Make a 3D Skull – 123D Make and MDF

We have been playing around lately with making 3D sculptures using 123D Make to make sliced objects that can then be cut out on thin sheets of MDF and reformed to make something 3 dimensional. It is something we are experimenting with and this 3D skull was our first attempt at just that.

No patterns or templates are provided for this project since we do not own the skull design. Any future 3D slice projects will include printable templates and 3D .obj files when they are our own design. If you would like to make the skull, the step-by-step directions below will point you in the right direction to do so.

Make sure you watch the video, as it shows a bit more of each of the steps.

Download 123D Make

Download and Print the FREE plans (w/images) from Instructables or read the step-by-step instructions located below the video.

Step 1: Applying The Patterns

The patterns are created in 123D Make by slicing a 3D model into thin layers. You set the thickness of material, slice direction, etc. If you want to see how to do all of this in 123D Make, we highly recommend you check out the Instructable from PenfoldPlant called How to Slice Up a T-Rex in 123D Make. He does a fantastic job of explaining how to use the program and his in fact, the main guide we used in figuring it all out.

As far as the skull goes, we used a model of a skull that was already present within 123D make, since this was kind of a trial run.

Aside from all of that, once we had all of the patterns printed, we cut them down a little bit and then glued them to a 1/8″ thick piece of MDF. Once dry, we also cut each of the patterned panels down a bit using the band saw.

Step 2: Cutting Out The Slices

Each of the slices were cut out with the scroll saw. Round pieces were cut close to the lines provided and then sanded up to the line on the disc sander. Pieces with more unusual shapes were cut directly on the scroll saw and exactly on the line.

We found that storing all of the pieces in a box is a good idea, because there are a LOT of pieces.

Step 3: Gluing The Sculpture

Gluing all of the pieces together is incredibly simple (for this sculpture) and only requires assembling them in numerical order, which each piece is labeled with. We decided to leave the paper on each of the pieces, since we assumed the glue would just soak through and wouldn’t be an issue. We were right. I actually dropped the sculpture several times while working on it and it never came apart.

We used CA glue to glue it all together, though wood glue would most likely work as well, however you would most likely have to clamp the piece every so often.

One option 123D make gives you, is placing dowels or pins into the print to allow for alignment later on. We opted to not use this feature and admittedly this was a mistake. As you can see, the skull is a bit oblong. That is directly related to the fact that we had no way of aligning the pieces toward the end. Lesson learned.

Step 4: Resin (optional)

We coated the whole thing in resin once it was assembled. This was just a precautionary measure, since we weren’t sure how well the CA glue would hold. We have worked on a few other sculptures since then and can honestly say this step is probably unnecessary. Though you can still do it if you feel you need some extra holding strength. The resin does soak in and hold tight really well.

Step 5: Sanding and Shaping

Since the whole piece is pretty unsightly once it is assembled, sanding and shaping it makes a lot of sense. This works out great, because MDF is insanely easy to sand and shape in this manner. Unlike regular wood, there is no grain to deal with. MDF is actually quite a pleasure to work with for this application.

We used a combination of the belt sander, disc sander and various rotary bits to shape it exactly how we wanted. It only took about 30 minutes or so to shape the entire thing.

Step 6: Paint and Finishing Steps

We just undercoated it in black and then put on a silver/chrome color dusting. This allowed the eyes to remain somewhat black.

As you can see, the edges of the MDF are still visible in some spots, which is one of the kinks we are still working out in this process. We believe that coating the entire thing in something like wood glue or CA glue could help seal that up and help achieve a smooth finish.

Like I said, it is a process we are learning, and one that we have work all the kinks out of. So, we’ll see what works best as we progress.

We hope this inspired you to try something new or that it was helpful to you in some way. If it was, let us know in the comments below or share your project with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Also, if you would like to help support more DIY projects, like this one, please share this with your friends and family or consider subscribing on YouTube. You can also support us on Patreon.

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