[Editor’s Note: Today we have a DIY primer from reader Elliott Josypenko, who’s been designing his own football helmets. Enjoy. — PL]
By Elliott Josypenko
A few months ago I decided I wanted to expand my football helmet collection. Being a fairly hands-on person, I didn’t see the point in simply buying new ones — I wanted to make some myself. So over the next few months, I set about designing, cleaning, sanding, painting, and polishing my own football helmets (I have completed two of them, with a third well on the way), and I’m going to show you how you can do it too. At times it has been incredibly frustrating — I’ve made more mistakes than you can imagine — but the satisfaction that comes at the end of the job is worth it.
Step 1: Designing and Sourcing. The first step is to pick a design. For many people this is obvious — it may be your high school team, your favorite NFL team, or a company design. I used Helmet Hut and the Helmet Project for inspiration.
Finding the right color paint is relatively easy, but finding the correct decals to make your helmet authentic may be much more difficult. There are a number of sellers on eBay who specialize in decal packs. Or, for a more unusual design, you can get decals individually made. If you see the design you’re after, buy it — you may not see it again.
The next step is to find yourself an old helmet to work on. Again, eBay is your friend here, but you could also see if your local high school is throwing anything out. The quality isn’t at all important — even cracks can be repaired with a bit of know-how and hard work. Once you have your shell, carefully remove and clean all the accessories (nuts, bolts, facecage, padding) and store them safely.
Step 2: Sanding and Reshaping. Once the shell is completely stripped and cleaned, its time to create a smooth surface. This can take a while, but it’s worth it. I would start with 240-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper to remove the worst wear, stepping up to 400-grit, working it all over the shell. This removes small scuffs and some shallow cracks.
Large cracks and chips can easily be filled with putty. Once you’ve applied it, leave it to dry and sand away, to leave a flat surface. If the helmet has a center ridge, putty can also be used to repair scars in that.
Step 3: Priming. Priming the shell is important because it levels out the surface and gives the paint a surface to stick to. Generally, I would go for a white primer, although gray or black may be sensible for darker top coats. The choice of primer type (enamel or lacquer) can be important, but if you leave it to cure for three weeks, I’ve generally found anything can be used. Auto primers are my choice for this.
Be sure to mask off anything that you don’t want painted. Use five to six coats, reapplied every 20 minutes, to give a thick surface. After a few days of drying time, you can level the shell, using 400- to 600-grit sandpaper, giving you a nice, level surface. Take care, though, since you can very easily remove more paint than you intend to. Take your time on this and be prepared to re-spray and re-sand to get that perfect finish.
Step 4: Painting. Choosing your paint is the interesting bit. I have a local auto shop that has over 500 colors, so I take along some photos of what I’m trying to achieve. In most instances, there are two or three different options that would be absolutely perfect.
I usually set up the helmet shell for painting by standing it on a tall soda bottle, meaning you can easily reach the edges of the shell. Again, just as with priming, apply five to six thin coats at 20-minute intervals to get a level finish.
Step 5: Color Sanding. For me, this is the really tough bit. Now that you have your top coat, you need to decide the best way to get it to shine. There are a number of different options available to you.
Applying a clear coat of auto lacquer can work, especially if the top coat is particularly good and doesn’t need sanding. I’ve also found that lacquer works particularly well with metallic paints.
Alternatively, you can level your top coat using a process called color sanding. This involves sanding the shell with increasingly fine wet-and-dry sandpaper. Start sanding the shell all over with 600-grit and work your way up to 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 1800, 2000, and 2500, ending at 3000. The idea is to get a perfectly level surface and gradually make it smoother and smoother, so by the end, you are effectively polishing it. In practice, I’ve found this to be almost impossible. It takes hours and you need to be incredibly thorough. You also need to be extremely careful to make sure that you don’t remove too much paint. Too little and it’s not smooth; too much, and you need to start again. I’ve lost hours to my life trying to color sand!
Step 6: Polishing and Decals. At this point, it’s all about getting the shell shiny. Slowly work in a polish, such as Novus Plastic Polish, and buff to make the helmet shine. Once you’re happy with your work, re-install the padding, facecage, and chinstrap. Generally I would buy a new chinstrap and jawpads and use new nuts and bolts. Buying a new facecage is an option, or you can refurbish one just like you refurbished the shell.
The next step is to apply the decals. Get some good photos or video game images to use as references, and use landmarks like bolts and earholes to help guide your decal placement.
The very last step is a little-known equipment managers’ secret: I always finish off each helmet by coating it in a layer of floor polish. I spray on a coating of Future (also known as Klear in certain countries), which gives a very deep shine. Don’t use too much, as it can leave a waxy residue that’s difficult to remove.
Remember, a helmet that’s been reconditioned like this should not be worn — the sanding and painting make the shells ill-suited for competition. But they look great on the shelf.
Thanks, Elliot. Keep those DIY projects coming, folks.
ITEM! Membership News
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could have a sheet of stickers based on your membership card design?
Now you can. All past, present, and new members can now order a sheet of stickers like the one you see above. It’ll include four stickers about the same size as your membership card, plus one larger sticker (6.75″ x 4.375″), manufactured by our friends at Sticker You. The high-quality vinyl stickers are water- and sun-resistant (and hence suitable for outdoor use, as I’ve learned from personal experience) but are also easily removable, with no gunky residue. Stick ’em on your desk or wall, stick ’em on your car bumper, stick ’em on a football helmet, stick ’em on your forehead — the possibilities are limitless.
The price: $15 for one sheet, or $26 for two. Those prices include shipping.
• You must be a Uni Watch Membership Program enrollee.
• You can order stickers at the same time when signing up as a member (unfortunately, these will have to be two separate transactions, and your card and stickers will be shipped separately — sorry for the hassle), or you can order stickers at any time after enrolling.
• You can only order stickers based on your own card design. No mixing and matching, no changes to your design, no exceptions, no foolin’.
• For now, we’re limiting orders to two sheets at a time. If the process goes well, we hope to make larger quantities available.
Capiche? Good. Here’s how to order:
1a) To order one sheet of stickers, use this button:
1b) To order two sheets of stickers, use this button:
1c) If you you don’t like electronic payments, send a check, money order, or well-concealed cash in the proper amount, payable to Paul Lukas, 671 DeGraw St., Brooklyn, NY 11217.
2) After placing your order, send me an e-mail confirming your card design (especially for those of you who have more than one card).
All of this sticker-ordering info has been added to the membership sign-up page, so it’ll be there anytime you want to order stickers.
Beefsteak bargain: If you’ve been on the fence regarding the upcoming Brooklyn Beefsteak event, here’s something that should help push you over to the meaty side: The organizers are offering a $5-per-ticket discount to Uni Watch readers. Enter the code “SIRLOIN11” when purchasing your tickets.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Took a nap during last night’s Mets game and woke up to find a few dozen e-mails from people telling me about the logo you see at right, which apparently began circulating whilst I was dozing (click on it to see a larger version). Is it legit?
I honestly have no idea. Yes, I’ve confirmed that it is. Is it any good? Remove the wordmark and put the logo on white background and it might not be the worst thing in the world. … Another NHL third jersey has been leaked, and this time it’s the Leafs. … Fourth graf of this story indicates that Francisco Cervelli, recovering from another concussion, will go back to wearing the Gazoo/S100/etc. helmet, which he wore last season but not this year, when he returns to action. At present, I don’t think anyone in the bigs is wearing the S100. … Remember Illinois’s double-striped helmets? No? Then learn about them here. … Okay, so I wouldn’t want to drive this car — but some of you probably would (from Mako Mameli). … Good round-up of NHL throwbacks here. … Lots of jerseys and other gear from Friday Night Lights are for sale (from Adam Yarnevich). … Remember the story of that fan-submitted Chiefs prototype? Anthony Trommello points out that it looks a lot like what’s used by Buena High School in New Jersey. … Nike has released its NFL base-layer set for next season. … Here’s a little backstory on those crummy new Ohio uniforms (from Patrick O’Neill). … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Washington State is having fans vote on which uni the team should wear for homecoming. … Bears are apparently wearing orange this weekend. … I love this little sneaker character showing off his tread. … Did you know a high school team with Clemson-esque uniforms once snuck onto the field during warm-ups and pretended to be the Clemson team? Details here (big thanks to Beau Franklin). … John Parker reports that DeSean Jackson had a bit of XYZ trouble on Sunday. … “I know SI neglects hockey, but someone should have realized they were using the old NHL logo,” says Justin Kerr. … Ever wondered what Johnny Unitas sounded like in the huddle? Now you can find out (from Ben Fortney). … Some great 1950s NFL footage here (from Jerry Wolper). … Good article on baseball statues. … Wisconsin is repainting its end zones (from Alex Bauer).