Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Before 3D Printers, There Was Mattel's VAC-U-FORM
Posted By Pam On Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Recently I was looking up the types of models that kids used to make when model and hobby stores existed, and came across an advertisement for a curious looking contraption called the VAC-U-FORM.
The VAC-U-FORM was manufactured by Mattel (you can tell it's Mattel; it's swell) in the early '60s and used the industrial process known as vacuum forming to make plastic molds on a small scale. The machine came with several plastic sheets in a variety of colors. The user would insert a sheet of plastic in a metal holder which got heated over a metal plate. When the plastic got soft and malleable, the holder was swung to the other side where a mold of a desired object was waiting for it. The user would press a handle on the side of the toy that created the vacuum and pressed the plastic over the mold. The shaped plastic would solidify and cool and voila -- you've got yourself a plastic toy, or a part that would be used to create one.
The VAC-U-FORM came with several molds, but additional ones could be purchased separately, and any solid object that could withstand the high temperature and hot plastic could realistically be used as a mold.
Of course, a toy like this would be considered dangerous today, as there were exposed hot surfaces that a child or grown-up could burn themselves on. While Mattel discontinued the product at some point, another company called ToyMax produced its own version, called the VAC-U-FORMER, in the 1990s. Their version was a little safer as it replaced the hot plate with a light bulb, similar to what's found in an Easy Bake Oven.
Both products appear to be readily available on eBay, with prices ranging from $30 for just the machine itself to $100 for an unused complete kit. Wikipedia says many are still in use today, particularly by hobbyists that use the product to make parts for their own crafts.
All I know is...if this had been still on shelves when I was a kid, I definitely would have asked for one! (I also like that a product like this was marketed to both girls and boys.) It looks really awesome; worth the risk of a few burned fingers...