Characteristics of Recycled Plastic Lumber
The goal during recycled plastic lumber production is to mimic wood as closely as possible from a functional perspective. Unlike wood, the material doesn’t shrink during a curing/drying process. With wood, curing causes pieces to compress, which is why a 2×4 board is typically 1.5”x3.5” on its sides. In order to replace wood in an installation, both molded and extruded plastic lumber are shaped to the size of wood lumber post-curing.
In addition to being uniform in color throughout each piece, the surface of recycled plastic lumber is minimally porous, and resists discoloration, mold/mildew and graffiti. For this reason, it is not ideal to paint plastic lumber; it should always be ordered in the intended color/wood-grain pattern for your project.
However, because it mirrors its wood counterpart so well, the same tools and craft techniques can be used to work plastic lumber into specific shapes or decorative elements. In some ways, it is actually easier to work, since it doesn’t have a grain and won’t crack or splinter. At the same time, certain techniques are off-limits, such as staining or burning/etching. For instance, to emboss recycled plastic, you would need to a Dremel or similar tool and epoxy filler to create a pattern, rather than a heat gun or wood-burning kit.