How to: Make a helm from fiberglass (Char version)

A good friend of Alice’s asked if we would take on a commission for a rather unique and truly identifiable helmet.

Char Aznable from the Gundam Universe.

Finish product before shipping!!  I am aware that there are a few flaws in the helm that have far more to do with my inexperience, then any thing with my process. The following tutorial will show both how I made this helmet and a few tips to avoid a few mistakes I made along the way.

I had asked for a few dimensions from the commissioner. First was the length from top of ear to top of ear, and the circumference around the head at they eyebrows so I could ensure that it would not be to small on her. I used a foam wig head as a base, and by using cardstock I built up a frame to fill in.  The card stock not only helps to support the expanding foam but gives me a depth gauge as well so I don’t remove too much foam.

Also added on a neck piece for more support once I foamed in the form.

Foam filling in process, it took me two applications to get enough coverage but only one can of expanding foam. So far total cost $12.00

After the foam had hardened, the use of a good serrated edge knife and some 100 grit sand paper, I was able to get a nice clean “smooth” surface that will end up being the inside shape of the helm.  I failed at taking pictures of the process so…. on to the next steps.

The brim and neck guard will need to represented to ensure they are formed at the same time as the helm when we start to fiberglass. I used more card stock and some hotglue to build up the shape I needed.  The photo below shows the form just before we started on the fiberglass.

In hind sight I should have extended the aluminum foal all the way over the cardstock to prevent it from becoming part of the final product. The aluminum foil acted at a release agent to prevent the resin from bonding to the foam. I had no idea if this would work at the time but it worked out great.

Always pre-cut your fiberglass matting (Wear gloves, I payed dearly for this over the next few days due to microscopic glass slivers I received….. Consider yourself warned!!)

Smaller strips are always good to have on hand for the unseen complication. The fiberglass matting we used is 3mil chopped strand at a very cheep $2.99 a yard.

We are using a Polyester resin for our lamination on this project. At $40 a gallon its pretty cheep considering we only used 12oz for this entire project.

Two important things to remember when working with fiberglass. 1. make sure to start a timer as soon as you mix the resin. Its never good to be surprised by your resin when it starts to harden. 2. Make sure your respirator is rated for organic vapors / fiberglass work. The fumes are very toxic and will make you ill in a matter of minuets.

Wet each strip of Fiberglass before application to your project. The strip should become almost transparent when fully saturated with resin. We used a latex mat for easy cleanup and mess control. These mats can be purchased at most cooking stores.

Two layers of fiberglass down and cured. The helm has pretty good shape but due to my own fault it picked up some air bubbles and some inconsistency in shape…. (Edit:) I failed to sand between each layer and what was a small bump in the first layer and could have been avoided later on became larger with each layer of resin. Spend about 10 min with some 80-100 grit sandpaper and smooth out each layer. This is time well spent and should help avoid many hours of regret later on.

I had to try it on for both a check of shape and size. Not bad for eyeballing the whole thing to this point.

Notice the addition of the front diamond. This was sculpted directly on the helm with an oil based clay and fiber-glassed over. Although this worked great I was left with a lot of extra weight on the front of the helm.  I had to eventually cut into the diamond shape from the inside of the helm and remove the clay. This was not an ideal way, but it got the job done.

After some consideration, I may have opted to build the shape from cardstock paper and glue/resin coat it to the helm. I am sure there are many other ways and if you happen to know of any please leave a comment.

I put an initial coat of automotive body filler over most of the helm to help fill in the low spots (the pink stuff in the image) and then sprayed a layer of primer to help show high and low spots once I started to sand. This process of  “sand/apply bondo/prime/sand to look for high spots/ repeat”  took about 2 days to get to where I was happy with the shape and smoothness of the helm.

Bondo has many application but due to the fast hardening times and its thick texture its not the best at filling pinholes and rough spots. For this I turn to Glazing putty. Its a self hardening putty similar to Bondo but designed for extremely thin application. About $5.00 per tube.

A few more hours of work and a few more layers of primer to check high and low spots on the helm and we are ready for the horns on the front of the helm.

I would love to say these were easy, but about 3 hours of work went into hand crafting the horn. I started with a good guess on angle and went about trying to create a three sided shape that would do what I needed. I had to make the horn in two parts to create the needed angle. These would then be traced out and reversed for the other side.

After gluing the horn together with superglue, I coated it with resin making sure that the card stock was fully saturated with the resin. I did this twice and the result was a very durable almost plastic like horn that I know would be able to take some abuse.  A quick check of the fit and some epoxy resin was all it took to attach the horns.  Make sure you sand the attachment point first. Gluing things to primer will not work. The attachment will only be as strong as the paints attached to your object.Then I painted over it with several coats of a light gray spray paint, and then a matte dulling spray to seal it.

The final product came out very well considering how many mistakes I had to learn from during the process.   Over all I am very pleased and I hope this helps you out on your next cosplay endeavor.

7 thoughts on “How to: Make a helm from fiberglass (Char version)

  1. Did you sand between each layer of fiberglass and Bondo?
    Why do you pick fiberglass matte over fiberglass cloth? Does it cut a lot cleaner?
    Also, what do you think about programs like pepakura stuff that you can use to model a 3D shape and print out a 2D pattern? I’ve never used one, but it seems something like that would have been convenient to use for the horns.

    The helmet looks awesome! :D

    • The fiberglass work that was done on the helmet was some very novice work. I failed to sand between each layer and it resulted in a lot more work down the way. I would strongly suggest that you do indeed sand each layer to not only help the next layer adhere but to remove any bumps and air pockets before they become much much larger.
      I worked with chopped strand mat because once it starts to break down its very easy to work around edges and into details. Normal woven mat had a “bias” which allows the matting to only stretch in one direction and can make corners and bends very tough to get get clean smooth adhesion.
      As for Pepakura I strongly support it, the problem is that Pepakura is a reader program not a 3D modeling / designer. You will need access to another program to build the design and then load it into pepakura to get full use out of it.

  2. I like that you’re posting prices in your tutorials along with the steps. I’m half considering getting into cosplay, but the potential cost is daunting. Thanks to your comments, I know it’s not going to be nearly as expensive as I’m afraid it’s going to be. Or, it can be that expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

  3. Thanks for walking us through your process and warning us away from your bad experiences (glass fibers in skin, not sanding between coats, using clay instead of card stock). I like the design and your execution. Appreciate it!

  4. This is really cool !
    But I must ask.
    Did the expanding foam come off easy from the mannequin head ? I need to make a helm but I don’t dare to spray the expanding foam on it yet. Or do I cover the mannequin head with something ?

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