The Best Way to Cut Plexiglass

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It can spark creativity, protect you and your belongings from the elements and otherwise provide an inexpensive alternative to its more delicate counterpart. Plexiglass is a relatively easy material with which to work for household projects, from window replacement to creative craft activities.

The Best Way to Cut Plexiglass
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Whether you are creating a plexiglass craft such as an end table or clear table tray or installing a skylight that will endure harsh weather conditions, cutting plexiglass can be tricky. There are a few tips and tricks to have in place before cutting an acrylic sheet.

Safety First and Last

Easier to cut than glass or wood, plexiglass still requires some safety measures before you begin to cut the sturdy sheets. Plexiglass may appear dull, but the edges can get sharp, particularly if they are freshly cut. A good pair of gloves worn while you are working on shaping an acrylic sheet can keep your fingers from getting nicked or gouged.

Plexiglass gives off tiny shards of hard plastic when it is cut. When you use a table saw, those bits can fly up and into your face rather quickly. Wear safety glasses while working with plexiglass from start to finish so you don't carelessly get a piece in your eye.

Gloves, goggles and closed-toed boots will ensure you can walk away from a fairly simple plexiglass project without needing medical attention later.

What Is Plexiglass?

Compared to tempered glass, plexiglass can hold up to harsher weather conditions and is significantly more shatter resistant, easier to install, much less expensive and safer overall. It offers the same look as glass while allowing 90 percent of natural light to shine through and brighten up a room.

When first researching about using this plastic material, it can be confusing. Which is better: plexiglass or an acrylic sheet? The difference in how they perform or how to cut them is nil because they are actually the same thing.

The rigid acrylic sheets are often used in place of glass in homes or furniture, such as outdoor tabletops, serving trays, chairs and birdhouses. It is inexpensive and shatter resistant, making it ideal for things that need to stand up to extreme temperatures or outdoor conditions.

Uses for Plexiglass

Plexiglass is increasing in popularity for many household projects. The inexpensive material is easier to work with than glass where natural light is preferred or needed. For weekend warriors, it is easy to cut and handle and can make quick work of completing an otherwise difficult project.

Acrylic sheets also come in a wide variety of colors and fluorescent shades for creative projects. The nonglare variety cuts down on reflections from windows that can irritate close neighbors or guests to backyard barbecues. A frosted variety of acrylic sheet works well for privacy, such as bathroom windows.

Plexiglass is ideal for use in a number of items, including:

  • Skylights
  • Residential windows
  • Tables
  • Trays
  • Solar panels
  • Benches and stools
  • Picture frames

How to Hire an Expert

If you are in any way unsure about working with this product, then you should hire an expert.

To hire an expert, do your homework. An expert has at least a few years of experience working with and installing the material. They should also be equipped with the right tools for the job.

Check with the local contractor's board that the expert that you plan to hire is licensed and ready to go to work. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source to use when looking to hire a respected contractor.

How to Restore Marred Plexiglass

Plexiglass does have one downfall. It scratches rather easily. Once a scratch has made its way across the otherwise pristine surface of the acrylic sheet, the view will be obscured or the surface forever marred.

If a gouge or scratch has occurred on the surface of the plexiglass, it can be buffed out with a gentle sander. This method, unfortunately, will leave a cloudy mark where the imperfection was located. Fortunately, plexiglass is fairly inexpensive and very easy to replace depending on its location.

The protective paper on the plexiglass is there to keep the surface from getting marred while it waits to be put in place. Leave the protective paper on during cutting and installation to keep it as pristine as possible.

How to Cut Plexiglass

To cut plexiglass by hand, you will need a clean, flat work area. Before you begin, have a scoring tool, box cutter or plexiglass cutting tool and a measuring tape or ruler. If the plexiglass is less than an inch thick but the scoring tool is not cutting it, you can use a hand saw for cutting an acrylic sheet that is resistant.

  1. Lay the plexiglass on the work table and mark where you plan to cut the piece. Use a measuring tape or ruler to ensure that the lines are straight before cutting the acrylic sheet.

  2. Score the plexiglass along the lines you've marked. Go over them at least a half dozen times or until the lines are deep into the acrylic sheet.

  3. Move the piece to the end of the work table and neatly but firmly apply pressure to break the piece along the scored lines. Bumps and rough areas can be smoothed down with a hand or power sander with dry, 220-grit sandpaper.

Best Blades for Cutting Plexiglass

Experts agree that the best plexiglass cutting tool depends on the thickness of the acrylic sheet that you are cutting. Use the incorrect cutting tool, and you can ruin the acrylic sheet. Thin sheets of plexiglass should be scored and hand cut. However, thick sheets of plexiglass are best cut using an electric saw.

For thicker sheets of plexiglass, you should follow the above instructions but use a table, circular or saber saw. If cutting plexiglass with a table saw, make sure you have a blade that works with acrylic. Otherwise, you may crack or chip the thick sheet of acrylic.

The best blades for plexiglass are carbide tipped. These no-melt saw blades have a design that will make a smooth edge without melting the acrylic sheet. Blades that aren't designed for acrylic sheeting, particularly thick sheets, can cause chips in the acrylic as the blade heats up while eating through the dense material.

Cutting Plexiglass With a Table Saw

When cutting an acrylic sheet, there are a number of power tools from which to choose to get the job done quickly and cleanly. A hand-held jig saw can be used on thinner pieces of plexiglass. If you are working with a table saw, you should follow a few steps to ensure you get a clean cut the first time.

  1. Before you begin, measure and mark where you plan to cut the acrylic sheet. Make your marks on top of the paper. The longer you can leave the paper on the surface of the plexiglass, the less chance you have of scratching the delicate surface.

  2. Clamp the plexiglass to your work bench or table with the edge that you plan to cut hanging well off the edge of the flat, clean surface. Don't be stingy on using the clamps. The more secure the acrylic sheet, the less chance you have of inadvertently bumping it during cutting and making a big mistake.
    3. Line up the metal plate attached to the saw and hold the guide plate against the flat surface of the acrylic sheet. Hold the trigger down and begin.

  3. Take it slow and at a low speed when you are first starting out. If the blade feels as if it is pulling away from the line, slowly let up on the trigger. Reassess your place and start the trigger again when you are confident the blade will follow the marks you made.
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Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.

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