SHAPELOCK – Moldable Plastic

Shapelock is one of the coolest tools I have come across in a long time for a number of DIY applications.

Shapelock is a modlable plastic material – or rather – an “Ultra-High Molecular Weight Low Temperature Thrmoplastic” – impressed yet?  This stuff is really easy to work with and can help you make prototypes, cast parts, create parts, it can be machined, and can be used in a number of other ways.

Shapelock is similar nylon and polypropylene in hardness and toughness, but it is really easy to mold and shape.  The way it works is it starts out as plastic pellets.  You take these plastic pellets and you put them into 160F water.  The heat of the water will actually “melt” them into a soft moldable plastic material.  When you take the pellets out of the water, it is actually cool enough to mold with your hands.  You can then shape the material into your desired form or use it as a mold against another part while it is cooling.

You will want to work quickly with this material as it hardens and gets really strong as it cools.  Do not worry if you mess up and need to re-do your shape, as all you have to do is just put it back in the 160F water and reshape it!However, once you create your final piece you will have a strong, durable, paintable, and machine-able white plastic.

This stuff is great for making prototypes, molds, and even ball-and-socket joint structures for robotics applications.  Very cool stuff!

HOW TO USE IT:  Heating and Melting

WARNING! This article describes an activity that involves a likely risk of getting burned. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and only allow minors to work with adult supervision.

There are a number of techniques to heat the plastic:

  1. Drop into a container of hot water (either on stovetop or in a microwave)
  2. Double-boiler (like for chocolate or poaching eggs)
  3. Hot air gun or hair blow dryer
  4. Skillet or electric griddle
  5. Inside an oven

ADVICE:  If you want to bake this in the oven, use a Wilton silicone bakeware 12 cup muffin pan to heat the material, as it does not stick to this.  If you are using boilin water, use a Glass bowl.

When using this material, do not use plastic molds, as this will stick to them.  Use bare, clean metal molds, and DO NOT use non-stick molds, as it will bond to that material as well.  Silicon muffin trays work the best.

When removed from the oven or hot boiling water, the plastic is clear and pliable. It feels like warm clay. You can snap of chunks with your fingers, and blend it with other softened pieces. Overall, the plastic is a nice balance of being moldable and flexible without dripping. Working time is about 20 seconds (depending on the size of the piece) before more heat needs to be applied.

The metals include: aluminum, anodized aluminum, brass, copper, silver/tin (lead-free) solder, stainless steel, and zinc-plated steel. The plastics/rubber include: Delrin (acetal), FR-4 glass epoxy (PCB), nylon, polypropylene, silicone, and Teflon (PTFE).

Teflon is interesting, in that the ShapeLock did not bond with it, as expected. This means that the Wilton “non-stick” cookie tray that absolutely bonded with ShapeLock is not coated with Teflon.

The metals include: aluminum, anodized aluminum, brass, copper, silver/tin (lead-free) solder, stainless steel, and zinc-plated steel. The plastics/rubber include: Delrin (acetal), FR-4 glass epoxy (PCB), nylon, polypropylene, silicone, and Teflon (PTFE).

Teflon is interesting, in that the ShapeLock did not bond with it, as expected. This means that the Wilton “non-stick” cookie tray that absolutely bonded with ShapeLock is not coated with Teflon.

ShapeLock appears to bond with a number of common plastics. ShapeLock wouldn’t come off of these materials by hand, nor when I put them in a vise and tried to pop off the ShapeLock with a hammer. The ShapeLock material eventually distorted, but wouldn’t dislodge. The plastics that it appears to bind with include: ABS (Lego bricks), acrylic, polycarbonate, polyester (likely), PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and vinyl (likely).  It also bonds to Wood.

Shapelock
$15 for 250 grams

The same stuff, under a different name (Friendly Plastic), is available in larger quantities, at a slightly cheaper rate.
$48 for 793 grams
Available from Sculpt

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One comment

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