Best Tools For Fabricating With PVC
March 20, 2007 8:32 PM   Subscribe

I need to fabricate some stuff out of PVC sheets. It seems the cheapest way to get the materials I need is to order a few 8" or 12" wide replacement PVC strips that are used in the PVC strip doors since I don't need anything very large. I'll probably end up with PVC that is an eighth of an inch thick. However, I'm not sure if cutting it with a razor is the best course of action. Can anyone here advise if there are specific PVC tools for cutting as well as for creating holes? Would just a razor and punch/mallet do? Anything I should be careful of? Any tips or tricks? Thanks!
posted by Brian Puccio to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
I used to work in a sign shop, cutting pvc sheets was as simple as scoring it with a fresh razor squared against a ruler(tape on the underside helps!). Score it a few times and it should snap at the cut. This assumes your pieces are wide enough to get that sort of leverage.

good luck.
posted by ronmexico at 8:37 PM on March 20, 2007

There are lots of grades of PVC, some of which are up to 50% fillers (such as talc powder) and some of which contain mixtures of PVC with plenty of plasticizers, or other related plastics like PVB, PVA or other compounds. So, the tools and techniques for cutting these compounds will vary tremendously with the actual compounds. The kinds of flexible PVC curtians and doors I think, from your question, that you are thinking of, are generally about 75% PVC resins, with significant plasticizer (usually PVA or PVB), and usually treated in manufacture to promote extensive cross-linking of the resin molecules to make products such as curtians and door flaps resistant to tearing and fraying. Accordingly, in thicknesses of 1/8", that material would be very tough to cut or tear, at normal temperatures, with normal tools. You might do best with heavy gardening shears, industrial shears or tin snips, where the concentration of force applied through leverage helps you cut.
posted by paulsc at 9:12 PM on March 20, 2007

They sell mini hacksaws specifically for use with PVC at most hardware stores.
posted by amyms at 9:49 PM on March 20, 2007

To cut PVC sheets I use an Olfa Plastic Laminate Cutter, but in the past I have used anything from a utility knife to razor blades.

The trick is to cut in in several passes. Depending on the flexibility and 'snappiness', you can do what ronmexico says after scoring the pvc 3 or 4 times, or may have to retrace the same line 20 times or more. Use very little downwards force on each pass.

For circles, I use an Olfa Compass Cutter.

(I am in no way associated with Olfa, they just happen to make some of the best cutting tools I have been able to find)
posted by Dataphage at 11:45 PM on March 20, 2007

It sounds like you're cutting flexible PVC. I've used it for a shower pan, and it cuts fine with a razor blade.

By the way, how much do you need? I did have some left over that I wouldn't mind passing on.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:13 AM on March 21, 2007

I'd second the note about using a hacksaw to cut, rather than a razor.

The problem is that the PVC might crack badly if the scoring with the razor isn't perfect. You also need a pretty large workshop area to score and snap the PVC, including a hard edge to rest its entire length on.
posted by humblepigeon at 4:01 AM on March 21, 2007

Note. PVC is Polyvynil Chloride. You do not want to burn it in any way -- it will release chlorine gas, which is toxic.

So, keep the torch off of it, but watch out if you're using things like fast band saws and such -- the friction from the cutting can create enough heat to break down PVC and release the gas.

It's not a bar to using the stuff (it is why you have to use special cable in drop ceilings -- so that the in a fire, the burning PVC jackets don't kill the firemen) but it is a caution if you've never worked with the stuff. If it starts to smell like a swimming pool, stop, make sure nothing is burning, and go get fresh air for a minute, then slow down whatever you were doing to keep the PVC from heating up that much.
posted by eriko at 4:43 AM on March 21, 2007

+1 Dataphage. You want some kind of rotary cutter—looks like a small pizza cutter with a replaceable blade. Sold at fabric/craft stores. I use one of these for leatherwork, and it will go through 1/4" belt leather if you take it in a few passes. Easier to handle and control than a razor.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2007

What are you trying to fabricate?

I have built a lot of stuff out of polystyrene sheet, there are some downsides to it, but it is a lot easier to work than PVC, and you can weld it (with chloroform or styrene monomer), make a filler paste (shavings + solvent) to patch imperfections, thermoform it (a hair dryer or an over are enough). Until I know what you are trying I can't recommend it.
posted by Dataphage at 6:18 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: I guess I should clarify. The stuff I'm looking to work with is not rigid. It's a solid, but very flexible.

Thank you for all your help, however, this has definitely put me on the right track.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:15 PM on March 26, 2007

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