Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bending PVC for Whatever You Please!

I used PVC to create some fairly intricate branches, as mentioned previously in this post. PVC can be a very versitile material, but you need to know how to work with it. Here, I'll show you how to do it!
You are sooo beautifuuuul... or will be eventually

A Bit on PVC

PVC is inexpensive and readily available. It's also fairly lightweight, though it can get quite heavy when used in large quantities as I did for this project; still, it was the best material choice for my needs because I don't have unlimited funds!

If you need simple, straight shapes stuck together, you probably won't need to bend anything at all. You can take advantage of the many types of connectors they make for PVC. Just be sure to glue them together with PVC glue, which is in the same aisle, or something else to ensure they don't pop apart on you!

A Video

Here is a video of the below process in action, though without the sand step (I was trying to flatten the pipe, so I didn't want it full of sand).

Find the full tutorial after the jump!

Materials for Crazytown!

When you want to make crazy bendy shapes, you will need a few things:

  • PVC pipe, of course
  • Heat-resistant gloves, or oven mitts in a pinch (safety!)
  • Heat gun
  • Sand! *
  • Funnel or piece of paper made into a cone to get the sand into your pipe
  • Duct tape or other well-sealing tape
*About the sand: This should NOT be dirt. It needs to be sand (which, admittedly, contains some dirt). You can get a very large and heavy bag of "play sand" at most home improvement stores for just a few dollars. I purchased such a bag, scooped out a sizable amount into a resealable container that could take the abuse, and got rid of the rest in the local playground. You don't need that much of it.

Here are the steps you need to take to bend your pipe!


  1. Suit up! Put your gloves on, and preferably keep them on the entire time. The pipe will get hot, and so will the heat gun, and there is all kind of opportunity to burn yourself. Be cautious.
  2. Work in a well-ventilated area, and use a mask if you can. Heating PVC causes it to off-gas some fumes that are not good for you.
  3. Find a place where you can work on a heat-proof surface, if possible (concrete floor of a garage works!). That way, you can use it to flatten or bend the PVC, and you can set hot pipes and heat guns on it with no problem. At the very least, you need a safe place to set the heat gun when you're not using it where it won't damage anything or melt its own cord.

Now for the pipe:

  1. Seal one end of the pipe very well with tape. This is what will keep the sand from coming shooting out everywhere and making you sad, so don't skimp on the tape. I recommend applying two strips in an "x" over the hole, then wrapping a piece around the pipe, covering the ends of the first pieces.
  2. Using your funnel, fill the pipe with sand almost completely. This can kick up some dust, so again, wear a mask if you can. Leave just a few inches of empty space at the top to allow for displacement during bending. Not filling the pipe enough means you'll get kinks.
  3. Completely seal the other end of the pipe as before.
  4. Turn on your heat gun, and heat a small section of the pipe by moving the gun back and forth along the area. Rotate the pipe while you do this, as well, or move the gun around it to try to heat the section as evenly as possible. If you see a brown mark on a section of pipe, you're burning it. Move the gun somewhere else.
  5. Eventually, the PVC will take on the consistency of rubber. You can't really tell by looking at it; just try to bend it every so often and eventually, it will give easily. Turn off the gun and put it down (safely!), then use your hands or whatever other heat-proof implements you have on-hand to create the shape of your choice.
  6. The hard part: hold the pipe in that place for a few minutes while it cools. It will spring back into shape if you let it go before it's cool enough.
  7. Repeat until your desired shape is reached!
  8. Remove the tape and dump the sand back into your container to use again.

Some Don'ts:

  • Don't try to do too large of a piece at one time, or parts of it will cool too quickly before you can bend them. 
  • Don't hold the gun too close to the pipe.
  • Don't touch the gun to the pipe. 
  • Don't allow the tip of the heat gun to touch the cord of the heat gun. On most heat guns, the cord is sadly not heat proof, and you will melt through it, potentially creating a dangerous situation. If you notice this has happened, unplug the gun right away and have it repaired.
You can flush out the pipe with some water to get rid of the residual dirt, but make sure you let it dry in there before you do anything crazy with it. If you don't care about the dirt in there, carry on with the next steps of your project!

Have fun and be safe while making all the crazy staffs, wands, and what-have-yous you've ever wanted!

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