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

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • J_Hodgie

    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.

  • locknload1

    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.

  • http://david.rysdam.org/blog/

    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.

  • Toaste

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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? 

  • Joe

    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.

  • Dan Martin

    Wow. No comments in over four years. Did you ever find out?

  • http://MakerFriends.com MakerFriends

    Too bad no one has replied. Seems like there might be a lot of interest in DIY cutting boards on the cheap.

  • Cotton Cafe

    I’ve read somewhere that a mat consists of small cells that are filled with liquid (or kind of liquid) polymer. When a mat cell gets cut, the polymer flows from it and “heals” the cut.

  • Ronald Milton

    Sullivan cutting mat #38233 (59″x36″) is made from LPDE (low density polyethylene). They say so right in their product description.