HackSpace magazine

PVC pipe builds

By Mayank Sharma. Posted

Polyvinyl chloride, more popularly known as PVC, provides the plumbing that keeps our world connected. As one of the most used synthetic plastic polymers, PVC is used extensively in the fields of construction, engineering, healthcare, and technology to provide the ideal medium for everything including water, cement, intravenous medications, and bits and bytes as they to flow from one place to another.

Considering our dependence on the thing, it’s surprising to know that it was discovered accidentally – not once but twice, first by French chemist Henri Victor Regnault in 1835, and then decades later by German chemist Eugen Baumann in 1872. Both of them identified PVC as a polymer, but failed to patent their accidental finds.

PVC spent a considerable amount of time inside labs, primarily because, in its rigid form, it was impractical for any real-world application. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when other types of plastics were added, that PVC was pliable enough to be moulded and put to use. Still, it wasn’t until 1932 when the first tubes made from a PVC copolymer were produced.
Almost half of the world’s annual PVC production is used to create pipes, mostly for industrial and municipal uses.

As with many products, the evolution of the manufacturing process of the PVC pipe has had a great impact on its evolving usage in the last century. The first mass production method involved melting a powdered form of PVC before rolling it out. Although viable, this method was cumbersome and expensive. It gave way to the ram extruder method, in which the melted PVC is pushed through a mould to give it a uniform shape. In the 1960s, chemists found new ways of making PVC more flexible, which led to a tremendous rise in its adoption across different fields.

Although it is a plastic polymer, since PVC can be reshaped at very high temperatures, it is possible to reuse and recycle it. To recycle PVC, it is usually broken down into small chips and then refined to its original pure white form after removing the impurities.

Just like polystyrene foam, PVC is quite cheap worldwide, and widely available in all sorts of configurations. This is good because, unless you are a plumber, replicating the builds in the following pages will require a visit to your local hardware store. PVC is rigid, but can be cut/shaped by hand tools. Remember to always wear a respirator and eye protection when working with PVC pipes; sawing or cutting them produces minute particles that can do real harm if you breathe them in.

Dremel drill press

Maker: Johnny Bai

Project link: hsmag.cc/ISHxum

You can work PVC pipes with hand tools or a Dremel  – just be careful to take precautions to deal wirth the harmful dust that it'll produce

So, you have a Dremel and now you need a drill-press to mount it on. You can either get one from the hardware store, or follow Johnny Bai’s lead and build one yourself using PVC pipes at a fraction of the cost. He begins by fixing his Dremel 4000 on one side of a 5”× 6” board with two 1.5” conduit clamps, before gluing a PVC bush and a small pipe on the other. He then uses several tees and pipes to assemble the base frame. The process isn’t cumbersome thanks to the self-explanatory pictures.

After preparing the base, he attaches the 20” and 11” PVC pipes for the Dremel to slide on. Before putting in the springs that he’s sourced from a 4” sprinkler body, Johnny suggests you sand them a bit for a fluid movement. Now come the real cumbersome bits: creating parts for the slide section, the handle support, and the handle slides requires a lot of cutting, sanding, and gluing. As a bonus, he’s also created a rubber stopper and a plug that can be used to fasten the Dremel at one point. This enables him to use the Dremel to do some routing and sanding tasks. 

Hydroponic unit

Maker: Nathan Williams

Project Link hsmag.cc/3mBiLA

Nathan’s build is based on the nutrient film technique in which nutrients flow over the roots continuously, bringing it lots of oxygen and food

Nathan Williams has been interested in hydroponics since even before he was old enough to understand what was really involved in that kind of farming. A software engineer by profession, he first dabbled with hydroponics farming by growing a chilli plant. Buoyed by its success, Nathan decided to build himself a proper hydroponic garden with PVC pipes and some other bits. He uses recycled materials, including old PVC pipes, an old wooden baby’s crib, and other miscellaneous junk, but you might have to source them from the hardware store.

You’ll also need a small submersible pump (Nathan uses an 18 W one), and some plastic cups for your plants. The construction is fairly easy to replicate, thanks again to Nathan’s explanations and detailed photographs of the process. He begins by making holes for the cups in the PVC pipes using a drill and a Dremel. Nathan suggests you space the cups depending on what you plan to grow in them. You’ll have to follow his instructions to then prepare the cups, and how to run a hose through the PVC caps before fastening them at the end of the pipes. 

If you don’t mind putting in the effort, take a look at Paul Langdon’s IoT-enabled hydroponic farm (hsmag.cc/MfFIUC). 

Book/tablet holder

Maker: Specific Love Creations

Project Link hsmag.cc/jUdi5b 

In addition to holding a book or a tablet, it makes for a nice, easily reconfigurable tabletop accessory

While you can easily find an inexpensive stand for a book or a tablet in the market, it wouldn’t come close to the PVC Man. It requires 15 pipes of three different lengths and some endcaps, elbows, and other connectors. Assembling the stand is pretty straightforward, and takes less than a minute once you have assembled and laid out all the components. While you can use a baseball or a light bulb as the head, PVC Man uses a specially assembled head that gives it a robot-like appearance.

The head has its own set of components that again can just be pressed into each other. Besides holding a book or a tablet, you can reconfigure it with ease to strike different poses. The intrepid maker behind Specific Love Creations enjoys tinkering with PVC, and has an exhaustive list of PVC projects and life hacks (hsmag.cc/i11um0).

Camera stabiliser

Maker: Justin Derato

Project link: hsmag.cc/onMp2A

Based on his research, Justin went with the octagon shape, since it was ergonomic and offered a wide range of filming dexterity

When Justin Derato was out looking for a stabiliser for his DSLR, he couldn’t find one within his budget. So, like any good DIYer, he decided to build himself one with PVC pipes. His hack isn’t just cost-effective, but is designed so that it can be held with either or both the hands, and can produce relatively stable images even when used while running, or riding a bike.

Like all builds this month, Justin’s bill of materials is quite extensive as well. The assembly involves measuring, sawing, hacking, sanding, and gluing the various components, but Justin has explained and photographed the steps in great detail. He suggests you take your time through each step, to make sure you get it right before moving on to the next one. To give you a feel for the contraption, Justin has also included a test video shot using his stabiliser.