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Dark Helmet – Final Prep (pt. 2)

The part that seemed like the easiest has turned out to give the most trouble.  The flare at the bottom edge of the shell has been very difficult to shape properly despite adding layer upon layer of new fiberglass.  The basic problem is that it is too wavy, so I’ve been attempting to build up the inside and outside so that I can sand it smooth without creating any holes or gaps, but we’re talking about needing to add about 3/4 inch of fibreglass.  Last night, however, provided a lightbulb moment.

I inverted the shell and used painter’s tape to approximate what I wanted the outside level to be.  It needs to bump out so it can be sanded smooth, but not by much.  Once the tape is in place, resin was poured into the gap between the fiberglass and the tape.  After the resin cured and some quick sanding, there was a nice smooth curve where previously it was super-wavy.

Early this morning, I hit the workshop and finished things up, getting some resin into a gap that I missed last night.  The shell is on target for getting paint tonight.  On my way home from work, I’ll stop by the shop to sand down the resin patches and put a final coat of Bondo over the helmet.  After dinner, I’ll give it a final sand and then start applying paint.

The face mask has already gotten its first two coats:

So far, so good, although I can see some of the artifacts of the cardboard construction still.  I might cover that with trim.  Speak of trim, the band saw made quick work of the foam floor tile that will make up the trim bit that goes down the middle.  I need to cut the parts that will make up the grill at the bottom and then get it all attached and painted.

Dark Helmet – Final Prep (pt. 1)

The deadline is rapidly approaching:  I need to have the helmet in paint by bedtime on Wednesday night and the face mask attached by Thursday afternoon.  The first step in getting to that deadline met is to mate the face mask with the shell.  Good news:

The top of the face mask will need to be trimmed down a little bit for sure, and I may need to trim the sides as well, but even with the bracing the rear of the mask, it fits between the hat and the shell.  This is great news, so I can move forward with the rest of the project!  With that sorted, I added some fiberglass along the bottom so that I can straighten out the edge.

Finally, I put a couple layers of gesso on the mask to seal it up so I can give it a quick sanding and then put the resin on it before paint.

Getting in to the home stretch now!  Tonight, my tasks are:

  • Sand the shell as smooth as it will get
  • Apply any additional fiberglass necessary
  • Sand the face mask
  • Apply resin to the face mask

Tomorrow night I have to get the paint applied (in this case, it will be Plasti Dip of course!).  If additional fiberglassing is required tonight, then tomorrow morning I will need to get up early to sand down the fiberglass and put filler on those spots.  If additional fiberglass is not required, though, I can go ahead and trim it down, sand it, get the filler put on and probably have time to give it a final sand and maybe some coats of plastidip yet tonight.  It’ll all be based on the fiberglass requirements.

Dark Helmet: Spaceballs the Face Mask

With under a week to go, I focused my attention on making the face mask.  Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how the whole thing is going to work at this point, but the basic idea will be that there will be some sort of hinge so that the face mask can be lifted into the void of the shell over the hat.  First things first, though:  I have to make the mask.  Out of…  something,.

Instead of doing this at the workshop, the floor of the living room became the base of operations.  Keep in mind through this whole process, though, that the shell is at the workshop and the face mask production is a couple miles away in the living room. What could possibly go wrong?

Sitting on the floor, I put Spaceballs on TV and paused it at part of the first entrance scene for Dark Helmet.  As it turns out, this gave me an actual life-size picture to work off of!  I broke out the glue gun, a couple Rock Auto boxes, a box cutter, and a rotary cutter and got to work.’

It took me a couple tries and I had to tear apart the mask and put it back together a couple times.  No picture to add here at this time of what I think is the finished product, but I made it so that the sides and the top will be cut down to size to match the shell.

Now that the basic mask is created, the gaps will be filled in with hot glue and I’ll sand everything down to make it smooth.  After a couple quick coats of some sort of sealant (gesso? poly? Don’t know yet), I’m going to coat it in polyester resin to harden it.

I also need to make some of the trim bits, since the mask is more two-dimensional right now.  I think there are some left over strips of floor foam from the Shark Gun project that I can use as the edging.  I’ll need to get some tinted plastic to make the visor ports, and the center grill will need to be trimmed out.  The metal port in the center will just be painted with a metallic paint after drilling some holes through.

Dark Helmet: Free from the plug

So far, things hadn’t gone to plan, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the finally-released product wasn’t quite right.

First of all, there is far more flaring around the bottom than there needs to be.  That isn’t a huge problem as I will trim that off and can easily add new fiberglass if necessary.  More concerning is that the left side of the helmet (that would be on the right side of the picture) flares out way more than it should and is very uneven.  When I was making the plug, I noticed that the proportions were off a little bit, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Off of the plug, the difference was painfully obvious.  I kicked this around for a bit before deciding on a course of action that involved cutting the shell in a couple places.  Since I didn’t have a plug any more and the deadling was rapidly approaching, it took a while to build up my nerve to touch the cutting wheel to the helmet.

I put two slices into the side so that I could tuck in the side and reduce the flare to match the other side.  Clamps held everything in place while I laid down some glass and let it cure.  When everything hardened, I was left with some ugly bumps, but the shape was much better.

The basic shell was completed, but it needed finishing work.  More on that later, since those problems are labor-intensive, but don’t require any real creativity.  The big parts now are creating the face mask and creating a way to get the helmet to sit on a head.  Of those two, the face mask sounds harder so that will be put off until later.  Solving the hat part, however, was easy to start on: Step one is to make a hat and I have a ton of fiberglass supplies, so that was the way to go.  I “should” have gotten a bowl or something that was roughly head-shaped, but impatience is my virtue so I looked around the shop for something that I already had right there.  I grabbed an old ballcap, stuffed it full of packing paper to give it (a very lumpy) shape, covered it with plastic wrap, and hit it with fiberglass.

Once that cured, I pulled it out and trimmed it down to a basic hat shape.  It isn’t very smooth, but it is very oversized.  It will get self-adhesive foam weatherstripping in order to ensure a firm fit and to be a little more comfortable.  If the helmet seems unstable, a chinstrap could be added to stabilize it, but we’re not there yet.  In order to attach it to the shell, I was originally going to make fiberglass tubes that I would cut to length and attach to the hat and the shell with resin, but there were a couple challenges with this.  The biggest challenge was that there needed to be room above and in front of the hat for the face mask to rotate up and store.  That means that the supporting mechanism would have to be off to the side which would put some shear load on the supports – likely more than they would be able to support.  So, plan B:

With the whole operation inverted, I rested the hat on a small box to space it out from the shell and then laid fiberglass in to attach the hat to the inside of the shell.  After a couple layers, I had a pretty solid platform.  Now that this is figured out, it was time to turn my attention to the face mask.

Dark Helmet: Begin the Fiberglassing

Because of its strength and the ease with which it can be formed, I chose fiberglass as the medium for the helmet shell.  I have worked with fiberglass in the past, but only as a tool to repair an existing structure.  I’ve never tried to fabricate with it.  So, I had a pretty good grip on the basics, but not a lot of practical knowledge.  That in mind, I decided to try some small-scale tests:

On the left, I had some plaster that had hardened inside a water bottle.  I covered it with polyurethane and using that as a test plug, I went ahead and wrapped the fiberglass around it.  The right side is a water bottle that I wrapped in fiberglass with no prep. When it all dried, the fiberglass was pretty well stuck to the plaster plug as well as to the bottle.  I expected the bottle’s results, but the plaster was disappointing.

New game plan was to cover the plug in many layers of poly and then wax it heavily, so that was the next step.

Once the plug was sealed and waxed, I started putting layers of fiberglass on.  I would let a layer dry and then put on another until there were at least 4 layers across the whole helmet.  Once that dried and cured, I attempted to pull the helmet from the plug.

That’s the plug after the shell was removed.  Total disaster.  The fiberglass didn’t want to release, even with the sealer and the wax so I was stuck using a hammer and chisel to break up the plaster and the foam and dig it out of the shell.

Dark Helmet

For the 2018 costume, Debbie decided to do Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.  My task has been to make the portion of the costume from which it derives its name: the helmet itself.

The helmet needed to be fairly sturdy and is curved, so the material needed to be fairly easy to work with in that regard.  Because weight was also a concern, I decided that fiberglass would be the material for the shell of the helmet.  My plan was to first sculpt a plug out of some other material and once I had the plug the way I wanted it, I could lay the fiberglass on it, pull it off the plug, and have my shell.

Since the plug was something that was just going to be set aside anyway, the material needed to be inexpensive but it also had to be something that I could easily work with hand tools.  Those criteria led me to start off with spray insulation foam.  It’s cheap and once it is dry sanding it is pretty easy.

This started as a much taller pile when I sprayed it out, but as it dried it collapsed and spread out a bit.  I got another couple cans and piled it on a little more slowly.  Once I had a good stack, I got to sanding.

As I was getting in to the finishing stages of the sanding, I realized that I was going to need to build up some areas and smooth out some others.  I chose plaster of Paris for that job and went through about 30 pounds of it.  Definitely not the right tool for the job, but at the time it seemed to make sense.  I built up the plug and then sanded it down.  And then built it up.  And then sanded it down.  And then built it up….  etc etc

Finally, I was left with a plug that was roughly shaped like the helmet I was trying to form.

Prelude to a Workshop

Having Dad in the cabinet business has always come in really handy — he’s always had a decent-sized workshop full of expensive tools and plenty of space to do crazy things.  I don’t do much with wood, but when I did I knew that I could either do the project in his shop or bring the tools to the job and get it done.  It was also always a nice place to park the motorhome — if you’re going to be doing motorhome renovation projects, having it parked at a woodworking shop is the second-best place you can have it!

After a long time in the business, though, Dad’s ready to take it easy, so he’s planning to sell the building which means no more workshop and no more free RV storage.  I started looking for new options to store the motorhome and my brother, who is way more into woodworking that I am, started trying to figure out how he was going to get all the tools into his basement.  One thing led to another and we decided to start looking around for some shop space where we could potentially go in together to get a larger space that would provide room for a workshop as well as storage of personal stuff, the motorhome, and the trailer.

It turns out that commercial real estate is a slightly different game than I had hoped, and no one is really interested in renting out large buildings for cheap and they’re not interested in subdividing larger buildings into 1,500 sq ft sections.  I didn’t really want to get into property ownership, and we looked around at a few places but finally wound up right back where I started:  a self-storage lot.  Before you start sighing and telling me that what I’m doing could get me kicked out or how it violates the rental agreement, let’s get this out of the way right now:  I talked to the gentleman that owns the facility directly and explained to him exactly what I wanted to do and why and have his express permission for this.

I’ve had a 10×30 garage in this facility for several years now storing some homegoods in it along with a 20′ open deck trailer.  It’s worked out really well and I know that he’s been able to combine individual units before, so I started conversations with him about what options I would have.  It turns out that the unit right next door to my current one was just coming available and taking down the wall was going to be an okay thing as was running a 220 circuit.  I went ahead and added that unit as well as an outdoor parking spot to my contract and got to work measuring things and cleaning out the original unit.  The motorhome and the trailer both fit (just barely!) into the outdoor parking spot, much of the infant supplies were given to some friends who just had a baby, and the rest is being donated to St. Vincent De Paul.  There are a few things left to move out, but here’s where we’re at today:

That’s the original unit.

This is the new unit.

Honestly, looking at — and just being in — one of those units makes it seem really really small.  Even as you try to convince yourself that you’ll have double the space, the brain just keeps screaming at you how narrow it is.  It’s probably the narrowness of it that really makes it seems small — one unit is 300 square feet which is nothing to sneeze at!  If you stand outside, though, and position your head just right to kind of make the middle wall disappear, it looks a little more reasonable:

See?  Now it looks like a decently-sized room.  600 square feet.  And if this works out well, we may try to get another unit on either side should they become available, but let’s not go too crazy just yet.  The monthly on this is $385 which works out to just over $5/sqft/year which isn’t a crazy price.  We also get a ton of security cameras and access control with 24×7 access via keypad code and with a key kept in the office, they’ll accept deliveries for us.  Heck, the owner even has a forklift if we have something really big coming in!  Honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad of a deal.  The next best thing I was able to find was $600/month for a 900 sqft place.  Granted that place had running water, but for $3/sqft/yr more I can use the portapotty!

Another advantage of these units over some of the others is that the ceiling height is about 12′.  Not quite enough to be able to build two complete levels, but definitely tall enough to be able to put in some really decent lofted storage.  There isn’t a lot of (well, any) insulation and there’s no climate control, so we’ll need to take that into consideration, but 600 sq ft should heat up pretty fast with a decent 220v heater.  One minor hiccup that we’ve run in to is that despite initial conversations around having the wall pulled down entirely, we’re now being told that the whole wall can’t come down because of structural reasons, but that half of it can be removed.  We’re good with that — in fact, having that separation would be nice for things like dust and paint containment — but when I looked at the panels, it appears that they’re 20′ long which means that it would be either a 20′ wall from the doors back or a 15′ wall from the back forward and I don’t like either of those ideas.  The panels are 3′ high, though, so what I want to try to get is to have the lower two panels removed and the third from the bottom raised up 6 inches.  If that works, the structure would remain in-tact I think and we’d be able to easily walk under that without hitting our head.  We shall see what works out.

Other than that minor detail, the next thing we need to do is figure out how to lay out the tools and workbenches and improve the lighting.

I’m going to go ahead and call the intake manifold swap completed.  There are still a few problems, of course, and some things left to be done, but the intake manifold is swapped and the car is running better than before.  It’s getting in to boost sooner and with more force and it’s holding 15-16 psi easily.  The fans seem to work okay, but I don’t think they’re as good as the previous ones and I’m a little bit concerned how the cooling system is going to hold up during competition in the heat of the summer.  Time will tell.


With the OEM ECU removed from the car, I’ve started to trim down the wiring harnesses.  I need to wait until I have the idle valve thing worked out before I can wrap up all the wires, but in the meantime, I’ve pulled some connectors and tightened things up a little bit.

With that cleaned up a little bit, I moved on to another small project.  At some point, the bumper cover got a tear in it, near where I had cut for clearance around the intercooler.

I found an epoxy from Bondo at Advance that I thought I would try:

It smells a lot like JB Weld, but there’s a black and a clear part, plus it’s supposed to be flexible, which this spot will need.  I went ahead and put a layer on last night and then clamped it.  I totally forgot about the repair and drove it to work today with the clamp still on.  Herpaderp!  When I got home, I took the clamp off and added a little more of the epoxy to cover the spot that had the clamp previously:

Overall, I’m happy with it so far, but I won’t know how well it really works until I get the car into the dirt.

I got another update from AMR Engineering in regards to my suspension – Current estimated ship date is Monday April 3rd, so hopefully it doesn’t slip again.


Catching Up

I’ve updated the build thread that I had at GRM, but I haven’t copied everything over here.  So here’s a mega-update from there:


Okay, so Megasquirt is hard when you’re using a 16 year old PCB…

I was hoping to add in a knock input and outputs for tach, PWM IAC, and fan control, plus an input for launch control/flat shifting. It looks like I get 5 pins I can use, X11, X12, X13, and X14 plus pin 36 on the DB37. 11 and 12 are already in use for ignition control, so I’m going to put knock on X13 and tach on X14. Pin 36 is orphaned, so if I want to use that I just need to wire directly to the pin. Pins 1-19 are all wired directly to ground.

Not ideal, but I think I can make it work. I did swap out Q5 last night for the PWM-capable transistor. Knock input looks pretty simple – if I connect a jumper from X13 to X6 on the 2.2 PCB, that should put knock input on what MS2 calls JS4.

The tach circuit still perplexes me due to a lack of any specific direction. I have a bunch of the 2N2222A transistors (cheaper to buy 20 than to buy 1…) so I believe that I can use JS5 by wiring to X7 on the 2.2 PCB. That should mean that the right lead of the transistor should go to ground, the center lead wires to a 1k resistor and then to X7, and the left lead wires to a 10k resistor and a jumper wire. The 10k resistor goes to a 12V source and the jumper wire goes to X14. I don’t really understand that, but let’s see if it works.

That will mean that on my harness, the 2A wire (green/white) should be knock input from KnockSense and the 2B wire (green/red) should be tach out.

So I did all that wiring stuff, but it doesn’t seem to work. I suspect that I’ve failed in picking up the +12V and the ground properly, but anything is possible.

I wired up the IAC and the tach connection to the megasquirt harness so I could wrap up the wiring. It’s looking a lot cleaner than before and it should be less prone to any kind of breakage or rubbing:

The throttle cable bracket is installed and the vacuum lines are all hooked up as well.

Next, I need to figure out what went wrong with Megasquirt and then see how my mods work. The knock sensor is still not hooked up – I need to run it back into the cabin of the car because the knock sensor controller isn’t weathertight. I’m thinking that I’ll use the wire that is for the knock input pin to run from the sensor into the cabin, then snip the wire near the MS box and use the part wire that goes back to the DB37 as the knocksense output connection. Then I should just need to find switched +12V and a ground inside.

Well, there was a minor setback tonight. When I wired up the new PWM transistor in place of the old FIDLE transistor on the 2.2 board, I think I literally had my wires crossed. Uncrossing them got it working a bit, but in an attempt to troubleshoot, I cut out the tach output circuit and tried reloading the firmware. On the stimulator it acts fine but it always wants to keep the fuel pump relay turned on, even when it’s reading 0 RPM. I’ve ordered up a new Q3 transistor for the fuel pump circuit so I’ll see if that clears the problem up.

If that works, then I’ll go ahead and rebuild the tach output circuit. I’ll also need to find some place under the hood to pick up +12V when the ignition is on, but that shouldn’t be too tough. Initially, I wired the IAC to the fuel pump relay control, but that’s all ground not +12V so I undid that. I’m not doing anything else, though, until I know if I’ve fried the MS box entirely. If I can’t get this squared away in short order, I’ll just have to order up a new kit. And then I’ll have to see how much I want to gamble — do I hope that my MSII daughterboard is okay and just buy the MS1 3.0 kit and use my current proc, or do I spend the extra 60 or 70 bucks and get the MS2 3.0 kit?

And here things were running so well before I just had to make them better….

Fun fact.

I’m retarded.

All that stuff I posted before – just ignore it.

The real problem is that I blew a fuse that feeds MegaSquirt and it was getting backfed from a sensor somewhere so it was acting like it had power but wasn’t working properly. It’s all good now.

Tonight, I went ahead and re-did all the stuff I undid last night. I gave it a test fire and it started right up! Sort of. It won’t stay running because the idle valve is closed and I need to find +12V for that. That’s a job for tomorrow night. For now, it starts! And the tach works! So I will celebrate with hard root beer and Buffalo Creek Bourbon Cream!


Fans are wired up and installed on the radiator with zip ties. I put a new hole in the core support so I could position the radiator forward a bit. They actually seem to blow a ton of air, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Megasquirt is working okay. The car will start and idle but the IAC is not working so in order to start, the throttle has to be slightly pressed. The tach gets a signal but it is really jumpy. The IAC makes clicking sounds when I hook it straight to 12v, but MS isn’t sending any signal down the FIDLE wire. I did have the TIP 120 transistor miswired at one point so I’m going to try replacing that.

And I’ve cooked yet another TIP120. With the output connected to absolutely nothing and the FIDLE setting set to “Off”. Something is wrong on the input side of the equation.

The next attempt was to remove the TIP120 completely. No smoke, but the dash tach was very jumpy.

Next test was to remove the jumper wire that sent the +12V to the CPU stepper chip. The instructions don’t say that you NEED that wire if you’re not using a stepper, just that you “should”. With that wire removed, the tach isn’t perfect but it’s pretty close.

The coolant is pretty low from pulling the intake manifold and all that, so I need to top that off, but otherwise, I think it’s ready for a test drive!


This whole idle valve thing has got me pretty bummed out. Same with the tach out. It’s gone back to being super jumpy again, so basically worthless, and the IAC is completely non-functional. I suspect that there is something that isn’t wired correctly, but of course the assembly manual for the 2.2 PCB with MS2Extra is no longer in existence, having been purged from the site. Sure, they’ve got a link that says it leads to the manual archive with the older 2.2 manuals, but it’s a dirty lie. I get that it’s an old board, but why eliminate all traces of the old manual?

Anyway, the car starts and runs without idle air, but it does require holding the throttle down a little for a few seconds before the idle settles down to around 600 RPM. I’ll take a drive tomorrow and see what it’s like with the new intake.

Oh, and I found this sitting next to the car:

Stock ECU is out of the car! There’s plenty of wiring that needs to be removed and cleaned up as a result, but at least I know that full standalone is functional now.

Holy E36 M3.

It’s raining today and the car is basically undrivable. The slightest blip of the throttle in gears 1-3 breaks the tires free and gets the car bouncing off the rev limiter. Boost comes on much faster and holds at 15-16psi. Cruising in fifth at 65mph rockets to 80+ with no hesitation when I push the accelerator about half-way. This thing is fast.

Cooling seems okay, but it’s hard to tell on a cool and rainy day. Sitting in the garage, idling after running for 30 minutes, I put the fans on and it did drop the temps pretty steadily, so I’m hopeful.

After a slight delay, more progress

After a little searching and trimming, I was able to fashion a section of the aforementioned PT Cruiser silicone charge piping to run between the intercooler and the throttle body. I got the IAT sensor installed in it and the fit is pretty nice. There’s going to be a much cleaner look in there now with a little more room.

The rest of my time was spent working on the throttle cable bracket. After spending about 45 minutes cleaning out a space to work, I got this grafted together:

It took a little adjustment with my 5 pound sledge, but I put a nice bend in it and the throttle travel seems to be about perfect.

I put a couple coats of paint on one side tonight and I’ll do the other side tomorrow. It doesn’t really need to be SUPER pretty, but I want it to look a little bit nice!

I checked out the closing RadioShack near me and they had a few things that are nice to keep on the shelf, but they lacked any 2N2222A transistors that I need for the tach output circuit. I ordered a hundred of them from eBay (because it was way cheaper to order 100 than 1…) so when that gets in it will be time to open up the MegaSquirt again and add the tach output, fan control, IAC control, and knock input.