DIY plastic moulding

Written by leanne stack
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DIY plastic moulding
Mouldable plastic pencil cup. (colour pencils in the plastic container. image by Roman White from Fotolia.com)

Plastic is an extremely versatile and reusable material that can be shaped in any way imaginable. Car parts, bottles, toys, crafts and numerous other items are manufactured from plastic daily to make our lives easier. But what can you do when you need a unique piece and paying someone to produce it is too costly? Though you might think plastic moulding is outside of your budget or skill level, you can create your own plastic moulds and shapes with a little effort.

How to use mouldable plastic

Remember how simple it was to make shapes with Plasticine as a kid? Mouldable plastic works on the same principle, allowing you to safely and easily craft plastic shapes by hand. The technical term is "ultra-high molecular weight low-temperature thermoplastic," which means that it can be melted and shaped at a relatively low 65.6 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit). These plastic granules can be immersed in a hot water bath, or you can heat it in your microwave or electric frying pan. No matter which of these methods you select, the material should be placed in water to be melted, which keeps it from overheating and causing serious burns to the user. A digital or dial kitchen thermometer should be used to monitor the temperature, which should not exceed 71 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit).

An alternate method is to use a heat gun or hair dryer to melt the plastic, but this is less preferable because you run the risk of overheating the material. When the white granules turn clear, you'll know the plastic is ready to be worked. If you use a water-immersion method, remove the plastic using tongs and allow it to cool for a few minutes, then wring the excess water from it. Cut, stamp, roll or shape the material by hand, or press it into a mould. You may try using ice water to speed up the cooling process. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, either -- you can melt and reshape as many times as you like. When hardened, the plastic can be drilled, sawn or coloured with acrylic paint. Other mouldable plastics come in pre-coloured strips that can be manipulated in much the same way.

Uses for mouldable plastic

The possibilities for mouldable plastic are many and varied, limited only by your imagination. Jewellery, greeting card or scrapbook embellishments, beads, buttons and other gift items can be crafted by hand with little effort. Moulds for other objects may also be created, although the drawback here is that hot materials poured or pressed into the resulting mould will melt it, and it may be difficult to produce fine detail. Use a coating of vegetable oil or cling film to prevent materials pressed into the mould from sticking. You can also make brackets, frames, mounts, joints and custom parts. You can even create tool handles by wrapping the mouldable plastic around one end. Although most mouldable plastics appear to be nontoxic, read the manufacturer's label to be sure, especially if you intend to use it around food.

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