This is a collection of tips for working with the tools and materials you’ll encounter while building PVC agility obstacles.
Cutting PVC Pipe to Length
Because PVC slip connectors provide such a large amount of surface area for adhesive to stick to, it is not critical to get a perfectly straight cut, though your cutter will come very close in any case. Keep in mind, though, that the “highest” point of the pipe end is going to bottom out against the shoulder in the fitting. Being off a smidgen with pipe lengths is OK, though you should aim for “perfect” and settle for “good.” A 32nd of an inch here and there isn’t the end of the world.
Getting a Good Glue Joint
Slip connectors are fairly forgiving, but you will want to be sure they’re clean and that you have adequate glue coverage. The former is accomplished by using one of the PVC pipe cleaning solvents that are sold right next to the PVC glue in the hardware store. The latter is accomplished by putting glue both in the slip connector and around the end of the pipe you’re inserting, and giving the pipe a small twist as you push it together. Hold the pipe and fitting together for a few seconds after you’ve joined them.
Keeping Connectors Coplanar
As you glue pipe and connectors into larger assemblies, you will often need to keep certain groups of connectors in the same plane (for example, all of the connectors which make up the octagon in the jumping hoop need to be in the same plane). You can eyeball this, but if you’re working on a flat surface, use it to guide your efforts. What you will want to do is hold the already-glued pieces flat on the board, and then put your fresh connector on at a slight angle and push it down to the board.
Cleaning Up Excess Glue
Until you’ve glued many connectors together, you’re going to have a lot of extra glue squeezing out of your joins. Use a paper towel to clean the excess from the outside of the pipe within a few seconds of putting the pieces together. Mop up the dribbles on your work surface so you don’t put the next work piece into a puddle of glue. The inside of connectors can be left alone, though watch for excess glue on surfaces into which you will be inserting pipe in a future step.
Watch Your Gloves
As you glue, be aware of holding a joint together where the overflowing glue has reached your gloves. Generally, you’ll be reaching for a paper towel for normal cleanup long before gloves could stick to the pipe, but the possibility is there.
Making PVC Pretty
By which we mean removing the printed information from the outside of the pipe. This is accomplished with a solvent like lacquer thinner or carburetor cleaner, applied to a paper towel and then rubbed on the offending areas of pipe. Depending on the pipe manufacturer, this printing may come off with hardly any effort, or it may take a bit of rubbing.
Price and inventory stickers suck, frankly. They won’t peel off and no normal chemicals will touch them. Scrape them off with a razor or box cutter, and then neutralize the sticky residue with your cleaning solvent.
(If you care about appearance, buy your fittings and pipe at a store which prints the prices and inventory codes on the pipe with ink if you can find one.)
Transporting PVC Pipe
I own a full-size truck, so hauling ten-foot lenths of pipe isn’t much of an issue. If you don’t own such a vehicle, don’t dispair. Bring your cutters with you and use them to create more manageable lengths out in the store parking lot. Be thinking about what you’ll be building and make sure you don’t chop your pipe up so much you won’t be able to find pieces long enough for the obstacle later.
Buy Extra Connectors
Always have a couple of extra of each type of connector on hand, as well as a bit of extra pipe. It’s when you have exactly the correct number of every part on hand, and no more, that you will glue something on backwards or put the wrong pipe in the wrong connector.
In the same vein, have a few straight sleeve connectors on hand. In a worst-case scenario, you can cut an incorrect piece in half and use the sleeve to fix the problem.
Do a Dry Run
Put the entire obstacle together without glue first to understand how it will be assembled and to familiarize yourself with it. If you’re making more than one of a type, leave the dry run together as you glue up the first “real” version. Make notes to yourself regarding tricky places and carefully think about the orientation of connectors. It is very easy to get into a groove and to keep gluing pieces together without thinking much…and that’s when you come to glue the final two pieces to each other and discover they both already have connectors glued in place!
It’s Only Pipe
While it’s nice not to waste things, at the end of the day if something goes banana-shaped…it’s only a pile of pipe. Figure out what went wrong and take another stab at it. If I can do this, you can, too!