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I have to confess that I am an unwitting victim turned complete addict. This all started over a year ago. A friend and business associate of mine came to me and told me about a friend who invented a machine to bend PVC. At the time, I was running a small but successful restoration and remodeling company and selling art on the side. The thought was somewhat intriguing, but I was in a world of boards, nails, drywall, mud, tiles and the like.
For me, PVC was the stuff that carries poop away. The friend kept telling me, “Oh, man, this is cool. Put a stick on the bender and after a few minutes it’s like cooked spaghetti. You can do whatever you want with it!”
On the surface, I was like, “Wow, that’s cool!” But underneath, I was thinking, “Bend PVC?!? Who the F*$& cares? Plumbers? Electricians? Pool Guys? I’m a jack of most trades, but the only plumbing I mess with is copper. Leave the drains to the turd herders. The only electricity I mess with is fixtures and RAW basics. Leave the massive conduits to the sparkies.”
Fast forward about 6 months, and the same friend came to me saying he had a friend who needed help getting his pool going again. He also needed a sunroom redone and a few other odds and ends around the house. That was right up my alley. The money wasn’t what I was used to, but the scope of the project more than justified the low offer. Turns out this friend was Victor Johnson, the inventor of the PVC Bendit. A walk around his yard and home workshop was one step shy of a bent PVC museum. He had come up with strange and radical applications of PVC pipe that I had never even considered because I was used to thinking of it as a straight, rigid pipe.
After we finished the work around his house, he took me down to his shop under the pretense of straightening things up a bit. This, for the first week, is what I did. Gradually, though, there were requests like, “Here, hold this,” and, “Now, what we need to do is…” and before I knew it, I was learning the arcane art of bending PVC and building benders.
At the time, we were doing a lot of tests to make sure that we knew what we could claim this thing could do. We were also coming up with project ideas for a book (Coming Soon from Iconoclastic Press) that would shed a little light on how to bend, what you can make, and how to exactly duplicate pieces for production.
We bent a lot of PVC. We bend a lot of PVC now.
One thing you’re not going to hear a lot of from the uninitiated is that bending pipe is a lot of fun. It is really cool to take a solid, soften it, form it, and have it return to exactly the original rigidity. It is awesome to take a material in your hands that you are used to being a rod and being able to crack it like a whip for a few minutes. It is amazing what a single curve can do to a design.
The artist in me cringed at the beginning, feeling the limitations of the material, and the builder in me recoiled at the thought of using plastic for structural applications.
After a while, though, I caught myself sneaking bends when no one was in the shop.
At first, it was simple – I had seen tons of half, three quarter and one inch pipe bend, but I wanted to see a larger diameter bend. I jumped right up to one and a half inch pipe while the boss was out to lunch, and I burned the hell out of it because I was in the middle of a few other tasks.
A few days later, I caught myself alone again and threw a one-inch pipe on the bender since no one was around. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do; I just knew I wanted to bend some PVC. I ended up tying it into a loose pretzel shape and setting it aside. I had noticed on an earlier day that one inch nests perfectly into one and a quarter, so while I had the time, I took a piece of it, bent it into a saxophone bell, and cemented it onto the end of the pretzel. It turned into a combination didgeridoo and conch-trumpet. I passed it off to a didgeridoo aficionado that I know in Manitou Springs, and he was blown away by the quality and volume of the sound as well as the range of tones that it can produce. It’s a ten-foot didg that is less than five feet long thanks to the bends.
A week or so later, Victor was up in Denver for a day, and I once again found myself alone in the shop. I was used to the bend process by then, and I had a few more ideas because I was starting to gain a little faith in the material after seeing what Victor and his collaborator on the book were doing. I was able to slam out a self-watering greenhouse in about 45 minutes. It is structurally sound and it works beautifully. By using a gauge of pipe that is appropriate to the size of the greenhouse you are building, you can guarantee structural integrity and proper weight. By using landscape staples, you can firmly attach your structure to the ground. By integrating the watering system into the frame, you save the most valuable thing in a greenhouse – SPACE!
From time to time, we burn the pipes by way over multitasking, and we have to cut them lengthwise to get them off the bender easily. I started tying them into weird shapes and setting them aside. One day, a rather large section of pipe was overcooked, and when I tied it up, it ended up looking like a face. Every time Victor turned his back, I was throwing another pipe on the bender and deliberately overcooking it, cutting it lengthwise and turning it inside out. I used the pieces to make a body, arms and legs, and all while no one was looking, I assembled an awesome sculpture. I recently saw a cover story in the Colorado Springs Independent about balloons as a fine art material, and on the heels of that, I have given in to seeing bent and mutilated PVC pipe as an awesome new media for sculptors.
Excuse me now; I’m alone in the shop. I’m going to go bend some PVC.