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Expanded PVC, styrene, acrylic, whats the best?.............

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Posted by chris_harper2 on April 29, 2003 at 22:34:48:

In Reply to: Expanded PVC, styrene, acrylic, whats the best?............. posted by EricIvins on April 29, 2003 at 21:45:37:

:I'm looking into starting to build my own cages and would like to know whats the best to use?

I am (or was) in the initial stages of figuring this out myself so I'll let you know what I know.

I like the PVC due to it's weight, cost, and tensile strength. It also is very easy to work with, especially cut, and comes in some great colors. Oh yeah, it insulates and conducts heat very well. Sounds perfect but...

Unfortunately, it's porous interior makes chemical welding (i.e. use of solvents) a bit more difficult.

Expanded PVC also is very susceptible to scratching and does not stand up to all disinfectants (actually a problem with most plastics).

I've done a small amount of chemical welding with acrylic and it was pretty straight forward. Edge to surface bonds were pretty good provided the edge was fairly smooth (though not buffed) and flush with the surface you were gluing to.

However, I did not do any bonds along a 48" length or anything like that and I'm sure that's where the difficulty lies.

Acrylic is a so-so material. It scratches easily, can warp if exposed to extreme temperature differentials, and is expensive. Fine for simple tanks where you need a clear material but probably not the best choice when wanting a solid color and slightly more complex designs. It's also the most difficult to cut.

Styrene is fairly easy to cut, is fairly rigid, and chemical welds easier than the PVC. Most common thickness is 3/16", but is supposed to be strong enough.

I've heard it comes in black but I've not looked for it.

Styrene is also cheaper than acrylic but more expensive than PVC.

::Can they all be glued together with solvents?

Those three can all be chemical welded, but the PVC bonds are not as strong as I would like. I need to get back to experimenting with that as it's perfect for the snake and gecko species I'm interested in.

::Can I rabit the edges and glue them in that way, like I could melamine?

With the acrylic, absolutely. Especially if you do it with a router as the surface will come out ready to chemcial weld where as a saw cut often needs further prepping. But be wary of acrylic's brittle nature when cutting a rabit.

The styrene may not be thick enough, but that's just a guess.

With the PVC I'd probably avoid this as you always want your chemical welds to be surface to edge if not surface to surface. The latter obviously requires bending so two surfaces can be welded. I've heard that most of the welds on Boaphile cages are surface to surface.

So what I'm trying to say is that with a rabit joint you'd actually be reducing the amount of the surface of the sheet exposed to the solvent.

For some clarification, expanded PVC is two micro this sheets of smooth PVC with a foamed layer in between. The porous nature of the interior does lend itself to chemcial welding.

Most of all, whats most cost effective? I'm not going to be making clear cages, more like black or white, so scratch resistance really won't make a difference and besides, I'm not going to be keeping animals with claws in them.

If you can make the welds work for you, the PVC is the best IMO. Especially given the prices I can buy it for locally. It's does not require special tools for cutting etc. and the solvents are readily available.

I suspect the Styrene is second, but I need more time with it.

Acrylic is great, but I've heard of a lot of these cages not working well after a few years.

More comments on welding expanded PVC...

I've tried 4 different solvents and each one produced incredibly strong bonds when welding two surfaces together (i.e. an overlap bond). We're talking I could not separate the pieces within minutes. But I'd have to bend all my corners and overlap my joints to use PVC for my cage designs.

But with surface to edge bonds I could tear the pieces apart even after I left the solvents to evaporate for over 12 hours. And not it was not a surface area issue as the surface to edge bonds actually had more than the surface to surface bonds.

Hopefully I can get this figured out, but I'll need to get back to experimenting.

Hopefully others will respond. I've been trying to learn as much as I can about this but have little practical experience.

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