Making High Quality Copies Of Existing Parts Using A Silicone Mold

3D printing has made it incredibly easy to produce small runs of plastic parts, but getting rid of the 3D printed look can be tricky and time-consuming. When you need a smooth and polished finish, or you want to make exact copies of an existing injection molded part, casting resin parts in silicone molds is an excellent option. [Eric Strebel] has plenty of experience with the process, and demonstrates it in detail while creating copies of violin chin rests that are no longer in production. It’s an interesting application, where 3D-printed layer lines are not just an aesthetic issue, but something that would irritate the user’s skin if present.

Creating silicone molds requires a bit of forethought about the mold design. You want to select the split line to make it as easy as possible to remove the finished parts, while also placing the resin pouring sprue and vents to prevent air bubbles from getting trapped in the mold. In [Erics] case, it’s impossible to use a simple planar split line, so he mounts the master part on a block of wood and uses cardboard and modeling clay to create a volume where the second side of the mold will protrude in the first side. It’s important to note that sulfur-free clay must be used, otherwise the silicone might not cure.

One side of the silicon mold is cast first, and after curing it is placed back in the mold box with the master part to allow casting the other side of the mold. At this point [Eric] super glues the sprue-former and vent rods to the master parts before molding the second side. A release agent consisting of petroleum jelly and naphtha is added wherever the two sides of the mold will touch, to prevent them from sticking together.

Bubbles are your enemy while resin casting, so ideally you need a vacuum chamber to degas the silicone and resin before casting, and a pressure chamber to allow the resin part to cure. While pouring the silicone for the molds, the mold box is placed on a vibration table to allow any bubbles to rise to the surface. While the entire mold-making and molding process is time-consuming, the copied parts are almost indistinguishable from the original.

[Eric] has also shown us how to make much larger silicone molds in the past. If you find yourself making lots of different-sized mold boxes, it might be worth building an adjustable mold box.

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Serial Silicone Molding

The techniques for making single-digit quantities of custom molded parts don’t scale well when you need to make dozens, as [Kevin Holmes] discovered. He needed to make 80-some sets of a silicone motor mount, and the one-up mold process was not going to work. He explores several solutions, which he rejects as being too complicated. Finally [Kevin] comes up with the idea of daisy-chaining banks of molds clamped together with rails of stock metal bars. It’s a pretty nifty process to watch and you can check the video out below, which is not unlike a very slow 7495 four-bit shift register.

Even though the silicone he uses is clear, pay attention and you can still see the carry-out as it propagates from mold to mold. He manually performs the nibble carry operation from one bank to the next — we wonder if he could cascade these banks, and inject all 80 in one really big squeeze?

Why would someone need 80 sets of silicone rubber motor mounts, you may ask? Well, you may remember the 4-mation 3D zoetrope that we wrote about back in 2018. [Kevin] is one of the founders of this mesmerizing project, and it would seem that their Kickstarter project has been successful. As he demonstrates in the video below, without some type of noise dampening mounts, a rumble from the motor is amplified through the stage of the zoetrope. If you have any favorite mold-making tips for small batch manufacturing, let us know in the comments below. Thanks to [George Graves] for sending this tip our way.

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Apple Watch Gets Custom Transparent Case

The Apple Watch was the tech company’s attempt to bring wrist computers into the mainstream. It’s naturally available in a variety of fits and finishes, but if you want something properly original, you’ve got to go custom. [Useless Mod] does just that with a clear case for the popular smartwatch.

The mod starts with a patient, careful disassembly of the watch – necessary given the delicate components inside. It’s achieved in the end with only having to drill out 1 screw and an unfortunately snapping of the crown wheel axle. However, [Useless Mod] presses on, and silicone casts the original Apple enclosure. The video goes over all the finer points, from degassing to using strips of acrylic plastic to act as runners. Once done, the silicone mold is used to produce a replica case in transparent epoxy, and the watch is reassembled.

The final result is impressive, with the case optically clear and showing off the watch’s internals. The look is improved by removing some of the original insulation tape to better reveal the PCBs inside. Unfortunately, the design of the watch, which is largely covered by a screen and heartbeat sensor, means it’s not the greatest choice for a clear case mod, but it works nonetheless. We’ve seen similar work before from [Useless Mod] too – like this transparent drone case for the Mavic Mini. Video after the break.

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Making Silicone Molds – Big Ones!

If you’ve got one of something and you want more, duplicating it with a silicone mold can be a great way to go. This is applicable to 3D printing something you need many copies of, and a whole variety of other usecases. [Eric Strebel] prides himself on his abilities in this area, and has put out a guide to producing very large silicone molds in a simple and reliable manner.

The overarching process is simple, but followed properly, it produces great results. [Eric] starts by building a mold box out of wood, coated in shellac to ensure it doesn’t stick to the silicone. The master part is then stuck to the base, surrounded by a lasercut cardboard strip which acts as a seal and key. Once properly degassed silicone is poured in and cured, the second half can be made. The mold is flipped in the mold box, the seal key removed,  and release agent applied to the silicone surfaces. With another pour and cure, the mold is ready for casting new parts.

While simple, if the correct equipment isn’t used or steps skipped, you’ll end up with a useless mold full of air bubbles or surface irregularities. It’s useful to see just what it takes to get a mold of such scale (13″ x 19″!) completed without flaws. We’ve featured [Eric]’s work before, such as his fine detail improvements on the Apple Pencil. Video after the break.

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Mold-Making Masterclass In Minutes

Making silicone molds seems easy, but there are a lot of missteps to be made along the way that can mean the difference between a great, reusable mold, and one that’s a sad waste of silicone. If you’re helpless to know the difference, then check out [Eric Strebel]’s 9-minute masterclass teaser video on making a two-part mold for resin casting, which is also embedded below.

Even if you already know how to do this, there’s probably a good tip in here somewhere. One of them being that you should always pour your silicone from one place and let it coat the piece being copied. Otherwise, there might be lines on the mold. Another tip is for DIY mold release made from petroleum jelly thinned with naphtha.

Our favorite tip has to do with the way [Eric] makes this a reusable two-part mold, which is more akin to injection molding. To pour silicone for the second part and get it to separately nicely, [Eric] uses sprues made out of resin rods that were cast inside of drinking straw molds. These he chamfers against a belt sander to minimize the contact with the cast part, which makes them a snap to break off. [Eric] says this is just the beginning, and there are more videos to come that will break down the steps.

There’s more than one way to make a mold, especially for casting in metal. We’ve seen everything from 3D-printed molds to kinetic sand.

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Hackaday Podcast 038: Cyberdecks Taking Over, Resin 3D-Printing Vs FDM, Silicone Injection Molding, And The Pickle Fork Fiasco

Hackaday Editors Tom Nardi and Mike Szczys comb through their favorite hacks from the past week. We loved Donald Papp’s article on considerations before making the leap from FDM 3D Printers to a resin-based process, and we solidify our thoughts on curing cement in low-gravity. Tom’s working on a Cyberdeck build, and he also found an ancient episode of an earlier and much different version of the Hackaday podcast. We’re impressed with a mostly 3D-printed useless machine, a thermal-insert press that’s also 3D-printed, and the Raspberry-Pi based Sidekick clone that popped up this week. A DIY wire-bending robot is an incredible build, as is the gorgeous wire-routing in a mechanical keyboard, and the filigree work on this playing card press. Plus you need to spend some time getting lost in this one hydrogen-line telescope project.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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RFID Payment Ring Made From Dissolved Credit Card

RFID payment systems are one of those things that the community seems to be divided on. Some only see the technology as a potential security liability, and will go a far as to disable the RFID chip in their card so that it can’t be read by a would-be attacker. Others think the ease and convenience of paying for goods by tapping their card or smartphone on the register more than makes up for the relatively remote risk of RFID sniffers. Given the time and effort [David Sikes] put into creating this contactless payment ring, we think it’s pretty clear which camp he’s in.

Alright, so the whole ring making part sounds easy enough, but how does one get an RFID chip that’s linked to their account? Easy. Just call the bank and ask them for one. Of course, they won’t just send you out a little RFID chip and antenna to mount in your hacked up project. (If only things were so simple!) But they will send you a new card if you tell them your old one is getting worn out and needs a replacement. All you have to do when it gets there is liberate the electronics without damaging them.

[David] found that an hour or so in an acetone bath was enough to dissolve the plastic and expose the epoxy-encased RFID chip, assuming you scrape the outer layers of the card off first. He notes that you can speed this part of the process up considerably if you know the exact placement and size of the RFID chip; that way you can cut out just the area you’re interested in rather than having to liquefy the whole card.

Once you have your chip, you just need to mount it into a ring. [David] has designed a 3D printable frame (if you’ve got a high-resolution SLA machine, that is) which accepts the chip and a new antenna made from a coil of 38 AWG magnet wire. With the components settled into the printed frame, its off to a silicone mold and the liberal application of epoxy resin to encapsulate the whole thing in a durable shell.

If a ring is not personal enough for you, then the next step is getting the RFID chip implanted directly into your hand. There are even folks at hacker cons who will do that sort of thing for you, if you’re squeamish.

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