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Submitted by AndrewM on April 26, 2008 - 7:12pm.
There are occasions in robot building, as well as general hobbies, where you require a custom plastic or rubber component. While there are a variety of methods to create custom pieces from milling and lathing to 3D printers; for the majority of custom parts none are simpler or less expensive than creating custom molds or castings. Some designed pieces might be too intricate or complex to be moldable, but for the rest, mold making can be an invaluable tool.
At the hobby level, there are two basic styles of mold making that I will cover here: layered and poured. In either method you must first start with a design template, or blank, which the mold will be crafted after. If you are duplicating an existing part, that is your blank. For more customized pieces you will have to create the blank first.
Another nice feature of using polymer clay is that you can fix any problems you might find with your blank easily just by adding a little more clay. Below are two images of a mold blank for a ball bearing holder. The first image is of the initially baked clay, where you can see a chip is missing. In the second image I merely filled in the chip with unbaked clay; it is not permanent, but it does not have to be.
Once you have a suitable template, you are ready to get started on creating the mold, but first you must figure out what style of mold making best suits your purposes.