Heat-Formed ABS Skewer Hair Barrette




Introduction: Heat-Formed ABS Skewer Hair Barrette

I decided to make some gifts for friends, and this is one of them.

My favorite material at the moment is ABS plastic obtained from drain pipe. This material is easy to work, shape, and engrave, and it delivers a clean, strong, and unique looking final product.

This is a great project to introduce someone to working with ABS.

Let's build one!

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Step 1: Materials

Required for simple barrette:
  • Five or so inches of 1/4 inch dowel. You could also repurpose a chopstick or use a stick from the forest.
  • ABS plastic- I obtain mine from an old piece of pipe, which is very cheap and easy, but you can get it in sheets of varying thickness online.
Required for decoration:
  • Acrylic paints- these show up pretty well on ABS plastic, and last forever when put in engraved grooves
  • anything else you want to attach to make it unique- buttons, jewels, wire, whatever.

Step 2: XX--DANGER--XX

This build required heating plastic, which produces noxious fumes. 

only heat plastic out doors in a very well ventilated area, or underneath a functioning fume hood. I don't know what's in the fumes, but I'd be willing to bet that it is terrible for your health.

Also, be safe around heat sources, especially flame. Watch long hair or baggy clothing, and try not to touch hot things with unprotected skin, burns suck!

This plastic should be heated evenly and should never be heated until it starts to smoke: it can and will catch on fire!

Step 3: Tools

Basic construction:
  • Saw of some sort to cut out a piece of plastic- I used a cheap pruning saw- the plastic is very soft.
  • Abrasive of sort, file and sandpaper work, but a rotary tool such as a Dremel speeds the build up considerably.
  • 1/4 inch drill bit and drill
  • Heat gun, plumber's torch, some source of controllable high heat to make the plastic malleable
  • Gloves
  • I use some really strong and sharp bypass pruning shears to trim the plastic to shape, if you have this it helps a lot, but it is not required.
  • Engraving tool of some kind: you could use a rotary tool, I used a sharp linoleum block carver and a wood burner with a tip made from a bolt ground to a point.
  • Fine tip paintbrush
  • Good acrylic paint

Step 4: Cutting Out Some Plastic

Get your source of plastic, I used pipe.

Cut off a piece- my piece was roughly three inches long and two wide. It will most likely be rough, not a big deal yet.

To cut out from pipe: cut a ring of pipe of the desired width, saw a slot down the side.

Heat the pipe ring and bend it outward, then flatten out an end as shown.

Cut the piece you want off of the flattened end.

Anyway, however you got a piece of plastic, move on to the next step.

Step 5: Trim It to Shape

Cut the corners down and shape the plastic into the desired shape. I just trimmed my plastic to have fairly angular edges- you can cut yours into whatever fancy shape you desire, just don't get very detailed yet because you still have to heat form the barrette!

Step 6: Heat Forming

Put on your gloves and heat the piece of plastic evenly, then, when it is still hot, bend it into an open "C" shape as shown.

It helps a lot to bend the plastic around a piece of pipe or other fairly circular object, I didn't, and you can see that my bend is not perfect, although not very noticeable.

Remember that you will have to have room to stick the skewer through and have hair in there, so make sure you make your bend tight enough.

Step 7: Clean It Up

Your plastic might have rough edges or an uneven surface, especially if you overheated it and caused it to bubble, or you just suck at flattening it out. All of these flaws apply to my piece.

Grab your abrasive tools and smooth it all out! It cleans up pretty easily.
  • Note- this kind of pipe has two distinct sides, the inside, which is usually very smooth and sometimes shiny, and the outside, which is often faded and beat up unless you have brand new pipe. Obviously, pick the best-looking side to face outwards.

Step 8: Drilling Holes

Now, grab your drill and bit and drill a hole in the barrette as shown. Put one in exactly the same place on both sides of the bend.

Remember that the skewer will have to fit levelly across the gap and go through both holes, so it helps to tilt the drill bit slightly while drilling.

Make one hole slightly larger than the other, but just barely- when you stick the skewer in, you want it to slide easily into one hole and then get lightly stuck in the other, so the skewer stays in place.

Step 9: Trimming Skewer

Grab your skewer material, and cut it to length- about an inch longer on both sides of the barrette is a good rule of thumb.

Once it is cut, shape one end of the skewer to be more pointy- how pointy you want it is up to you.

Finally, smooth the skewer with fine sand paper and if you want, finish it with some kind of wood oil. Olive oil will work very well in a pinch.

Step 10: Engraving Prep

Draw the design you want onto the barrette. Simple is better, don't try to work beyond your skill level.

Make sure your tools are sharp, and you know how to use them. You may want to practice on a scrap for a while before you actually work on the final piece.

Step 11: Engrave and Decorate!

Using the method of your choice, engrave your design. I start with a fine-tipped linoleum block engraver, then I go over the design with a fine-tipped woodburner to melt the lines deeper, then I finally clean it up with a larger Linoleum tool. Experiment with methods until you get the results you want with the ease you want.

After you engrave the design, it helps to sand the whole piece lightly. This makes the surrounding material more gray than black, and makes the dark incised lines stand out very clearly.

Finally, you can put paint in the engraved lines to make the design really stand out, or you can leave it as is. This material is very easy to experiment with, so go wild!

Step 12: Discussion

Various facts and ideas about this build:
  • This plastic is kinda thick, to get thinner material, use smaller diameter pipe
  • this could be done just as easily with PVC plastic
  • The size of these can vary, it depends on how much hair they are supposed to hold
  • These are very easy to sell- if you can sell them, do! People love them and they are very cheap to make.
  • Drilling holes, attaching wire, inlaying other material, de'coupaging pictures, gluing on cool buttons, fancy painting, all these can be applied for a unique barrete
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    6 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    That's cool man. it gives you food for thought on what all you can do with ABS plumbing plastics.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is a pretty clever idea! Thanks for sharing and have a splendorous day!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I'm also making some vambraces, a belt buckle, and another one of these barrettes from this material, and Ible's are on the way at some point.