Introduction: PVC FRUIT PICKER


This fruit picker was designed for oranges, but it works for other fruit also. The body of the picker holds several oranges before needing to be emptied. That speeds up the picking process when there are lots of fruit.

The main feature of interest is the "J" shaped channel at the end of the pipe. One makes a spear-like thrust with the picker to get the fruit inside the pipe. The stem of the fruit follows through the "J" channel. A twist and pull of the picker put the stem at the end of the "J" slot, where a sharp razor blade cuts it. The fruit falls into the head of the picker.

Alternative ways of mounting the pole will be described.



Give a general description of the StepWe love plastics for what they do for us, but plastic manufacture and decay tend to pollute the environment and negatively affect our health.

Vinyl Chloride, one of the components of PVC, is carcinogenic. When it is locked up in the polymer, however, it is much safer to be around. In my years of experience working with PVC, I have not noticed any adverse effects on my health from being around it.

Always work in areas with good ventilation. If you do get caught in a cloud of smoke, hold your breath and move to clean air.

When heating PVC with a gas stove or propane torch, try not to let it burn. Smoke from burning PVC is bad. With experience one burns it less and less. Don't panic the first time you do burn some. It scorches, but doesn't immediately burst into flame. Move the material away from the flame and try again. Don't breathe the smoke. Smoke avoidance comes naturally for most people.

While heating PVC over a gas flame, keep the plastic an appropriate distance from the flame to avoid scorching the surface before the inside can warm up. It takes time for heat to travel to the center of the material being heated.

Keep the plastic moving, and keep an eye on the state of the plastic. When heated, the PVC material is flexible, like leather. Beyond this stage, you risk scorching it.

A word from James, the plastic engineer -- "Just a word of warning, PVC can handle some high heats but if it catches fire, you wont be able to put it out, it does not need oxygen to burn so don't do this inside".

Another idea from ev372 regarding the heat forming of the bottom in Step 2, "Try dipping the PVC pipe in boiling water in order to soften it. Then fold the bottom fins inward. I used to work for a company that made PVC outdoor furniture and the owner used a water tank with a heating element to soften the PVC pipe and then bend it 90 degrees; worked perfect and no fumes or fire."

I do work inside with the fire technique, but my house is made of cement and has good ventilation. MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE GOOD VENTILATION. IF YOU PLAY WITH FIRE, DO SO CAREFULLY.



PVC is a thermoplastic. It softens with heat and rigidifies again when it cools. This property makes it a useful material for inventions.

Cut the section of pipe you plan to use. In this step, you need to cut "fingers" in the bottom end of the pipe and then fold them over to close the bottom. The pipe, in the finished project, will hold several fruit, but only if the bottom of the pipe is not open.

Cut the pipe as shown, heat it over a gas stove, and press the end against the floor until it cools. All the fingers are bent at the same time, and create a flat bottom.


Picture of CUT THE "J" CHANNEL

Remember that you will be exerting some force when you pull at the fruit. If the blade is dull, you will be exerting more force. If the blade is missing you can still use the picker to break the stem of the fruit. You don't want to break the picker, so leave as much plastic around the blade as you can, for strength.

To cut the "J" channel, I used a pencil to lay out the design and a saber saw to do the cutting. Files and scrapers are useful for cleaning up the edges.



Two slits at the sides of the "J" channel hold the razor blade in position. Razor blade replacements slide in from the side and are held by the two slits.

Drill four small holes at the ends of the slits.

Heat the local area to soften it.

Insert the tip of the X-Acto knife into one of the holes and cut across to the other end of the slit. Repeat the procedure for the remaining slit.

Practice first on a piece of scrap material, to get the feel of cutting with the knife. It feels like cutting leather.



Mounting the razor blade is a little difficult. Be careful to avoid cuts.

You have already gained some experience heating and shaping PVC when you folded the fingers that close the bottom of the pipe. This step calls for more precise heating. You will need a propane torch. Needle nose pliers are also useful, for holding the razor blade during insertion.

I made several of these pickers and modified one of the razor blades to use as a tool for forming all the slits. I ground off the sharp corner of the blade so it would enter the slit more easily, without snagging on the plastic.

After making the slits in the plastic, the plastic will probably have cooled and hardened up again. Bring the local area back up to temperature with the torch. Keep the flame moving to avoid scorching areas.

After the blade is mounted, cover the exposed blade ends with electrical tape to prevent accidental cuts.



By now you know the basics of heating and forming PVC. The mounting bracket below is made from the same diameter pipe as the base. Heat the central area with the torch to soften it. Press the soft plastic around a section of handle pipe with blocks of wood until it cools. Pop rivet it in place.

The pole is held in the bracket with a single sheet metal screw.



These alternative ways to mount the pole are maybe not as elegant as the molded plastic bracket.
They are, however, lighter, faster to make, and suitably strong.

Flatten the end of the metal pole to keep the pole from rocking sideways.

One picture shows the use of a bolt at the end of the pole and a wire wrap further down.

The other picture shows the job done using only wire tying techniques.

Depending on factors of time and materials available, choose the technique you prefer.


JorgeG52 (author)2017-03-13

Sugiro uma alternativa para seu projeto: o PVC poderia ser mais curto, o que não prejudicaria a fixação de um cabo na lateral. Na parte inferior poderia ser adaptado redes (iguais a de basketball).

borgem made it! (author)2016-10-16

I decided since I was already out, buying parts, I'd just get the pipe bracket and save myself some time/effort...also, in place of the razor, I beveled the pvc inside and out to make a cutting edge. Doesn't show up well in the picture and the two lemons I tested it out on fell right off, so I haven't had occasion to see if it works yet.
I'm thinking about replacing the initial screws I used with nuts/bolts from the inside-out...for now, I just shoved a large sponge (like you would use for washing a vehicle) down to prevent the protruding screws from damaging the fruit.

Abeytj (author)2013-03-12

I dip the portion of pvc to be shaped into boiling water. No fumes, no fear of burning, a little slower, perhaps

astrong0 (author)2009-07-24

you should try and make the bottom swing open like a trap door so you don't have to awkwardly pour out (in a figure of speech) the fruit and maybe put wires that it slides down like the contraption in the movie Fracture with Antony Hopkins but a lot steeper.

crapsoup (author)astrong02012-08-19

or you could leave the bottom part open and add a bigger bucket (like a coffee can or small trash can) underneath it with the pole going threw the middle. the fruit would fall through the picker into the catch bucket.

Thinkenstein (author)astrong02009-07-24

You have a good imagination. Personally, I don't find the pouring out of the fruit to be an awkward maneuver. It takes a little practice, I guess.

dchall8 (author)2010-01-14

I'm thinking you could attach a chute to the bottom of the PVC that would allow the fruit to fall through and gently drop to the ground.  You could use a slightly stretchy fabric to make a tube shape.  The friction between the fruit and the fabric would slow the fall and keep it from bruising when it hits the ground. 

crapsoup (author)dchall82012-08-19

You could use plastic dryer tubing and wrap it around the pole loosely.

Thinkenstein (author)dchall82010-01-14

I think the cloth tube would just snag on branches and get in the way.  You can give it a try, though. 

calgirlya (author)2012-04-19

This is the smartest and most efficient fruit picker. Thank you!

Thinkenstein (author)calgirlya2012-04-19

My thanks to you! Positive feedback is always nice to get.

dawoj (author)2010-10-02

You are genious

archerj (author)2010-08-25

I have key limes and would love to make one of these. For the limes, what size (circumference) would you use. You could use the same size as yours, but it could be lighter weight if smaller. But then if it is too small, it would be harder to cut the J, or set the blade in. What do you suggest?

Thinkenstein (author)archerj2010-08-25

This design can pick fruit without the razor blade. It just rips the stem out sometimes. Sometimes it doesn't. So, I would pick a pipe size that looks appropriate to you for the size of the fruit to be picked. If you can mount a razor blade, great! If not, tough luck, but you can still pick fruit with it.

Peter Mckee (author)2009-09-03

cool idea, I want to build this but all I have are avocados and I think those would get stuck a lot due to their shape.

Thinkenstein (author)Peter Mckee2009-09-03

I have made pickers that work on avocados. The one I use now is a rebar loop at the end of a pole, with a fishnet bag to catch the avocado. It has an elongated area at end of the rebar loop that presses on the top of the avocado as you pull.

hoolio (author)Thinkenstein2010-01-14

I just bought a house with a HUGE avocado tree in the yard. Does the elongated area of rebar cut the avocado stem? Or are you pulling on the fruit itself? Do you have a photo you can share? Thanks for a great instructable.

Thinkenstein (author)hoolio2010-01-14

No cutting blade on this one.  Just pulling and twisting to break the stem.

hoolio (author)Thinkenstein2010-01-15

Awesome - thank you!!

carpespasm (author)2009-11-14

Thanks for the idea. I'll be making one of these for picking the oranges in my former neighbor's house this evening. All the low-hanging goodness is picked and there's a large cluster with my name on it. She was unfortunately foreclosed on but told me to get all I want. The bank's not gonna eat those honeybells!

olivaresfelipe (author)2009-11-01

 Perfect timing!  We cut our oranges early in season and always have issues with the ones at the top.  Thanks for sharing.

blake77 (author)2009-10-21

 are you serious you really are a genius lol this is great to i like how it looks nice to its not like you took two min. on it and one more time your genius  =)

Thinkenstein (author)blake772009-10-22

Thanks.  Glad you like it. 

lonnyc (author)2009-08-18

I think I will just duct tape the end with a folded over piece insid so it's not sticky on the fruit...gotta do something with all the duct tape left over fo the wallets...

RichardBronosky (author)2009-08-06

I love the design. Very well executed and explained. I would make one modification to your molding technique, however. It is very difficult to heat plastic to the point of being pliable without burning it. It's the classic conductivity problem that bakers run into where timing becomes crucial because you want your product to only reach a fraction of the temperature of the air used to heat it. In situations where your product isn't going to get soggy, why use 1000° air to raise the temperature of your product to 200° and risk burning it as seen in your "Alternative ways to mount"? Also, this avoids the whole "poisonous fumes" debate that always arises with these kinds of articles.

Heating the pipe must be an art. I seldom burn it. It takes practice. Keep the work moving and at an appropriate distance from the flame. One has to publish all the warnings, but I've been working with PVC for years and had no major problems with it.

merijnvw (author)2009-07-31

I made it, it works but not perfect. It's because the braches connected to the fruit, have a stronger connection with the fruit than the main brach, so every time it also cuts off a little brach together with the fruit, so the fruit gets stuck at the top of the tube and doesn't fall to the bottom. Do you have this aswell? I used it with pears and apples. I used a really sharp blade and put it on an angle.

Thinkenstein (author)merijnvw2009-07-31

The first thing that comes to mind is the angle of the blade. The cut stem, is being caught on something. Look closely at it when you have the problem next time. See exactly how it is being held. It sounds like it gets jammed in the corner because the blade angle forces it there. I have never had that problem when the blade is straight across.

merijnvw (author)Thinkenstein2009-08-01

okay, thanks

strmrnnr (author)2009-07-31

What about just using the long PVC tube and when the fruit falls you can catch it at the bottom with your hand or a small net bag.

Thinkenstein (author)strmrnnr2009-07-31

That works with smaller pipe and smaller fruit. See my berry picker instructable,

The big pipe is heavier and harder to maneuver. The idea of the sleeve to conduct the fruit to the ground is an attractive one, but I find it too awkward for large fruit pickers. It works for the light-weight berry picker, though.

Commercial orange pickers here climb the trees, and pick the fruit by hand. They fill a big sack, mouth held open by a ring of rebar, and lower the sack to the ground with a rope.

xenobiologista (author)2009-07-23

There's a much easier way to make a similar fruit picker. Cut the bottom off a 2 L soda bottle, put a long broomstick inside the neck, tape them together, and you're done. You lift it up so the fruit is inside the cup and just twist it around until the stem snaps. This works very well for mangoes and other fruit that have leathery skins with a lot of friction.

Thanks for the idea. It's nice to have different alternatives. It sounds like yours could be improvised fairly easily for immediate use with things on hand. I don't drink soda, though. By the way, what is xenobiology?

I believe its like biology, but with aliens instead of the normal stuff. (in the Enders Game series xenobiologists were people studying aliens)

Thank you. I never would have guessed.

merijnvw (author)2009-07-30

thanks! Im definately going to make this

evotown (author)2009-07-30

Would the PVC be less likely to catch fire if you covered the part you were heating with aluminum foil to prevent direct flame to the pipe?

chriscc63 (author)2009-07-29

I suspect there is a ton of pressure holding the blade in there from the pvc, it would be preferable to have the blade on an angle. would a small screw and nut thru razor to hold it in be a solution?

Thinkenstein (author)chriscc632009-07-29

Give it a try. It might work better. I wouldn't say there is a ton of pressure holding the blade. It slides in and out sideways with resistance, but fairly easily. Put it at an angle and there would be some pressure toward sideways movement of the blade. Straight on there is not.

ev372 (author)2009-07-27

Try dipping the PVC pipe in boiling water in order to soften it. Then fold the bottom fins inward. I used to work for a company that made PVC outdoor furniture and the owner used a water tank with a heating element to soften the PVC pipe and then bend it 90 degrees; worked perfect and no fumes or fire.

jasonbradley (author)2009-07-20

Aaagh! Be careful. Fumes from heated PVC are quite toxic. Perform this step in very well ventilated area!

I have added a warning step about toxic fumes. Thank you for mentioning it.

148wmcquiston (author)2009-07-23

Will this be able to retrieve mangoes?

My trees are too tall. It probably would if you could reach them.

tenclay (author)2009-07-23

Nice fruit picker, I made one similar to this but I added a cloth chute to the picker. That way you can gently let down one piece of fruit at a time and not bruise each piece. We used it for apples. It worked best to have one person on the chute and one operating the picker

Thinkenstein (author)tenclay2009-07-23

I'm glad the chute worked for you. I'm a one man operation. I considered a chute, but vetoed it due to awkward maneuverability.

Weissensteinburg (author)2009-07-23

That's a cool project, I may make one for our trees. I would recommend, however, that you add a warning about the toxic PVC fumes. The heating should be done in a well ventilated area, preferably while wearing some sort of respirator or other mask.

The warning is already in the instructable. Step 1, I believe.

I can't seem to find it. Are you sure you didn't think to add it, but forget to actually type it?

Oops! I'm getting confused. I did another instructable recently, Check it out.
Just be careful not to burn the plastic when you heat it. You will have no problems with gasses. If you do burn it, don't breathe the smoke. Again, you will have no problems. I will try to remember to tack something onto all of my heat-forming PVC instructables. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home ... More »
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