Introduction: Recycle Old PVC Into Flat Sheets

Picture of  Recycle Old PVC Into Flat Sheets

When you think about PVC, you're probably like me, and consider it as a tube. Well, it's pretty easy to get it into flat material for the shop. I flattened a 4" piece of schedule 40 PVC in about 20 minutes. You just need a heat gun and a flat surface.

Odds are, you've got loads of the stuff sitting around the house. Why not recycle it into something useful?

Step 1: Pipe Cutting

Picture of Pipe Cutting

To cut the pipe I used my band saw, it's perfect for odd shapes that would be very un-safe to cut on a table saw or miter saw. Don't have a band saw?

Just break out your hand saw. PVC cuts easily with a hand saw or hack saw, and while it might take a bit longer, is totally doable.

Step 2: Heating

Picture of Heating

So I used a heat gun and was able to flatten this sheet in about 10 minutes. I've already gotten a good deal of feed back on this, and would like to pass it on to you.

1. Heat PVC in a well ventilated area (or any plastic for that matter)

2. Don't heat it on a non-insulated surface. The cold surface of my table saw, was working against me the whole time. Just put a sheet of drywall or plywood underneath it.

3. Clamp it flat. I only had it in clamps for 20 minutes or so. and it came out pretty flat!

Step 3: Dyeing PVC

Picture of Dyeing PVC

PVC comes in two colors, white and covered in dirt.

Well not anymore. There was a great how-to from Make: a while back with a great trick for dyeing PVC. Using clear primer and adding colors. You can now have PVC all colors of the rainbow! Which really makes this material much more interesting.

Stain PVC Any Color:

Step 4: Make Something.

Picture of Make Something.

Honestly, that's all there is to it. PVC is easily worked with woodworking tools.

You can cut it on the band saw, turn it on the lathe, bend it to form an arch or use glue it up as part of a larger project.

For me, I ended up cutting a Hawkeye logo out on the CNC. He was the only purple clad super hero that came to mind, except for maybe the Hulks under-roos....


seamster (author)2015-03-16

Love this idea!

Having flat sections of PVC available as a material really opens up a lot of possibilities for workshop engineers. This is definitely in my arsenal now. Thanks!

kludge77 (author)seamster2015-03-16

Oh my gosh you're the TIREBALL guy!! I'm glad you like it, I've been enjoying your Instructables!

seamster (author)kludge772015-03-16

Ha, thanks!

I'm not THE tireball guy though. Technically that's one of my neighbors, who I got the idea from. But for our purposes here, that title works just fine.

. . . As far as I'm concerned, you're the "Pint Lock" guy! :)

kludge77 (author)seamster2015-03-17

I'll take that one too :) Thanks for stopping in...

UncleTiki (author)kludge772015-03-17

PVC comes in two colors, white and covered in dirt. <--- Best line I have seen in an instructable yet!

Yonatan24 (author)UncleTiki2016-01-19

Same :)

imark77 (author)UncleTiki2015-03-25

My favorite to!

kludge77 (author)UncleTiki2015-03-17


Dustin Rogers (author)seamster2015-03-17

It's a good material to be familiar with. Missing the mulch plate for your push mower? No problem. :)

seamster (author)Dustin Rogers2015-03-17

Ooh, very nice!

I've made a few things by heating and reshaping pipe, but never thought to lay them out flat like this. There so much potential!

Here's a fully articulate pvc ball joint I made. (Actually made about 20, used for Halloween prop dummies and stuff!)

tvazquez2 (author)seamster2015-11-08

LOVE that ball joint!!! Wow, now this has inspired me with an idea for building my own life-sized rendition of a Mazinger-Z shogun warrior figure (with some articulation) like this 80cm tall figure shown here...

Dustin Rogers (author)seamster2015-03-17

That's awesome!! I'm going to have to keep that in mind for the future. I'm assuming you bored a hole in the golf ball to fit the pipe into?

seamster (author)Dustin Rogers2015-03-17

Yes, that's 1/2 pipe glued into the ball, bushed to 3/4 coupling. The other half is made from 1 1/4 pipe cut and molded to the ball with a 3/4 coupling glued in the other end (was wrapped with scrap fabric to make a tight fit, then glued in).

Bolt and wing nut to tighten, and inside the cups I contact cemented in bits of rubber drawer liner from HF, to aid in gripping the ball.

There's quite a bit more to it, and I actually snapped photos along the way... but haven't gotten around to doing tutorial on them. Probably before next halloween I'll get to it.

Sorry kludge, for hijacking! You started this though, and I think we're mostly on theme! ;)

kludge77 (author)seamster2015-03-19

Not at all! Totally curious myself!

Dustin Rogers (author)seamster2015-03-17

I look forward to seeing the write-up.

BeachsideHank (author)seamster2015-03-17

Plumbers have been known, in an emergency, to heat the ends of pvc pipe to soften them and expand to fit the next section using the exhaust of their truck. The emergency usually revolves around not having another coupling on hand and the clock say it's "beer- thirty" time, let's get outta here.

kludge77 (author)Dustin Rogers2015-03-17

What an awesome application!

jauncourt (author)seamster2015-03-21

PVC foam sheet is available, and comes in colors, but can sometimes be hard to come by. It is a little softer and easier to work than pipe.

ProfessorKens (author)2017-09-29

Great instructable. As an aside to coloring the PVC I have an idea that may or may not work. When doing woodworking I wanted to stain various pieces bright colors but found that the commercially available stains were too pricey for my budget. In talking to various people in the industry I learned that you can buy any color of acrylic art paint and mix it with 100% denatured alcohol or oil and apply to wood to get whatever color stain you wanted. I tried it and it worked beautifully. Since PVC is soluble with acetone and so is acrylic paint the same trick should work for PVC. Due to fast evaporation rate of acetone I would imagine timeliness in application would be key. I'll give it a go when I have necessary ingredients and time. If anyone tries it please post. Thanks for instructable. Also, wear gloves unless you want your fingers to be purple as well.

MattDaddy723 (author)2017-01-27

What kind of glue would I use to glue sheets of PVC together and then the PVC to metal. I'm thinking knife scales.

tvazquez2 (author)2015-11-08

Thanks for this ible! I could have all sorts of uses for flattened PVC, and I can't wait to start experimenting with this. Love your summary about PVC colors, you said it best... "PVC comes in two colors, white and covered in dirt." lmao Epic! lol XD

StoryAddict (author)2015-06-24

Best part of the video was your sudden exclamation, "Ohmygosh -- you should totally use this in a well-ventilated area, I'm pretty sure I'm getting high."
I look forward to trying this method on a future project!
Btw, what kind of gloves are you using with the heat-gun? Or they welding-quality protection or do I just need a pair of thick leather gloves? I think I just used regular work gloves and avoided burning my fingers the one time I made PVC pipe swords for my Hit-Girl Mindy-Stick, but I wasn't sure what you'd recommend, particularly if you have to handle the piece all over to get it sufficiently flattened for the vice/clamp.

itsmescotty (author)2015-04-11

You did good publishing this!

Everyone's circumstance is different. I've been doing this for years using heat gun, waffle iron (flipped plates to griddle), weed burner and various other heat sources depending on size. For finished sizes around a foot square I simply cut a 12" piece of 4" pipe in half lengthwise then lay it on top of my wood stove and when it starts to soften I put a 12"x12"x 3/4" plate on top and it finish flattening. When flat, the top plate is still cool enough to handle so I take it off, remove the sheet and lay it on a cool surface and put the plate back on with maybe a little added weight until cool. Takes about 10 unattended minutes to flatten the sheet

I happen to have some 24"x24"x1" steel plates (spelled HEAVY) and one of these days I'm going to get adventurious and use some of my 8" pipe and make some serious sheets. Not sure what I'll use for a heat source tho. Maybe waste heat from my kiln.

Oh yeah, I usually do this in the winter and stock up.

imark77 made it! (author)2015-03-25

I need to post my current project, but I will give a brief description here.

- yes it recycles, although I bought the antenna and the pipe. ( I had a piece of PVC lined up but it didn't make the move to the new house, in the end I opted for a smaller diameter. so I'm happy with the outcome anyway ).

- and I did bend PVC, although I didn't cut it. so it should give other people some ideas of what can be done. Can I submit for the "making it" prize?

- and one minor injury, a cut to my finger. Which was acquired in the process of removing the balan from its plastic enclosure.

for a while I had the idea of using a indoor bow-tie antenna outside and i needed to overcome waterproofing, which led to the idea of using a piece of PVC pipe. and in the end it ended up being a semi-flattened oval pipe to reduce the size. once the pipe was partially flattened I stuck in the antenna and sealed the ends with blister pack plastic and hot glue.

My next project will be to build a better antenna to replace the one on top of the chimney and some sort of Mount.

imark77 (author)imark772015-03-25

I did It.

spencercanfly (author)2015-03-25

definitely gonna try this.
but again as many others have said
heat will off gas the chlorine. if you see it start to smoke, get far away from it. trust me, that stuff hurts.

Misbah hassan made it! (author)2015-03-24

Here i made a robotic arm made up of PVC pipes :D

chaosrob (author)2015-03-24

Ok, I've seen this another way, boiling water, but the 'Purple Primer' is an EXCELLANT effect. Kudos!

kylegilbert (author)2015-03-16

Really like working with PVC. Just makes such a huge mess when cutting. Lol.

kludge77 (author)kylegilbert2015-03-17

Dude, it gets on everything! Like velcro snow...

jproffer (author)kludge772015-03-24

lol velcro snow.. im stealing that.

dgrc (author)2015-03-24

Way cool, thanks. But just an old fart safety note. PVC "sawdust" is generally considered unhealthy stuff to inhale. When cutting, please use a mask, respirator, vacuum hose, etc.

mderusha (author)2015-03-18

Sweet idea! has anyone tried heat bonding pvc?

bqdawg (author)mderusha2015-03-21

In the pipe trades we heat bond plastic pipe all the time, but it takes a machine to heat the pipe to 310c for a proper bond. Now I am not sure what heat is needed for PVC, 310c is the temp for Polypropylene pipe.

stringstretcher (author)mderusha2015-03-18

That's probably not a great idea, since PVC turns very nasty when heated to the temps needed for bonding. I have shaped a bunch, but I'll bet you don't get a very good bond when melting. Just a feeling I have.

BoilingLeadBath (author)2015-03-20

Re: Saws
For longer sections, I really like the drill-powered mini-saws. (ie, like this) Due to their small small size and low inertia, I don't think they are very dangerous, but they will happily slit pipe of any length.

xvicente (author)2015-03-20

I dont have a heat gun. Would boiling water be hot enough?

BoilingLeadBath (author)xvicente2015-03-20

In general, 100°C is not hot enough to make PVC workable. My preference for large pieces is to use an oven set to about 120-140°C. You'll need a residence time of about 5-10 minutes.

For softening small sections on the end of a pipe, I use an oil bath. I normally run it a bit hotter - about 160°C - because my patience when holding something by hand is limited, and usually I'm heating the end to do things which involve much more substantial strain than flattening pipe. (like forming bell-ends)

acontella (author)2015-03-19

i'm inspired! this would make a great "tile" backsplash in our RV, and much lighter weight than regular tile.

jdevisser (author)2015-03-19

I made an entire Mandalorian bounty hunter costume out of PVC. That's me on the left... I love using PVC, I've made lots of stuff with it!

dollarseed (author)2015-03-19

Making the hold down clamp out of used PVC is ingenious. I recently built a Router Duplicator, and have been at odds of how I was going to hold odd shaped pieces to the table. I think I just found my answer in your instructable. Than you :-)

kludge77 (author)dollarseed2015-03-19

Thanks! I'm glad you found something useful!

lcsavi (author)2015-03-19

"PVC comes in two colors, white and covered in dirt." Absolutely true! LOL

Thanks, man. You've just solved my problem with a lost (and impossible to find) suitcase corner.

AndrzejR (author)2015-03-19


garethllewelyn (author)2015-03-19


tpisano (author)2015-03-19

Thanks for sharing. This is a great idea with so many possibilities. There is always a supply of cut off pcs from projects. I agree with all of the cautions. We used to have to turn solid pvc rod on the lathe in our shop and you definitely don't want to breathe in the fumes.

arvevans (author)2015-03-19

Clamp softened PVC sheets between a couple of boards to make it perfectly flat.

brian.carrozza.7 (author)2015-03-19

Thank you for posting this handy Instructable. I had no idea that odd pieces of PVC pipe could be recycled into a usable material.

Louie1940 (author)2015-03-19

This is a great idea. I've used kitchen chopping boards for flat plastic needs for years, but now I know how to reuse some of those short PVC scraps. Thanks

Dustin Rogers (author)2015-03-17

You mentioned adding food coloring to the clear solvent. I may have to give that a try. I tried adding wood stain to some clear solvent but that didn't work at all. Barely a hint of brown to the PVC. The MAKE article talks about using a petroleum dye (used for dying fuels and additives), but they're a bit too pricey for me to buy just to experiment with for no intended purpose.

As far as heating to flatten, I've also had good luck with submersing a short section of PVC into boiling water to prevent the brown marks and achieve an even temperature.

About This Instructable




Bio: Come spend some time in the shop. I'm a hobbyist woodworker and professional computer geek in Northern California. I guess my projects will vary ... More »
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