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Plexiglass is a cheaper and more durable alternative to glass. It is made from stiff transparent plastic material known as acrylic. Because of its excellent optical clarity and the fact that it is shatterproof, plexiglass serves as the best alternative to glass. Recently, this new ‘glass’ has found many uses especially in the office space and institutions as a barrier or divider for tables and desks or as classroom divider. In light of the pandemic, plexiglass is also being used to make sneeze guards and face shield.
As a dealer in plexiglass, cutting it to length cleanly is one of the jobs you have to master. To that end, I will share with you in this post how to cut plexiglass with a table saw, jigsaw or circular saw without causing damage. If you follow any of these methods, you will become an expert in cutting plexiglass without cracking or chipping.
Plexiglass Cutting with Power Tools
Method 1: Cutting plexiglass with a table saw
When it comes to cutting sheet goods, one of the tools that come to mind, especially in the workshop, is a table saw. It is the most coveted tool by anyone working in a workshop. To cut plexiglass sheets cleanly with your table saw you need to follow these steps:
1. Install a proper cutting blade for plexiglass.
The best table saw blade for cutting plexiglass should be the largest diameter possible with at least 60 carbide-teeth-per-inch (60 TPI). Also, the teeth should be very sharp to prevent splintering and rough cuts. Here is how to sharpen your circular saw blade if yours is blunt or does not cut cleanly.
2. Get a crosscut sled.
A crosscut sled is one of the most important table saw jigs. It provides zero clearance and support to your workpiece during the cut so that it doesn’t come into contact with the table saw table. As a result, this keeps the work piece stationary during the cut hence preventing scratching. A crosscut sled also lets you use a stop block to prevent the workpiece from shifting. In short, a crosscut sled makes cutting with a table saw a lot more accurate, cleaner, and safer. To learn more about a crosscut sled and other table saw jigs check out this article.
3. Clamp the stop block onto the fence of the crosscut sled.
A stop block is a fantastic feature of a crosscut sled that facilitates making repeatable cuts. To install it, measure the length of the plexiglass you want to cut from the blade slot on the sled and place a stop block. This lets you cut without measuring every time. A stop block also keeps your workpiece from shifting as you cut.
4. Measure and cut sacrificial plywood of the same size as your plexiglass.
The purpose of the plywood is to support your workpiece to prevent tear outs or fluttering. It also eliminates direct contact of the workpiece with a push block which may cause scratches on the surface.
5. Align the plywood with plexiglass
Align the plywood with plexiglass workpiece and place it on the table sled ready for cutting. Use the stop block to align the sacrificial plywood and with the workpiece. All the other edges will align.
6. Press both the plywood and plexiglass onto the sled using a push block.
A push block is another important table saw safety accessory. You use it to hold down your workpiece while keeping your hands safe. So, use the push block to press down the plywood and workpiece onto the base of the crosscut sled to prevent any movement during the cut.
7. Push the table sled to cut partway into the workpiece.
While one hand holds down the workpiece using a push block, use the other to push the crosscut sled to begin cutting. Cut partway into the workpiece and pull it back.
8. Flip the workpiece over and cut all through.
After cutting a couple of inches on one side, flip the workpiece so that the cut edge is against the fence of the sled. Now, begin the cut on the other side and cut all through the partial cut. This should produce a very clean cut without chipping on the corners.
Cutting plexiglass with a table saw is very effective if you have the necessary table saw accessories. However, this method is perfect for small to medium-sized workpieces and only makes straight cuts.
Method 2: Cutting plexiglass with a jig saw
Another method for cutting plexiglass material is using a jigsaw. A jigsaw is a portable versatile tool for cutting straight lines, shapes, and curves in different materials including wood, drywall, metal, fiberglass, plastic, and acrylic. To use this tool to make clean cuts in plexiglass, follow these steps.
1. Measure the length you want to cut on the plexiglass and mark
Use a tape measure and a pen to measure and mark the length you want to cut on both edges of the plexiglass.
Attach a masking tape over the marks from one edge to the other. Ensures the marks are centered on the masking tape
2. Measure the length again and mark a line.
This time round, mark the cut line over the masking tape. Use a sharp pen to mark the cut line.
3. Install a metal blade onto the jig saw tool.
The metal blade needs to have a large number of teeth per inch for the cut to be smooth. A metal blade of 21 TPI should be good enough. Alternatively, you can use a specialty plexiglass cutting jigsaw blade. However, the special blade is hard to get and costs more than a metal blade for the same quality of cut.
4. Turn on the jigsaw and begin cutting.
Power the tool and begin cutting the plexiglass to length from one end and cut all through. Push the jigsaw gently through the cut line to make a clean cut.
Method 3: Cutting plexiglass with circular saw
Using a circular saw is the third method for cutting plexiglass sheets. This method is perfect for large sheets that cannot fit on a table saw. A circular saw works very much like a jigsaw in that you pass it through a stationary workpiece instead of feeding the workpiece as you do with the table saw. This saw also requires minimal preparations. Follow these simple steps to learn how to cut your plexiglass sheet to length with a circular saw tool.
1. Install a crosscut blade with high TPI on the circular saw.
As with the table saw, a circular saw also needs a sharp crosscut blade with a diameter as large as possible and at least 60 teeth per inch. That will produce a smooth cut that will require minimal finishing works.
2. Place the plexiglass on top of a Styrofoam board.
If you are cutting a large sheet of plexiglass, place it on the ground on top of a Styrofoam building insulation board. Styrofoam provides good support to your workpiece for clean splinter-free cuts. If you are dealing with a small piece, you can use a work bench. Just clamp it down on the worktop one side for stability and support the offcut side with you hand or another bench to prevent breaking. However, don’t clamp on both sides as this may result in kickback and binding on the saw blade.
3. Mark the plexiglass and score on both sides
Measure and mark where you want to cut the plexiglass. Use a sharp utility knife to score both sides of the cut line. This helps to prevent splintering.
4. Set the cutting depth of your circular saw and start cutting.
Set the blade depth and align it with the cut line then begin cutting. Use the saw at a slower speed and spray over the cut with cold water to cool the material. Keep your eye on the saw blade and the cut line to ensure a straight cut all through.