Monday, July 14, 2014

DIY: My Custom Helmets Project

The tough part about having a site dedicated to solely Auburn uniforms, things that don't change a whole lot, is that the off-season is extremely slow. As you've probably seen, I've only had three posts since the end of the Auburn Athletics season (and one I wish I there wasn't a reason to write about). There's still a few items left on the summer-time table that could result in a post, but it is all in wait-and-see mode at this time. So this week is a special post about my recent project.

To be honest, I'm not real sure what sparked my interest in making football helmets this summer. Might have just been my curiosity into how to make one. Anyway, I ended up finding a website that produces and sells many different sets of helmet decals, and their selection grows every week. I originally bought two sets, an Auburn and Marshall Thundering Herd set of decals. I found a cheap, old helmet on eBay from a thrift store for $15 including shipping. I stopped by AutoZone one afternoon and picked up a $5 pack of 800-grit (later bought 400-grit) sandpaper, and $5 cans of primer and auto spray paint. I did a lot of research prior to this, and found a wonderful writeup on UniWatch from a few years ago. The guest author wrote that he used a tall glass bottle to set the helmet on while painting. I, instead, used an old milk jug and filled it with water to weigh it down.

I took the helmet and sanded it to the point that it took off the top finish and smoothed out any scratches on the surface. I sprayed the helmet with some sand-able primer with a few coats, probably about five, with about 10-20 minutes between the coats. After letting that sit overnight, I again sanded the helmet to a smooth finish and washed off the dust. I let the helmet dry after washing it off for about 20 minutes then began to spray the top coat. Once again, I painted the helmet with about five coats or so within 15 minutes of each other. After getting the final coat just right, I let it sit and cure for 24 hours before touching it again.

Once the paint cured for a full 24 hours, I sanded the helmet once again, but this time lightly just to smooth everything. The more I sanded it, the more it smoothed out and also shined a lot better. After I got the lid just how I liked, it was time to decal. The decals I purchased from UpperDeckStudios needed to be heated with a hairdryer in order to bend and mold with the helmet. I started with the helmet stripe and worked from the bottom to the front. With the use of many detailed pictures online, I was able to finish the decals on both of the sides and the backs. Finally after everything was placed and the hardware was back together, I used some plastic polish, used a hobby scalpel to cut out the air holes, and it was finished!

The best place to pick up some helmets is the local high school. That's what I did. I picked up two old Hazel Green High School, my alma matter, football helmets for $50. I came home and stripped them of the decals, which caused more issues than it probably should. The side decals came off perfectly; the stripe was a different story. As I started pealing it off, it began to chip the nice grey top-finish, revealing the original red paint a good 1/4 inch below the grey. The decal chipped the paint in a four or five spots, but I thought I could sand it to fix it. That's where I was wrong. I sanded it down to a decent finish, but couldn't get it very flush. So I mistakenly thought the primer would fill in the chipped areas, so I went ahead and did that. The next day I realized it wasn't working, so I thought I'd start over and remove all the grey top coat. It went downhill from there. It was a lot harder than I thought to remove all the grey, so I eventually gave up and called a friend that works at an auto body shop. I went to his shop and we sanded the entire helmet down a perfect finish, fixing everything I screwed up. It was finally time to prime and pant this helmet! Again, I waited the full 24 hours for the final coat to cure, sanded it, and then clear-coated it, then decaled it and finally completed it. I bought the $45 visor from UnderArmour's website. The only problem with it is that the visor tabs chipped the paint. I did repaint them, but it didn't work out very well. So I used pieces of some golf club "ghost tape" to cover the chip and prevent it from chipping any more. And yes, I do think Auburn should go back to the orange facemasks!

The final helmet was probably the most fun to work on. Obviously the facemask is a bit different, so it took a lot of time, patience, and masking tape to get this to work. I should have painted the mask white before taping it off, but I didn't. After the white sides dried, I removed the tape and re-taped it. And did that once again after the black was dry. After the orange was finished, I clear-coated the mask and sat it to dry. The helmet was once again white, so it went through the same steps as the previous two, this time with no heavy-duty sanding. I clear-coated this shell and mask a few times to keep it from chipping. Unlike the previous two decal packs, the Oregon State helmet stripes were three separate stripes, rather than one single piece. That made it a bit easier, but the stripes being right next to each other with no separation made it a bit more difficult. Again, after searching through a lot of photos, I decaled the lid and it was finished!

I thoroughly enjoyed working on these three helmets, and I know there's a few things I would do differently the next time. I know they didn't come out perfectly, but I'm pretty satisfied. I still have a few more helmets I would like to do as well!

Hope you guys enjoyed reading through my process as much as I enjoyed working through all this. Hope to have some more content up in the coming weeks, but like I said at the beginning, it's all dependent of a few different happenings around Auburn and college football. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

War Eagle!


  1. Those look very good. If you could make those in bulk quickly, you have quite a talent. It 's hard to compete with factories though. I'd like to see these side by side with machine-made ones.

  2. Where did you get your decals? I'm working on helmets for my fantasy football league ( and would love to know good places to get decals.

    1. It was They haven't updated their site in a while, so I hope he's still available to buy from.