Polycarbonate sheeting can be cut with a basic pair of hand shears if the thickness of the sheet is less than 0.125 inches (1/8 of an inch). Thicker sheet material need to be cut with a mechanical saw. Straight cuts can be performed by using a circular saw while curved cuts are made using either a vertical band saw or a hand-held jigsaw. In all cases for mechanical cutting of the plastic sheet, a fine-toothed saw blade must be used or severe break out will happen along the plastic's cut edges.
Things You'll Need
2 pieces of wood, 2-inch by 4-inch (2×4), 8 feet long
Blue masking tape (if needed)
How to Cut a Polycarbonate Sheet
Step 1: Protect the Polycarbonate
Keep the polycarbonate sheet material's protective plastic cover intact. Don't remove the thin clear plastic from the sheet material until you're ready to install the sheet into place. The thin plastic will protect the sheet from mechanical damage that may occur during the cutting process.
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Step 2: Mark the Cuts
Use a black marker and tape measure to identify the cuts you want to make on the polycarbonate material. Make marks on both ends of the cut line. Lay the straight edge between the two marks. Draw a small black line to join the two end points.
Step 3: Prepare the Saw
Install a fine-toothed saw blade into the circular saw for making the straight line cuts. The blade should be in the range of 60 teeth to 80 teeth for a 7 1/4-inch-diameter blade. The saw speed must be approximately 3,400 RPM.
Step 4: Position the Polycarbonate Sheet
Lay the plastic sheet so it's well supported during the cutting process. Use two 2×4s to support the plastic sheet on either side of the cut if necessary.
Step 5: Make a Continuous Cut
Start the saw and cut into the sheet material. Don't stop the saw until the cut is finished. Allow the blade to perform the cutting; don't force the saw through the material or it may crack.
Step 6: Cut It With a Jig Saw
Use a jig saw to cut curves in the plastic sheeting. Install a non-ferrous metal-cutting blade into the saw with at least 10 teeth per inch of blade. Set the polycarbonate material on a cutting platform using 2x4s if needed. Adjust the saw speed to a medium speed and let it move slowly through the blade. Allow the blade to perform the cutting; don't force the saw through the material.
Step 7: Prepare a Band Saw
Adjust side table supports for the vertical band saw so the sheet material can ride on top of the support members. This is more critical for large pieces of material that can be a bit tough to handle on a small band saw table. Install a metal-cutting blade that has approximately 10 teeth per inch. Band saw blades come in various overall lengths, and adjusting saw speed for a feet-per-minute value may require consultation with the saw manufacturer's operational instructions.
Step 8: Cut the Polycarbonate Sheet
Move the material into the blade at a steady rate. Pushing the material too fast will cause the polycarbonate to prematurely heat up and melt. The melting plastic will clog the cutting teeth and may break the band saw blade.
If the protective thin plastic sheet cover is missing from the polycarbonate sheet, apply some blue masking tape to the surface of the clear sheet material. Position the tape so the saw's table will ride on the protective surface of the blue tape. This will keep the sheet protected from any mechanical scratches caused by the saw's cutting table.
Always wear safety protection whenever using any power tool. Follow the tool manufacturer's instructions for all operations.