Instructables

PVC -- It's Great for Inventions

Picture of PVC  --  It's Great for Inventions
PVC, polyvinyl chloride, is a thermoplastic. It softens with heat and rigidifies when it cools again. While soft, it can be bent and even stretched into molds. Cold, it can be sawed, filed, drilled, scraped, or whittled with a knife.

PVC material can be found at most hardware stores in the form of plumbing pipe. I find it to be inexpensive, especially when I consider all the things that can be done with it -- musical instruments, repairs, tools and toys to name a few.

It is resistant to sunlight damage, has a degree of flexibility, is fairly strong, and is electrically non-conductive.

This is a very valuable material for use in inventions; one that very few people seem to be have experience with.

The picture below shows some of the shapes it is possible to make with PVC.
 
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Step 1: Safety while heating PVC

Picture of 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.
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ludenwick2 months ago

brilliant post. lovin it. Many thanks

I_StarkGuy3 months ago

I'm just getting into PVC since the moment I wanted stronger lightsabers. And I plan on making a bow. Thanks for your tips.

By the way, you have an interesting lifestyle :)

fkenneth made it!3 months ago

Experimenting with DIY PVC pipe projects. I always use my hairdryer to make curves.

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kwongniyom8 months ago
Very Nice Idea
bfk1 year ago
Not pretty, but man, you are intense. You've made everything except pipe... But you've made pipe fit together, so I guess that counts:)

I spent my career designing, inventing and patenting vinyl products and never considered the opportunities that you've explored. You've pretty much covered PVC pipe (and impressively). Why not try your hand with some other common extruded shapes, like vinyl siding?
Thinkenstein (author)  bfk1 year ago
Thanks for the enthusiasm. As far as the vinyl siding goes, I've never seen it used here in Puerto Rico where i live. The pipe I can get in any hardware store. I have mixed feelings about promoting any plastic, but PVC solves too many problems to ignore.
Saitu1 year ago
I love this! It has opened me up to an awesome world of PVC! I have loads of scrap pipe bits in my backyard, and was gonna throw it out. But now, I can turn them into a project! I was wondering. Can I use a flatiron(aka clothing iron. You know, used to iron out clothes and remove creases) to heat the PVC? is the heat generated enough?
Thinkenstein (author)  Saitu1 year ago
I'm glad you are so enthused. You can try the iron, but I think you would be better with a gas stove for opening up and flattening pipe. A propane torch for detain bending.
Schmidty161 year ago
check out this http://www.instructables.com/id/Everlasting-Solar-Camping-Night-Lite/
kirnex1 year ago
LOVE this I'ble. I'm going to have to set up a good ventilation system in my workshop just so I can try some of these ideas out!
Thinkenstein (author)  kirnex1 year ago
Good luck. Have fun!
Will PVC withstand the heat of a curling iron?
Thinkenstein (author)  sheilablake1 year ago
I'm not familiar with curling irons, but if it is for curling hair, you might be able to stick it inside of some pipe sections to heat them from the inside. I don't know if it would get hot enough, or if being inside a pipe the curling iron might overheat and burn out.
ballardst2 years ago
How strong/rigid is flattened PVC? DOes it retain strength similar to its pipe form?
Thinkenstein (author)  ballardst2 years ago
Changing form changes strength. For an example, a domed egg shell doesn't break as easily as a flat cracker. If you need something that flexes, flat PVC has got to be more flexible than pipe. It flexes a lot before it breaks. If it doesn't surpass its permanent deformation point, it's strong enough. It is usually strong enough for my needs.
cart5622 years ago
I think it was Phil B's instructables i was looking through and one of them consisted of him putting small pieces of pipe in a pyrex cup with water in it and putting in a microwave. It was great for making small, flat pieces and I was just wondering if you have tried using a microwave before. Btw, apparently the newer Pyrex glass may explode from cooling too fast so either experiment with an old one or be cautious when removing it from the microwave for those of you who wish to try it.
cart5622 years ago
So I knew PVC could be used for a lot of things but this is amazing. I might have to start by making some tool handles. I will never ever throw away PVC again.
Thinkenstein (author)  cart5622 years ago
High five! Another convert!
justjimAZ2 years ago
I have had god success using a heat gun rather than flame. I find it is easier and less likely to burn the PVC too.
Thinkenstein (author)  justjimAZ2 years ago
I'm sure that a heat gun would work just fine for many projects. I think that propane torches are more common tools for people to own and use, however. The more experience one gets with the torch, the less likely things are to burn. Some scorching does happen sometimes, but I have never had work catch fire.
lilygist2 years ago
How'd you get that flanged end on the knife holder?
Thinkenstein (author)  lilygist2 years ago
The part of the handle that stretches over the knife blade was just heated to soften it, pressed over the end of the blade, and pinched with pliers to grab tightly. Heat forming is one of the special tricks that PVC can do.
Oh I should have been more specific, I meant the thing you called a knife holder, the cup with the flanged end, not the knife handle. Did you press it against something? Can the PVC stretch, or will it just tear?
Thinkenstein (author)  lilyology2 years ago
Oh, I see what you are talking about. It is a piece of 1 1/4 inch PVC, I think. The bottom was closed by cutting tabs and heat folding them to the center, still allowing water drainage. The flared top edge was heated up and pressed over a rounded something to stretch it. Yes, the PVC can stretch, which lets you even mold complex curves into it. Stretch it too much and it will tear.

In the opening photo with the black background, see the domed shapes above the knife to see the kind of stretch you can get from it. You can make male and female molds out of wood, or other materials. Heat up some PVC and squish it between the mold halves to stretch the material to the shape you want.
That's great, I'm going to try to make a curved horn shape out of a 3" tube. I was originally going to either vacuform or cnc fabricate it, but both are complex and expensive processes for a one-shot thing.
Thinkenstein (author)  lilyology2 years ago
When you say "curved horn shape", I suspect you are biting off a lot to chew for a first PVC heat forming project. When I bend pipe, I usually fill it with sand to keep the center hole open. Trying to maintain a conical taper at the same time would be difficult. For me, next to impossible, given my basic workshop. That said, go for it! That's one way to learn something, if only to not try it the same way again.

What is the curved horn for? A musical instrument? If so, you can get useful straight conical horns by using x-ray film. (Free for the asking sometimes at hospitals.) Once you clean the image off with a metal scouring pad and water, and let it dry -- silicone rubber sticks it together very well.
I have access to a hossfeld bender, so I'm going to give that a try when I get the chance. For the cone I'm carving out the shape first with a lathe. Not the most instructablesish way to go, but it's a nice luxury. :)
Thinkenstein (author)  lilyology2 years ago
I would consider sculpting the curved horn in clay and then putting a layer of fiberglass, or something over the clay to make the horn. Then, just remove the clay.
That's a good idea, but it's a bit big. I could use chicken wire and plaster cloth and lay it over with plasteline and then the fiberglass, but that's a hell of a workflow and I want a fairly controlled curve on a budget. The horn is for a sculpture, part of it is based on a megaphone. I'm epoxying this bent pipe to a cheap storebought horn, since I don't think I could make the shape. And I'm a little excited to try working with PVC, it's so cheap(!), stable and durable, and seems pliable enough though I've yet to have a great result. I was hoping that sand alone would work to smooth out some of the bends, but the plastic expands and sand collapses. I imagine it's better than nothing. Definitely need a grooved rig to get a smooth curve, unless you've got another clever suggestion :)
I've never done anything with PVC, but I'd think that it might be a bit easier to fabricate your horn in stages. I.e - heat the PVC and bend it to the curve you want. Then cut it down and heat the PVC again, joining the edges to form your cone. Might be easier, but as I said, I've never done this kind of stuff before. :)
Thinkenstein (author)  jdougherty22 years ago
The problem is that PVC has a sort of memory. If you heat up straight pipe to give it a curve and let it cool in that curve, and then heat it up again, it tends to straighten out again as it was originally. Combining two separate steps in one is tricky.
Could you use a jig to bend the curve and then keep it in the jig when you cut it down and make the cone?
Thinkenstein (author)  jdougherty22 years ago
Sounds tricky to me. I wouldn't bet on success, but give it a try. You might learn something new.
Thinkenstein (author)  lilyology2 years ago
No more ideas offhand. Hope you find a good solution.
Vinsu3 years ago
Truly inspiring. Now I have some use for all those tools I have with no proper handle/no handle at all. Thank you!
finton3 years ago
Excellent stuff Thinkenstein! I recently discovered the joys of PVC moulding myself and seeing your innovative ideas has fuelled my enthusiasm. I particularly like the high-reach pruners.
Thinkenstein (author)  finton3 years ago
Thanks. Glad you like it. It does seem like a material everybody should know how to work with so they can invent solutions to their own problems.
n0ukf4 years ago
Could we get more info and photos on the boat? How long are the pipes? What is its carrying capacity? Are you planning to do an i'ble on it?
Thinkenstein (author)  n0ukf4 years ago
The boat is long gone.  It must have been about 25 years ago.  Pipes a full 10 ft., if I recall correctly.  That's the standard length they come in.  It carried me OK.  I didn't test it for more.  

It was fairly heavy, in part because of the wood.  Not very easy to row.  About the best thing about it was that it only needed a few inches of water. 

A fine experiment, but not worth repeating. 
Did the (essentially) grooved bottom (between pipes) tend to act like a keel to help stay straight? What was the hard part of rowing? I've been half thinking of trying this but hesitating because of the $10 cost of each 4"x10' S&D pipe available locally.
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