How to Bend PVC Pipe

How to Bend PVC Pipe

When making PVC furniture, and other PVC projects, bending the pipe gives a cleaner, more professional look. In addition, it opens artful paths for you to create all kinds of interesting designs. It’s pretty easy once you learn these techniques.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. Heat gun. I paid around $15.00 on sale at a home improvement center.

2. 4 x 8-foot sheet of 3/4-inch shop grade plywood

3. A few 3 1/2-inch nails, or a 3-foot length of 3/8-inch wooden dowel

4. Small bucket of sand

To practice, lay a 3-foot length of half-inch or 3/4-inch diameter PVC pipe on a flat surface, such as your garage floor, tabletop, sheet of plywood or whatever. Turn the heat gun on high, then place the “business end” about an inch, or thereabouts, from the section of pipe you want to bend. Any closer and you may scorch it. Slowly turn the pipe with one hand and move the heat gun back and forth 3 or 4 inches in each direction with the other hand.

Tip: Be sure to wear leather gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.

You’ll see that, in just a minute or two, the pipe becomes malleable. Turn off the heat gun, pick up the pipe and slowly bend it to the desired shape.

Ooops! See how the pipe kinks? Not good. But here’s an easy, cheap solution.

Sand. You can pick up a small sack of clean sand from most any hardware store. Or get a small bucketful from a yard and garden shop, from the beach or playground.

Next, fit a PVC cap on one end of a new length of pipe. Fill the pipe to the top with sand and tamp it down tightly using a wooden dowel. Then place another cap on the opposite end.

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. Remove the caps and sand.

Tip: Hold the pipe slightly beyond the desired radius for at least two minutes. Because of the recovery characteristics of PVC, the bent pipe may “spring back” slightly after cooling. You’ll find the best position after you’ve experimented a couple of times.

Next thing is to learn how to get the same radius for duplicate projects. For example, duplicate bends for curved arms of a PVC 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 cooling.

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.

These simple PVC bending jigs are easy and inexpensive to make. With practice, you’ll soon be creating all sorts of useful and interesting PVC projects.