the base and the pipe stand pieces. Once done I would put the pieces on homemade stands and proceed to lay fiberglass on the outsides. I would wrap tape around the base of the pipe where it screwed into the board to insure that resin would not get in there and permanently glue the pipe pieces together.

For the chest, back and similar pieces I would first lay the fiberglass on the outside and then the inside. Since these were larger pieces I wanted to have the glass on both sides for added support. Obviously, it needed to be on the side I would be working on but it also seemed wise to have it on the inner side since I would be attaching the pipes to that and they might have ripped off if applied directly to a small area of the plaster. For the backside I used straight matte. Once the front and back were cured I took the pipe with the T end and glassed that on. To get the right angle I added a small wood block under the pipe.

To lay the fiberglass for these pieces I would usually start with a layer of cloth. Once that was dry I would add one to three layers of a .75+ ounce mat. The larger the plaster cast, the more layers. For the final layers I would put some extra resin on the top of the piece so that when it cured the piece would be smooth and not have all the roughness of the matte or cloth.

After the glass cured I would trim any pieces that stuck out too much, as I have cut myself on the hand more than a few times from sharp bits of cured fiberglass sticking out.

Once the pieces were done I put them all on bases while I was working on them. The bases were made from scrap pieces of pine board that were screwed together with a round wall pipe attachment screwed to the top. The pieces would then screw right into these bases and I could easily unscrew them and switch them out as needed. All the pipes were 3⁄4 inch. I had a selection of bases that I used. I tried to keep the ones inside that were covered in plasteline inside and the resin covered ones outside.

The heat form plastic shoulder base fiberglassed to a cardboard bend to stop the bottom from flexing out.