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When I was in graduate school, I took a seminar class from a chemist whose work in developing self-healing polymers was widely admired. I had seen these self-healing cutting mats in the MicroMark catalog, and always wondered what they were made of. So I asked him, in class. He looked at me like I’d grown a second head: “You mean to tell me you’ve seen self-healing polymers on the market? In a consumer product?” Later I brought him the catalog, and showed him the listing. He was stumped, and more than a bit dubious.

I ordered one of their small “try it size” cutting boards, and made a few tests cuts on it to confirm that it did, in fact, appear to heal itself over time. Apparently, boards that see regular use do eventually get cut up and stop “healing,” but I can confirm that, at least for the first few cuts, the “self-healing” phenomenon is apparently real. And the folks over at Core77 recently started asking the same question: What the heck is that stuff? No firm answers in the comments over there, yet, besides a quote from a manufacturer website mentioning “a unique composite PVC vinyl material,” but I thought I might throw the question out to our more technical audience here. Anybody got an idea?

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. J_Hodgie says:

    After a quick search on google scholar, it appears that some materials have microcapsules of polymer inside them. When the surface gets cut, the microcapsules are cut and release and fill the cut and heal it. After cutting it a few times there are no more capsules, so it doesn’t work.

    I’m not sure if this is what is happening here, but it’s my best guess.

  2. locknload1 says:

    I have a vinyl sign cutting side gig and use them all the time. I always thought they were made of vertically arranged material (much like a tightly bound brush). FYI: they don’t really “Heal”, more so they “close up” the cut. The cuts show from the first one.

  3. http://david.rysdam.org/blog/ says:

    I’ve been meaning to get one of those mats, but now that I know they aren’t permanent I think I’ll just stick to using my kitchen cutting board.

  4. Toaste says:

    Unfortunately what you’re looking at is not, in fact, a self-healing polymer. The “magic” in these mats is just how the mat is sandwiched together with a rubber/vinyl backing behind that hard plastic surface.

    When you cut the PVC, the more stretchy backing holds the cut tightly closed, which makes the surface look unmarred. Bend the mat and you’ll see the cut is still there.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Vinyl chloride. The state of California requires a warning label be attached declaring both the carcinogenic and teratogenic risks. I’ll probably return the one I just received because of this. Why wasn’t this deterring declaration included along with all the benefits of the mat in all the information I managed to acquire online, you know: BEFORE I ordered it? 

  6. Joe says:

    To be fair, the State of California requires carcinogenic warning labels on EVERYTHING. One can’t buy a cup of coffee without reading about how the roasting process creates a carcinogenic substance.

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