For most of my life I’ve had an unnatural fear of fiberglass. It’s actually more of a tick than a phobia and I blame my parents on this one. As a young kid, probably around 6 or 7 years old, my dad gave me a dire warning to never go into the attic. He did, however, allow me a peek when we were taking down Christmas decorations that year.
This attic was one of those old school ones where the builders sprayed loose, off-white, fiberglass fuzzballs all over the floor. The randomly stacked mounds and valleys of fiberglass looked the pictures of Antarctica I had seen in the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. We had rats the year before; you could make out their little trails through wilderness of fluff. As I gazed into the dark abyss of the attic, I began to sweat from the damp, imposing heat. Some fiberglass latched on to my arm. It itched like a motherfucker. Then I caught a slight scent of death hanging in the air. The attic was a house of horrors.
I was terrified of that attic ever since. Whenever a hurricane came nearby, I wasn’t afraid of the howling winds, the torrential downpours, or the flooding. No, I was scared shitless that the storm would collapse the ceiling and rain down Satan’s death flurries like a blizzard of needles.
This fear of fiberglass was only further entrenched in the third grade when a buddy threw itching powder at me. All over my chest it felt like dozens of ants were stabbing me with their fiery stingers. I welted up like I had the hives. Someone told me the powder was made from fiberglass and I’ve held on to that belief until writing this post. Well, person-from-26-years-ago-that-I-don’t-remember, you’re wrong. It’s made from rose hips.
This brings me to the resin and fiberglass stage of making my Cobra Commander helmets. Notice the plural? Yeah, I haven’t made a decision yet. Although this stage may have forced a decision for me.
Fiberglassing the Helmet
You first need to strengthen that Pepakura model you spent 12 hours assembling so it can hold up all that fiberglass without warping. Before you get started, make sure you have all the right safety equipment. You don’t want to inhale many of these fumes. They smell like cancer. Get a good respirator from Home Depot that filters out organic vapors, not some 98-cent dust mask that’s no better than pulling your shirt over your nose. You also don’t want any of this shit touching your skin. The chemical reaction of mixing the resin and the hardener generates a surprising amount of heat. It’s black magic. And I don’t touch black magic.
To harden the Pepakura model you need to coat it with fiberglass resin. I mixed about a one-third red Solo cup of fiberglass resin with 15 drops of hardener and quickly coated the outside of both helmets. Make sure to only mix small amounts of resin to limit the waste. It only takes a few minutes for the resin to start hardening. Once this stuff starts to gel, game over, it’s trash. A tiny hole at the top of the blue helmet allowed some resin to seep down on to Zed’s head and scar him for life.
I let the resin soak into the cardstock and harden overnight. I probably could’ve worked on it a couple of hours after applying resining—it hardens quickly. The next morning I used my trusty X-Acto knife to slice up a package of fiberglass cloth into 2-inch squares.
The next part may have forever cured my fear of fiberglass. I glued dozens of these fiberglass squares on the underside of the helmet. I fully covered the inside with the squares slightly overlapping each other. This part got nasty. The frayed squares shed slivers of fiberglass everywhere. My gluey, fiberglass-fuzzed, blue latex gloves looked like the hands of the Abominable Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I wanted to snap a picture of the gloves, but that would’ve forever ruined my camera.
After filling the helmet with fiberglass, I went to work dousing its insides with resin. The neighbors walked by and scrutinized the scene, probably trying to decide if I was running a meth lab. I mumbled an f-bomb laced tirade through my pink respirator and kept working.
The fiberglass portion was tedious and time-consuming. It took hours to complete this portion and I didn’t have enough fiberglass squares to cover the other helmet. The thought of going back to the store, then repeating this process, didn’t sound so appealing when I knew of an alternative: Rondo.
Rondo involves mixing Bondo Auto Body filler with fiberglass resin. I saw this method on YouTube and apparently it is gaining a legion of followers. I happened to have a big can of Bondo on my workbench, which made my decision on how to proceed easy.
To mix a batch of Rondo, you double up a red Solo cup and mix in roughly 3-parts Bondo with 1-part resin. You can use either the Bondo or the resin hardener since they use the same base. I used both because, fuck it, why not. Give it a good stir until it’s a nice, eraser pink color. Then dump it into the helmet and slush it around. Here’s a little trivia: this is called slush-casting. Repeat this process until the inside of the helmet is fully coated with Rondo.
The Rondo process took no time at all. I was thrilled with this technique and was prepared to sing its praises all over cyberspace. That was, until I compared the results. I regret not spending the time to just go with my original plan of using fiberglass on both helmets. The fiberglass helmet is light and very sturdy. The Rondo’d helmet is heavy and has a surprising amount of flex along the sides. I’m nervous that this might lead to paint chipping when I wear it.
Overall, unless you are building a fully enclosed helmet, I’d recommend using fiberglass over Rondo. The extra time and effort is worth the better support structure.
I was going to cover the Bondo’ing and sanding, but this post is getting long and I wanted to mention one of the most awesome surprises I have received in a while.
The Cobra Commander Staff
A couple of weeks ago Todd Koch, a friend from work, read my costuming blogs and asked me if I was making a Cobra Commander staff. I shot him a mildly curious look and said, “No.”
“You want one,” he asked.
I had seen the man’s impressive woodworking skills. Instantly, I had visions dancing in my head of parading drunk through the streets of Atlanta armed with a shiny, new Cobra Commander staff. I desperately quashed the girly squee that had welled up in my throat.
“Uuuuuuhhh, hell yeah, I want one!”
Todd was going on vacation and wanted a project to occupy his mind. I talked him down from making a wood staff. While it would be an amazing piece, I wasn’t enthused about lugging a wooden staff around downtown Atlanta all weekend. Instead, he decided on a much lighter solution of PVC pipe and Bondo.
He put together some PVC pipe to form the base of the staff and the curve of the cobra. On top of the staff, he molded a coiled cobra out of blowtorched plexiglass and Bondo. He is in the detailing stage now. Take a look at his current progress.
Speaking of vacations, I’ll be sipping on Piña Colada's in the lush, tropical paradise, Captiva Island next week. So, in two weeks, I’ll have another update on Bondo’ing, sanding, painting, and, hopefully, installing a visor. I have a theory on this visor that might just save my ass from building a vacuum-forming machine.
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 1: Introduction
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 2: Pepakura
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 4: Bondo and Sanding
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 5: Painting, Installing Visor, The Gun
- The Cobra Commander Staff
Build Pepakura Resin, Rondo, and Bondo the helmet
- Sand, sand, and uh sand some more
- Primer and paint helmet
Beg father-in-law to donate a strip of white vinyl for the glory of Cobra
- Create form for visor
- Build vacuum-forming machine (Shyeah! Right!)
- Purchase sheet of plexiglass and mirror tint
- Shape and tint visor
Procure NES Zapper
- Build gun from deadly combo of styrene, Worbla, and NES Zapper
- Paint Cobra Commander-fied NES Zapper
Get black leather gloves
- Get holster for weapon
- Let Todd complete that amazing Cobra Commander staff