When using acrylic for projects, it’s common for customers to need to cut their own acrylic sheets at home. Maybe they bought acrylic in the wrong size, the right size wasn’t available when they purchased the plastic, or they’re just trying to reuse and repurpose an acrylic sheet for a DIY project. There’s a lot of reasons to cut acrylic, but there are special considerations to be made before cutting acrylic.
It’s important to take the time to understand your options for cutting acrylic plastic to ensure that the process goes smoothly the first time. For example, if you are trying to glue acrylic together, it’s important to ensure all edges are cut perfectly straight. There’s also the potential of damaging the plastic if it’s cut improperly – and if an error is made when cutting an acrylic sheet, it’s a long, taxing process to correct the mistake.
Throughout this process, keep in mind that safety should always come first. Many acrylic cutting methods require safety glasses and air protection, and it’s recommended to work with the plastic in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in harmful vapors. Read on to understand how to cut plastic in an effective, safe way.
What’s the Easiest Way to Cut Acrylic Plastic?
While the recommended way to cut acrylic is with a high quality table saw, the simplest and most beginner-friendly way to cut acrylic is by using a scoring tool. However, keep in mind that you should only use this method on acrylic sheets that are 1/4th an inch thick or thinner.
First, mark the area you plan to cut with a permanent marker or grease pencil, or just use a ruler as a guide. Make sure this line is completely straight before you make your first scoring line. For best results, use plastic that’s paper masked or covered in a protective film – this will prevent any unintended chips or cuts in the acrylic.
Then, place the blade at the topmost portion of the acrylic, apply a moderate amount of pressure, and pull the blade towards you to create a deep scoring mark. Ideally, the scoring marks in the acrylic should be at least 1/8th of an inch deep, which usually requires a few passes. At this point, it’s optional to flip the acrylic around and reinforce the scoring marks you made on the other side of the acrylic.
Now, clamp your scored acrylic sheet securely to a table, with the scored area on the edge of the table. If you don’t have clamps, using one hand to secure the sheet to the table typically produces satisfactory results. Now, apply swift, even pressure. If you scored deeply enough, the acrylic will cleanly break. If the edges are too rough for your liking, try using a sanding block or fine sandpaper to smooth the plastic over. At this point, you will have a freshly cut sheet of acrylic.
You won’t need ear protection for this method, but be aware that running the blade along the plastic will create an uncomfortable sound. Eye protection isn’t critical here either, but it’s advisable since you will be working with a sharp blade, and small pieces of plastic could be launched when splitting the acrylic.
How Do I Cut Thick Acrylic Plastic?
To cut thicker sheets of acrylic, it’s best to use either a jigsaw or a table saw that’s outfitted with a special blade that’s designed specifically for cutting acrylic. This will allow you to cut cleanly the first time, and make the finishing process much more straightforward. If these blades aren’t available, a regular blade with a high tooth count will do the job – but it may cause jagged cuts or cracks.
When cutting acrylic using any power tool, it’s essential that you use both eye and ear protection. As well, ensure that you’re properly trained on how to use these tools to minimize the chance of injury.
Let’s take a closer look at the situations where you’d cut acrylic with a table saw or jigsaw.
Table saws are the most common method for cutting thick sheets of acrylic. If the operator of the table saw has cut wood or another material with it in the past, the cutting process will be rather straightforward. The best blade to use is a 10” plastic cutting saw blade – or, if you’re using a circular saw, use a 7 1/4″ plastic cutting saw blade.
First, mark the area or use a straight edge where you’d like to cut the plastic – this will help guide your saw in a straight line. Then, take painter’s tape and apply it along the sides of the lines to provide additional protection against cracks and chips when the cutting process begins. Before you cut, use foam insulation to reduce vibrations in the plastic sheet, which could cause cracks or rough edges.
Then, cut the plastic in a straight line at a steady, moderate pace. This is the best option not only for your personal safety, but also to prevent rough edges. Be careful not to cut too slowly, as this will grate at the plastic and potentially cause cracks and chips. If possible, use a guide to ensure that the line is perfectly straight – cutting freehand will increase your chances of error.
Jigsaws can cut thick sheets of plastic, but they’re primarily used to cut curves into plastic for applications like circular plexiglass windows. Be sure to use a fine-toothed blade, and preferably one that is designed to cut plastic.
Like the previously mentioned methods, first use a marker to draw the desired design onto the plastic. Then, line these design with painters tape to minimize cracking. Try to make sure that either side of the plastic is totally secured to the table – ideally using clamps, but thick wood or another heavy object will do the trick if needed. This is to reduce the chances of the plastic vibrating, which can cause imperfections and potential injury.
Next, position the jigsaw in the topmost area of the acrylic sheet – but take care to ensure you can comfortably reach the jigsaw. Then, pull the jigsaw towards your body, following the guidelines you marked earlier. If you get stuck at an odd angle, pull the jigsaw back out the way it came, and reorient the acrylic sheet. Then, resume cutting from a new angle.
Finding Professional, Cut-to-Size Acrylic Plastic
Cutting acrylic isn’t always the most straightforward process. There’s a lot of factors that go into choosing the right method, and there’s always a potential for errors that could ruin the acrylic – or even cause injury. For this reason, many users choose to purchase acrylic plastic that is already cut-to-size. By choosing to have your plastic cut-to-size before purchase, your acrylic can be professionally finished and will be cut with a high degree of accuracy.
If you’d like to take a look at the cut-to-size options that we offer here at Acme, take a look at our cut-to-size acrylic plastics page. Or, if you have questions about our processes, contact us today.
Still looking to cut acrylic at home, but wish you had a visual guide? Look no further – take a look at our video on acrylic cutting methods, featured below: