The goal of this upcycle project is to create vibrant art pieces that you would want to hang on your wall, all for the low price of some milk jugs or buckets. What I will be melting down is HDPE plastic, or High Density Polyethylene. You can find this plastic in every day milk jugs. You recycle them anyways so why not make some art?
Unfortunately it can be difficult to get the the really bright and clean colors from milk jugs, so what I used are colored five gallon buckets. During this project my design process varied greatly from that which my team and I came up with in class.
As you can see my team and I came up with the looped design process as shown on the left. However, in this project I followed the more linear design process on the right. The process I used was a much more hands on as I did little actual preliminary design work and instead I decided to just try it. Luckily I did not run into any issues or my process would look a lot more like the one on the left.
I was originally inspired to do this project by a YouTube video by Peter Brown on an HDPE mallet. In this video Peter shows the process he used to melt down milk jugs and forming them into the shape he wanted. I thought this was a cool idea and I wondered if I would be able to create blocks of HDPE for machining.
After more research I found that there is a whole community of people who use HDPE melted from milk jugs and buckets for home projects. I found a lot of videos on HDPE sling shots. I felt that these sling shots were very aesthetically pleasing as the producers used really bright colors and took advantage of the viscous property of melted HDPE.
The video above describes the overall process I used to melt my plastic. It also shows how easy it is to get really cool designs with such a simple process. I started by acquiring my material and prepping it to melt. To prep the material all I did was cut the buckets into strips.
After I had my material prepped I could start melting plastic. To start I added a primer layer to the bottom of the pan. This prevents the strips from heating up two fast, without melting, which could cause burning. This layer also serves as excess material that can be removed after the plastic cools.
With the primer set, and the material placed the way I liked it was time to put it into the oven. I set the oven to preheat to 360 degrees before I placed the tray into the oven. From here it took around and hour to full melt. Once the material melted completely and was fluid enough that I could drag a metal rod through I could create my pattern. I decided to use a swirl pattern as I wanted to achieve a peppermint candy, or candy stripe aesthetic. Looking back I feel I could have achieved the peppermint swirls more easily if I had arranged the strips differently.
Often times the plastic will melt two fast and will trap air underneath. These bubbles will remain after the material cools and could potentially ruin the project. For this reason after I combed the plastic to create the design I left it in the oven for fifteen minute intervals, taking it out to pop the bubbles that make it to the surface. I did this until no bubbles were left in the plastic and allowed it to cool.
As the plastic cooled I had to clamp it between two pieces of plywood to prevent it from warping. In the end the block was relatively flat, however there was a bit of warping. With the cooled piece of plastic I had to face the the sides to get it square and flat. Afterwards I sanded and cleaned the display side to remove machine marks and make it more presentable. In the end I am very happy with the outcome.
In terms of my functional goals I am very happy with the results. I originally wanted to find a cheap material that is machinable out of recycled goods. I feel as though I succeeded in this aspect and as a bonus I was able to find a material that could create cool and unique patterns.
As for my aesthetic goals I think I captured the candy stripe aesthetic well enough, but I think if I organized the strips and stirred the plastic differently I could have gotten a much smoother pattern.
For the future I think I will be able to try this again. I want to try different colors and different patterns to really explore what I can do with this material. As for my artifact I can finally have something hanging on my wall that I can say I made.