Intern’s Corner: The Make: Labs plastic bender

Craft & Design Robotics
Intern’s Corner: The Make: Labs plastic bender

MAKE: Intern's Corner
Every other week, MAKE’s awesome interns tell about the projects they’re building in the Make: Labs, the trouble they’ve gotten into, and what they’ll make next.

By Kris Magri, engineering intern

One of my favorite tools here at Make: Labs is the plastic bender. The coolest thing about it is using the variac, a giant heavy thing that truly adds some “mad science” cred to any workshop. You plug it in and crank the ginormous dial to vary the amount of AC voltage going through the heating element. How fun is that?


I followed the instructions in MAKE, Volume 10 (Project: Plastic Fantastic Desk Set), and made this spiffy tool holder for the lab.


I used Jake’s favorite, the Bear Saw, to cut the plastic. I was able to make a fairly straight cut with very minimal effort. The only unpleasant part was the smell of the plastic, can’t be good for you. I used a deburring tool to clean up the edges.

Another awesome must-have tool is the Unibit, I can’t recommend it enough. That’s what I used to make the holes in the plastic. Forget about twist drills for holes in thin metal or plastic, once you have the Unibit you won’t go back. Get ’em 3 for $15 at Harbor Freight or buy the real deal from Irwin for $40 apiece — a no-brainer decision for us. The downside is that for large diameter holes, you’ll make a huge deep hole in your “backup scrap of wood,” so use a 2×4. (At Make: Labs we have a piece of 2×4 that lives on the workbench just for drilling, so once a hole is made, then you can just position over it every time and you’re home free.)

The hardest part was holding the plastic at 90 degrees until it resolidified, and trying to get that good 90-degree angle. My method was to bend the plastic around a block of wood and sort of hold it until it solidified. I can’t say it was particularly elegant or convenient, so I’m all ears for better methods.

I also found the plastic bender very handy when I was designing Makey the robot (in MAKE, Volume 19, on sale August 18th!). As I was developing the templates, I needed to check the accuracy of the mounting holes for the motors. I didn’t want to waste an entire piece of metal, plus cutting and drilling the metal is quite time-intensive. So, I used plastic instead; drilling it was quick and easy, then boom, I bent it up with the bender to have a plastic prototype of the robot body. If the holes were wack, I didn’t feel too bad about just redesigning and then making another body from plastic, we have a whole box of small plastic scrap that I use.

The Make: Labs plastic bender — it results in cool-looking stuff that would be difficult by other methods, is good for prototyping, and gives interns their daily dose of mad science.


6 thoughts on “Intern’s Corner: The Make: Labs plastic bender

  1. Anonymous says:

    where did you get that bender?

    1. Kris Magri says:

      Oh, my bad, should have mentioned that. I had assumed that the plastic bender was a project in Make Magazine — but I was wong. A Make intern (before my time) made the bender, following this Instructables project:

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