Forging the Iron Man (part 1)

Forging the Iron Man (part 1)

Hi folks!  I’m Jeff LeBlanc: hiker, maker, old time geek and Tony Stark wanna-be.  I’m working on a project here at the Manchester Makerspace that some of you might find interesting.
What am I making?

A wearable suit of Iron Man armor, specifically the Mark VII from the Avengers and Iron Man 3 movies.

How am I making it?

The outer armor will be done primarily by 3D printing.  Some parts may prove difficult and I’ll do them by foam crafting instead, but most will be printed.  After printing, there is a good amount of sanding and painting to get the perfect look.  As the project progresses, I hope to use vacuum forming to make molds of each part.  LEDs will be added for highlights in places like the eyes, palms and arc reactor chest piece to better simulate the on-screen appearance.

What are my goals for this project?
First and foremost, to have a wearable suit of Iron Man armor as close to what was seen on the screen as I can get!  Along the way, I want to learn about the art of prop making and related areas.  So far I’ve learned about 3D printing, including how the printers work, what materials they use, and various software packages that support modeling and printing.  I’ve had to learn some basic electronics and soldering techniques, making me regret not taking at least one electrical engineering elective back in college!  I’ve learned about post-printing techniques of sanding, priming and painting to get high quality parts.  And I’m sure I have a lot more to learn before I finish!
Where am I learning all this from?

A number of sources.  I’ve started to get plugged into the New England cosplay community, and everyone I’ve talked to has been great about sharing knowledge.  As ever, people at our Makerspace are great to bounce ideas off of.  And of course, the University of YouTube.

Why not use EVA foam instead?
I sort of fell into this project in a very opposite way of most people making prop and costume armor.  Foam crafting is a common way of doing armor, along with newer techniques like molding worbla.  With me, I started by having a 3D printer on loan over a weekend and playing with various parts.  Around the same time, I watched “Cosplay Melee” on the SyFy Channel.  There was an episode with armor and an episode with super heroes.  All those concepts stirred together in my head, a few web searches provided a starter set of files for an Iron Man gauntlet, and the project began!
What are the greatest challenges?

So far, the biggest challenge has been how to handle the armored joints for the hand, wrist, elbow, etc.  On the screen you have CGI to help you “cheat”, but in real life you need to get creative as you try to get as close to that on-screen image as you can.  I’ve looked at a number of different techniques and materials, including looking at actual medieval plate armor in museums.  Honestly, I’m still working on an ideal solution, but some 3D printed flexible material is my current best hope.

Were there any surprises in the project?
So many surprises, most of which are obvious in retrospect.  The first was when I found out that the parts didn’t “just work” when I printed them the first time; I’m a human factors guy, and it never occurred to me to consider the anthropometrics of the person who made my blueprint versus me.  The next big one was when I was watching videos of other armor builds and hearing about other makers putting cooling layers into their costumes so they don’t overheat wearing the suit.  Passing out at Comic Con in full armor would be a bad thing.  Of course, the biggest one is the realization that, wow, this is so much harder than I figured it would be!
When do I expect to finish the suit?

Sometime between next year and before the zombie apocalypse, since it’ll come in useful for the latter.

As the project continues, I’ll post updates here, next time with many more pictures!