I was asked to make a Mad Max style shoulder pad to go on an old leather jacket for the Frontier Apocalypse event. I decided to make this my first tutorial(ish) thing, so I hope it’s useful.
For reference, here’s what you’ll need to make this exactly as I did:
- Hot Melt Glue Gun, Superglue, impact adhesive
- Liquid Latex & Black Acrylic Paint
- Heat gun (hairdryer will not be hot enough)
- 1 x EVA foam floor mat
- about 60x60cm of black pleather
- a small amount of XTC-3D or PVA glue
- Sharp knife for cutting the EVA (& sharpener helps)
- A dremel tool with a sanding head and a polishing thingy head
- a big needle and thick thread, yarn, thin wool or similar
- about 60cm of black elastic
- 80grit sand paper
- Various tools like pens and scissors and rulers and stuff.
Time needed (not including drying times): Approx 2 hours.
Difficulty: Easy if you’re familiar with EVA foam. Moderate if you’re new to it.
1 – Source Materials
I did some Googling and came across this great resource: Mad Max Costumes which has a great guide on making authentic shoulder pads. However, this is using an actual body armour shoulder pad as they did in the film, and it’s also fairly involved – though the results are great, I wanted to do something much cheaper and quicker.
I decided to use EVA floor mats, which are a staple of cosplay and costuming, you can find a billion tutorials on how to work with these materials online. I highly recommend Punished Props videos and books, they are great. I used stuff I had already, but if you’re buying things in you may well find better things than I used – go with what you know and what works for you, this is just how I did it.
2 – Reference Pictures and Templates
I used that site to gather some reference pictures and get a feel for how the thing is constructed. I got a front and back and an isometric view, and I made my own templates by guesstimating the overall pad size from the images and where it needed to sit on the jacket I was given. I did this using graphics software, but there’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t just draw it on paper.
3 – Cutting and Shaping
This is another standard thing for working with EVA foam (which I am far from an expert in) – I’ve learnt you need a very sharp knife. I have a knife sharpener wish I use after pretty much every big cut or the EVA mats tend to start snagging. Not that it matters overly on this project, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Once the shapes were cut out, I used a dremel tool with the rotary sand paper head to round off the edges of the big pad, this is replicating the foamy fabric bit so you want it to look a bit softer, and slightly round the underside edges of the small pad, this one is supposed to be plastic, so you want to try to keep a clean edge. I also drew on the “sewing seam” lines by hand on the big pad as a guide for later.
On a tutorial from Punished Props I learned that you can use the dremel to go over the sanding you’ve just done again to clean up the surface. You’ll find that after the first sanding it’s rough and doesn’t look the same as the ‘normal’ surface, this will carry through to everything else you do – painting on this will look different from the normal surface, etc. So you want to go over it again with the little blue or pink sanding heads that seem to be made of some sort of stone (I have no idea what they are for). That sort of buffs the surface and makes it close up, and it becomes something much more like the original surface.
One last bit of shaping to do. I used the same little cone shaped dremel tool to ‘engrave’ into the foam surface to create a groove along the line I drew earlier. This simulates the ‘pulling’ you’d get from the stitching line if the pad were really made from foam and fabric – You can see I wasn’t very careful about this and wobbled a lot, but it’s OK, in this case that can actually help the look. I also used my sharp knife to cut straight grooves in the small pad to simulate the holes where the leather strap would go. In mine I didn’t go all the way through, I just made enough of a cut to “look the part”. It’s all smoke and mirrors!
4 – Heating and Bending
This requires a heat gun. Mine is a dirt cheap paint stripper type heat gun, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, and I’ve used mine loads for over two years and it’s been fine. It’s got two settings, Uncomfortably Hot, and Hotter Than The Sun. (It’s really just “1” and “2”, but that’s boring). For EVA I use the Hotter Than The Sun setting, but keep the gun moving around otherwise you can scorch the surface. Try to remember you want the heat to penetrate into the foam (the stuff I’m using here in 1cm thick) rather than just heating the surface, so move the heat gun around to make sure you keep the heat up over the area you want to bend, but not enough to melt it. Again, Punished Props is where I learned most of this from, they have great guides on this stuff (I’m not getting paid to say that, it’s just true). So, heat and bend into shape. The small pad has a slightly bowl shaped thing going on, which needs a bit more work to achieve, but it’s not overly difficult and EVA can be re-shaped by just heating it up again so don’t be afraid of it.
5 – Stitching lines
The big pad has stitching lines which are fairly prominent, it also has rivets along the bottom edges which are a big feature. Since the EVA won’t flex to accurately give the impression of rivets pulling the foam and fabric, I felt the need to make indents where the rivets go. I did this by heating that section and pressing into it using the handle of my pliers.
Last year in one of my local charity shops (for those of you overseas, they are like second hand shops), I found a bag of spools of what I think is a single strand of fake wool (that’s what it feels like), since it’s a single strand, it breaks very easily, I assume it’s left over from a factory that maybe twined them together. Anyway, I bought them “because one day they’ll be handy”, and today was that day. I wanted a thick visible stitching line so I used this stuff and a big needle to literally sew through the EVA foam along the groove I made earlier to make the stitch lines, which I think came out really well.
The image on the left here is the stitching just done. The right is the stitching (on the other side of the pad) after I’d covered it in latex in the next step.
6 – Texturising
I wanted both parts to have different textures since the bottom pad is supposed to be fabric and the small pad is supposed to be plastic. Since they are both EVA foam, they look the same. I solved this by painting the small pad with Smooth On XTC-3D resin, it’s a fairly viscous resin designed primarily to smooth out the ridges in FDM 3D printing prior to sanding. However, I use it loads for stuff like this. I’m fairly sure PVA glue would do a very similar job, but I didn’t think of that until afterwards.
For the big pad I wanted a matt fabric-ish texture, so I used liquid latex mixed with black acrylic paint. I sponged that on. Let them both dry.
Because I didn’t want the shoulder pad to look new, I also sanded down the small pad when it was dry with an 80 grit paper to scratch it up (also takes some of the shine off).
7 – Faking bits
Next I needed to add the straps and the neck padding section. I have some very thin pleather I got for something else ages ago, so I used that for both these things. The straps are just strips cut straight. For the loops on the small pad I hot-glued a small piece in there to make it look like the loop went through the pad, but really it doesn’t. Then I hot glued a strip on the underside to fake it coming out there. I did this purely because I didn’t want to risk weakening the pad by cutting the loops holes all the way through because I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to attach everything. In hindsight it would have been fine to cut through it since the straps were barely load bearing at all.
The neck padding is fairly close to how it would be made for real, but I used terrible shortcuts. I cut a bit of upholstry foam (or just use a bath sponge or even a bit of EVA foam really) to the right shape, then used impact adhestive to glue a pleather cover on it to get the right look. That then needed gluing into place on the large pad. I actually put a few stitches through this as well as hot gluing it in place because I was impatient and the edge kept popping up. By the way, if you do this be aware your needle will get cludgey with glue because you’re sewing through it, which makes it sort of sticky and pretty useless for anything afterwards. You can get it off, but don’t use a needle you like too much.
8 – Attaching the Big bit to the Little bit.
I wasn’t entirely sure how this was going to go together really. Ultimately I decided to punch two holes through the big pad and glue elastic to the underside of the little pad, then feed that through the holes and tie it into place. That means the little pad has some movement, but will stay in place. The pleather straps hold the other side in place just like they would on the real one. Pictures here of the underisde showing how I hot glued the elastic to the small pad. I fed it through the holes in the big pad using a screwdriver (it was the closest thing to hand!) and tied it.
I didn’t take a picture of the “rivets” – there’s no reason you can’t use actual rivets, but I didn’t have any big enough so I made long staples from 1.8mm steel wire (basically just make a U shape) and pushed that through where the rivets would go, punched two holes for each staple in the jacket and fed the wire through, then bent it on the other side to hold it in place. It means the pad can be removed, but it holds on well enough for the event. To simulate the rivet heads I used silver drawing pins (thumb tacks) superglued in place. I also put a few stitched through the top of the pad into the shoulder of the jacket to prevent it slipping around. again, nothing major.
9 – Job done. Admire your work.
Max’s shoulder pad has a raised part on it, which I opted not to do for time reasons, also I was asked to make something “like” max’s shoulder pad, so I didn’t need to go all out on accuracy. However, if I had wanted to do it (you can see on my patterns I did draw it out just in case), I would have simply made it from EVA foam, cut it out roughly, then used the dremel to sand it down into the smooth bump then glued it onto the small pad in the right place. The XTC-3D/PVA would have smoothed over the join lines and made lit look like it was all one part.
This was made for a single event, and it wasn’t going to have to stand up to anything serious. However, if I was making it for a more involved event I’d have made sure to use thicker pleather straps and doubled up on the elastic joining the small to the large pad (put it in two separate places, so if one should break, there’s a second totally separate one to fall back on).
I hope you find this useful, and enjoy making your own Max-style shoulder armour!