Making the Easiest Foam Helmet Possible (Part 1 – Getting Started)

Theophany will need to have a number of costumes created. They will be used for photography, videography, and even shooting reference photography for illustrations. A variety of materials will be used in their production, but here, I am going to practice making costume armor with closed cell foam. For this experiment, I decided to try making “the simplest foam helmet possible”.

This particular style of helmet will not appear in Theophany. I am just using it as a pilot project for many things to come. My goal is to create a “munitions grade” look to the helmet. I want it to look like it could be something that could head to the battlefield.

This project is heavily inspired by what the knights wear under their coifs in the 1950s Ivanhoe movie. I watched that all the time as a child.

Foam Material

Creating a foam helmet is very inexpensive. I’m using foam that you can easily get at the craft store for only two or three dollars.

Foam comes in a variety of thicknesses. Foam flooring for gyms is very popular material for costuming, but it is very thick. I think it makes great sci-fi composite-looking armor, but is too thick for the sheet metal look I want.

I’m using the “Silly Winks” brand foam. It comes in sheets from the craft store. Silly Winks foam is sold in a variety of thicknesses, including 5mm, 3mm and 2mm. I like to have a variety of thicknesses on hand for different applications.

I want this helmet to look like it is made out of a sheet of metal, but at the same time, I want it to be reasonably durable. If the foam used is too thin, the helmet will deform when it is being worn in a way that metal would not. Then it will not look right. Therefore, I am going to try using the 5mm thick foam.

The foam also comes in a variety of different colors. I’m using black, but it does not matter what color you use because we are going to paint it.

Forming the Band

The helmet’s basic form is only two main pieces, the band and the top. But the size of the foam sheets will not allow me to cut one solid piece that will go around my head. My head is 23 inches around, and these sheets only come in a maximum length of 18 inches. If you are planning on wearing anything under the helmet, like a padded or maille coif, remember the take your measurements with all of that on.

To determine how tall the band needs to be, just measure from your brow up to just beyond the top of your head. When I was doing this, I completely mismeasured the distance and created a helmet that was way too tall. I cut it down later, but don’t follow my example here. Get a more accurate measurement than I did.

You can cut the thinner styrofoam with scissors, but I am using a knife. A knife is essential for the thick foam. The foam dulls knife blades very quickly, so you will need extra blades or a knife sharpener. If you are using a dull blade then it will make a very ragged cut as it tears the foam. That is not what we want. If you are using scissors, you need to be prepared to sharpen them as well. I use a metal ruler or combination square to help me cut straight lines in the foam.

I was able to cut one 18 inch strip of foam for the band, and so had to cut another 5-inch strip. One characteristic of the foam is that you can make it stretch and expand when you heat it. If you find you have made something a little bit too small, you can often stretch it a bit.

I would prefer for my helmet to appear as though the band has been made out of one piece of metal that has been riveted together in the back, so I am going to try to disguise the seam on the side. I want to try that because it is probably a valuable technique to learn for future projects. But, you could also cut two pieces of equal length and make it look like the pieces are riveted together in the front and back.

To attach the foam I used Barge contact cement. The cement is applied to both edges of the foam and allowed to get tacky before pressing the edges together. I let one layer of the cement get pretty dry on both sides and then applied a second layer of cement because I wanted to be sure this seem was strong. The foam can sometimes soak up so much cement that the second layer is necessary.

Then I just press the pieces together until they stay.

See you for Part 2!