Education Science
What are self-healing cutting mats made from?
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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?

13 thoughts on “What are self-healing cutting mats made from?

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  7. 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.

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

  9. I don’t know if they use this, but here is a self-healing polymer. Polydimethylsiloxane.

    “Reflecting its unusual physical properties, PDMS has proved one of the effective compounds to be deployed in the relatively new science of self-healing materials – inert substances that can to some extent duplicate the healing abilities of living tissue. A matrix of a vinyl material is produced with droplets scattered through it that contain a mix of PDMS derivatives, which remain in place thanks to their viscosity. However, if the material is distorted and cracks, microcapsules of a catalyst burst, mix with the droplets and produce a healing material that sets into the crack and repairs the damage.”

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2015/07/polydimethylsiloxane-pdms-silly-putty-podcast

  10. I would LOVE the answer to this!! I’m trying to figure out a way to incorporate a pressing board with a cutting mat. The self-healing cutting (quilting) mats you can buy at craft stores and online do not handle heat and warp or melt. The work wonderfully and while silicone mats could offer the heat resistant properties for quick ironing of fabric they are not self healing ;/

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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.

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