Vacuum forming is a technique of using negative pressure to pull a sheet of softened plastic (usually) over a form to produce a smoothly molded part. It can be tricky to get right, but the basic tools are readily built in the home shop. Watch these videos for a good introduction to the process:
Homemade vacuum forming a helmet by uiproductions
How to build a vacuum forming machine including my easy heating solution by James Bruton
How to make a simple vacuum former by I Like To Make Stuff
How To Vacuum Form in 3 Easy Steps by WidgetWorksUnlimited
Home-made Vacuum Forming Rig by omegageek64
Homemade Vacuum Forming Plate by electronicsNmore
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