How to Bend PVC Pipe
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Which bend looks neater? Smoother? More professional?
After you've mastered the basics of making PVC projects, here's how to form PVC pipe into the shape you want. Actually, it's pretty easy once you learn the way I've been doing it. No need to spend hundreds of dollars on specialized PVC pipe bending equipment... everything necessary to get set up should cost less than $35!
Before we begin, here's how not to bend PVC pipe.
Basic Tools Needed
1/2 or 3/4-inch PVC Pipe
To practice, cut a length of 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch diameter PVC pipe, about 3 feet long, then lay it on a flat surface... garage floor, sheet of plywood or whatever. (Read "Is Working with PVC Safe?")
Turn the heat gun on high, place the "business end" about an inch, or thereabouts, from the section of pipe you want to heat. (If you get too close, you'll likely burn the pipe.) Slowly turn the pipe and move the heat gun back and forth 3 or 4 inches in each direction.
Be sure to wear a good pair of leather gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.
You'll see that, in just a minute or so, the pipe becomes
malleable. Turn off the heat gun, pick up the pipe and slowly
curve it to the desired shape.
Sand. Use clean sand that you can get from most any hardware
store. Or pick up a small bucketful of sand from a yard and
garden shop, from the beach, or wherever.
NOTE: Do not glue the caps to the pipe.
Heat the pipe as described above. The sand evenly distributes the heat and will keep it from kinking. Bend the pipe, then let it cool for a couple of minutes.
TIP: You can speed-up the cooling process by wiping a wet sponge on the pipe.
TIP: Pull the
pipe just a smidge beyond the desired radius. Because of the
recovery characteristics of PVC, the pipe will often "spring
back" slightly after cooling.
Instead of sand, you can insert a spring, such as the Pipe Viper. For large diameter pipe, I insert a used garage door spring. I acquired a couple of different sizes free that were discarded by a garage door supplier.
Follow the directions in Method #1.
TIP: Attach a wire, or small chain, at one of the spring to aid in removal after the pipe cools.
I ran across a nifty tool called PVC BendIt®. If you do a lot of bending – and don't mind spending a bit of money – you'll find this little beauty indispensable.
Take a look at the bends I easily made in the 1/2-inch and 1-inch pipe. Each bend took about 40 seconds.
One of the things I like about the BendIt device is you don't need to insert sand or a spring when bending, which makes it easier and quicker to bend the pipe.
You should check it out. And tell 'em Brooks sent you. (No, I don't get a commission. It's just a cool tool to own.)
Next thing to know is how to get the same radius each time you bend the pipe when you make duplicate projects. For example, the same curve for arms of a chair.
For that, you’ll need to build a simple bending jig. Cut a sheet of plywood into a 3-foot square. (Depending on your project, the square can be bigger, or smaller.) On the plywood, pencil in the radius you want to bend. Then, hammer in a few nails along the line.
Prepare the pipe as before, heat and when ready, place the pipe alongside the nails and bend. Repeat to make as many duplicates of the bend as you need.
TIP: Hammer a nail on the opposite "side" of the pipe at each end to hold the bend in place while it cools.
To make a more permanent jig, cut a few short lengths (three inches, or so) of 3/8-inch diameter wooden dowels.
Draw a two-inch grid pattern on the plywood, then drill holes at each intersection. Tap the dowels into the holes. You can then move them around for various radii. The tighter the grid pattern you draw, say one-inch instead of two-inch, the more variation you can achieve.
Here’s one more way to make a PVC pipe bending jig...
On the left-over sheet of plywood, draw your radius and cut it out with a jig saw. You can make several different curves with the rest of the plywood. Then nail the piece to the 3-foot square sheet of plywood, heat the pipe and bend. Again, tap in a nail at each end of the pipe to hold the bend in place while it cools.
To make bending easier, quicker and to get all kinds of radii,
I've come up with a simple-to-build bending jig that utilizes
a "peg system." And it's pretty slick.
Anyway, with a bit of practice, you'll soon be bending plastic pipe into all kinds of shapes.
and photos herein are copyright © 2000 - 2016 by Brooks Owen