Heating and Bending Acrylic Jewellery

Heating and Bending Acrylic Jewellery
by Anthony Taylor
I will attempt to explain in very basic terms how to heat and bend acrylic so that you at home can try it yourself.
These techniques can also be used on acrylic for purposes other than jewellery.
The first thing we need to discuss is the necessary equipment needed and responsible personal safety.
Oven :
I use a standard table top mini oven, the internal size is approx. 40cm / 18in inside
and it is plug and play. You do not need any fancy ovens and don’t let anyone tell you
otherwise, as long as it reaches a temperature of 180-200 celsius you are in the right heat zone.
Tray :
You can choose between a pizza stone or steel which will work fine but they can get
too hot and they are not as flat as a baking tray, I like to use a non stick aluminium baking
tray that has a bubble design meaning the tray is double sided with an air gap which causes
a more even heat distribution.
Gloves :
I try to use gloves that offer me a combination of heat resistance but also are thin
enough to be able to work unimpeded, what I mean by this is as an artist I want to feel my
way around my pieces and bending acrylic is as much about technique as it is about gut
feelings.
Tools :
I use tools to help me shape most of my components and pieces. The most used
tool in my arsenal is a dessert spoon, but I also use a knife, a sharpie pen lid and then a
myriad of very specific templates and 2 piece molds. I have also designed and used clamp
style fold over molds which we can elaborate on in a later post on molds etc.
Mask :
A mask should be used at all times when using acrylic as it can and will leach toxic
fumes if cut including heating the acrylic, although to a much lesser degree.
PS.I’ll let you all in on a little known secret, every Orchid I have ever made was done so with
my old breakfast spoon I had in the workshop, one early morning I was so eager to bend that
first Orchid petal shape that I realised I did not have something to bend my really hot acrylic
shape with, looking frantically around I focussed on my spoon in my cereal!
I quickly wipe on my sleeve and viola! The perfect tool presented itself at the perfect time.
Please note that you are heating a material to between 180-200’ celsius which is extremely
hot and can potentially be harmful, please be careful and have all of your equipment ready
and accessible when working with it. Have heat proof surfaces ready to use.
First Step is to place the oven in a safe place and to turn it on, you can use your kitchen
oven but bear in mind that the acrylic will leach some toxic fumes so a small cheap oven
specifically to heat acrylic is a better option.
Make sure you get an oven that has both a top and bottom element as you want an even
distribution of heat in the space, so make sure to set it with both elements on and to a
temperature setting of 180’ for 3mm acrylic and 200-220’ for 5mm acrylic.
If you are using 3mm acrylic then a temp of 180 is perfect, for 5mm you want a little hotter
internal temp for the extra thickness but you will also need to heat it a little longer.
Once your oven is up to temp it is time to darn your gloves and get your tools ready as
things are going to go down fast!
Before throwing your piece of acrylic to be bent in the oven make sure to peel the protective
layers on both sides, you will regret having to remove melted plastic from your new non stick
surface.
Jewellery sized pieces will take between 30-60 seconds to heat up enough to bend and
shape, larger pieces or thicker pieces will take a little longer but not much more.
I tend to check the acrylic at regular intervals because we are really talking about zones of
malleability which also require the careful consideration of how much bending needs to be
done.
What I mean by this is the hotter the acrylic is the more malleable and longer it will remain in
that heated state of malleability, therefore you can work with it longer but that also means
that it will bounce back to flat sheet whereas a not so heated piece will hold the bent shape
far more than the really hot piece, make sense?
Once the piece of acrylic is heated to your desired temp/malleability take it out and shape it,
be this with a spoon for curved and concave surfaces or across a mold of your choosing.
At this point what you need to look out for is burnt fingers holding the piece in position for the
10-20 seconds before it will cool enough to hold it’s shape or that it is in the right shape.
Once the acrylic has cooled and held the shape you can then remove it from the mold and
simply place it aside to cool completely.
That in a nutshell are all of the steps required to bend the acrylic, it’s a lot easier to do than
you may think.
Miscellaneous :
There are a few other things to consider when heating acrylic and I will
try to cover those now.
I found out when making the Orchids that if I did not leave the paint in my petal details to dry
for at least 3 days then that paint, deep down below the surface which still is not dry will
bubble up and spoil the surface once it has been sitting heating up in the oven.
This will often spoil the piece completely so must be considered.
Other things to consider is that it is actually very hard to damage the acrylic by heat, of
course leaving it in the oven for much longer than is necessary will eventually break it down
but for the most part the acrylic becomes quite rubbery however those very glossy surfaces
are very prone to taking on the most subtle of imperfections which is why I suggest using a
flat non stick tray to heat as opposed to a pizza stone.
I think that covers most things but I am sure people will have questions so if you want to ask
me something you can follow me on instagram
and I will be able to answer questions personally for you.

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