Plexiglass or acrylic sheets

Best Way to Cut Plexiglass Using Hand Tools

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Plexiglass is a transparent petroleum-based thermoplastic manufactured in sheets. It is a solid and rigid material with higher impact strength than glass. It is also known as acrylic. This material is mainly preferred because of its durability and lightweight. Due to its nature, you must choose the best way to cut Plexiglass when you want to break it into desired pieces.

Plexiglass is a durable material used in projects such as tabletops, picture frames, or as a substitute for glass. One will need the right tools, correct measurements, and precautions to get suitable shapes.

How to Cut Acrylic Plexiglass

Acrylic or Plexiglass are usually made in sheets, and customers may want to make desirable pieces out of these sheets in terms of sizes and shapes. You may want to cut your pieces at home using the hand tools for the do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. It is important to understand the process of cutting Plexiglass to avoid errors that could cause damage to your sheet.

For the process to be smooth, understand your tools and choose the right ones for an effective and safe cut. Throughout the cutting process, safety should be your priority. Put on your protective glasses and take precautions while handling the cutting blades.

There are three main hand cutting tools for Plexiglass: utility knife, circular saw, jigsaw blade. Thin sheets of Plexiglass can be cut and shaped with a utility knife or scoring tool, while thick sheets need a circular saw or jigsaw.

1. How to Cut Plexiglass using Utility Knife

Milwaukee fastback foliding utility knife

image credit: piphardware.com

This method is used to cut relatively thin sheets of Plexiglass. Tools needed in this method are a yardstick, a permanent marker, and a utility knife.

Step 1: Measure and Mark

Lay the plexiglass sheet flat on your work surface. The work surface should be clean and clear to avoid potential marks or damages on the sheet. It should also be stable so it doesn’t wobble in the process. With the sheet laid on a flat surface, use the yardstick or measurement ruler and the marker to measure and draw the cut line.

Best guideline to cut acrylic sheet

image credit: uvacrylic.com

Exert firm pressure and run the utility knife on the sheet guiding it by the yardstick across the cut line you made. This process is done to score the plexiglass sheet, and you can repeat it as many times as possible to make an accurate, even, and deep line cut.

Step 2: Flip The Sheet Over and Score

How to Cut Plexiglass

image credit: bobvilla.com

You need to be careful while flipping the sheet to avoid bending or wrapping before you are ready to snap the Plexiglass. After overturning the Plexiglass, run your utility knife along the same line as you did the other side continuously to score the sheet until you form a deep groove.

Step 3: Snap The Plexiglass

When you are done scoring the sheet and have made a deep groove, move the sheet to a position that will make it easy to snap; that is, the cut portion should hang over the edge. Use a clamp to attach part of the sheet you are not cutting and the surface you are working on so that the sheet doesn’t move.

Applying a sharp downward pressure, break off the cut piece, and if it doesn’t fully break, use the utility knife to cut along the channel, then break it off. And just like that, you have your desired plexiglass piece.

2. How to Cut Plexiglass Using a Circular Saw Blade

How to Cut Plexiglass Using a Circular Saw

image credit: protoolguide.com

A circular saw is always suitable for thicker acrylic sheets. When cutting plexiglass sheets, you need to choose the right blade for the job. A metal cutting blade with carbide-tipped teeth, evenly spaced with no rakes, and uniform height and shape is always the best option.

Step 1: Measure and Mark

Just as you use a utility knife method, use the yardstick and marker to make a line for the cut. The line should be straight and even; therefore, in case of any mistake, rub the whole mark and redo it. Keep the sheet flat and secure as you cut through it by placing it on a sawhorse. After that, put the cutting guide of the saw on the mark you made on the sheet.

Step 2. Cutting

Before the blade makes contact with the sheet, ensure it is rotating at full speed. This will enable you to make a smooth and even cut. Then slowly push the blade through the Plexiglass using the cutting guide and straight line to guide the saw through the sheet.

Push the cutting tool steadily and consistently to prevent the saw from jamming. Ensure you put the sheet on a level surface to avoid the cut piece from falling. You can as well use a clamp to stabilize the Plexiglass.

3. How to Use a Jigsaw Blade to Cut Plexiglass

How to Cut Plexiglass with Jigsaw

image credit: isawguide.com

Jigsaw can make straight and rounded cuts on the Plexiglass and is mainly used to cut thick sheets. In this method, you will need clamps, a suitable jigsaw blade depending on your speed, a yardstick, and a marker. You might also need a protector for your eyes while in the process to avoid flying tiny particles from getting into your eyes.

Step 1: Place the Acrylic Sheet Flat on a Workbench

Use as many clamps as possible to hold the plexiglass sheet into place. These clamps will control vibration and chattering and keep the sheet steady to avoid wobbling.

Step 2: Measure and Mark

Remark line on the acrylic sheet to cut

image credit: protoolguide.com

Using the yardstick and a marker, make the measurement you need from the plexiglass sheet. Marking will give you a guide to follow when cutting the Plexiglass, especially when you need circular or irregular shapes.

Step 3: Put on the Protective Glass

Safety goggles

image credit: safetynotes.net

Cutting a sheet of Plexiglass can cause tiny particles to fly in the air, and these particles could damage your eye if they get into contact with them. The glass should fit securely on your head to avoid falling off while sawing. Put them on before you begin sawing.

Step 4: Position the Blade

Choose the right blade for the jigsaw and set the speed. More teeth on edge make it run slow, but speed doesn’t affect the cut. For circular and irregular shapes, you need to drill holes on the sheet fitting the jigsaw blade at the sharp corners; this helps the jigsaw to make turns when cutting those corners.

Starting point for jigsaw on acrylic sheet

image credit: bettertoolz.com

Position the saw blade at the end of the cutting line aligning it with the mark you made on your sheet.

Step 5: Cutting

Before starting the jigsaw, ensure it is not touching the material and that the shoe fits flat on your workpiece surface. Start the jigsaw and set it to the suitable speed you want. Make sure it’s up to speed before gently pushing it into the plexiglass sheet.

Best guideline to cut acrylic sheet

image credit: uvacrylic.com

With steady pressure, slowly push the jigsaw to cut through the sheet following your guiding marks. Slow down when taking turns for circular and irregular shapes to avoid making mistakes.

Don’t let the blade heat up too much. Use coolants such as water or oil and slow down whenever the heat builds up. Continue pushing through the sheet following your guidelines keeping the blade cooled down. While approaching the end of your cut, slow down carefully and maintain a straight line.

How to Cut Plexiglass by Hand

This method is usually the easiest and cheapest because it doesn’t require any power tool. It works best for a not too big thin layer of acrylic sheet. According to WikiHow, the simplest way of cutting Plexiglass by hand is to score and snap. The following instructions will guide you through cutting Plexiglass by hand.

Step 1: Place the Acrylic Sheet on a Flat Work Surface

The flat surface enables you to make an accurate mark and prevent the sheets from falling off because you can balance them.

Step 2: Measure and Mark

To make straight cuts, use a yardstick or ruler and a marker to mark where you want to cut the sheet. It is advisable to use a dry-erase marker that you can easily erase if you’ve made an error or want to make adjustments.

Step 3: Scoring

Run along the straight lines you’ve made on the sheets using a glass cutter. To make deep cuts, continue scoring the plexiglass sheet carefully as many times as 5 to 10 times.

To ease the snapping, you should flip the sheet and score the other side of the sheet too to make deep cuts as well.

Step 4: Snapping

How to Cut Acrylic Glass-Snapping

image credit: thehandymansdaughter.com

Once you are done scoring, move the scored part of the sheet to the edge of the work surface and let it hang. Slowly and steadily apply downward pressure on the cut section with your other hand holding the unscored part on the working surface. Apply the pressure continuously until it breaks off along the cutting line.

Factors to Consider when Cutting Plexiglass

Given the sturdy nature of Plexiglass, cutting it at times would require specialized tools, but the right household tools can also be used to cut thin Plexiglass. Here are some of the things you would consider when cutting a plexiglass.

1. Thickness

Clear acrylic sheet

image credit: shopee.ph

The width of the Plexiglass will determine the method you use to cut the Plexiglass. Thick slabs are handled by scoring using a circular saw and jigsaw blade, the intermediate thickness can be dealt with using a scroll saw, and the utility knife or rotary tool is preferred for a thin layer.

2. Scoring

Thick layers of Plexiglass are cut simply by scoring. With the desired marks made on the Plexiglass, for thicker sheets, you will have to groove the piece as many times as 10 to 12 times or more to make deeper cuts.

3. Sawing

This process is suitable for Plexiglass with a medium thickness. Any power saw is appropriate, provided you choose the right blade and control the heat to ensure the cut piece has a straight edge.

4.Cutting

Thin Plexiglass is too vulnerable to melting and is very flexible. This type of Plexiglass will require handheld rotary tools to cut, not power tools. Just as in scoring, position the plexiglass sheet with the piece you want to cut hanging at the edge of the working surface, cut the portion, and let it fall from the rest, landing on a soft surface to avoid breaking.

How to Polish and Buff Cut Edge

Edges of a plexiglass

image credit: bcae1.com

Whichever method you use to cut the Plexiglass, the cut-out piece will come out rough, requiring some polishing and smoothing. You’ll need various quantities of sandpaper for wet sanding of about 120 to 600 grit, a wood sanding block, a power drill with a buffing pad attachment, and a polishing compound.

Start the process with wet sandpaper of about 120 grits together with wood or a rubber sanding block. As the edges get smoother, keep working your way up through the grit levels until you reach 600 grit, providing the pleasing appearance of the plexiglass edge.

Polishing plexiglass header

image credit: plasticsheetsshop.co.uk

The next stage is buffing. Add the buffing attachment to the drill and outfit it with the polishing compound. Buff your plexiglass edge to a perfect polish.

How to avoid cracking or breaking plexiglass while cutting

Acrylic is durable but not unbreakable, and it can easily scratch. There are multiple tips to prevent cracking or breaking of this material while cutting.

  • Keep the plastic film on. This plastic film covering the Plexiglass protects it from scratching during transportation from the manufacturer. As you measure, mark and cut this material, the plastic film will prevent scratches from your tools and work surface.
  • Score deep. When using power tools to cut Plexiglass, score deeper on the mark, making it straight before you attempt to break off the piece.
  • Use the right blade. Choosing the right blade is not only for speed. A sharp blade is preferred to a dull blade because a dull side will cause a struggle against the material, making cracks, breaks, and rough edges.
  • Keep the blade cool. An overheated edge can cause the Plexiglass to crack or break during cutting. The plastic film can act as a lubricant but not for long. Use other lubricants such as soapy water or oil, and whenever your power tool overheats, turn it off to cool down, then continue with the cutting process.

Final thoughts

Cutting Plexiglass may seem like one hell of a job, depending on its thickness and durability. However, dealing with this interesting material could be effortless with the right tools and accurate methods. It also opens your mind to many do-it-yourself (DIY projects) possibilities you could explore in many other projects. Other devices, such as an electric drill, could also be handy.

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About the author

Jacky Chou

Jacky Chou is an electrical engineer turned marketer. He is the founder of Indexsy, Far & Away, Laurel & Wolf, a couple FBA businesses , and about 40 affiliate sites. He is a proud native of Vancouver, BC, who has been featured on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Oberlo and GoDaddy.