One of the best things about PVC piping is its rigidity — this is why we love it! But as great as this stoic property is, it can’t half be a nuisance at times.
Once every so often, flexibility is a virtue, but does that mean that PVC piping simply can’t help us in these situations?
Well, typically, instead of bending this stalwart material, we use dedicated elbow joints or couplings, creating a very “Snake-like” (remember that game?) structure.
This is absolutely the best method of direction in a large-scale piping network, but it’s not all that suitable for smaller systems.
For these micro piping operations, wouldn’t it be great if we could manipulate singular sections of PVC pipe, bending them to our will without the need for any connective additions?
Is this even possible, or is it a … pipe dream (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)?
What Is PVC?
Before we dive into the meat of the article, it’s best we start with a quick crash course in PVC in general.
As you may know, PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, and it’s an incredibly versatile plastic, used in everything from plumbing pipes to electrical wiring.
PVC is made up of two main components: vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) and plasticizer.
The VCM is what gives the plastic its rigid properties, while the plasticizer allows it to bend easily.
Now, before you get your hopes up, that last part about bending easily refers to its manufacturing process.
It’s easy to shape during formative stages, but for us everyday schmucks that don’t own PVC plants, it’s not so easy.
Can We Bend PVC Pipe?
With a little bit of gumption and a little bit of know-how, PVC pipe can indeed be bent to form a more complex routing.
It’s a simple, yet time-consuming process, and you have to be careful you don’t damage the PVC, but it can absolutely be done!
I’m going to guide you through the process, but first, there are a few safety concerns you need to be made aware of so you can get the job done without causing yourself or those around you any harm.
Bending PVC Pipe: Safety Precautions
The only way to bend PVC pipe is by heating it up, and, as I’m sure you’re aware, plastic can give off some nasty odors and toxins when heated, so it’s best that you…
- Wear a gas mask
- Bend your pipe in a well ventilated area (preferably outdoors)
- Make sure no one else is around
- Wear safety glasses
- Invest in some heat proof gloves (oven mitts should work fine)
You also need to be careful to heat up your PVC piping gently. If it catches fire, all the carcinogens locked into its chemical structure will be released into the air.
This means that using an open flame to heat it up is strictly out of the question!
How To Heat Up And Bend PVC Pipe Safely
The safest way to approach heating PVC pipe before bending is to use a hairdryer.
First, mark up the areas you need to bend. Use either a permanent marker or sliver of tape to do this.
Next, you need to find a stable, even surface, and a supporting structure you can prop the pipe against so it’s not level with the main surface — the bend point should be dead center on the supporting object (this could be a stone, a log, or whatever really).
Now turn on your hairdryer, keeping it roughly 3 inches from the pipe.
Focus the airflow on the bend zone, and apply a small amount of pressure in the direction you want to bend your piping.
After a short wait, your pipe will start to bend — hooray! But don’t jump for joy just yet, as you may well encounter a problem.
Bending PVC pipe without a support system to keep it stable during the process can lead to unwanted kinks and collapses, thereby rendering our pipe useless.
So, let’s discuss what sort of support system you can use to stabilize the bend.
Method 1. Springs And Coils
Before you start the bending process, hook a spring or coil to an extended wire, then lower the spring/coil into the PVC pipe to the bend zone.
This will fill out the pipe, providing stability without inhibiting flex.
Continue with the hairdryer technique detailed above, and once the bend is complete, simply tug on your wire to pull the coil/spring out.
Method 2. Sand
Ever had to dance around on the beach to stop your feet burning on a sunny day?
This is because sand is a fantastic retainer of heat, which means we can use it to our advantage when bending PVC.
Fill your pipe until the sand level is beyond the bend zone, block your pipe up, so the sand can’t fall out, then proceed with the hairdryer technique.
Much like the spring, the sand will maintain shape during the bending process.
What If I Don’t Have A Hairdryer?
Thankfully, there are a few other heating techniques you can use to heat up your PVC pipe if you don’t have access to a hairdryer. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Method 1. Sand In The Oven
As mentioned a moment ago, sand is a fantastic thermal retainer, so measure out enough, then place it on a tray or suitable container in your oven for a few minutes.
Once it’s hot, take it out, fill your pipe beyond the bend zone, and let it sit for a minute or two.
You should then be able to bend your pipe with ease! Once complete, release the sand, and set your pipe down to cool.
Method 2. Pop The Kettle On
You can also utilize the steam emanating from the spout of a kettle to heat your PVC pipe.
Simply fill your kettle, set it to boil, and as soon as you see steam, put one end of your pipe over the spout so the steam is forced down its length.
After 5 minutes or so, your pipe should be malleable, but you may want to use the spring/coil technique to ensure it doesn’t collapse or kink.
Once you’re finished with the bend, leave your pipe to cool, and voilà; it’s ready for action!
As you can see, even though PVC is celebrated for its rigidity, with a touch of guile, we can achieve a loosey-goosey state that allows us to bend it to our will.
Remember to follow the safety precautions, and you should have no problem customizing your PVC piping!