Costuming 101: Assembling the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Armor

Part II of 'Costuming 101: Building Fantasy Armor Using Discarded 55-Gallon Chemical Barrels.' We assemble the armor using pop-rivets...


Fantasy, Science Fiction and Medieval Armor Costume Construction

Part II, cont. from Costuming How-to 101: Fantasy Armor Created from a Plastic Chemical Barrel

This will be difficult to explain and provide graphic representations for. Assuming the reader has no prior knowledge or concept of how to do it, it would be equally difficult for me to explain and show by graphic images how to tie one's shoelaces or how to knot a dress tie while standing in front of a mirror.

The information on how to assemble the armor will be here. In the attempt to perform these steps the reader and hobbyist shall glean the spirit of the construct and likely come to understand the intention if not the exact method provided.

In the first installment of Costuming How-to 101: Fantasy Armor~, we learned some basics about procuring the required used 55-gallon chemical barrels and making a poster board template that is sized to the intended wearer.

Upon tracing the paper template onto a suitable cleaned and dry barrel, the two main carapaces are cut out using an electric jig saw. It is preferred to use an electric jig saw but these armor carapaces can be cut-out using a hand-held key-hole saw if necessary. In my first construct that is exactly the tools I used; a hand-held keyhole saw and several hacksaw blades. It took much longer and I receives numerous blisters and cuts for my efforts. Mainly, It just takes much longer and it is not as accurate as a power tool can produce.

With the carapaces cut out and using a serrated steak knife, all edges of the carapaces are draw-shave scraped to remove any ragged 'flash' plastic pebbles that the saw blade has created. Just a quick run on both side and both pieces is adequate. These will be finished much smoother later. For the most part, removing this flash with the serrated knife is just for keeping your work area clean of debris.

Using the propane torch for selectively heating and bending the carapaces in the required places and immersion in cool water to 'set' the bend permanently (as per the first installment of this series,) you should end up with two armor carapaces like the sketch below.

two halves of the HDPE armor, cut from a 55-gallon plastic chemical barrel

Two Carapace Halves

When all these steps are performed as per the Part I of this series, it brings to where we begin again; assemblage of the two carapaces.

This will form what I call 'chest cage' and shall refer to the joined carapaces as such in the future references.

In this Part II we will be using the Dremel or Black & Decker Rotary tool, and shall be introducing the use of a Pop Rivet Tool, along with stainless steel pop rivets and aluminum pop-rivet backing plates.

Required materials/tools:

  • Electric Drill, jig saw and Rotary Tool (and eye protection)
  • Several 1/8th drill bits. (keep several on-hand, they break sometimes)
  • 1/2-inch long, 1/8th diameter/gauge ALL STAINLESS STEEL pop-rivets (box of 500 recommended for price and value)
  • 1/8th dia. backing plates (Aluminum, available wherever pop-rivets are sold. Acquire several 25 count boxes)
  • Pop-rivet tool (also called 'pop-rivet gun') Avoid the 'cheap' models; expect to pay $30.00 - 50.00 for a good model. You won't regret buying quality.
  • Ball-peen hammer (claw hammer will suffice) and a thick heavy METAL surface to pound upon (an anvil is ideal, but a quarter-inch thick iron plate is fine)

Pop Rivets

Pop rivets come in a variety of sizes, lengths and finishes. Ranging from pop rivets made for use on computer cases and for specialty 'computer case modding' to general automotive restoration to a countersunk type for kitchen appliances, pop rivets are a builder's best friend when it comes to quick, sturdy and reliable attaching of two materials or dissimilar flat surfaces.

I use, recommend and highly advocate the use of aluminum 'back-up plates' on ALL riveted junctures for these constructs. A backing (or back-up) plate is nothing more than an aluminum washer that provides additional strength to the riveted joint. It prevents the flared end of the rivet from possibly pulling-through the softer HDPE plastic, even if subjected to great load or pulling force. These back-up plates are cheap. At around $3.00 for a small box of 25, you should have several boxes available along with the required 1/2-inch long 1/8th in. diameter pop rivets.

There are multiple sizes, materials and gauges of pop rivets but for our armor construction we shall limit ourselves to 1/8th diameter STAINLESS STEEL pop rivets that are 1/2 inch long.

My favorite type are the ALL STAINLESS STEEL pop rivets; not only is the break-away shaft stainless steel but so is the head. There are varieties that use a STAINLESS STEEL shaft but employ an ALUMINUM body. These are acceptable for use. But at all costs, avoid the use of the 'ALL ALUMINUM' pop rivet. These are intended for softer materials that do not experience great sheer-forces. They are inferior for our requirements and will break apart too easily.

This 1/2-inch length will allow us to adjoin two or more layers (thicknesses) of the basic 55-gallon barrel. While barrel thickness can vary greatly between makes, models and even within the same barrel, the half-inch length of our rivets shall prove to be more than adequate. There will be excessive 'tang' protruding through all riveted joints, but these can (with the use of those aluminum back-up plates) be pounded acceptably flat. Pounding-flat a excessively long pop rivet that does not have a 'backing plate' will damage the plastic and likely cause the rivet to punch-through the material. Use backing plate for all pop-rivets. It is cheap, effective insurance.

We are now ready to assemble the two halves and begin making the joined carapaces into a wearable unit that I call a 'chest-cage.'

NOTE: All graphics are NOT to scale and may not depict actual results. I have no actual images for many aspects of this armor construction. Your actual results will likely be superior to the graphics provided.

Two HDPE carapaces cut and bent to form the front and the back of the armor

Align the two halves of the carapaces to face each other, as shown here. The 'shoulder hooks' face each other, and one will over-clasp the other unit.

For clarity, these two halves are color-coded. "Blue" and "Yellow" are interchangeably considered to be 'Front' or 'Back' at this juncture. One carapace will always be smaller than the other, pretty much guaranteed. Proof? Try to make two carapaces exactly the same size! I have made several units and despite my best attempts no two carapaces are ever exactly the same width and girth. Made at the same time from the same template, one will always snugly fit inside of the other.

This is however, totally to our advantage. The LARGER one will over-lay the smaller one, as seen in this image below. Be sure however that BOTH shoulder straps of either color are either both on TOP or both UNDERNEATH. That is to say, both yellow are top or bottom, or both blue are on the bottom or on the top. So no 'co-mixing' of these union points as this create an undesirable 'twist' to the vertical alignment. This will make sense when aligning the carapaces together and it is difficult if not impossible to do it wrong, but it is worth mentioning.

Join the Two Halves so that one set of opposing but respective Shoulder Straps are Parallel and overlapping. Clamp firmly on either side of the dot-dashed lines labeled Rivet Corridor using two Vice Grips, or C-Clamps. For clarity in this image, over-lapping areas of carapaces depicted in GREEN.

Align One Set of Opposing Shoulder Straps and Clamp in Place

Join the two carapaces so that one set of mated should straps are parallel. Clamp in place

Looking down from the top of the two carapace halves, note that the shoulder strap of one aligns parallel to the shoulder strap of the counterpart. This will often cause an 'angular offset' to occur. The head-hole will appear to be too small for the wearer as well. Disregard this observation. This are acceptable and corrected in a later step.

Mainly, be thinking about the 'thickness' or 'spinal depth' of the chest-cage (your chest to spine thickness) while aligning the shoulder straps prior to riveting. If the chest cage looks too narrow-of-depth, it might actually be so and thus you have to 'open up' or lengthen the distance of the clamped shoulder straps.

If the chest cavity appears that it will be too large, slide the shoulder straps slightly closer together before riveting the first straps in place. Slightly larger than 'perfect body-tight fit' is optimal however. Remember' the wearer will likely be wearing clothes (shirt, sweater, chainmail, etc.) under this armor so slightly larger than optimal is better.

Clamp one or both sides of the shoulder straps union tightly using Vice Grips or C-clamps. Note the dot-dashed line marked "RIVET CORRIDOR." Drill and rivet only within the confines of this narrow corridor, at or near the apex of the union.

One hole at a time, drill a 1/8th hole and install a pop-rivet from the top side, using a backing-plate on the underside (toward the wearer.) Apply the rivet using the Pop Rivet Gun until the rivet 'pops' and releases the shaft.

Repeat this procedure until you have at least FOUR (or more, it's up to you) rivets applied. For your armor it may be desirable to counter-sink the drilled rivet holes before installing the rivet. This will make hiding the visible rivet head easier at the final stages. But if these rivets are desired to be visible such as in the suggestion of wrought iron-work, do not counter-sink the rivet holes. The exposed rivet heads (esp. when the whole armor is spray-painted!) provide a veritable 'iron-clad battleship' effect which is in itself, highly desirable for this genre of costume.

Perhaps careful consideration as to their spatial location (and patterning?) on the opposite shoulder to correlate with the first shoulder will suggest a more orderly Crusader-like appearance. It will appear to be professionally constructed (at least, by medieval iron-works standards.) The choices are endless for whatever effects you desire. Don't just through rivets in helter-skelter and patternless. Making each side match the other is the sign of a truly well thought-out construction process. I spent many hours upon completion, trying to 'hide' or 'relocate' rivets that were non-symmetric to the mirror side... Learn from my mistakes.

For the shoulder straps you MUST however remember to keep all the rivets within an imaginary Rivet Corridor (approximately as shown.) Note the CORRECT and the WRONG inset images for placement of these four (or more) rivets (depicted by RED DOTS.) It is important to keep your rivets within this narrower corridor. This allows for easier 'sizing' of the head-hole and shoulders straps later on. Saving time and resources are the major goal here. Re-doing previously-done work to correct for mistakes and make revisions for visual appeal only wastes time and materials.

On one very complicated armor build I spent nearly three years building and re-building it, allowing for the learning curve, mistakes made and of course, my do-overs. The second armor of that genre (scaled 1/3rd smaller for the intended wearer) only took one month to build on mainly an hour a few times a week, and intense weekend sessions! Such was the ease of not doing 'mistakes' and 'do-overs.'

Adjoin the Opposite Shoulder Strap of Your Armor

With one set of opposing shoulder straps riveted securely, pull the carapaces apart to align the second set of shoulder straps, and clamp securely. One hole at a time, drill and rivet this union together in FOUR places, using 1/8th inch aluminum backing-plates for added strength

With one set of opposing shoulder straps riveted securely, forcibly pull the two carapaces apart like a clamshell until the second set of shoulder straps align. Clamp securely using Vice Grips or other clamps, and one hole at a time drill and pop-rivet this union, again in FOUR places. Again, be mindful of the imaginary 'RIVET CORRIDOR' and stay within this area.

You should now have what I call a working 'chestcage.' Before it can be tried on, it must have several modifications made to it to allow for the wearer to get his or her head into the 'head hole,' arm-holes need to be sized and the four 'wings' around the left and right lumbar regions need to be trimmed to a useful and unobtrusive size.

Break-out the Rotary Cut-off Tool, Jig Saw and the Sharpie Markers!

For this next part we trim and size various aspects to make the chestcage wearable. Use a standard cut-off wheel (either metal or composite material) and trim-away the excess 'tails' of the shoulder straps. The top carapace (blue) shall be trimmed from the top or outside of the chestcage and the shoulder strap tails of the yellow carapace are trimmed-away from the inside. This does not have to be perfectly smooth. The Rotary tool is a blunt-force cutting tool; it does not leave smooth edges. These ragged edges will be re-visited later, making them smooth and comfortable. For now, removing the excess tails is for weight reduction, comfort, and to prevent clothing of the wearer from becoming snagged.

The excess tail material from both sets of shoulder straps are trimmed away using the Rotary Tool and cut-off wheel, and the slightly too small head-hole is sketched using a black marker and cut-out using the electric jig saw

Notice in the image above (and to the left) that the head hole is too small, and rather 'football shaped.' A person cannot possibly get their head into such a hole.

Using a sharp-tip magic marker pen, sketch a symmetrically pleasing oval around this irregularly-shaped head-hole as depicted by the red/black oval. Begin small. Cut out the sketched oval using the Rotary Tool and smooth it using the serrated steak knife to remove the pebbly flash material.

By holding the armor upside-down over the intended wearer's head, attempt to slide their head into the created hole. It will be necessary for the wearer to turn their head sideways to fit through this oval hole. This is how the armor fits. Otherwise, the hole we are making would extend too far down the chest and expose too much 'throat' area. The lowest part of the oval should ultimately be an inch or so below the 'V' at the front and base of the wearer's throat.

If the hole is still too small (and likely it will be on the first fitting,) continue tracing incrementally larger ovals, adjusting for a custom fit, and trimming the material off using the jig saw. Removing the 'flash' material with the serrated steak knife each time you make a jig-saw cut will make the job easier and less messy.

Repeat this sketch-cut-&-test fit procedure until the wearer can EASILY insert their head into and out of the hole. It should not be a tight fit or a struggle to get into or out of the head hole. Let's be real here; you do not want this to be too tight around your or the intended the wearer's throat. This is a costume armor; it should not be dangerous to wear. Treat and consider it as such, a safe to wear costume.

Using pre-marked lines, square-off the left and right lumbar tails, allowing the FRONT to overlap the BACK tail slightly, and make the arm-holes larger, oval-shaped and comfortable

Once the head-hole is large enough for the intended wearer to easily get their head into and out of the armor, the excess 'tails' that overlap the left and right lumbar regions need to be trimmed.

Both armholes also require some beautification and enlargement as well. This will require several try-ons and trimmings to get it just right for both sides. The arm-hole should allow the wearer to move their arms freely without great restriction. It must be a painless and comfortable fit.

Before trying it on however, the last section of overlap needs to be trimmed the sections on the wearer's left and right lower lumbar region.

You want the FRONT (shown is BLUE) to overlap the BACK (YELLOW) flaps. This overlap only needs to be an inch or so.

The rivet tails now need to be pounded flat. By positioning the armor so that the rivet's HEAD is against a solid iron surface (an anvil or steel plate, etc.) carefully pound the pointy-end of the rivet TAIL with a ball-peen (or claw) hammer until it is flattened. The aluminum back-up plate will keep the rivet's integrity while the rivet-tail will be flattened.

Once each rivet is suitably pounded flat (to some degree,) this task is complete. The pounded rivet-tails can later be smeared-over with a strong multi-purpose rubber bonding agent such as the adhesive "SHOO-GOO." The interior contact surface can thus be made to be even flatter. I find that this is often unnecessary, but a good thick smearing of SHOO-GOO over the riveted seams inside and covered with a patch of trimmed denim makes an excellent 'shoulder padding' from the potential irritant of the flat-pounded metallic rivet tail.

After using the serrated steak knife to 'draw-shave' the pebbly flash away, a propane torch can be used to GENTLY sweep the edges of the armor. The plastic at the edges will recede slightly from the flame, 'mound-up' ever so slightly and become shiny for several seconds as it cools.

DO NOT TOUCH THIS SURFACE until it is cool (usually under a minute.) The plastic will stick your fingers and burn horribly. Any tool that comes into contact with this when hot will 'pull' the hot molten plastic into hairs and strings.

Do try this torch-smoothing method on the cut, draw-shaved edges though. Within just a minute or two of performing this you shall become an expert in the technique. It is really easy and exceedingly fun to watch the plastic predictably and artistically behave this way, creating a very smooth and snag-free leading edge. This is one of the easiest things to do with HDPE-pastic armor.

Test the Fit of the Chest Armor: Make Adjustments as Necessary

The joined Front and Back carapaces now form the CHESTCAGE, which with a few trimming removed, can be test-fitted to the wearer

The armor should now be test-wearable. By gently expanding the base like an inverted clam-shell, the wearer can 'crawl up inside' of the chestcage, usually without the aid of an assistant or helper.

Here is where repeated measures and trims are required. It may also be required that the sides of armor (from the under-arms down) be slightly re-heated in strategic places using the propane torch and forcibly 'squeezed' into its counterpart half (maybe held in place using a stretchy belt or bungy cord) and quick-dunked in the cold bath water as per the first tutorial How to Build Fantasy/Sci-Fi Armor. This is 'ultra-fine tuning' to attain an exact shape.

What we have at this point is a basic 'chest cage armor.' There are many more features that can be added to your chest-cage to suggest surface details, seams, and intense battle damage.

These follow-up details can come in the next installment of

'How to Build Fantasy/Sci-Fi Armor PART III'

(all images and graphics by author)

NEW: Creating Leg Covers for the HDPE Armor by author.


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Costuming How-To 101: Fantasy Armor Created from Recycled Plastic Chemical Barrels

Build your own Stormtrooper fantasy wearable space armor from high density (HDPE) plastic rain barrels. The armor created is suitable for Halloween, costume parties, science fiction conventions etc.


Build Wearable Stormtrooper Body Armor

Beginning with a 55-gallon HDPE ("high density polyethylene") plastic barrel (of the type often used as rainwater collection barrels,) I will show you how to create rugged wearable chest armor. Suitable for costumes, science fiction/fantasy conventions or role-playing, these are wearable and durable.

From this basic how-to do it yourself tutorial you can extrapolate other designs and concepts as will be demonstrated in images at the end of this series of articles.

A 55-Gallon Non-Deposit Rain-barrel Chemical Barrel

a blue 55-gallon chemical barrel

What Can We Make From This Rain barrel?

Here below is an example of a 'space theme' character chest armor that I made a few years ago for a friend in Hamilton, Ontario CANADA, using a 55-gallon chemical barrel just like the one shown here.

(image source)

The assembled sky blue armor is spray-painted with primer then with bone-white spray paint, but can receive any color the wearer desires.

The buckles on each side unsnap and the chest cage expands several inches on a spring-like resistance, similar to the way a clam shell opens.  The wearer can comfortably and easily crawl up inside of this and re-attach the snaps for a adjustable snug fit.

The snap-locks are a very effective, rugged system and the chest armor is surprisingly comfortable to wear. The material actually seems to draw body heat away from the wearer.

Created Space Armor built using a 55-gallon plastic chemical barrel

(armor image by author)

So, -are you excited yet? Are you ready to learn some basics how to build armor like this and more? Let's begin!

Procure One or Two 55-gallon Barrels - But from Where?

Typically, these are 55-gallon chemical barrels are non-deposit because they are non-refillable.

Food-grade products such as phosphoric acid (usually white barrels for food-grade) are what we're after here. "Food grade” barrels cannot be reliably cleaned of potentially dangerous contents and by law, are non-refillable.

Black barrels are usually for industrial-grade chemicals such as concentrated phosphoric acid typically used for rust removal, and for even harsher chemicals. Special care is needed to thoroughly rinse these barrels before use in our costuming project.

Blue barrels are usually slated for 'cleaning agent/alkaline products,' such as bulk ammonia-based cleansers for commercial use. Again, use these highly-caustic barrels suitable for use only after thoroughly rinsing them inside-out with water.

The black barrels being non-food grade products are refillable and thus, typically incur a distributor's deposit of at least $55.00. Removing these barrels from a facility, if allowed, requires that you pay the deposit. We'll just work with the FREE white or blue barrels for now.

You can also buy any of these new & unused barrels (in an assortment of different colors) for around $55.00-$75.00 each, or more. A quick search the internet (Google "55-gallon plastic barrels for sale") and you will be rewarded with dozens of sites that sell and ship barrels to you the buyer, in quantities that will suit your needs.

I got mine for free at a dairy-foods manufacturer. Any consumer foods facility (bakery, meat-packing, dairy foods, etc.) uses products delivered in these barrels. Usually FREE for the asking, you are doing them a favor by asking to take these.

Some 'yard and farm' stores may even have a short renewable supply of these for industrial farm use even if they are not prominently displayed on the sales floor. Any boat marina probably uses 55-gallon barrels for their floating docks. Ask yourself, -ask them: where did they get them?

I have heard this over and over again, "I looked, I really did, -but I can't find any barrels!" and seriously, I don't believe them.

Sure, maybe the first acquisition is a little difficult but after that, it is just another barrel. Once you 'find' or 'acquire' one or two and get to know the source of these chemical barrels, it gets easier and easier to acquire them. You will start to see these barrels everywhere!

At any one time in the late '90s and early 2000s I had a rotating stockpile of over 35 of these barrels in my back yard! THIRTY FIVE! That is not including the dozen+ that I had stored at my dad's barn and the several dozen or more that over the course of a year I had previously given away to friends with farms, given horse enthusiasts for their rodeo events, etc.

I even swapped two 55-gallon barrels to a family-owned pizzeria (they wanted these for garbage collection out back) for two free slices of pepperoni pizza! The barrels were FREE for me so I profited by the cost of two slices of pizza and the investment of several minutes of my time.

Every time I brought home one or two more barrels I would give away an equal number that I had previously amassed, thus maintaining my inventory for my crafts and for emergency requests.

At the behest of my landlord to 'clean-up my backyard,' I sold all the barrels I had for $5.00 each to a private garbage collection company. They use these barrels for recyclables separation (glass, plastics, small white metals, etc.) for their rural-route customers and told me that they would take as many more of these as I could get.

They were buying them elsewhere at auction (new, I assume?) in lots for upwards of $30.00 each, so my price of $5.00 each was a serious savings for them. Enough of procurement. Let's now assume that you have a barrel or two. Let's begin with making a reusable template.

Make A Template for the Fantasy Chest Armor

trace the T-shirt onto paper

(Image by author)

Using one of your T-shirts as in Figure A, lay it upon large WHITE poster-board card stock. I stress 'white' because once I used black card stock for a ‘black’ armor I was making and I really missed the convenience of being able to leave pencil notes and remarks directly upon the card stock. Notes like "front" or “back”, "inside/outside," "left arm” or “right arm" and more specific details like “add 1-inch here” or “trim this,” and to do math calculations, etc. Trust me, take the easy shortcut suggestions.

Sketch the basic design you see in Figure B above, with generous ‘excess’ tails which will be trimmed away later.

This is your basic template design shown below. Cut this template with scissors, and save it for re-use.

cardstock paper template

(Image by author)

Lay this template (above-right) onto the barrel lengthwise (repeat, “lengthwise”) as this will aid in forming the general ‘shape’ of your torso. You are going to be wearing this so anything to help with the proper fit / intended shape should be considered.

Trace the Outline Onto the Barrel, Lengthwise

Trace the design onto the barrel using a ‘Sharpie’ magic marker. You want to trace TWO of these templates for the front and back of your armor.

Using a portable electric jigsaw, cut out the two templates. Because we sketched this template to have excess material, a cut-on-the-lines exactness is not a big concern.

electric jig saw

(image by author)

Below: Here is what the Carapaces for your Armor Will Look Like

(in this image, the carapaces have already been partially heated and formed, which is explained in the next step)

armor cut-outs

(Image by author)

Using a serrated steak knife like a draw-shave, peel away the pebbly edges where the saw made the cut. This will help to keep your work area cleaner as these pebbly beads will slough off on their own and they get into everything; your clothes, your rug, furniture, your hair, etc.

Work cleanly and smartly else you (or your wife) will be finding these pebblies in the washing machine, in the clothes dryer, in the sink, the bathroom carpet, etc. all because they were attached to your work clothes.

Plastic Carapace in Hand: Think About How Your Shoulders and Midriff Are Shaped

(Image by author)

Examine this image, notice that your shoulders slope slightly ‘downwards’ and your midriff slopes slightly ‘narrower’ towards your hips. The next step will need to incorporate these slopes in the bends that we are about to make.

Torches, Tools and Bath Tubs

I used the bath tub filled with COLD water, but any large container of water that is large enough to fully and conveniently immerse the armor is suitable. Be aware that this is plastic and that you are using a propane torch. HDPE plastic emits noxious and potentially dangerous-to-breathe fumes when super-heated, so ventilation is required. Working outdoors when use the torch and plastics is best.

Heat the Plastic at the Bend Points

The template pieces, I call them “carapaces” at this juncture, have a soft marbled exterior texture and a glass-smooth interior surface. Which side do you want to be the exterior of your armor? Either is okay, but I prefer the exterior surface of the barrel as the exterior of my armor, but I have done it both ways.

Heat Points, One Section at a Time and Cool it in Water

(Image by author)

Noting which side is to be the front and which is to be the back, heat the plastic at approximately the points shown by the ovals, one section at a time. Move the torch flame around often and on both side (front and back.)

Avoid over-heating any one section too intensely or too rapidly. You want the plastic to be pliable, soft but not so hot that it appears ‘shiny’ and begins to bubble-up and melt. If the plastic becomes shiny or clear-opaque, almost see-through, it is over-heated. Stop! Move the torch away and do NOT touch that area. Allow the temperature to dissipate on its own; it will quickly spread to the surrounding area and the plastic will return to a usable state.

Do NOT touch the plastic with your fingers or any tool to ‘test’ the softness. The plastic will be very hot, very tacky and if touched by bare skin it will adhere; you will receive an intense and nasty burn.

HDPE plastic retains heat very well so there is no hurry to perform any of this. Speed cause mistakes. Slow and precise is the key!

You can heat the plastic slowly over several minutes with this method and still be within desirable workability. In fact, waiting a minute might even-out the hot-spots and make the bend-site more homogeneous. There is no rush to get to the bend, hold and water-cool step.

When the corner that you are working on is hot and pliable, almost limp and very flexible, turn the propane torch off and allow the heat within the plastic to propagate evenly.

Gently bend the plastic to form the general shape, angle and contour of your shoulder, noting which is the left versus the right shoulder and in relation to the exterior/interior surface of the carapace. You want the 'marbled texture' of the barrel to be the exterior surface.

Holding the bendable extension securely in the desired position, slowly immerse the entire carapace into the cold water as shown in the image above. The plastic will harden immediately, often with an audible gurgle of steam.

A ‘tap’ or ‘jerk’ will often be felt directly in your hands as well. This is okay and very desirable. It means that the ‘memory’ of the plastic has been successfully re-written. If you must apply any notable force at all to bending the hot plastic it is not hot enough. It should bend similarly to say, the flat cardboard of a pizza box or nasal tissue box.

If you note that there is not a ‘gurgle’ and/or ‘snap’ feel when dipped in the cold water, the plastic may over time slowly relax back to its former shape. The ‘memory’ was not fully rewritten. For some bends that will be riveted or bolted into position, this can be acceptable but for most bends you really want to re-write the plastic’s memory.

Do the four bends on each of the two carapaces each in turn, noting that they will mate to each other to form a single unit with excesses to be trimmed away later. Do not be concerned that the complimentary sections of carapace #1 and #2 may not line-up exactly perfect. They only need to be close. There will be ample opportunity to trim any excess or overlapping material later.

Two Fantasy Armor Carapaces Ready to Assemble

(Image by author)

So pat yourself on the back. You have learned a lot today. It has got to be Beer-thirty somewhere so let's take a break from this tutorial.

I will resume in Part 2 (and link these articles together) and we will examine assembling these two halves, fitting for comfort and symmetry, and what comes next.

PART II of "How to Build Wearable Fantasy/Sci-Fi Armor" is now available.

The 9 Best Last-Minute Fortnite Costumes for Halloween (& Where to Buy Them)

With Halloween 2 weeks away, many folks are frantically looking for costumes. Come on in and see what's left of your favorite Fortnite costumes — and where you can get them FAST before they sell out!

Halloween is just around the bend, and no doubt some of the most popular costumes this year are going to come from the hit video game sensation Fortnite.

With the amount of people who will be dressing as a Fortnite skin this year, it's likely that the costumes will be hard to find — or maybe even sold out completely. 

Since Epic Games, maker of Fortnite, partnered up with Spencer's Gifts and Spirit Halloween to provide the officially licensed Fortnite Halloween costumes and accessories, that's where we'll look first — and then we'll branch out for more when necessary. 

Epic Fortnite Halloween costumes for kids & adults

Cuddle Team Leader

Let's get into this right away and start with everyone's favorite skin, Cuddle Team Leader:

Where to buy:

  • Currently at Spencer Gifts for $45.00 for some Girls' sizes.
  • Also at Spencer's, the Adult & Teen version sells for slightly more at $49.99. Find Spencer's promo codes here.
    • To make sure you don't miss any remaining costumes in your size, call  1-800-762-0419 and have their customer service reps check inventory for  stores near your zip code. The representative I spoke to said they could  check within 100 miles or more, and could also check for both  Spencer or Halloween Spirit. (She said both stores would probably have the same inventory posted, but I'd check both anyway).
  • Amazon has some left in Teen size here and some other options here, from $49.99-199.99. 
  • Etsy has one for $159.99 here. Find Etsy coupon codes here
  • If you don't need the officially licensed costume, you may find something like this one for $6.99, also on Etsy.
  • One last possibility, if you're creative and crafty, is a DIY costume, some of which are shown here.

How to save:

Dark Voyager

Next up is another favorite Fortnite skin, the Dark Voyager.

Where to buy:

  • Some adult costumes are left in L and XL at Spirit, but no children's sizes.
  • The similar Plush Dark Voyager is left in children's sizes L/XL here (available online only). 
  • You can also find an Adults size Plush Dark Voyager for $49.99 and a t-shirt for $17.99 at Spencer's
    • Call to make sure there isn't anything left at 1-800-762-0419 before you give up on your costume in the right size.
  • Amazon has 'Like New' Kids' Dark Voyager Costumes here, starting at $140.00.

How to save: 

Plush Tricera Ops

Where to buy:

  • Adult Plush Tricera Ops is showing teen sizes remaining on Spirit for $49.99.
  • If you don't have your heart set on officially licensed Halloween costumes from Fortnite, take a peek over at Legendary Loot, where Tricera Ops is still in stock in both adults' and kids' sizes XS to XL, and without the mask for $72.99.
  • Etsy has a women's Tricera Ops costume without the mask for $59.99 here, too.
  • As with most costumes, we suggest you call 1-800-762-0419 to see what's left in your size in local stores.

How to save: 

Plush Rex

Continuing our search for last-minute kids' Fortnite costumes, we couldn't very well leave out this gem — the Plush Rex.

Where to buy:

How to save: 

Skull Trooper

Another of the most sought-after Fortnite costumes is the Skull Trooper.

Where to buy:

  • The officially licensed Skull Trooper kit includes the hooded skull mask with elastic inner strap, black bandana, and costume t-shirt. It is available in teen as well as all adult sizes. Find it at Spirit for $34.99.
  • Want to just rock the mask for $20? You can get that at Spirit, too — shipping on or before October 24th.
  • Don't need the officially licensed version? You can get these high quality spandex jumpsuits with masks on Amazon for $69.99. Available in kids' size small to adults' size 3XL.

How to save: 

Brite Bomber

And what good would a last-minute roundup of Fortnite costumes be without Brite Bomber?

Where to buy:

  • The pictured kids' version above is available both on Spirit and Amazon in child's L and XL sizes. It's $49.99 at Spirit, and over $200 on Amazon...
  • The official adult licensed costume above is available on Spirit as well, in teen, adult medium, adult small, and adult large. This one retails for $59.99.
  • Wanna just get the wig? It's $20.00 on Spirit and Amazon.
  • The Brite Bomber costume t-shirt is available for $14.99 at Spirit.
  • This full costume comes in adult and teen sizes, on Amazon for $189.99.

How to save: 


Not sure about you, but out of all the Fortnite costumes available online, this dude scares me!

Where to buy:

  • The adult version is $59.99, officially licensed, and found on Spirit.
  • Child's size Crackshot costumes start at $49.99 on Amazon.
  • Not really worried about having the officially licensed version? There's a third option from Toynk Toys for $49.99 with free delivery until October 24th.

How to save: 

Drift Mask

Keep your costume simple while still wearing one of the coolest masks of Fortnite with the Drift Mask.

Where to buy: 

  •  You can pick up the mask at Spirit for $24.99.
  • The second version is not officially licensed, but it's only $8.75 on Amazon.
  • This Drift Mask on Etsy is $29.99, and can be shipped out to you the same day or next day so you won't miss Halloween! Comes with a free Chug Jug can sleeve to boot.
  • If you're lucky enough to have access to a 3-D printer, this one can be printed out for $12.00 on Etsy.
  • See many more creative Drift Mask options on Etsy here.

How to save:

Black Knight

Last but not least, the Black Night. 

Where to buy:

How to save:

Fortnite Halloween costume accessories

We didn't highlight the accessories you might like to go with your favorite last-minute Fortnite Halloween costumes, but you know what you need. Look around on Spirit, Spencer, Amazon, and the others for your extras and find deals like this:

So what did you decide? Are you going to try for one of these last minute Fortnite costumes? Do you have a different stash of Fortnite stuffs somewhere we missed? Are there any accessories we missed? Let us know!

Most importantly, please enjoy a safe and super fun Happy Halloween from all of us!

Costuming 101: Creating Wearable Body Armor / Upper Leg Protection

Creating DIY wearable Stormtrooper costume armor using 55-gallon plastic chemical barrels; Halloween, events, etc. Part III of the How-to make HDPE armor tutorials...

Halloween is Coming! Stormtrooper Costumes to the Ready!

There is nothing more fun than going out on Halloween dressed in costume. Whether you buy or make your own, everyone wants something unique, something that nobody else has. You can make your own wearable costumes, specifically wearable body armor, from discarded 55-gallon chemical barrels.

In Costuming 101: Stormtrooper/Fantasy Armor Created from Recycled Plastic Chemical Barrels we learned some basic of how to create poster-board templates that 'fit' the intended wearer. Traced upon a smooth-sided 55-gallon HDPE plastic chemical barrel and cut-out using an electric jig saw, we were left with the front and the back of the chest armor.

In the second installment ./Assembling the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Armor we learned how to attach the front and back section using all stainless steel pop-rivets. We also learned how to 'dress' the armor to make the head-hole and arm-hole accessible. More on this aspect of the armor is in the works, but what about the rest of the body armor? Can other body armor parts be created for the legs? Yes!

Create a Template for the Upper Leg

upper leg covers for the plastic body armor

This is an approximation of the shape of the desired upper leg template. Traced onto white poster-board, it must be several inches taller than the distance between the intended wearer's outer knee and the height of the belt at their outer hip. Note the rounded 'crown' at the top. This part is important to create for this part shall be at the wearer's sides, at approximately the top inseam of their jeans or pants.

(Image "A") Your template will likely be wider than this graphic image, which is for demonstration purposes only. Wrapping around your leg with several inches of overlap is an absolute necessity.

Be sure that the template is symmetrical. If folded in half lengthwise it must be the same. Otherwise you will have to consider making a FRONT and a REVERSE pattern and cutting the plastic out that way. This is because the 'pebbly' surface of a 55-gallon barrel is on the exterior, which is the surface what we want, you must all your cut-out carapaces the have the same 'exterior' surface.

The interior of any chemical barrel is far smoother than the exterior surface, almost glass-like. While this might be desirable for some armor costumes, generally this texture detracts from the whole.

Not to mention that long-term contact of the inside of the barrel with whatever chemicals were present will very much affect how well this 'interior surface' will accept any spray paint. Often the chemicals these barrels were originally used for will cause most spray paints to 'bubble up' and peel. The exterior sides does not do this.

Heat and Roll the Upper Leg Carapace into a Megaphone Tube

(Image "B") Using the propane torch heating and bath-tub cooling methods we learned in the first tutorial, we have created one rolled cone that is sized for the intended wearer.

Before riveting (note the RED dots: these are suggested rivet points) it may be advantageous to test-fit this cone onto the wearer BEFORE drilling and installing the rivets.

Be Aware of the Knee

  • Be especially mindful of the narrow end of this Upper Leg Cover: It MUST be able to easily slide over the clothed knee with little or no squeezing, pulling or yanking. You should be able to freely insert the fingers of your hand up the narrow end armor from the bottom while wearing it, else it is going to be too tight and can cause chaffing and pinching.

By gently squeezing the cone around the wearer's leg and marking the straight-line position with a magic marker, you will have a guide-line to align to prior to riveting.

In an more advanced build, I created a fan-tail delta design and installed a draw-hasp to tightened/release this narrow end. This 'friction fitting' method worked quite well but it is an necessary extra. As with all things, subsequent builds become more complex as specific needs are identified and added detailing extras are desired.

This fit must be LOOSE. Test-fitting is only to assure that it will not be riveted too tight and not permit entry of the leg. When worn on the body, it will be hanging from a strap attached to the wearer's belt and thus, will be surprisingly secure and stable.

Make TWO of these upper leg covers using the FRONT and REVERSE pattern template

Make two of these carapaces for the upper leg covers, heat and roll and rivet each. The number of rivets used is up to you, but use enough to hold the pieces flat to each other.

A very big time-saver tip here is to use a several inches long DRYWALL SCREW to reach through both pieces as they overlap and draw them snugly together so you can effectively rivet them permanently. You may then place a rivet near the drywall screw. Then, extract the DRYWALL SCREW and using the resulting hole it created for the next pop-rivet. Repeat this process. The drywall-screw hole may require a sizing-ream with the 1/8th drill, but that is just a formality.

By leapfrogging the drywall screw several inches ahead of your intended pop-rivet sites you can speed the build and save yourself needless MUCH toil and grief!

I can only relay the facts of this drywall screw tip but not fully convey the spirit of this innovation; certain complex riveting connections that in the past used to take me over an HOUR to perform can be done in mere minutes using this drywall screw and riveting swap. This is one of the time-saving discoveries that I learned and why it took me nearly three years to create my first Serpent Guard Armor and just over one month to create the second one. To say that there was a learning curve involved is a gross understatement.

(Image "C") Upon riveting a straight line down what will be the inseam of the upper leg armor, you can snap a straight line and with the Dremel cut-off tool, trim any ragged surplus or non-straight protuberances. The sanding drum attachment on the Rotary Tool is a great aid to 'smooth-out' and sharp points and edges.

A few quick passes of the propane torch to 'round-out' the angular cut edges makes them very sleek and comfortable.

Standing the two pieces side-by-side you should now have two Upper Leg Covers similar to what is shown in the image here. These are expected to be taller than necessary, so that they can be custom cut-to-fit in later steps when sized.

Attach Anchor Points for Adjustable Pet Collar Straps

Attach two flat HDPE 'garbage can lid handle' strap several inches down the inside of the highest point of the two leg covers. These are the anchor points for the straps that hold the leg armor to the belt of the wearer

Using a inch wide by several inches long strip of HDPE plastic that is formed to be like a garbage can lid handle, pop-rivet these horizontally and on the inside of each leg cover below the highest point.

These are the anchor to which you will attach an adjustable pet collar. These pet collars are typically woven nylon construction with a plastic snap-hasp for quick un-hooking. Each strap is looped through the wearer's belt and its function is for holding the upper leg cover in place.

The reason the attach point is several inches down on the inside is to allow the 'high point' of the upper leg cover to rest a few inches away from the wearer's hip at the inseam. This looks very 'classic' armor, -and it also serves a purpose. It allows the wearer the ability to unhook the armor themselves if necessary, and there is some (albeit limited) access to the pants pockets. The wearer just may be able to access a room key, pocket watch or a few coins of the realm for the purchase of cold drink while still remaining 'in character.'

How It Is Worn: The Pet Collar Straps are Adjustable, and the Wearer's Belt is Flexible

How the Upper Leg Covers are attached to the leather belt of the wearer using adjustable nylon pet collars.

(Image "E")

With sneakers or shoes off, the wearer slides the Upper Leg Covers upon onto each leg (left and right to wearer facing forward) with the respective pet collar straps (in red) facing outward.

The nylon straps (depicted in red) are looped through the wearer's belt at the outer inseam at the hips, and latched. Because the attach point to the upper leg cover is several inches down on the inside of this megaphone tube, the armor itself is carried tipping slightly outward at the top (as shown in the diagram.) This allows for comfort and surprisingly enough, some limited access to the hip pockets!

This accessibility of the hip pocket can be very handy for carrying a room key, a timepiece or procuring some coins to buy a cold beverage while still remaining completely in character and not removing your costume.

A 'hinged cage' that covers the wearer's waist, hips and groin area will be our next build. Created in conjunction with these upper leg covers, neither interferes severely with the other and the wearer can even comfortably sit down in this armor!

And brutal honesty here; considerations for the ease of use of toilet facilities was thought of and built into the functionality of this armor.

Building the Waist-Cage section will have to be in the next installment of How to Create Wearable Armor: Waist Cover Armor by author...

(all images and graphics by author)

Update: Images of the actual Upper Leg Covers and close-up detail of the nylon pet collar straps used to attach to wearer's belt.

close-up view of the completed upper leg cover and attach points for the nylon straps (inexpensive dog collars)