This is a brief overview of some of the materials you will work with when building agility obstacles. Keep your eyes open while you’re at the hardware store, though, and use your imagination–there are many ways to build equipment and no one way is the “right” way, as long as the end result is safe.
“Hardware Store” Agility
Our goal is to construct our equipment using the materials we can find at the local hardware store, whether a big-box store like Home Depot or your local independent. As a result, some of our designs are slightly less elegant that those you see in books or from the pros, who use specially ordered connectors from “furniture quality PVC” suppliers. There is nothing to stop you from doing the same, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that approach. We use the hardware store because it’s handy and when we screw up or run out of something, we can pop out and get it.
Prices quoted in construction articles are always the (approximate) amount Home Depot would charge, without accounting for sales tax. If you buy from an independent retailer, prices will be a bit more.
The core of this style of agility equipment is the “Schedule 40″ PVC pipe and connectors commonly found at hardware stores. PVC comes in several diameters, the most common being ¾”, 1″ and 1½”. I like using the 1″ size–it’s strong while still not being too bulky or difficult to work with.
Be aware that there are different types of pipe; the kind most commonly used in agility equipment is white in color and typically comes in 10′ lengths; it has “Schedule 40” printed on the outside of it somewhere. If your local lumberyard sells directly to the plumbing trade, you may find pipe in 20′ lengths with ends that are designed to mate together. This type of pipe usually has a wall thickness that is less than the pipe sold in 10′ lengths–it is too flimsy for contact obstacles. However, it does make good material for the cross-pieces of jumps as it’s very light–if a dog knocks it off with an errant jump it is friendlier to their paws!
Pipe is joined with slip connectors. Your store will have a variety, but the ones we’ll use include the “T”, 90-degree bend, 45-degree bend, “X” and end caps. In addition, if you make a mistake and don’t want to sacrifice an entire length of pipe (or a larger assembly!) a straight sleeve connector can be a life-saver.
Inquire about buying bulk lots if you know you’re going to be making lots of obstacles. You might qualify for a bit of a discount, they’ll be easier to store and carry (coming in a box or bag) and, most importantly if you don’t like labels or bar codes, the pieces may not have individual inventory stickers or printing on them. Home Depot sells “contractor packs” of common connectors, which is just a plastic bag of five connectors at a slight discount over the individual price.
Note that one thing these stores don’t sell if the special 3-way “corner” piece a lot of agility plans call for. These can make for a neater appearance on certain obstacles, but you’ll need to order them from a specialty supplier, typically one which sells “furniture grade” PVC. However, since our goal is to raid our local hardware stores for the materials we need, we won’t be using them on this site.
This is sold right next to the connectors. The cheap stuff will usually work just fine; the more expensive glues generally allow more different kinds of plastic to be joined together. Since we’re only using PVC, that extra money would be wasted. Be sure the can does say “for PVC” on it somewhere.
Vinyl Fence Rails
If you have a home depot or farm center nearby, you will be able to find this fencing. The boards are 16′ long and about 6″ wide, and are hollow with reinforcing ribs. “Vinyl” is actually Poly Vinyl Chloride, or, wait for it, PVC. This material is very light, strong and perfect for building contact obstacles. However, it is very slippery (especially when wet) and paint doesn’t stick to it very well. We will be using stick-on anti-slip surfacing to get around that.
This is the one product that may be tricky to come by if you use vinyl fence boards for hortizontal surfaces, as you should use the anti-stick tape we recommend or a similar product, which may not be readily available in your local hardware store in any sort of bulk roll.
You can make your own anti-skid surface by adding sand to regular paint; you can roughen the surface of the plastic with sandpaper and use a primer designed for this material. If you paint plastic, keep a close eye on the condition of the paint over time.
If you want to make your obstacles “pretty,” you’ll want to clean all of the markings off of the pipe and connectors. Printed lettering and bar codes will generally come off with little to modest effort if you use lacquer thinner or carburetor cleaner (which is what I use, as it comes in a handy spray can). You do NOT want to douse the pipe with the liquid, as this stuff will eventually eat PVC pipe. Apply some to a paper towel and then use the paper towel to rub the lettering off of your pipe. It will then flash off of the pipe before it has much chance to do any damage.
Always use gloves when handling lacquer thinner or brake cleaner, it passes straight through your skin.
Tip: If you care about appearance and have the option of buying your pipe and connectors at several local stores, buy from one of them that sells pipe and fittings with the bar codes printed directly on the piece with ink (as opposed to stick-on labels). Otherwise, what is a one second job with a rag becomes an exercise in frustration and lots of messy fragments and you try to peel off the stickers.
“Shop” Paper Towels
We’re talking about the strong blue ones here, not the kind you get for the kitchen. You will be using them for cleaning the PVC as well as cleaning up your glued joints. Costco sells them cheap in bulk, but you can find them anywhere. Figure on about two sheets per four pieces to be put together; if your obstacle has 20 pieces you can anticipate you’ll use 10 sheets, plus or minus a few sheets.