Still Under Construction 6-15-10
Plastics can be tough to machine as the heat from the cutter frequently melts and gums up the plastic. The general rule I keep hearing is to run your RPM slow and your feed fast (Half-Speed Twice-Feed). Another rule.. USE SHARP TOOLS! I have a special HSS lathe bit just for plastic.. and keep my carbide for metal. I'm told that if a cutter has ever touched metal it probably isn't sharp enough for plastic. I'm still learning, so take this as you will.
A Hint: Make sure to use caution and slower speeds, feeds & smaller cuts when spinning plastic bar-stock in a 3-Jaw chuck. Plastic deforms easily and can be pulled from the chuck. I prefer to spin plastic in a collet for a more secure hold.
Plastics for Machining
ABS: Relatively Cheap & Strong. Will work for most of the projects most people work on. Glues well to itself. Easy to machine. If you take it to production, it is also easy to mold. You can buy ABS pipe & glue at Home Depot. Another good glue can be made by dissolving ABS in Acetone (fingernail polish remover). I do this by mixing the Acetone and ABS together in an HDPE container with a snap-tight lid. Bigger chunks take a lot longer to dissolve than small shavings. After the ABS is dissolved, swath the resulting paste onto two pieces of ABS and lightly clamp them together. Caution: Acetone is highly flammable and has fumes, so keep it away from flame/heat and do this in a ventilated area. Use common sense and read the bottle for warnings. Google Search for more detailed instructions before trying this.
HDPE: Think about your kitchen cutting board... which is a good source of Polyethylene(HDPE & LDPE) if you need to make something quick. This is a tough material that can be bent and will spring back. Can be worked with woodworking tools. A gummy type material that isn't always the easiest to machine. Also difficult to bond to itself... or anything else. I am told that it screws together really well. Has good self-lubricating properties.
Polycarbonate: More expensive than ABS or HDPE. Used when you need something that will be really strong and tough. Used in bullet proof glass. While it is tougher than ABS, it is also less likely to deform under pressure... this means that it could shatter when ABS might just bend. Superglue works well with polycarbonate. Also known under the trade name Lexan.
Delrin: The most expensive plastic listed here. It is strong, but usually used for it's self lubricating properties when you need two parts to slide together. Does not glue together as well as ABS or Polycarbonate, but will bond a lot better than HDPE. Good for use in fixtures. I'm using it in a sliding latch right now.
Where To Buy Plastic