Build process for the Stark IMD case mod: Body armor for the case.

Note: This log is not in chronological order, since I was working on multiple features simultaneously. For example, when I mixed a batch of epoxy to apply a layer to the IronMan mask, I usually mixed enough to add a layer over the PVC armor panels on the case. Instead, I have organized pictures to show the general sequence of events used on the different sections.

I wanted the case to incorporate aspects of several types of IronMan armor, starting with his original dull gray steel. Although rivets were not always in evidence, these would add to the effect of heavy plate on the panels. Starting with the case itself, I anchored short lengths of aluminum angle to the top and front edges of the chassis. These were used as anchor points to attach two curved steel panels at the bottom front and top rear of the case. To strengthen the sheet metal, I riveted ribs of aluminum bar stock to the outer edges, using two rows of heavy nickel wire for the pins.

To create a layered articulated armor on the top, sections of PVC plastic were cut and then anchored to the aluminum angle with sheet metal screws. A final PVC panel was attached to the front and a piece of foam rubber trimmed to fill the gap between the sections. The foam was trimmed to a smooth shape with a razor blade, and then covered with a layer of epoxy thickened with powdered talc.

Bending and fitting steel sheet for the front, before riveting the support straps. You can see one of the aluminum straps added for support under the edge of the PVC panel.

Several layers of shredded fiberglass-reinforced epoxy are built up over the surface of the PVC, with only a light sanding in between. I wanted a slight ripple effect to simulate hammered metal. I like to add pigment to the epoxy so that if the surface gets scratched, there is a solid color exposed. The color layers also make it easier to visualize the final effect and in some cases, can be used as the final finish instead of paint.

Some comments on epoxy resin: I prefer two-part epoxy over polyester resin, since there are little or no fumes, and being relatively colorless, it can easily be tinted. Aluminum powder added to the epoxy gives a silver appearance; bronzing powders are available in various copper, bronze, and gold tones; dry tempera paint can be used for bright primary colors; powdered charcoal or even laser toner can be used for a solid black coating. John Greer and Associates sells marine epoxy, mold compound, and filler materials that can be used to thicken the epoxy into a Vaseline or putty consistency. Talc gives a very smooth texture; shredded fiberglass thickens and adds strength; I have not tried the Cabosil or pecan flour fillers yet. I also use glass sandblasting beads as filler, it tends to give a sand-link texture in large amounts, but will add weight.

For the drive bay section, I wanted the effect of the cutouts seen in some of the more recent IronMan comics. To start, a section of thin PVC was fitted in the opening between the upper panel and the lower steel one. Thick, reinforced epoxy paste is spread over the surface. After the layer has cured, it is sanded, and another thick layer applied.

After another sanding, a hole is cut for access to the drives. An adapter frame is installed in the upper bay to give me an idea of width and position of the drives when mounted.

A brass insert is created to fit the opening, and two cross-plates solder on the back to cover the unused bays. Plugs for the openings on either side of the 3.5" bay are made with a USB header installed in the one on the right. With the drives in place, the insert is positioned and centered properly, and then more epoxy is used to smooth fill the gap around the insert and secure it in place.

After removing the drives, the edge is ground level, everything is sanded smooth, and several thin layers of epoxy added to smooth out any surface imperfections.

More wood ribs are cut to fit the drive bay opening. Two at the top are glued in place; one is attached to the front of the DVD drawer; the fourth rib is attached to the front of the DVD drive using foam mounting tape (this allows the rib to flex; pressing on the right edge opens the drive tray.)

For the bottom ribs over the floppy/card reader, I elected for simplicity over some sort of fancy hinge system. The ribs are backed with a piece of the steel sheet from the side panel, with a strip curled up as a handle. Two strong magnets are glued to the surface of the insert, and hold the lower section tightly in place.

The side panel over the system board has a clear 1/5" clear acrylic window held in place with plastic panel fasteners. Strips of half-round wood trim and two blocks of 3/4" MDF simulate the belt assembly of the early IronMan comics. The wood trim is attached using some leftover epoxy. Once set, I masked out the window, and seal-coated the wood with a couple of thin layers of aluminum-tinted epoxy.

The panel behind the system board also has a hole cut, but is filled with pierced aluminum mesh, attached to the panel using copper rivets. Here you can see the acrylic and mesh masked out for painting with silver color hammered-finish paint.

The 1963 introduction of IronMan had a ribbed belt and deep-treads on his boots

The base plate for the case is patterned after the chunky-style treaded boots of the original costume. The foot plate had to wait until the final steel panel was attached to the front to get the dimensions and the curved edge to match. Strips of 3/4" MDF were cut, beveled on the router, and then glued to the upper plate. The treads were sealed with a couple of layers of aluminized epoxy, and then painted with more hammered-finish silver paint.

My metallic red paint has not arrived yet, so it's time to improvise. First a layer of metallic silver is used over the armor.

Next, a layer of transparent red "stained glass" paint is used, giving a dark, but very nice red metallic appearance.

The diamond-shaped shield was cut from 1/5" acrylic sheet, with a thin white plastic lens glued to the back. After painting, the outline of the shield was marked on the front of the case, and a hole cut through the surface. A nickel and brass insert was made to fit the opening. A high-intensity 1 watt white LED is mounted to the bottom of the insert, held in place with two plastic fasteners. Thermal compound on the rear of the LED assembly will conduct excess heat into the insert. The silver-color sides will reflect the light forward and minimize any back into the case. A 100 ohm resister limits the current when the LED is attached directly to one of the 12 volt drive Molex connectors.

For the mask, I went to a recent version of Iron Man - the 2005 and 2006 release of "Extremis" (also available as a graphic novel of the same name. I used the circuit-style lettering in the title for the IMD plaque.) To make the case more than just an armored shell, I wanted to give it a purpose, even a fictional one. Readers rarely see Tony Stark testing his armor. He always seems to rush off, slap something together that works perfectly and is well finished, miniaturized, and usually violating several laws of physics - but hey, it's fiction, right?

But what if he had to troubleshoot something? That's what we do in real life... So I came up with the concept of an Iron Man Diagnostic unit. Since Tony no longer keeps his identity secret, it means we need to identify that the unit came from Stark Laboratories. Letters were cut from sheet brass, then dots drilled, edges filed, and lines chiseled. The background was printed on a laser printer, then glued between two sheets of 1/8" high impact plastic. The brass letters received a soft satin finish, then were glued to the plastic. Four small magnets (Tony has always been big on magnets, although his are usually transistor-powered) glued to the back allow placement of the plaque on any flat ferrous surface. (I was going to stick this on the top of the CPU heat sink, but there wasn't enough clearance between it and the side panel.) So that became the title - Stark IMD.

But what to run diagnostics on? The IronMan mask is probably one of the most characteristic parts that while frequently changed, still has similar features, such as no nose, slitted glowing white eyes, and a slash of a mouth. To build a quick 3/4 scale mask, I started with a block of foam rubber and carved out the general shape. A coat of epoxy seals the surface and stiffens it for a fiberglass layer (run, it's the mummy!). After this layer set, a coating of epoxy smoothens out the textured surface.

A quick sanding revealed lots of irregularities, and I had not yet received my thickening fillers from John Greer. Mixing glass sandblasting beads as a thickener works for heavy rounding and defining the shape. Lots more sanding follows.

Now it's starting to look familiar. Talc and fiberglass filler arrives, and gets tested on smoothing out the surface. A bit too much filler in this batch left brush streaks.

Ribbing is added, but cutting a slot in the side of the mask, and gluing three sections of ribbed wood trim. When filled in and smoothed over with more epoxy, it's just about ready for painting. A light hand sanding to smooth out minor imperfections, then off to the garage to prime, mask, and paint with gold paint.

After the gold paint layer dries, the masking is removed and the gold paint covered with masking tape. The primed area receives the same as the case, a silver coating, followed by a single coat of transparent red. More thin white plastic is cut for the eye slits,. and glued in place. Threaded nuts are glued to the inside edge of the rear of the mask, these will be used to anchor the mask to the side of the system panel.

Clamps to "hold" the mask in place are created from short sections of MDF, and lengths of 1/2" threaded steel rod cut and glued into holes drilled in the "clamp" and "actuator" pieces.

Finishing up: The mask is attached to the mesh panel, then the clamps positioned and anchored from the rear with short screws. Two holes are drilled in the mesh behind the eyes. A pair of white LEDs are hot glued onto the mesh to cause the eyes to flicker when the hard drive is accessed. A heavy duty stainless steel switch is located in the side panel, presumably to open and close the clamps (or turn on the power in reality.) The bottom of the case is anchored to the base plate treads. The rest of the system components are installed, and cables organized a bit, but spiffed up with some chrome convoluted (AKA split loom) tubing. Then it's time to see if the system can POST... and... Yes! It lives! Then tear it all down and switch out the whimp Intel heatsink with a big ugly Peltier cooled one. Stuff it all back together, and take the final pics...