How to Cut UHMW

UHMW (ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene) has all the characteristics of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), but it’s also resistant to concentrated acids, alkalis, and numerous organic solvents.  The durable material is also resistant to abrasion, impact, and corrosion, while remaining lightweight.

With all of this in mind, UHMW is often used to create food service cabinetry, docks, boom trucks and outrigger pads, guard rails, high-speed conveyors, bumpers, pile guards, and dock fenders.

Once you figure out what you will be using the material for, you’ll need to know how to cut UHMW. We’ve got you’ve covered with a tutorial on all of the different methods you can use. But first, a crash course in safety. Before you begin make sure you have:

  • Goggles
  • Dust mask
  • Cut-resistant gloves
  • Clamps to prevent the material from moving during cutting.
  • Coolant: Remember that UHMW is a plastic and if it’s exposed to too much heat, it can melt. So if you’re using a power saw, use a coolant like water or cutting wax to reduce heat and friction. This will also help you to achieve smoother cuts.

Ways to Cut UHMW

Before you figure out how to cut UHMW, you need to decide what tools you’ll be using. Here are some ways to cut UHMW:

Circular or band saw: You can use either when figuring out how to cut UHMW, but a band saw might be your best option since it will vent heat away from the plastic, which can melt if overheated. Opt for band saw blades 10-30mm wide and about 1-2mm thick with a circular pitch between 3 and 10mm.

Drilling: If you want to drill UHMW, be sure to go with lower RPM drilling, unless air, water, or cooling oils are used to keep plastic cool.

Welding:  Friction and butt welding are the only methods for UHMW.

Machining: UHMW can be sawed, turned, planed, milled drilled, stamped, and welded easily on woodworking or metalworking machines. The optimum cutting speed is between 250 and 1,000 m/min. If going with a higher cutting speed, use water cooling to prevent the plastic from melting.

Please note that bonding is not recommended for UHMW.

How to cut UHMW with a saw

Here’s some guidance on how to cut your UHMW plastic with a saw.

Measure: Use a tape measure or ruler to measure your sheet and mark the cutting lines with a pencil or marker.

Secure:  Place the sheet on a stable work surface and secure it using clamps or a vice.

Select Your Tool: As we explained, there are several different tools you can choose to cut UHMW, including:

  • A circular or table saw for straight cuts.
  • A jigsaw for curved cuts.
  • A router for shaping and trimming.

Cut:  How you cut UHMW will depend on which tool you use 

For a circular or table saw, adjust the blade depth so that it exceeds the thickness of the plastic sheet a bit. Then carefully feed the plastic sheet into the blade along the marked cutting line, applying gentle, consistent pressure.

For a jigsaw, install a fine-toothed blade and keep it moving steadily.

For a router, use a carbide-tipped bit for plastics and then guide the router with even pressure.

Smooth: Use sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges.