Plastic is plastic, right? That’s wrong, of course, and I’m guessing you knew that. Even so, a lot of us take for granted all of the different types of plastics used in RC and also often don’t fully understand how each is best used. If you’re thinking about buying some hop-ups or maybe doing some custom fabrication, you need to check out this guide and brush up on what’s what in the world of plastics.
ABS. ABS stands for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. That isn’t important, but what is worth knowing is that because of this mix of “ingredients,” ABS is considered fairly strong and durable. Well, at least it’s more durable than some other plastics. Tamiya uses ABS for its highly detailed hard plastic bodies. Because ABS is hard, it can be sanded, shaped and glued together. That also means it isn’t always a good choice for bodies that see a lot of action. So, good choice for a scaler, not so good for a truck you want to take to the skate park.
Delrin. Delrin is often used in RC rock crawling applications because of the slippery nature of the material. It makes excellent skid plates and can be used on suspension links if the span is short enough that the links don’t flex too much. Delrin is available in blocks of the material and can be found in molded rods. Delrin is also machined into parts such as spur gears by companies such as STRC since it is strong and self lubricating.
Kydex. Kydex is the brand and company name of a U.S. made material that is used in a variety of applications such as gun holsters and for rapid prototyping. Kydex is a hard, durable plastic and most often sold in sheets of different sizes and thickness and is great for custom products since it is inexpensive. Racers Edge sells the material directly and at a variety of outlets such as A Main Hobbies and Tower Hobbies. If you’re looking to try your hand at fabricating some parts, try Kydex as it is easy to cut and less messy and expensive than fiberglass or graphite sheets.
Lexan. In RC, clear Lexan (polycarbonate) is most commonly used for molded bodies. In addition to being “crystal” clear, Lexan is fairly flexible and can take a lot of abuse. It should be able to take a hit or two since it is used to make bulletproof glass. Lexan is actually the brand name for sheets of the material. Polycarbonate is also used for “hard parts.” Tamiya states polycarbonate-reinforced material is used for the main chassis in its trucks such as the Blackfoot III and Mud Blaster II.
Nylon. Nylon is one of the more popular materials used in RC. It is extremely durable. Companies like RPM and T-Bone Racing use nylon for hop-up parts such as bumpers, skid plates and more. RPM uses its proprietary blend of nylon on everything from the previously mentioned bumpers to shock towers to suspension arms and more. Rich Grafton of T-Bone racing explains that nylon becomes extremely flexible and durable when water is reintroduced into the material. He adds that their blending process includes boiling the nylon to re-hydrates the plastic. Companies such as Traxxas make their chassis and other components out of a fiber reinforced nylon composite.
Styrene. Styrene has been used by hobbyist modelers for years, but its use in RC has grown over the last few years due to the return and growth of the scale aspect of the hobby. Styrene isn’t exceptionally strong, but thin sheets are easy to cut and glue. Experienced hobbyists have created entire custom bodies out of styrene. Since it’s fairly inexpensive and easy to work with, it’s worth trying to see what you can create with some styrene.
Did You Know?
- These plastics are called thermoplastics which simply means they melt when hot enough and turn almost glass like when frozen. This explains why some plastics easily break when cold.
- The first synthetic plastic was invented in 1907 in the U.S. by Leo Hendrik Baekeland.
- The word plastic has its origins in Greek and means it can be shaped and molded.
Getting the Goods
Another source for all sorts of materials is McMaster-Carr. This large supplier has an extensive selection and some materials are sold at prices that make sense for hobbyists.
About the Author: Matt has over 25 years of experience in RC and has worked professionally in media for over a decade. Matt enjoys everything from racing to rock crawling to bashing, and he believes RC should be all about having fun. Matt is as at home covering a world championship in an exotic country as he is showing a new hobbyist how to set gear mesh. His desire to share the hobby with as many people as possible inspired him to create RC Truck Stop and RCTruckStop.com.