Melting Plastic as a Hobby
Melting plastic may not seem as alluring as making your own ceramics, stamp collecting, or spending a day on the 18-hole course, but plastic works can be practical and even better than recycling! You’re probably rolling your eyes right about now, but melting plastic to create new objects—whether practical or artistic—can be creative and, yes, even fun. Instead of tossing out or recycling everyday disposable plastics, why not turn them into something new entirely, such as a potpourri container, colorful window hanging, or vase. If you’d like to give it a try, then there are a few things you should know before jumping into a project. Certain tools are necessary to melt plastic properly and there are precautions that must also be considered.
Equipment You Will Need
Your method of heating the plastic will determine the majority of the equipment on your list. If you want to bake the plastic then you will need a toaster oven, as this can be used outside where the fumes from the melted plastic can escape. You will also need something to hold the plastic while it melts in the oven. A metal tin would do the trick nicely. The other method you can use is the double-boiling strategy, in which case you will need a large double-boiling pot set and a grill (so that you can do your project outside, again, where fumes can escape). As plastic releases toxic fumes when it melts, one of the most important items on your list of equipment should be a face shield or mask. You should also have a pair of durable gloves and sturdy shoes, such as boots, just to be on the safe side.
If the project you are going to create requires a mold in which to shape the plastic as it cools, then you will need to acquire or construct this. Anything metal or a wooden mold lined with aluminum should do, but wood on its own will not work well as a mold as the plastic will simply soak into the pores of the wood. It is recommended that you use a pair of sturdy tongs to handle the mold, even if you intend to wear gloves. A pair of sharp scissors may also be necessary to cut the plastic into small pieces. You will also need a wooden or metal stick to help transfer the plastic into the mold. Melted plastic can cause severe burning if it encounters skin, so it’s always a good idea to wear protective clothing such as long sleeved shirts and pants, and even a leather apron if you can find one.
Melting plastic in a toaster oven is ideal because it helps to contain the fumes, making it a little safer to be in close proximity to your project. To use this method, cut the pieces of plastic into even-sized bits. It is recommended that you stay away from soda bottles, as they do not melt very well and produce tons of fumes. Bottle caps from milk or soda bottles melt very well and come in a variety of colors that you can swirl or clump together to create a colorful nik nak or light-catching window decoration.
Place the bits of plastic into an oven-safe dish or tin. Arrange them however you like, but bear in mind that this plastic will not melt into a pourable liquid. When plastic is melted, it tends to remain on the sticky side. Soda bottle caps should be “baked” at 350 degrees F and milk bottle lids should be baked at 325 degrees F. If you do decide to try melting soda bottles, stick to the clear ones and bake them around 425 degrees F. After the plastic has melted, use tongs or an oven mitten to remove the dish and quickly scoop the plastic into the mold using the wooden or metal stick. Allow the plastic to cool before gently removing it from the mold.
A double-boiler is a great way to ensure that the plastic is heated evenly and thoroughly. Water can be used in the bottom pot, however oil tends to produce much better results. If oil is used, it is extremely important that the necessary precautions are taken to ensure that flare-ups and an oil/grease fire do not erupt. Remember that water should NEVER be thrown onto an oil fire. If a fire does erupt, the pan should be completely covered with a lid until the flames are completely gone. Alternatively, and preferably, one could use a fire extinguisher.
Start by bringing the water to a boil, or by heating the oil. Cut the plastic into evenly-sized pieces and add them into the top pot. When place the pot onto the bottom one and keep an eye on the plastic. When it seems to be melted, turn off the heat and quickly but safely transfer the plastic into the mold. Allow the plastic to cool completely before sliding it out of the mold.
If you want to use different colored plastic pieces to create a swirled effect, use the metal or wooden stick to swirl the plastic as soon as it hits the mold. If you allow the plastic time to cool, your swirling effect will not look as nice.