One of the key benefits of acrylic Perspex in many practical and aesthetic applications - beyond its strength, impact resistance and incredible clarity - is how easy it is to work with. Acrylic sheets may be cut with standard workshop equipment including hand saws and power saws, and Perspex dowel or blocks may be machined using conventional high-speed milling machines with excellent results.
There are many plastic suppliers who can fabricate Perspex before delivering it, but the ease at which acrylic can be cut and polished makes it simple for even the uninitiated to finish the material to suit their needs. Of course the results achieved by sawing the material will never match the precision and clean edge of laser cut acrylic, but they will be more than adequate in most circumstances.
In this article we will explore how to cut acrylic Perspex, with some tips on how to fabricate this material at home.
It is possible to cut acrylic sheet by hand with a saw, although it is time consuming and will require extensive polishing to bring the transparency and shine back to the Perspex. Choose a saw with a high number of teeth per inch and take care to clamp the sheet firmly in place to reduce vibration and minimise chipping.
For better results, use a power saw such as a jigsaw with bevelled teeth on an orbital setting.
Score and Break
Thin plastic sheets – those less than ¼” (6.35mm) in thickness – do not require a power tool or saw to cut a straight edge and may be treated much in the same way as glass. Using a very sharp scoring tool, clamps, a table or workbench with a straight edge and a metal rule, it is possible to make a clean break in the sheet.
You need to score around 1/8th of the way through the material, so more than one pass will be required. The score will not be as deep at the start of the score as it will be at the end, so be sure to turn the material around to score in both directions. If possible, score from both sides of the sheet to make the snap easier and the break cleaner.
Once satisfied with the scoring, ensure that the sheet is clamped firmly with the edge of the table directly beneath the score. Apply downward pressure until the sheet snaps.
If only a handheld power tool is available, a jigsaw may be used with some care and preparation. Choose a blade with reduced depth and very sharp teeth, and take time to experiment with speed before making the final cut.
The advantage of using a jigsaw is the ability to cut shapes with rounded corners, however cutting too slowly can melt the acrylic and applying too much pressure can cause the edges to chip. Using lubricating oil can help prevent friction from building to a point where the acrylic begins to melt, but take care to avoid flammable lubricants or aerosols as these are a fire hazard.
If your jigsaw has different settings, experiment with them to gauge the results that they get. For example, a straight up-and-down motion may cause the plastic to melt back together after it is cut, but an orbital motion with the same blade will produce a clean edge.
If a curved edge or an unusual shape is what you require, a band saw is the best tool to use to cut acrylic. As a rough guide for best results, as the thickness of the Perspex sheet increases, the number of teeth per inch on the blade should decrease.
When cutting Perspex with a thickness greater than 0.472 inches, use ‘skip tooth’ or ‘buttress’ blades with very few teeth per inch. These blades are made specifically for use with softer materials and will retain their sharpness better, producing a clean and consistent edge which will require just a little polishing to restore the shine and transparency to the acrylic.
When cutting the acrylic sheet, place stiff-bristle brushes so they touch the tires which drive the blade. This will clear the build-up of sawdust which may cause the blade to run off course. If the Perspex is unmasked, prevent scratching by cushioning the sheet with cardboard, and run the saw slower if the material is thicker – this will prevent melting and warping of the plastic.
Inevitably, laser cutting acrylic with a computer graphic program and a CO2 laser cutting machine produces the cleanest and most accurate results. Access to such machines is generally reserved for commercial outfits and establishments that can afford such a piece of equipment, but many commercial plastic fabricators offer laser cutting services for the individual consumer.
Using a laser cutter is a simple enough process; a vector graphic is 'printed out' from a computer choosing the laser cutter as the printer. Within minutes the perfect copy of the graphic is cut out in acrylic with very clean, precision-cut edges.
Laser cutting allows for a great amount of creativity in cutting acrylic, including cut-outs and fine detail which cannot be achieved with any of the other methods listed here. The finished edge requires very little polishing to bring up the transparency of the Perspex, and many commonly found acrylic objects are cut using this method - including key rings and other promotional materials.
There are a number of methods of how to cut Perspex which can be used to suit almost any purpose, and which one you choose really depends on your requirements and resources. Cutting a straight edge in thin acrylic sheets can be as simple as scoring a line and snapping the material as you would with glass or a ceramic tile, but cutting complex and creative shapes from acrylic will require access to a laser cutter.
Cut Plastic Sheeting Ltd provide many types of sheeting in almost any size and thickness you require. Our materials include cut to size acrylic (also known as Perspex, Plexiglass and Lucite), Dibond aluminium composite sheeting and Foamex PVC.