When I started this project I knew I wanted a material I could work with quickly, even though I had never used PVC for a project before I had worked with plastics on many occasions and I knew that it could be heat formed. What I didn't realize was the immense health hazards of working with this sort of plastic.
Health Hazards with PVC
PVC stands for "polyvinyl chloride" if you don't already know, when heat PVC it puts off a very toxic and hazardous chlorine gas into the air, without going to too many specifics on the matter it is very dangerous and extremely hazardous to your health it can cause cancer or even choke you and suffocate you. All of these thing I didn't know at the time when I started using it...
I will say this if you are going to use it, well I wouldn't there are other options, not completely like PVC but hard plastics that can be heat formed. Either way definitely don't use it unless you have good commercial ventilation even if in an open area and personally I wouldn't use it, it can stay in cloths and all kinds of stuff its pretty hazardous.
Well... What do I use then?
well polycarbonate comes in tubes and is way less toxic, though I haven't used it myself on a project yet. There is also polystyrene, though I'm not sure exactly of the health hazards with that though it is better than PVC, stat stuff is just horrible for you. This is honestly a subject I plan to research further, though should still work in a well ventilated area if you are working with any kind of plastic and take proper safety precautions as all plastics have some sort of harmful effect if not taken seriously.
Onto the Howto....
I know I rambled on about health hazards but I felt like it was important for people to know and like I said I will put together some information on different plastics
So I started with a 6 foot length of PVC pipe that I bought for the hardware store, I actually bought two pieces which I used some of later. I started by shaping the once section about 6-8 inches of PVC pipe at a time, I used a simple Harbor freight heat gun and just kept it moving over the PVC section I was working on, until it softened enough to bend or add a twist in in the plastic one section at a time.
Its important you don't burn the plastic will release an immense amount of toxic fumes into the air, far more than if you just heat a little. You want to keep the heat gun moving over the surface and rotating the plastic even at times to heat all sides. There will be a moment from when the plastic is hard and goes to a soft rubbery feel it will happen in a matter a few seconds it will translate from a hard object to a soft one.
This is when you put your bend or twist in the plastic then you hold it there until sets, should take no more than a 30-60 seconds at which you can let go and start on the next section.
I just kept doing this until I reached the look that I wanted. After I finished shaping the basic form of the staff's shaft or main pole I used a hack saw and my Dremel tool to cut open smaller sections of the PVC pipe to start bending and twisting the other shapes for the head.
I would press each section while they were still warm to form them and make have a tight fit to the other parts and the main shaft. This way they would fit tightly like a puzzle when I finally glued them together.
Glueing the Pieces
Normally here I would use yet another very toxic thing to glue these parts together, a two-part epoxy though I went with a different route instead. Oh and by the way dot use PVC glue, not only is that as equally bad as epoxy glue it also won't hold up to stress it will just crack and break apart, believe me I have tried it.
What I did end up using was an epoxy based material without the smell, I used a product called "Freeform Epoxy Sculpt" from Smooth-on it is a no odor, eco friendly, 2-part epoxy clay. You just mix each part A and B together and start sculpting.
I used this stuff to not only put together the separate pieces but also to start sculpting the higher detailed protrusions from the wood. The nice thing about this stuff is that it acts very much like a traditional sculpting clay which I love about it. It reacts to water like clay would and it is also less sticky than epoxy putties that can stick to everything even when wet. Also this sandal and paintable as well and takes about 24-48 hours before it becomes plastic.
After sculpting with the epoxy clay and once it was hard, I one t back to the Dremel to finish texturing the PVC's main sections at a wood grain, which I used a basic sanding drum bit and just dug it into the plastic in different ways building up layers to create my wood texture.
I also took a round metal bit to create some deeper dents and imperfections in the wood.
Painting and Finishing
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Finished Project Page
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