One of my all-time favorite helmets is the Redskins “Feather” helmet. This helmet was worn by the team from 1960 to 1964. I really wanted a reproduction of this helmet for my Man-Cave but found that it is no longer produced, so I decided to make one myself.
I started by purchasing an old helmet from eBay. The pictures below are of what would eventually become my Feather helmet:
As you can see, the helmet looks pretty beat up. I’ve reconditioned helmets before and found lots of good advice on the web on making a helmet look as good as new. The most comprehensive resource I’ve found on the web is from this site. I’ve learned a lot from this resource and I highly recommend reading it if you’re thinking of reconditioning a helmet for the first time.
After removing the facemask and the interior padding, I ripped out the velcro that was holding the pads to the helmet shell. After ripping out the velcro, I rubbed some Goo Gone to remove the stickiness left behind.
Now it was time to get rid of the dents and dings on the helmet. A great product for filling in small dings is Bondo Glazing and Spot Putty. It can be found at any auto parts store. I squeezed a small amount onto each scratch and smoothed them out with a putty knife. I found that I had to be careful of the odor it puts out; it’s strong and inhaling too much of it can make you sick. I opened up my garage door during this step to ensure I was using this product in a well ventilated area.
After letting the putty dry overnight, I sanded down the helmet down to remove the excess putty. I started with a medium grit sand paper, like a 150 or 180. I then smoothed it out a bit more by using a finer grit paper, like a 320.
I also sanded around other areas, like where the old decals were, so no trace of those could be detected once the project was finished. Once I was satisfied with the results, I moved on to priming the helmet.
Priming is optional, but I find that it helps smooth out the helmet, as well as, creates a optimal surface for the paint to stick. Before priming the helmet, I washed it with soap and water. I did this to get all of the sand residue off of the helmet. I let the helmet dry for a few minutes before applying the primer. I found that it was also important not to touch the helmet surface after washing it. Touching the helmet could leave oils from your hands on the helmet. I used disposable rubber gloves to handle the helmet during priming and to avoid leaving oils and fingerprints on the helmet’s surface.
I let the primer dry for about 20 minutes before painting the helmet. I also recommend warming the spray paint can for several minutes before painting. They say that helps the paint flow and makes for a better finish.
I used the DupliColor Dark Garnet Red Metallic spray paint to paint the shell. I found it at my local auto parts store. The instructions on the can recommended that I lightly sand down the primed surface with a 600-grit sandpaper, then to wipe down the surface with rubbing alcohol. I followed those instructions, then sprayed.
After spraying on a couple of coats, I noticed that the paint dried with a bit of a hazy finish. I did some research and found that this could happen if you spray paint when the humidity is higher than 60% or so. I got a great tip on how to fix the hazy paint job. First, I needed to make sure the humidity was less than 60%. I was able to find the current humidity for my area at weather.com. The humidity was only 50%, so I preceded. I scuffed the surface of the shell with 600-grit sandpaper. Finally, I wiped off the dust and sprayed the shell with a thin layer of clear coat.
That looks a lot better. I learned a valuable lesson here. Just because it’s January and it’s not raining, it doesn’t mean the humidity is low. Luckily, I was able to save my paint job.
After giving the paint a few weeks to dry, it was on to wet sanding. Wet sanding gets rid of the “orange peel” look and will make the surface extra smooth and shiny. I started the process by getting my materials ready for the job. First, I filled up a bucket with warm water and put a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent in it. This helped lubricate the sand paper that I dunked into the bucket. I also filled up a spray bottle with water that I used to spray down the surface as I sanded. I then put aside the various sandpapers I would need for the job. I used a 600, 1000, 1500, and 2000-grit sandpaper for this job.
Once I got everything all prepped and ready, I started the process. I wet down my 600-grit sandpaper by dunking it in my bucket and gently sanded the helmet. I frequently squirted the helmet with my spray bottle and wiped it down with a towel. After going over the entire surface, I repeated the process with 1000-grit, then the 1500-grit and finally the 2000-grit. After I was done sanding, I washed off the helmet with soap and water and dried it off. There were a few small stratches still on the helmet, so I used a mild Turtle Wax Rubbing Compound to fill in the scratches a bit. After that, I rubbed the helmet with some Novus Plastic Clean & Shine to really bring out the shine. I really recommend this stuff.
After reinserting the padding, I attempted to put the decal on the helmet. I used a decal I bought from eBay, but there was a huge problem….it was too big.
I couldn’t get the edges of the feather to fold down onto helmet. It was a thick 20 millimeter decal, which is standard for side decals, but that wouldn’t work for this helmet.
The next day I contacted a distributor that supplies decals to high schools and little leagues. Their website actually had the same feather design as one of their stardard, out of the box options. I imported their design into Photoshop and added red to the tip of the feather. I then submitted the updated design to the company and asked for a slightly shorter, thinner decal. After a few weeks, they mailed me some sample decals.
I broke out the helmet and placed one of the new decals on the helmet. The decal they sent was exactly as prescribed, so it was able to lay flatly onto the helmet. There were a few bubbles below the decal, so I took a blow dryer and warmed up the decal and pushed out the air with a credit card.
Lastly, I added an old school single bar facemask that I bought from the guys at Helmet Hut. Finally, my masterpiece was done!