How to Cut an Acrylic Lighting Panel

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Sometimes you might need to cut an acrylic lighting panel.
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If you have recessed fluorescent lighting in your kitchen or workshop, it's likely covered by an acrylic lighting panel that acts as a diffuser. Typically, these panels are less than 1/4-inch thick and dimpled on one side to better scatter the light. Some designer kitchens have an array of fluorescent lighting, arranged in a dome pattern and covered by Lumadome ceiling panels or some other brand.

Acrylic panels don't last forever, and when one or more turn cloudy, they're ready to be replaced. The panels, though, come in standard sizes, which may not fit your fixtures. This means you'll have to cut them down, which can be done in one of several ways.

Best Way to Cut Light Diffuser Panels

Plaskolite, an Ohio-based brand that manufactures acrylic and polycarbonate lighting panels, describes the recommended cutting procedure in a YouTube video. This method, which is similar to cutting glass, requires a plastic cutting tool or a sharp utility knife, a straightedge and a pair of C-clamps.

First start by laying the plastic, dimple side down, flat on a work table. Measure the cut line with a tape measure, making marks on both ends of the panel with a felt-tip marker. Then, move the panel to the edge of the table, with the cutoff hanging over. Place a straightedge on the marks and use C-clamps to clamp the straightedge to the table. Tighten the clamps enough to hold both the straightedge and the panel together.

Using a plastic cutter or utility knife, score along the straightedge several times until the score line extends halfway through the panel. Gently break the panel along the line, starting at one end and working your way to the other.

Cutting Translucent Panels

The score-and-break method is time-consuming if the panels are thick, or if you have to cut several of them. It also won't work for curved cuts.

As an alternative, you can use a power saw to cut acrylic plastic sheets. If you do, A&C Plastics Inc. recommends using a scroll saw for straight and curved cuts, because it generates less heat than other saws and reduces the risk of melting.

You can also use a table saw for cutting translucent panels, but you will need to make two retrofits to your tool. The first is to attach a flat strip of plywood to the fence to fill the gap between the bottom of the tool and the table, which will prevent the panel from going underneath the fence. The second would be to replace your utility blade with a laminate-cutting blade that has at least 80 teeth. Lay masking tape along the cut line and pause the cut if you see smoke, which indicates melting plastic, and resume when the plastic has cooled.

Other Methods to Cut Acrylic Panels

Thin lighting panels can chip in a table saw if you don't support them properly. To prevent this, you can cut them with a rotary tool, which is safer than a saw blade. Mark the cut line, clamp the panel to a work bench with the cutoff hanging over the edge, set the speed of the tool between 10,000 and 15,000 rpm and cut along the line.

If the only saw you have available is a circular saw, replace the blade with one that has at least 80 teeth, set the panel on a spare piece of plywood that you don't mind disfiguring and set the cutting depth of the saw to an 1/8 of an inch more than the thickness of the panel. Lay masking tape along the cut line, clamp the panel to the plywood and cut slowly, allowing the saw to bite into the plywood as it cuts.

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Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.

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