3D printing is a booming area where plastics are used by the DIY community and it’s a topic we probably should discuss more on this blog. We’ve found a great video to start us off on YouTube! A channel several 3D printed wrench pieces and subjected them to a couple types of torque tests to see how they held up. The results were pretty interesting: ABS and Polycarbonate while rigid and held their form, broke catastrophically when the pressure got too high.

Nylon seemed to be the worst both with how soon it failed during testing but it was also soft and deformed quickly. The best plastic was clearly ULTEM, which while the presenter seemed surprised, is no surprise to us! ULTEM is a high performance plastic with excellent physical properties across most dimensions and we knew it would be the best before the test was even conducted.

Takeaway point? In a demanding application you need to consider high performance plastics. As the frustrating cliche so eloquently gets wrong, it’s not all “just plastic”.

Industrial laminates, commonly called “phenolics”, are a large family of plastic materials and one of the more confusing plastic types for the DIY community otherwise not familiar with plastics. The problem occurs when you have a project you think needs ‘phenolic’ and you walk into a plastic distributor asking for it by that name. They won’t know what you want, and even if they show you what you have on the shelf, you probably will just get more confused about getting what you need. Given that industrial laminates are such a wide family, it’s appropriate to define and drill down to what most people mean by “phenolic”.

An industrial laminate at its core is a plastic resin of one of five types: (true) phenolic, epoxy, melamine, silicone, or polyester – which is then reinforced by a substrate, typically cloth or canvas, glass, or paper. There are certain grades with more or less substrate so when you consider already five grades of plastic resin to bind it, there are hundreds of grades of “phenolic” available. So, how does one drill down to what you need?

The first and most accurate way is to find out what’s called a “Mil spec” which is what the U.S. military and others use to define industrial laminates. One spec for a common laminate, a true phenolic product called “CE grade laminate” is NEMA CE per MIL-I-24768 TYPE FBG. Were a plastics distributor brought that specification we would know exactly what to provide you with. Working on a DIY project, lots of our information comes from various online forums and it’s worth simply asking someone who has done a similar project what they used. If you cannot find a mil-spec, the next step would be to get a sample of what you’re looking for and bring it to the distributor for review. Some of the laminates, such as FR-4, are readily identifiable by their milky-green color, while others might not be – but it helps.

What is important is that unless you know your required product is a true phenolic, utilizing a phenolic resin, you shouldn’t call it that. Knowledgeable plastics distributors are geared to take requests literally and will default to a true phenolic product even though you may need a completely different industrial laminate for your application. We recommend you work slowly, consult with your distributor, and pull the trigger on a purchase when you’re fully comfortable that you’re getting the product and solution you need.

 

This is a really cool application for those of you DIYers that dream big. It’s a gentleman who looks to be located in Montana who designed and built a backyard hockey rink big enough for 3 on 3 “shinny” as it’s called. On a complexity scale out of 10 this one is probably a 9 as built; however, there are ways to simplify the application.

Firstly, building the lighting was an extra step where some adjustable tower torches might work almost as good for night hockey. Secondly, while we can appreciate what he did with his boards (especially the foam rim) you could just build with the HDPE puckboard plastic perimeter without the thicker interlocking plastic backing. Don’t get us wrong – having the backing is better and would result in a more structurally sound rink; however, it’s not required and this level of reinforcement isn’t common. “Puckboard” itself is available at many plastics distributors, ask for it by that name.

Perhaps the best touch is the hot water resurfacer used near the end of the video. This is an important component of a proper rink that may be overlooked by some builders. You can see the whole video below:

Buy Better!

Posted: January 2, 2020 in Basic Plastic Tips

Every once in awhile on this blog we like to educate our readers on how you as a hobbyist can be more efficient in your plastics purchasing. The idea is to get you the plastic you need at the lowest cost and like anything there are strategies to do that. Here are some tips to get the best deal on the plastic you need.

1.) Ask For Offcuts

“Offcuts” are pieces of plastic left over from fabrication jobs. Distributors who do fabrication work tend to have little pieces left over which just take up inventory space waiting for a future job to come in where they may be used. If you get in touch with a distributor, let them know the piece size you need but ask if there’s an offcut you can buy close in size. Any reputable distributor will be glad to check and they’ll price it for less than it would retail in standard sheet form. In addition, you might be able to get a higher grade of plastic for cheaper asking for offcuts! Just be aware that offcuts will not always be available though it never hurts to ask.

2.) Ask about a “generic” grade

Just like with other products, many plastics have brand names, which are more expensive than equivalent plastics from “generic” manufacturers. We can tell you the quality is almost always identical and you often cannot tell the difference even in how it looks. Often hobbyists hear brands such as “Delrin” on the internet or the DIY community and assume that’s what they need; however, that’s usually not the take! For example, “Delrin” is the brand name of a homopolymer acetal plastic. The plastic is called “acetal” not “Delrin”. If you get a quote on name brand “Delrin” it will likely be more expensive than generic alternatives. The best way to pose the question to your distributor would be “Can I get a quote on [brand name] or generic equivalent?”

3.) Do the fabrication work yourself

This might appear to be a no-brainer but it really isn’t! Even though we’re members of the DIY community and enjoy our home projects, lots of hobbyists ask for the distributor to cut their plastic to size or even engage in light fabrication. While the distributor will price you out on that – make no mistake, you’re paying for it. You may not realize that fabrication isn’t free yet also most plastics can be easily cut or fabricated at home with no special tools! Why waste money when you’re a hobbyist in the first place?

 

There are many assumptions people make with plastic and one of those is that the DIY community finds beautiful acrylic applications on the internet and thinks that acrylic “just comes like that”. Unfortunately, there is no “easy button” when it comes to acrylic – to make it look beautiful requires specialized techniques. In fact, most plastic companies will not provide these finishing services unless they’re an acrylic specialist. The disappointment often occurs when someone cuts into acrylic and finds the finish of the edges isn’t what appears on the internet. So how do you get that amazing edge?

Well, there’s two techniques only one of which we’ll cover today. To get the “smoked glass” effect you need to sand the edges; however, for the beautiful glass-like edge you need to do what’s called “flame polishing” which is exactly what it sounds like: you take a flame to the edge of the acrylic melting it and letting it reform in a glass-like appearance. Fortunately for most of us in the DIY crowd, home flame polishing where perfection isn’t required is easy to do and a quick run to a hardware store will give you all the “equipment” you need. We found a short video that gives some quick instructions on home flame polishing and you can view that here:

Do you like to look clueless and unaware?

Didn’t think so.

This is why so many customers trying to ask a distributor about a certain plastic or rubber get themselves into trouble. Being in the industry, it’s frustrating to see as we want what you want – success in your plastic or rubber applications. Errors in plastic selection or identification are more critical then many would think. After all, most plastics feel the same in their hardness and strength, right? Well…Getting it into an application might result in a nasty surprise. Despite how plastics or rubber may look or feel the same, the fact is their greatly differing properties could result in an under-performing application or even a failure.

So, in the case you’ve used a plastic or rubber in the past and need more of it, you need to make sure you request the right thing. There are several ways of doing this. Firstly, we’d recommend you keep the invoices for all plastics and rubber orders you make. The invoice will typically be detailed enough to identify the material. If you don’t have that, the next best thing would be to bring the distributor even a sample of your old material. They can either analyze it on site (sometimes) or send it away to get tested. That extra time and effort is worth it to avoid a failure!

You need to be aware that color does not equal type! It’s common when a customer doesn’t know the plastic they’re trying to purchase to tell us it’s red, or black, or brown, etc. This unfortunately does not identify the material – not only are many materials typically in those colors but many plastics can be supplied as custom colors which throws this option out the window as far as identification.

Rubber is an issue all its own. Most rubber is not colored and is black; however, this again does not denote the type of rubber or the grade. Many rubbers are available in inexpensive consumer grades as well as high-performing premium grades. As we joke internally, when you ask many customers what type of rubber they use the answer is “It’s flat, black, and stored out back.” More commonly, a customer will identify all rubber as “neoprene”. While neoprene is a good all-purpose rubber it has limitations and shouldn’t be assumed to work well in all applications.

The moral of the story is when it comes to plastic and rubber there is no shame in admitting you need help in identifying what you’re looking for. Ask an expert, don’t feel ashamed, and get the application right the first time.

SAMSUNG

 

Plastic lumber is one of the most intriguing materials for the DIY community because it’s so easy to wrap your head around how one might use it. Since it comes in profiles that are the same dimensions as wood and bears the same load as wood (if not better) substituting it for wood makes a lot of sense. Plastic lumber has very low maintenance requirements: most of it is UV stable and rot proof as well as resistant to splitting and insect attack. A concern you need to have is that a fiberglass reinforced HDPE product should be used when bearing weight, such as a deck without a reinforced backing. Also, despite UV resistance, the color will fade somewhat over time so you need to have fair expectations.

Another expectation is price. People are usually exposed to cheap single plastics or otherwise “commodity” plastic found in consumer products. Unfortunately for members of the public, the inexpensive cost of these materials does not reflect the cost of higher grade engineered plastics. When members of the DIY community pursue plastics the first time around their “sticker shock” often leads to the exclamation “but it’s just plastic!” We need to change our way of thinking: besides the cheap commodity plastics, plastics are a premium material that offers significant advantages over metal and wood at a premium price. However, you really do get what you pay for!

Plastic lumber will look great for years and function well in many applications but just know that you’re getting into an investment.