My First Worbla/EVA Foam Project

I needed a very particular 1950s football helmet but the only existing ones I could find were youth sized. Hoping that I could somehow make it fit, I went ahead and bought one off eBay. Upon its arrival it was clear that there was no way I’d ever get my head in there. Having watched some of Evil Ted Smith‘s videos on YouTube I felt vaguely confident that I could make an adult sized copy. I already had some EVA foam on hand that I’d picked up at Harbor Freight for my husband’s vault suit so I only needed to buy some Barge Cement and a Kershaw blade sharpener.

Using Evil Ted’s techniques I covered the football helmet in aluminum foil and then covered the foil in duct tape. I transferred design details such as the placement of the holes onto the duct tape. I also drew the lines where I’d be cutting the pattern into its various pieces along with hash marks to help line them back up later. I chose the side I thought looked best and used it for my master. I cut it apart with scissors and added slashes in the side piece to flatten it out. I then traced them onto brown paper to make my final pattern pieces.

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I used straight pins to hold the pattern in place while I drew on the foam. Next time I might try double sided tape instead to avoid putting unnecessary holes in the foam. I wasn’t confident I could keep my knife at a 90° angle with all those curves so I used my scroll saw to make most of my cuts. I heated my foam with a heat gun and started shaping it.

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Once my pieces were shaped I started to assemble them. It was about this time that I realized I hadn’t enlarged the pattern. Instead of panicking I just figured “eh, practice piece” but it actually turned out to be a perfect fit. Totally on purpose. Yup. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a picture while wearing it at this stage despite how often I wore it around the house. Oh well. I tried to fill the seams in with caulk but it didn’t really smooth out to my liking. I think the gaps were bigger than they should have been because of the rougher cut of the scroll saw. I did try to smooth the edges out a bit but it was nowhere close to as smooth as a what a straight blade cut would have been.

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I shaped my ear pieces on the belt sander and glued them in place. With the base completed I started cutting out Worbla pieces for what I thought would be my finished surface. I layered the Worbla directly onto the foam and it seemed like everything would go as planned.

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I put the second piece on and was gently kneading the two center pieces together with my fingers when I had a great idea “I should use something as a rolling pin to make this faster and get a smoother surface!”. I located an empty vitamin bottle, heated the seam back up and started to roll the bottle across the seam. Except it didn’t roll. It immediately stuck to the Worbla and when I pulled the bottle off a big hunk of Worbla came with it. Panic ensued. I tried to put the blob back in place but the damage was done. I smoothed it out the best I could and moved on to the other pieces intending to come back later and work it down some more. I did one side piece and it was pretty much a disaster as well. The Worbla stretched out of shape around the slashes when I picked it up causing it to not line up properly so I had some overlapping and general mayhem. The stretched parts were thin and rougher in texture. For the next side piece I cut it into three pieces and placed them individually. This worked much better. For the ear piece I shaped it over the actual helmet with the intent of just heating up the edges and sticking it on my copy. That didn’t go well. The heat travelled onto the ear shape and basically caved it in. It was looking pretty grim at this stage. I decided on a new approach to the ear pieces and ripped off my first try along with the foam ear pieces I had glued on. I shaped some Worbla over the original helmet just like before but this time I backed it with Loctite Repair Putty so it’d hopefully hold its shape through the heating process.

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This approach worked much better but was not without flaws. I had to use Worbla scraps as clay and fill in gaps where the Loctite and the foam transitioned. I tried skimming wood filler over where the pieces met to help smooth it out but I wasn’t really satisfied with the results. Reheating caused big air bubbles to form under the Worbla which had to be pierced with a pin so the air could be released. At this stage I got a bit hung up on fiddling with it trying to get it as smooth as possible.

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I finally acknowledged the fact that I wasn’t making much headway smoothing the Worbla so I decided to bust out the Bondo. I did a layer of Gesso first to get a uniform color then I started layering on the Bondo. Once I got my first layer on I went over everything with my sander and brushed away all the Bondo dust. Then I just repeated the Bondo, sand, dust process until I was reasonably happy with the surface of my helmet. I sprayed it with white primer near the end of the process to better see the areas that needed to be filled in.

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I evened out the edge of the helmet by smoothing Apoxie Sculpt over it. I used more Bondo to smooth the edges of the Apoxie into the helmet. I did a couple layers of triple thick glaze to help fill in some of the tiny imperfections and I cut a 1/8″ strip of 2mm foam to trim the edge. I glued it on with super glue and sealed it with white glue to protect it from the spray paint. I used a grinding bit on the Dremel to open the holes in the top and a sanding drum to clear the foam away from the ear holes. Everything got a few layers of primer and was ready to be painted.

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I painted it all red and painted my hardware silver. I used the same 2mm craft foam for the white stripe and glued everything on. I decided to paint the stitches on and called it done since my convention was fast approaching. Now that I’m no longer in a rush I think I’m going to make some improvements. I’ll probably replace the foam strips with styrene. I’ll paint the middle stripe red and use white tape for the stripe as in the original. I’d also like to find smaller snaps as the ones I got are a little large. I’ll replace the googly eye rivets with something that will sit lower to the surface of the helmet. The Apoxie Sculpt also cracks when I have to bend the helmet to get it on. It’s only visible when the helmet is being bent but it bugs me. I’m thinking of sanding the AS off and replacing it with Sugru but I’ll have to order some first and see how it handles. I also need to add in a little leather-looking edge. I may Dremel off the inside edge entirely and replace it with leather. Lastly, I’d like to replace the painted stitches with real ones. For now, this is how it looks compared to the original.

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In other news, I finally broke down and got Body Double to make my headcast with. The plan is to get it done over Thanksgiving weekend.

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Lastly, my husband advised me that my menu settings were a bit confusing to navigate so I added buttons to the drop-down menus in addition to the top button also being a link.

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