PVC Garden Trowel





Introduction: PVC Garden Trowel

About: 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 from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

This PVC garden trowel was made of scrap material.  The thickness of the material is about 3/16 inch.   It may need sharpening occasionally, but it will probably never break. 

Step 1: Scrap Material

This is the piece of scrap I started out with.  You can cut something similar out of a piece of pipe to begin with. 

Step 2: Safety While Heating PVC

We 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".

I do work inside, but my house is made of cement and has good ventilation. MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE GOOD VENTILATION. PLAY WITH FIRE -- CAREFULLY.

Step 3: Heat Forming the Handle

Heat the part of the material that will become the handle until it softens.  (Leave the blade part cold.) 

I used a piece of 1 inch diameter pipe to form the softened material around.  I wrapped it with a mail order catalog to protect my hands from the heat, and to help keep the handle uniformly cylindrical. 

Heat, wrap with the catalog, and squeeze with your hands.  Hold it until the plastic cools and rigidifies. 

On the first attempt, I got the handle at an angle that was not to my liking.  I decided I wanted it to run parallel to the blade direction. 

Step 4: Modifying the Handle-blade Angle

To modify the handle-blade angle I used a propane torch to localize the heat just where I needed it.  I didn't want the adjoining plastic of the handle to soften and unfurl, so I wrapped it with some masking tape. 

I wanted a little jog at the joint area, so I raised the handle on a book while pressing the blade down to the table.  That made the blade and handle directions parallel. 

Step 5: Shaping the Tip of the Trowel

The scrap plastic was too rounded to make a good trowel, so I penciled in the modification and formed it with a miter saw and a course file.  I sharpened the edge of the blade a little with a file to help it dig into the dirt easier.  There was no point in getting it too sharp, because it is plastic and will dull faster than a metal blade. 

Step 6: Hole in the Handle

I like to hang up my tools to keep them organized, so I drilled a hole in the handle. 



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    24 Discussions

    Put together well and informative. Does just heating it to warm it release carcinogens and/or pollutants? I couldn't quite tell from your description. An alternative to PVC would be Kydex.

    2 replies

    If the plastic is burned, it puts out some nasty gasses, but I have never noticed any problems with just warming it to soften it.

    Have you tried putting it in boiling water to soften it. Years ago I used that method to bend some small diameter PVC pipe to make a guitar stand. It seemed to get the pipe just soft enough to bend it. Not sure how it would work here, but there's no fire hazard with it. Vince

    1 reply

    It might work on small projects that fit into a pot of boiling water, but I find that heating the water takes a lot more time and gas than directly heating the plastic with the flame does. There's an art to doing it without burning plastic, but I've pretty much learned the art, I guess. I usually have little or no problem with it.

    I would suggest using a heat gun. They usually sell them in the paint section of a hardware store. They're plenty hot to shape PVC.

    2 replies

    I have a heat gun. Probably it's cheaper, per unit of heat, to heat with gas instead of electricity. -- My main objection to using my stove is that it has a round burner. Usually, I'm heating pipe, which only occupies stove jets in a center zone of the flame. The outer jets waste gas heating only air on either side of the pipe. A straight line of jets would probably be a better configuration for me. -- An electric oven, like a toaster oven works well for some projects, like keeping material soft at a controlled temperature until it gets molded. Precise heat control is good with electricity. -- Anyway, if you don't burn it electrically, or you don't burn it with gas, it's the same. The idea is just not to burn it.

    Cheaper yes, but if worries about burning the PVC are mitigated with the heat gun. A burner or torch is fine if you know what you're doing, as you appear to but if this is a first project, a heat gun is easier to handle.

    Really cool tool , It looks good , easy and cheap to make. Thx for sharing.

    Did you guys know that when PVC burns the chlorine tends to bond to nitrogen and form CN or cyanide. Play safe and don't form PVC indoors.

    1 reply

    If one does heat-form PVC indoors, as I do, make sure you have good ventilation. Also, try not to burn the PVC as you soften it. If you don't burn it, you don't make the nasty gasses. There is an art to this. -- If you do burn any, hold your breath and get to fresh air. You can take the plastic with you. The PVC normally stops burning as soon as you remove it from the heat source. I have very seldom had to run for fresh air, and I have never had any problem with a self-maintaining flame that had to be put out.. -- Be sensitive. Be careful.

    Simple and easy yet inventive and useful. A perfect instructables project, 5 stars.

    I like the simplicity. "one ingredient trowel"

    i left mines out in the sun. it turn'd yellow. *sadfase*

    was the piece of scrap originally pipe? What size / schedule was it originally?