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Cutting and Making Holes
PVC Class
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Lesson 2: Cutting and Making Holes
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This lesson goes over the best ways to use tools to cut down lengths of PVC as well as how to make various diameter holes in PVC pipe.

It seems simple enough, but it's important to understand your options when it comes to making just the right holes and cuts for your next PVC project.


Measure and Mark

I like using a smaller tape measure for PVC projects because I know I am never going to have to cut a length longer than 10 feet. A small measuring tape is usually thinner too, and easier to stabilize around thin pieces of pipe.

Most often I use a dry erase marker to mark on PVC tube because it dries quickly and wipes away quickly with a dry rag. We'll bust out the markers again when it's time to assemble parts too.

Taking careful measurements before cutting will save you time having to cut down new parts, and trips to the hardware store to get more pipe to correct your errors.


Tools for Cutting

PVC is very easy to cut. Most makers rely on three different tools to cut down lengths of PVC. They are: a ratcheting pipe cutter, a hacksaw, or a chop saw. Let's go over how to use these tools to cut down PVC pipe, in order of cost.

A ratcheting pipe cutter uses a stepped ratcheting arm to move a VERY SHARP blade through the tubular plastic. This tool is cheap and can get through pipe quickly. However, these cuts are not very precise. You are often left with crooked edges. I found with some practice, you can get good at making close-to-90-degree slices.

To use this tool, place a length of pipe into the jaws of the of the cutter, and repeatedly squeeze until the blade has cut all the way through the tube. Voila! Check the angle of your cut and if it's too wonky or crooked, consider using a hacksaw.

The hacksaw is only slightly more expensive than the ratcheting pipe cutter, but this is a key tool in any maker's arsenal. To cut PVC pipe with a hacksaw, I recommend using a miter box to ensure that you are getting the straightest cut.

It's important to clamp down your pipe so it doesn't roll around while you are cutting it. The miter box I found has little pegs that help secure material so that I just have to clamp down the box, and the box secures the pipe.

This method of cutting pipe is slow and will leave you with burrs on your pipe. To remove burrs, you can pick at them with your fingers, use a deburring tool if you have one, or a piece of rough sandpaper if the burr is really stubborn. If you have to make a lot of precise cuts, you may want to consider using a chop saw instead.

If you have access to a chop saw to cut down PVC pipe, by all means, use that tool. It is fast and precise. You can get perfectly squared cuts with just a quick pass of the blade.

Other tools like metal pipe cutters don't work as effectively, and table saws are down-right dangerous to cut tubular material on.

If you're really in a pinch and feel like channeling your inner MacGyver, or if you need to cut a 12" diameter tube, try using a piece of nylon string. Seriously. Take a length of nylon and 'saw' it along the outer diameter of the pipe. The cut may go slow in the beginning, but once you've sunk the string into the tube, it begins to cut like butter. The nylon will get HOT so watch your fingers.


Securing PVC

Sometimes you will need to cut a piece of PVC down that won't fit into a miter box, and is too large for your ratcheting cutters. A hacksaw is still your best bet for making this kind of cut, but because PVC pipe is round, you need to prevent it from rolling or slipping when you're cutting or drilling.

To prevent the pipe from rolling around while cutting, try clamping it to the table. A lot of makers make notched wood or plastic jigs called V-blocks to create a grove that their pipes can be pressed into to be stabilized.

I have gotten pretty good results by putting a shop rag under a pipe and then using bar clamps to tighten it to a work table before I make a cut. I may clip the workbench with the hacksaw every once in awhile, but it's few and far between.


Making Holes

The best way to make holes in PVC is by using a drill or rotary tool.

Using a drill is the best way to get perfectly circular holes in pipe. PVC is soft, you can use either wood or metal bits to make holes with a drill. For making larger holes, use a hole saw with a mandrel to punch through the tube. A spade bit is not advised because of the way it removes material, the bit cannot properly ‘grab’ the curved surface like a hole saw can.

Using a rotary tool allows you to make shapes that are beyond the circle! Since the PVC machines so easily, you can use all the bits that your rotary tool comes with to experiment with making awesome designs and cut-outs. Rotary tools spin very fast, and it may cause the PVC to heat up if you aren’t careful, or if you are using a bit that is too abrasive. Be sure to wear a respirator whenever you are heating PVC.

If you don't have a drill or rotary tool, all is not lost. Since PVC pipe is so soft, you can make small holes with screws or nails. Just drive them in with a screwdriver or hammer, and voila! Pipe punctured.


Deburring

It is important to deburr your pipe after cutting. Any loose plastic flakes will make it harder to fit your pipe into a joint.

My favorite way to deburr pipe is with this awesome chamfer and deburring tool. It works a little bit like a pencil sharpener and can be used on both the inside and outside diameter of the pipe.

Running the chamfer tool along the circumference of the outside edge of the pipe, will result in a perfect 22° filleted edge. Ideal to glide into a PVC joint without snagging.

A slightly slower way to deburr and chamfer your edges is with a file or sanding block. Keep your sand paper at an almost parallel angle to the pipe to remove chips and flakes of plastic. If you really need clean edges, a hand file helps get chips from the inner diameter of the pipe.


Quiz

{
    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "Which tool is yields the fastest and most affordable method to cut PVC Pipe?",
    "answers":[
        {
            "title": "Chop Saw",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "Racheting Pipe Cutter",
            "correct": true
        },
       {
            "title": "Nylon String",
            "correct": false
        }

    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct, a chop saw is the fastest, but the least economical.",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}
{
    "id": "quiz-2",
    "question": "Deburring your pipe doesn't matter.",
    "answers":[
        {
            "title": "True.",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "False.",
            "correct": true
        }
   
    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct, burrs on your pipe can cause your pipe to not slide properly into ",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect."
}

You now know the many ways you can cut a PVC pipe! Check out these Instructables that go over some clever ways you can machine PVC for your next project:


Luxury Shower - Under $60 by tomatoskins


PVC Saxophone! by The Oakland Toy Lab


PVC Dish Rack by Thinkenstein


PVC Hydroponics Unit by Chunky on Chia

Next up we'll tackle gluing and fastening PVC pipe, and the options you have when it comes to joining the parts of your project.

CLASS PROJECT

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