How To: Make Cool Sculptures with PVC Cut-Offs

Make Cool Sculptures with PVC Cut-Offs

PVC isn't something you want to send to the landfill.  It's not going to do anything good for the ground when it's buried.  It is also something you really, REALLY don't want to send to an incinerator.  When burned, PVC releases some really nasty chemicals, including hydrochloric acid and dioxin.

I keep all of my cut-offs, both because they can be used in other projects when all I need is a small piece, and because I am well to aware of the environmental impacts of this stuff when it's not recycled.  When they pile up too high, I like to have some fun with them.

What I'm showing here is not how to build any specific sculpture.  If you've got a feel and an eye for art, you're going to come up with your own things, and the way that I do this is by no means the only or "right" way.  There will no doubt be people who can use cut-off scraps as picture elements to make incredibly detailed and realistic forms.  That's not what I do.  I am somewhat lazy when it comes to visual art, and I prefer that the things I create have a hand in their own creation.

You Will Need

  • Leftover pieces of PVC pipe
  • A heat source - I use what I use, but you've definitely got options
  • PVC Primer and cement if you think you'll need it
  • Something to cut with, i.e. razor, scissors, ratcheting pipe cutter, etc.
  • Paint or dye if you think you'll need it

There are a million other things you can bring to the table as well. This is art, after all. You can just use the pipe as a framework for sculpting and then flesh it out with a lot of different materials to bring your project to life. I like the simplicity of the pipe, and I like to leave little burn marks with the tool that I'm using because they give it a great texture. What you make, though, is entirely up to you.

This is not a step by step guide to recreating the sculpture I've made here. It is more a set of general ideas you can use to make this material more versatile than you might initially think of it.  I cannot stress enough how much the heating and reshaping property takes this material to another level. So, here's what I did this time:

Step 1 Get Your Materials Together

Get your materials in order. Bring all of your cut-offs to the same place. Make sure your tools are close enough that you don't have to lose your creative flow, because you realize you need something you don't have right on hand.

How to Make Cool Sculptures with PVC Cut-Offs

Step 2 Give Yourself a General Idea of How You're Going to Start

This doesn't have to be a mental picture of the finished piece. Some people make art that way, in the abstract world, however, that is considered moving backwards. Sometimes, I start with a random piece, do some random things to it, and then, when the piece hardens, I look at how that might fit into an overall piece. Even then, that doesn't necessarily have much to do with the outcome, as it's easy to have a project take on a life of its own.

Step 3 Make Your First Project Element

For the piece I'm making here, it seemed right to make a set of feet to act as a base for the overall work. The original idea in my mind was to make a kung-fu action man, but after bringing a few pieces together, it started to turn into a bonsai tree. I am writing this as I go here, so there is no guarantee of what it's going to turn out as.

In this case, I'm heating up the pipe from the inside and allowing it to get little "grill" lines from the tool I'm using. Then I cut the pipe lengthwise (I go for sloppy, jagged cuts) and turned it inside out. From there, I bend it and then hold it in my desired shape.

This video shows what the creative process is actually like.

Step 4 Follow the Cues Your Project Gives You

Don't try to be in total control of the growth of your project. (Unless you are going for intricate realism.) Watch what happens and adapt to it. If you find your project evolving into something you didn't intend, don't fret, just go with it. Be more of a guide and less of a master, and the material will show you what it wants to become.

How to Make Cool Sculptures with PVC Cut-Offs

Step 5 Step Back and Admire Your Finished Work

After you've got your PVC structure completed, step back a ways and take a good look. Is it done?  Are there any touch-ups you might add? Now is NOT the time to do them unless they're screaming at you. Get away, get some fresh air, and come back to see it with new eyes. What seemed to be lacking may be complete, and what seemed to be complete may be lacking. Only a little time away from the project will inform you.

How to Make Cool Sculptures with PVC Cut-OffsIn this case, I'm not going to know if I like this thing until a few days from now. I'll put a clear picture and a short video that shows the depth on the corkboard once I'm satisfied that it's done.

Step 6 Give Your Baby a Name

When you're finished, title your work.


  • There is no such thing as a mistake. Art is a creative process. If you find you don't like what you've made, look at it another way. Don't try to control the whole process until you've reached a high level of proficiency. Even then, if things don't go your way, look and see which way they're going. You may end up with something cooler than what you originally intended.


  • DO NOT overheat the pipe. I give mine little scorch marks to make texture, but even this is releasing some nasty stuff into the environment (and into my body). If you're browning the pipe, you're getting it too hot. Either use another method or heat it slower. Remember, making art from your cut-offs is in part to avoid sending the pipe to an incinerator. Don't do the same thing you're trying to avoid doing in the first place.

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Do you have more photos of sculptures you've made?

i have to dig around. there's some on my facebook page, but i use a lot of different media. half of the art that i show there is done with left over drywall scraps. i use about four different digital cameras and about three different computers, so my record keeping is super sloppy. on top of that, me and my lady just had a baby and i'm working six or seven days a week (although i use a lot of unsupervised shop time working on this page) so it's hard for me to remember much of anything except for my son.

again, though, i will dig out more.

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