Acrylic sheets are easy to cut if you know what tools to use! I'll show you how to cut acrylic or Plexiglass three different ways for the best results!
Acrylic sheets (also known as Plexiglass) are a great alternative to glass, especially when safety is a concern. Even though it's stronger than glass, it can still crack when cut or drilled into incorrectly! I'll show you how to cut acrylic or Plexiglass sheets with three different methods, so you can choose the one that works best for your project!
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Uses for Acrylic Sheets
You can use acrylic or Plexiglass in place of glass for lots of DIY projects. Here are some examples . . .
I recently used a clear acrylic sheet to make this Lego bin for my son. The see-through sides make it easy for him to spot that elusive piece at the bottom. Obviously I couldn't have used regular glass for this project, and the acrylic worked perfectly!
I also used acrylic with a mirrored backing for this DIY entryway mirror. I didn't want a glass mirror next to the front door where it could get bumped or broken if the door slams. No seven years of bad luck in this house!
Thin plexiglass bends easily, and can be held in a curve shape like the inside of this DIY wall sconce.
Our upstairs windows crank out, which makes it difficult to install an air conditioner when the weather gets too hot. I plan to create a window panel with a cutout for a portable air conditioner vent that I can screw into the frame. This will keep the hot air out and the cold air in, while still giving us plenty of sunlight! Stay tuned for a tutorial this summer!
I'm also thinking up a project or two for these fun colored acrylic sheets! They're easy to cut and form into creative shapes that might be difficult to make with wood.
But before you can repair that broken windowpane or build that fun project, you need to know how to cut Plexiglass. Here's what you'll need!
Materials Needed to Cut Acrylic or Plexiglass Sheets
- Acrylic sheet larger than the size of your project
- Use a plastic/laminate scorer to cut acrylic by hand
- Use acrylic jigsaw blades to cut acrylic with a jigsaw
- Use a 10" plastic cutting saw blade to cut acrylic on a miter saw or table saw
- Use a 7 ¼" plastic cutting saw blade to cut acrylic with a circular saw
- Use an O flute up spiral plastic cutting bit to cut acrylic with a router
- Use acrylic point drill bits to drill holes in acrylic
- Straight edge
- Painter's tape
How to Cut Acrylic by Hand
Cutting acrylic by hand is the easiest way to go for a beginner who isn't familiar with power tools. All you need is a thin acrylic sheet, a straight edge that is longer than your cut, clamps and a scoring knife.
Clamp Down the Straight Edge on the Cut Line
Plexiglass can scratch easily, which is why it's sold with a protective film on the surface. Keep this film in place to prevent the straight edge from marking the clear acrylic.
Lay your acrylic sheet on a flat work surface, and mark the line to be cut. Then arrange the straight edge so it's just slightly on the line and clamp it to the work surface.
Check to see where the blade of your scoring tool will land when you run it against the side of the straight edge. The edge of the blade should hit the line exactly. If not, adjust the straight edge until it does. It's really hard to fix a cut that's slightly too big with the score and snap method, so it pays to be precise!
Score the Cut Line
Make 5-10 scratches with the scoring knife along the straight edge, until you've cut about halfway through the thickness of the plexiglass. Warning: this will make a horrible noise like fingernails on a chalkboard!
Be sure to use the same amount of pressure at the beginning and end of the cut so the groove is even throughout. Otherwise, you could get an uneven break and ruin the acrylic!
Snap the Acrylic at the Cut Line
Take the acrylic out of the clamps. Rotate the piece so that the cut line is on the edge of the work surface.
Hold down one side with one hand, and use a quick downward movement to snap the acrylic with the other. It should break cleanly along the cut line.
Sand the Cut Line
How to Cut Acrylic with a Jigsaw
Unfortunately, if you want to cut curves in acrylic, you can't use the score and snap method. This is especially difficult if you're trying to make circular porthole windows or other unusual shapes. In these cases, you'll have to use a jigsaw with a special acrylic blade.
The key to cutting acrylic with a jigsaw is to keep the speed low. If you cut too fast, the acrylic will melt from the heat the friction creates, and your project will be a mess! Apply a strip of painter's tape to the cut line to prevent cracking.
For the best results, you'll want to support both sides of the cut line to reduce vibrations. Two scraps of 2x4 lumber work great for this. Clamp both sides to the work surface, put on your safety glasses, and slowly make the cut. Then sand down the cut edge to remove any sharp or uneven areas.
How to Cut Acrylic with a Circular Saw
If you're cutting a straight line on thicker acrylic, you might not get a clean break using the score and snap method. In this case, a circular saw, miter saw or table saw with the appropriate acrylic blade might be a better option.
Cutting acrylic on the table saw or miter saw is the same as cutting wood, so long as you use the correct blade. Just switch out the blade as directed in your saw's owner's manual before making the cut. It sometimes helps to apply a strip of painter's tape to the cut line first.
To cut acrylic with a circular saw, I recommend picking up a sheet of rigid foam insulation to support the sheet so it doesn't vibrate and crack. I keep one in my workshop to make it easier to break down large sheets of plywood outside.
Place the acrylic sheet on top of the rigid foam insulation, and mark the line to be cut. Install a 7 ¼" plastic cutting saw blade in the circular saw. I recommend using a circular saw jig, or a circular saw guide to keep your cuts straight and to prevent the blade from wandering.
Drilling Holes in Acrylic
Acrylic may be stronger than regular glass, but it's still brittle! Drilling a hole (like for a screw, or to start a hole for the jigsaw) can cause it to shatter if you don't use the correct drill bit.
Always support the acrylic sheet with a scrap piece of wood that you don't mind drilling holes into. Insert an acrylic point drill bit into the chuck of the drill and set it to a medium speed.
Clamp or hold down the acrylic while you drill the hole. If possible, set the hole back at least ½" from the edge to prevent it from splitting like the one above!
I hope this post was helpful! Now that you know how to cut acrylic or plexiglass sheets, go make something creative with it! If you do, tag me on Facebook or Instagram so I can check it out and share it!
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