I once saw a kevlar ballistic mask in a tactical catalogue for $400. I’d just finished playing through Army of Two, an Xbox shooter in which the protagonists wear heavy body armor, including ballistic masks. So, naturally, I thought “Sweet! I want one!… but not for $400 effin’ bucks.”
Thus, I decided to build my own. First, a base. I thought about starting with a plaster mold of my own face, but I wanted something a little stouter – something inherently designed to take punishment, but also light weight and simple. I found a vintage street hockey mask on ebay for $10.
I knew kevlar would be the main ingredient, but I’d never even looked into purchasing any – I assumed it would be expensive. Not so. I typed in “kevlar” on ebay and… oh. You can just purchase rolls of the stuff for next to nothing. We’ll I’ll be damned. I bought a square yard of it for $20. I knew I wanted to layer it with a flexible glue – something that wouldn’t stiffen the kevlar and make it brittle and less effective, so I used plain old Mod Podge crafting glue. I laid the first layer on whole, which was WAY too hard. It didn’t want to stick to the plastic at all, and I basically had to continuously smooth it out with my hands for fifteen minutes until the glue dried completely. So, after that I cut the kevlar into strips with tin snips and started laying the strips on in alternating directions, each new layer overlapping the seams of the previous one.
I used the tin snips to clean up the edges of the mask, then went around it with the thickest duct tape I could find, just to hold everything in place a bit better.
I’d heard somewhere that aluminum did a good job of slowing bullets down because it bent and stretched. In testing, this proved negligible at best. I had a sheet of aluminum lying around that my brother had used for another project, so I cut it up into “scales” and armored the mask with it. I started at the edges and worked my way in toward the center so the plates would overlap outward and hopefully deflect the bullets toward the outside edges of the mask, like rain running down a shingled roof. Again, in testing, this did not happen AT ALL – but damn, you’ve got to admit that those metal scales look pretty damn cool. Out at the edges, the metal was only one layer thick, but on the forehead and nose, it was three layers thick. I glued the metal plates on using silicon glue – again, because I wanted everything to be flexible, not rigid and brittle.
I almost considered leaving it like this – very “Ned Kelly as a Paladin” – until MC Scoot (legend of the 918) walked in and said, “I predict that the first time you shoot it, all those metal bits are going to fly off from the concussion.”
Hmm. Good point, MC Scoot. I needed something to hold all those plates to one another. Enter, epoxy. I painted a thick, gooey layer of epoxy over the entire mask. Granted, epoxy by itself dries brittle, but this wasn’t intended to add protection, it was only intended to hold the plates in place, and it worked pretty well. After the epoxy dried, I painted the mask with spray on truck bed liner… just to add the final, scary touch.
I took it to the grocery store to weigh on the fruit scale, and MC Scoot refused to go with, claiming the security guard would shoot me thinking I meant to rob the place. ”I’m not going to wear it in…” I said, though the thought HAD admittedly crossed my mind.
I walked in holding the mask, and sure enough, the guard looked down at it, looked up at me, and then crossed his arms and tilted his head back, as if saying “I really don’t have time for your shenanigans, but I’m also not getting paid well enough to stop you and ask any questions.”
The only thing left to do was actually test it. So, I bought I watermelon while I was there to act as a placeholder for my huge noggin. As I checked out, the young cashier asked, “Is that a mask?”
“Yep,” I replied.
“Did you make it?” she asked.
“I did,” I replied.
“What are you going to do with it?” she asked, smiling.
“I’m gonna strap it on this watermelon and shoot at it until it breaks.”
Her smile faded. ”oh.”
MC Scoot and I drove out to the family compound and met up with Uncle Ivan, Uncle Rue, and young cousin Jessie. Adventure ensued: