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 Plexiglass 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. This shatterproof substitute works great for picture frames too!
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. Some people use plywood to cover the opening, but it blocks out the natural light. You can use a Plexiglass sheet with a vent cutout instead for a casement window air conditioner!
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
Don't forget your safety gear! Here are my recommendations for safety glasses and ear protection.
How to Cut Plexiglass by Hand
Cutting Plexiglass by hand is the easiest way to go for a beginner who isn't familiar with power tools. This method only works with straight cuts. 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 plastic film or protective paper on the surface. Keep this film in place to prevent scratching the clear acrylic with the straight edge.
Lay your acrylic sheet on a flat 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 utility knife 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
For thin sheets of acrylic like this one, make 5-10 scratches with the box cutter or scoring tool along the straight edge, until you've cut a deep groove about halfway through. Make sure you stick to the same line, and use a sharp blade. On a thick sheet of Plexiglass, you'll have to cut more. Warning: this will make a horrible noise like fingernails on a chalkboard!
Be sure to use the same amount of pressure on the utility knife 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 sharp downward pressure to snap the acrylic with the other. It should break cleanly along the cut line.
Sand the Cut Edge
The cut line may be sharp after snapping the acrylic sheet. Use a rubber sanding block and progressively finer grits of sandpaper to create a smooth edge. Don't tip the sandpaper onto the surface, or you'll end up with a cloudy 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 overheated blade will melt the Plexiglass and your project will be a mess! Apply a strip of painter's tape to the cut line to prevent cracking. Learn how to use a jigsaw in this tutorial!
Mark your cut line with permanent marker on the plastic film covering the plexiglass sheet. Start the jigsaw blade before the material, and slowly enter as your marked line. If you're making a lot of cuts, let the blade cool between each one.
The video below shows you how to cut Plexiglass with a jigsaw in more detail.
For the best results, you may 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 sheets, 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. The blade should indicate that it's meant for cutting plastic or acrylic. Sometimes it 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 under the weight of the saw. 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.
I recommend using wood screws with a head that is flat underneath rather than tapered. This will secure the plexiglass to your project securely without accidentally forcing the bottom of the head into the hole and cracking the acrylic.
How to Polish Plexiglass
If you were a little too aggressive sanding the edge of your Plexiglass sheet, you can accidentally make it cloudy. Luckily, you can easily clear it up with a polishing compound formulated for acrylic. Some kits come with a series of progressively finer compounds that can be used with microfiber cloths or a buffing pad to bring back the shine.
I hope this post was helpful! Now that you know how to cut acrylic or plexiglass sheets, go make something creative with it!