... Shells

Kydex Plastic Shell

Our best information (without performing chemical testing) has the vacuformed shells being made from haircell-textured (on the outside side; the inner is smooth) sheets Kydex plastic, first introduced the year prior in 1965:

While Kydex is still available today (it only comes in sheet form), the material has undergone several changes.  It is now manufactured by a different company at a different location, and is available in many formulations, colors and textures (they occasionally drop or add one).  The photo below is taken with a high-angle light source and is slightly larger than actual to accentuate the surface texture.  Most have a matte (flat) finish but a few are glossy:

The black Kydex material Wah used is probably of the first grade made - Kydex 100 - but as you can see below, the "haircell" texture has been modified by the manufacturer, now being far more raised and linear...

This is as close a match to the original texture as it gets today.  There are two haircell styles; P-C Level and P-1; the two differences being that P-C is matte with an ever-so-slightly less rise in the texture grain, and P-1 has a gloss with just a bit more prominent a texture.  Since the original Kydex Wah used has a distinct shine, we recommend using the P-1 and buffing down the peaks of the ridges with a flexible abrasive such as fine-grade steel wool or kitchen pad in advance of vacuforming (since doing so after always creates uneven patches at the tops and bottoms of the well curves due to dramatically different exposure to abrasive pressures).  We don't recommend plastic polishing pastes, as the stuff gets stuck in the texture's pits.

We had a sample of the P-C with its ridges buffed to a mild shine with 0000 steel wool, and it looked like this below when held physically next to Alpha's bottom shell.  Note the remarkable different of scale in texturing, plus how the matte finish in the modern P-C haircell's deeper valleys kept it from having an overall glossiness more in keeping with the original Kydex:

We measured the actual shell thickness to be 0.052 inches; this at a point on both Alpha's and Zeta's bottom shells in a flat area that was least disturbed by the vacuforming process.  This tells us Wah used the 0.060" thickness, which thins out slightly when it slumps and stretches during heating and forming.  This .060 thickness is still available today.

Where to get:
From any plastics distributor.  Like many plastics, it comes in a 4ft. x 8ft. sheet, and nearly all distributors will only sell you the full size (thought many will cut it down to manageable dimensions if you request).  Online sources willing to cut and ship seem to be few.

How to form:
Of course, once you get your Kydex sheet, what do you do with it?  First you need the bucks to vacuform it over and secondly the vacuforming equipment and know-how to actually make your shells.  For the bucks, Wah cut up a common plastic pencil box, reassembled its trimmed quadrants and smoothed over its seams (such a "proto-buck is simulated at right >>), then cast it all in plaster for his actual forming bucks.  The discovery of this fact is detailed here:


> > > The Details - THE ORIGIN OF WAH'S BUCKS  < < < <

... and the features of that plastic box (which account for the small imperfections and idiosyncrasies of the shells) are elaborated in depth here:

> > > The Details - THE STERLING PENCIL BOX  < < < <

As to the actual vacuforming, you also have two choices:  either go to a commercial facility and have it pulled by professionals or buy (or build) a rig yourself and do it at home.  Ours is not at this time to provide a tutorial on the process, so if you are adventurous enough to opt for the later, we suggest starting with a book by Douglas E. Walsh called "Do It Yourself Vacuum Forming."

This book is widely available on eBay and Amazon.


Attached on the underside of every communicator is a wide strip of black Velcro; the stiff hook side (the softer strip is on the costumes):

As we learned from TrekPropZone member Alley, Velcro comes in two varieties: 1) a self-adhesive "industrial strength" tape, and 2) blank patches of varying size/color for sewing.  It is the Velcro for sewing that was used on the comms.  Note on the upper left picture the blank "hook-less" strip along one edge, a feature seen in today's sewing variety but not in the industrial tape.  Also the bit of excess contact cement that oozed out onto the shell would not exist with a self-adhesive tape.

The manufacturing style has changed over the decades, with the rows of hooks now farther apart and more evenly spaced:

Where to get:
Many sewing shops sell Velcro 2" wide black sew-on ribbons.  The product number for the hook side is 190773.  It comes in 25 yard spools (see picture below).  It's inexpensive stuff, here priced at $1.06 per yard.

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