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A.J. Hamler

501st Stormtrooper[TK]
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About A.J. Hamler

  • Rank
    Centurion
  • Birthday May 13

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  • Website URL
    http://www.ajhamler.com

Profile Information

  • Gender
    Male
  • Location
    Drums, Penn.

FISD Info

  • Centurion Granted Date
    20190527
  • EIB Awards
    1
  • FISD Supporter
    No
  • EIB Cohorts
    ANH-S

Standard Info

  • Name
    A.J.
  • 501st ID
    51351
  • 501st Unit
    Garrison Carida

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  1. Glad to help! Hope everyone finds it useful. A.J.
  2. Frank, you may very well be right that your aluminum method is stronger than my plastic method. On the other hand, whenever I fly while wearing my armor I don't set off the alarms at the airport, so there's that... A.J.
  3. At a Troop yesterday I had a discussion with a fellow Garrison TK about the strength -- or lack thereof -- of Shoulder Bridges. It occurred to me that the method I used to beef up the Bridges from my build might be useful as a standalone How-To article. Shoulder Bridges are perhaps the most fragile part of TK armor, so it's always a good idea to reinforce them in some way. Also, since the underside of the Bridges is basically hollow there's nothing there to glue to. Most builds I've looked at fill in all those hollow spaces with slivers of ABS glued in to add both strength and gluing surface. I decided to try something different. My plan was to cover the entire underside of the Bridges with a strip of thin ABS cut from a For Sale sign I picked up at Lowe's for $1.99. First, though, I needed to trim the Bridges down a bit to remove excess edge. I have AM armor, which comes nicely trimmed, but there is a bit extra left on so trimming these was my first step. The AM Shoulder Bridges are already curved (almost perfectly, for that matter), so using the score-and-snap method wasn't an option and I relied on my trusty Lexan scissors. Notice here that I'm not cutting all the way to my line. That's because I'll be gluing ABS to the entire underside and I want more surface to work with. I'll trim them to their final size after the gluing is all done. I had already cut out the ABS from my For Sale sign -- again slightly oversized -- so gluing started by attaching the ABS to the Bridges at the middle. The reason for this is that all the critical gluing of the ABS is mostly around the edges, and I wanted a solid center all the way down the middle for strength and rigidity, and to support the thin ABS. To do this, it only takes a dollop of glue on the center of each "rib" where it'll make contact to the ABS sheet. I'll use something different gluing the edges, but I'm using E6000 here for the longer working time and adjustability. With the glue dolloped on, I pressed the ABS into place and added a series of small clamps down the center and set the Bridges aside to dry. A couple things to keep in mind if you decide to do this --- 1) First, shape the Bridges as closely as possible to the shape you want them before starting this. Yes, you can still bend them afterward but it's not quite as easy, so bend them to shape now. 2) When you clamp on the ABS, ensure that you keep the curve intact the way you want it while the glue is still wet. This is pretty easy to adjust, even with the clamps on. But once the glue is dry it will hold the curve, so you want the curve to be right where you put it. 3) I've talked a number of times in my official build thread about how you can work with things glued with E6000 after only a few hours without waiting for a full cure. That doesn't apply here. You want the glue down the center to fully cure before proceeding. Why? Well, E6000 is strictly evaporative and needs air to cure. The inside of the Bridges won't have air circulation once the edges are glued. So let that glue cure at least the full recommended 24 hours. OK, lecture over. To glue around the edges I'll use Plastic Weld, which does exactly what it says. This glue is very thin, cures very quickly, and makes a permanent, nearly invisible joint. It's also easy to use since capillary action does most of the work for you. Work in small sections at a time -- about three or four ribs length -- from one end to the other. I alternated sides. Dip the brush into the bottle, apply liberally to the edge (the slightly oversized ABS forms a little "shelf" that acts as a guide) and capillary action instantly sucks the glue right into the joint. Brush on a bit more in the same spot, and again it'll be drawn right in. Keep doing this till no more gets sucked in; at that point the joint is fully filled and you can apply your smallest clamps. You only need minimal pressure, and you only have to leave the clamps in place for a couple minutes. The glue works that fast. Important note: Be extremely careful with this stuff! It will instantly start fusing any plastic it touches, including your armor, so get it and anything else out of the way. Keep a cloth or paper towel handy for drips and spills -- it will also start fusing the plastic laminate on my worktable, for example -- and wipe up any spills immediately. Note how I keep the glue bottle in what I call my Tray Of Isolation that I use for glues and other caustic chemicals, plus I have it nestled into a hole in a piece of wood that prevents the bottle from tipping. Then I just kept working down around the edge, alternating sides, until I'd gone entirely around the Bridge. Done? Nope. When this kind of glue cures, it shrinks ever so slightly, and if you look at the glue joint you might see tiny gaps that look like bubbles. Go all the way around once more with your brush applicator, adding a second line of glue. You'll see it suck right into those little gaps. Once you see no more tiny gaps, then you're done. Set it aside for an hour or two. Yeah, the glue is dry, but you want it to fully cure. An hour or two is more than enough, but best to be sure. Now, trim that oversized ABS right up to the edge of the Bridge plastic with a sharp knife, and sand the edges smooth. This is a straight edge, so either use a sanding block, or better yet a full sheet of paper held flat to your work surface. I did a quick rough sanding with 150-grit just to level the edges and bring them to the final size, then followed with 220-grit, then 320-grit for a really smooth edge. And here's the magic: Because this is a welded plastic joint, there is no appreciable glue line. Seriously, take a look: There you go. The Bridges are strengthened from one end to the other, and you have a smooth, flat gluing surface ready to go on the underside for attachment to the armor. Which, by the way, we'll do after making an adjustment to the armor. Strengthening the Shoulder Bridges is only part of reducing their fragility. The second part is how they're mounted to the armor. Here, you can see that although the shoulder extensions at the top of the Chest and Back Plates are trimmed to length and shaped to my shoulders, the ends of those extensions weren't quite in the same plane. You can see what I mean with the armor on my mannequin. The armor feels good on and fits just right, but no way those Bridges are going to lay correctly on that. Sure, the elastic hold-down straps will force the Bridges into the correct position when you wear the armor, but that also stresses the Bridges by twisting them unnaturally. But you can fix that. Leaving the armor on the mannequin, I reshaped those extensions by heating them with a hair dryer. (I'm terrified of using a heat gun, but a hair dryer works great on small, thin areas like this and it's far safer.) Essentially, I just heated up the ends of those extensions, then twisted them until they lay in the same plane with one another. Once I had the left shoulder nice and planar, I did the same thing with the right shoulder. When finished, the bridges will lay perfectly over the top. Now, it was just a matter of lining up the Bridges to center them over the shoulder extensions and making a few registration marks, then removing the armor and gluing the Bridges to the Chest Plate over on my workbench. This is another critical glue joint, by the way, so allow the full curing time for the E6000. All right, let's take off the clamps, reattach the shoulder strapping and put this back on the mannequin and see what we got. Nice. Now, just a little cleanup for some E6000 squeeze-out, add the thin elastic hold-down loops for the backs of the Bridges, and you're ready to enjoy the strongest Shoulder Bridges ever. A.J.
  4. Austin --- You don't say where you live, but wherever it is there's sure to be a 501st Garrison that's local to you. In addition to asking questions here, contact your local Garrison. Not only will they be able to give you advice, but by attending your Garrison's event you can get an up-close look at a variety of armors. A.J.
  5. Nope. The end result has the Aker hanging pretty much right where it would have been mounted in the Chest Plate, so I wouldn't expect any more or less feedback than mounting it in the chest.
  6. Hi gang; guess who? Yeah, still tweaking my build thread as much as I'm tweaking my armor. Just did my 5th troop last week, and it was a blast. Not only was it a fun outdoor event with absolutely perfect weather, but it was the first time I used a sound system. Up till now, I've eschewed adding sound mainly because I wanted to focus on the armor itself in my first troops. Concentrating on walking without falling down, not trampling small children, and making sure all the armor stays where it's supposed to has been top-of-mind for me, and I didn't want any distractions caused by worrying about sounding good. I've had my sound gear for more than a year (got it way back during the build), and it consists of an Aker 1506 and an iPod with the outstanding TrooperTalk app installed. And, since I've had everything for so long I've had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to implement it. I didn't like the idea of mounting it into the armor itself, as I wanted to be able to adjust the sound and get it perfect before getting the armor on, so I finally decided to use a neck-hanging system. Here's what I came up with: I picked up some black plastic mesh at the craft store (the kind used for stitched needlepoint, or whatever it's called), and cut it to size to accommodate the Aker amp at the top, and an inexpensive folding iPod wallet at the bottom. The wallet is very thin, not bulky at all, but has slots for my driver's license and a bit of cash. The wallet folds closed with a magnetic tab. You can find the wallet here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NY2G8S1/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 I attached both the Aker amp and the wallet to the plastic mesh with E6000 slathered on the back of each, then just weighted them down on the mesh till dry. Then I just corralled all the wiring, folded it neatly, and bundled it into place with twist-ties along one edge of the mesh. The neck strap is the same one that came with the Aker amp, but I disconnected it from the amp and reattached it to the top corners of the mesh. It took some trial and error to adjust the strap to get everything to hang at the optimum level, but the neck strap is easy to adjust. The system worked perfectly on its first troop, and I found that the hanging system is fairly easy to reach inside and adjust by just leaning to one side so that it hangs closer to the side opening of the chest plate, allowing me to reach in and adjust as needed. The volume wheel on the Aker is at the top right (as you're wearing it), so all it really takes is reaching a finger in to adjust the volume level. A.J.
  7. Here's what worked for me. As a couple folks already noted, a Dremel rotary tool with a sanding drum used from the inside of the helmet face removes waste plastic quickly and evenly. From the inside, those teeth openings are like little domes from the vacuum-molding process. The idea is that you use the sanding drum to simply level off the backs of those domes to create the teeth openings. Also, by doing the plastic removal from inside, you can see exactly how deeply set the teeth openings are, allowing you to better judge how much plastic to remove. After removing most of the waste, you can sharpen the opening -- and remove any "flange" left over from the sanding -- with a razor knife. And as JustJoseph noted above, those inexpensive detail files from Lowe's add the finishing touch to square off the corners. Hope this helps, and good luck on your journey! A.J.
  8. For prop building, you need to check out The RPF (Replica Prop Forum). https://www.therpf.com/ They were a big help when I was building my DL-44. A.J.
  9. Now, if there’s a consistency among owners of AM armor it’s that they love their armor and consider it the best around. However, AM owners admit that the armor does have a couple quirks and the bottom edge of the Back Plate is one of them. For some armor, the bottom edge of the Back Plate has a nice, flat return edge that mates flat on the top edge of the Kidney Plate. AM armor is different: That bottom edge isn't anywhere near flat, and the outer tips bend down and out like little "wings." The end result is that no matter what you do, those wings will overlap the Kidney, which is a no-no in general, and a roadblock to attaining Centurion. This detail from the back photo from my EIB submission shows the problem: Notice in the above photo that the actual bottom of the Back Plate is right on top of the Kidney where it's supposed to be (red arrow), but those wings overhang at the sides (green arrows). What's worse, with those wings overhanging they tend to pull the Back Plate out and down over the Kidney pretty much every time you move. Here's a look at it from the side with the armor on my worktable. How bad the overlap is varies from Trooper to Trooper, depending on body characteristics. If your upper back/shoulders arch out at an angle, it's a bit easier to get the bottom of the Back Plate to rest atop the Kidney. In the photo below, I'm holding the Back Plate out at an angle, and you can see that it almost works. If your back arches out, great, but even if the Back Plate is resting in the right place along its width at this angle, good luck getting it to stay there -- your strapping is likely pull the Back Plate down over the Kidney every time you bend forward. I had brought up this issue way back during my build and got a number of suggestions, most of which dealt with heating those wings and bending them up to make them level. But I could tell that heating and bending would really warp the side edges of the Back Plate because of the amount of return edge I'd retained there, so I balked on heating. I corresponded with JustJoseph -- who also has AM armor and knows exactly what this issue is like -- and he agreed that just trying to reshape them with heat could badly mis-shape the side edges, and suggested that the only real way around it is to start cutting off return edges to reshape those pesky wings. Again, I put it off because I wanted those edges to stay (my shoulder blades tend to push the Back Plate out, creating gaps at the side that I wanted to minimize with as much return edge as possible). You may feel the same way, but if you want to reach Centurion level those edges have to be dealt with. After giving it a lot of thought, I determined that a combination of return-edge trimming and heat would be the best way to go and that’s the fix that worked for me. I started by outlining the cuts I planned to make, and here you can see my proposed cut on the sides... ... and, rotating the Back Plate, you can see how that proposed cut moves along the outer tips of the bottom. My proposed cut line ends short of the center of the Back Plate, leaving most of the return edge along the bottom/center in place. It took a while to pencil in these cut lines, as I kept redoing them to ensure I started with the minimum amount needed -- I didn't want to cut too much. I wanted to do this in extreme baby steps: Do some cuts, then do some heat and see what I got. Then trim some more and heat some more, and check it out. By the way, remember that last photo above. You'll see it again a bit later. So, first I used Lexan scissors to cut off most of the waste up to my lines. After that, I used a cutter drum on my drill press to shave the Back Plate smoothly down to my lines. Don’t have a drill press? A sanding drum in a Dremel-type rotary tool won’t be as fast, but it'll get the job done. Then, I heated those trimmed wings up using a hair dryer and did some bending, starting with the right side wing. In the photo above, you can see the result after several cycles of trim/heat, trim/heat, trim/heat. I was indeed taking it slow. Satisfied that I had the right side as good as I could get it, I did the same trim/heat, trim/heat, trim/heat routine on the left wing. OK, both sides are looking pretty good, and you can see how the bottom edge is now more or less straight across with no corner wings dipping down. Lastly, I heated both sides a bit more to curve the outer edges inward to more closely match the curve of the top of the Kidney to help the Back Plate rest more firmly in place. This whole process may take several hours, but it’s best to go slowly. You don’t want to trim any more than you have too or, worse, ruin the Back Plate and have to buy another one and start over. Hey, remember earlier when I said you'd see that photo of my proposed cut lines again? Well, here's that same photo, but I've superimposed red lines where I ended up making my actual final trims. Yeah, I ended up taking a lot of plastic off, and as time-consuming as it was it was worth it when I reassembled all the straps and hung the torso on my mannequin to see how it came together. As they say, your mileage may vary -- you may not need to take off as much; you may need to take off more. The amount I cut and reshaped ended up looking like this: That's about as perfect as I think it can be. I still don't like the way the AM armor isn't flat along that bottom edge -- that bottom return edge is angled, not flat. I may address that somewhere down the road and you may want to, as well. But this fix will eliminate the issue with the overhanging Back Plate. A.J.
  10. Hey Frank --- That money you spent... Was that all your winnings from betting on Lorelei and me?
  11. Hooray, another AM build! I swear, we're taking over! A.J.
  12. HI Linz... Great build, and it's always super to see another set of AM armor joining the upper ranks! One thing you might want to address is those two snaps on the extended portion of the Butt Plate. AM has this trimmed leaving a long extension, and a lot of AM builders (myself included) have made the error of locating the two snaps there. Personally, I preferred it that way -- it made grabbing and snapping that snap easier, as the rear snaps were closer to the front because of that narrow extension. However, it's not screen accurate so a suggested trim is to do away with that extension all together: Yeah, that's a photo from my build where I made the same mistake. I can't recall if that's a deal-breaker for EIB, but it certainly will be for Centurion if you choose to pursue that. (And you will, of course...) Good luck snagging that EIB Certificate! A.J.
  13. To add photos and logos at the bottom of your posts, go to Account, then Account Settings, then Signature. That's where you can personalize your signature with images and such. A.J.
  14. And you're thinking, Ah man, that longwinded Old Fart is back again. Shouldn't he be yelling at kids to get off his lawn or something? Well, yeah, it is prime yelling-at-kids season, but they're at school at the moment -- or they oughta be, the little juvenile delinquents -- so I've left my lawn unguarded for a little while to bring you up to date on my build. Haven't updated anything since March, at which time I outlined a few issues: One was my left Bicep constantly coming loose. After two troops I knew that I was satisfied with the Bicep position, so rather than replace or add more snaps to the Bicep, I simply squirted a bit of E6000 around the snaps such that it cemented one strap to the other right around the snaps. Not a lot of glue, but enough that it never comes undone on its own anymore, but would be easy to pull apart if I needed to. (Thanks, E6000.) I also had a clicking Sniper Plate, even though I had already added padding in the front of the Shin and Back of the thigh on that side. A bit of judicious Sniper Plate trimming along the top edge, along with hiking up the thighs pretty much solved that. The final issue I needed to deal with at the time was the rampant and incessant pinching around the, ahem, nether regions. The armor bites were terrible, even leading to a bleeding wound at one spot on my leg after three hours of Trooping. I shaved a bit off both sides of the Cod, as well as off the inner edges of the thighs. Next troop I still got some bites, but not nearly as many. I shaved some more off the inner edges of the thighs again, and the problem is all but gone. Since then, I submitted for and achieved EIB (yay!) and intended to immediately go for Centurion. As always, the EIB review was filled with lots of great suggestions for improvement that don't directly affect Centurion approval, but there were two things I was requested to fix before applying for Centurion: The gaps between the Shoulder Bells and the Chest plate in front, and the overlap of the Back Plate over the Kidney. The first was an easy fix by just tightening up the shoulder straps, but that Back Plate was problematic. As anybody who has built a set of AM armor knows, the bottom edge of the Back Plate is a bit odd. Now, I absolutely love AM armor and consider it to be the best out there by far. However, it does have a couple quirks and that Back Plate is one of them. For some armor, the bottom edge of the Back Plate has a nice, flat return edge that mates flat on the top edge of the Kidney Plate. AM armor is different: That bottom edge isn't anywhere near flat, and the outer tips bend down and out like little "wings." The end result is that no matter what you do, those wings will overlap the Kidney, which is a no-no in general, and a roadblock to attaining Centurion. Here's a detail from the back photo from my EIB submission: Notice in the above photo that the actual bottom of the Back Plate is right on top of the Kidney where it's supposed to be (red arrow), but those wings overhang at the sides (green arrows). What's worse, with those wings overhanging they tend to pull the Back Plate out and down over the Kidney pretty much every time you move. Here's a look at if from the side just before I started to work on it yesterday. How badly the effect is may vary from Trooper to Trooper, depending on body characteristics. If your upper back arches out at an angle, it's a bit easier to get the bottom of the Back Plate to rest atop the Kidney. In the photo below, I'm holding the Back Plate out at an angle. If your back arches out, great, but even if the Back Plate is resting in the right place along its width at this angle, good luck getting it to stay there. Lean forward and your strapping will likely pull the Back Plate down over the Kidney again. I had brought up this issue way back during my build and got a number of suggestions, most of which dealt with heating those wings and bending them up to make them level. But I could tell that heating and bending would warp the side edges of the Back Plate because of the amount of return edge I'd retained there, so I balked on heating. Then, when I got my EIB, I corresponded with JustJoseph about it and got some guidance from him, as well. Joseph has a set of AM armor, so he knows exactly what this issue is like. He agreed that trying to reshape them with heat would badly mis-shape the side edges, and suggested that the only real way around it is to start cutting off return edges to reshape those pesky wings. Again, I put it off because I wanted those edges to stay (my shoulder blades tend to push the Back Plate out, creating gaps at the side that I wanted to minimize with as much return edge as possible),. However, I want to reach Centurion level even more, so those edges had to be dealt with. After giving it a lot of thought, I determined that a combination of return-edge trimming and heat would be the best way to go. I started by outlining the cuts I planned to make on the sides... ... and along the outer tips of the bottom. It took me a long time to do these cut lines, as I kept redoing them to ensure I started with the minimum amount needed -- I didn't want to cut too much. I wanted to do this in extreme baby steps: Do some cuts, then do some heat and see what I got. Then trim some more and heat some more, and check it out. By the way, remember that last photo above. You'll see it again a bit later. So, first I used Lexan scissors to cut off most of the waste up to my lines. After that, I headed over to my drill press and used that cutter drum you saw earlier in my build to shave the Back Plate smoothly down to my lines. Then, I heated those trimmed wings up using a hair dryer and did some bending, starting with the right side wing. In the photo above, you can see the result after several cycles of trim/heat, trim/heat, trim/heat. I was indeed taking it slow. Satisfied that I had the right side as good as I could get it, I did the same trim/heat, trim/heat, trim/heat routine on the left wing. OK, both sides are looking pretty good, and you can see how the bottom edge is now more or less straight across with no corner wings dipping down. Lastly, I heated both sides a bit more to curve the outer edges inward to more closely match the curve of the top of the Kidney to help the Back rest more firmly in place. This whole process took several hours, but I was determined to go slowly. I did not want to trim any more than I had too or, worse, ruin the Back Plate and have to buy another one and start over. Hey, remember earlier when I said you'd see that photo of my proposed cut lines again? Well, here's that same photo, but I've superimposed red lines where I ended up making my actual final trims. Yeah, I ended up taking a lot of plastic off, and as time-consuming as it was it was worth it when I reassembled all the straps and hung the torso on my mannequin to see how it came together. That's about as perfect as I think it can be. I still don't like the way the AM armor isn't flat along that bottom edge -- that bottom return edge is angled, not flat -- and I may address that somewhere down the road, but for now I'm satisfied that this fixes my issue with the overhanging Back Plate. Now it's time to reshoot submission photos and achieve that Centurion certificate.
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