Local Handyman Serving Minneapolis Offers Tips on Working with Acrylic Plastic

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Plexiglas is a brand name for acrylic plastic, a shatterproof glass replacement material with many uses, including skylights, fish tanks, picture frames and more.  Acrylic plastic is impact resistant and only half the weight of glass.  It can also withstand a temperature range of -30 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  It cleans up easily with mild soap with lukewarm water and a soft cloth.  Unlike glass, it is not wise to use window cleaners, scouring pads or abrasives for cleaning acrylic plastic.


Working with Acrylic Plastic:


Acrylic plastic generally comes with a paper masking film on the sheet to protect it from scratches or other damage when working with it.  This film should not be removed until your project is finished.  Use metal cutting saw blades and drills which are ground for acrylic sheet and be sure all tools are very sharp for best results.  Use water or drilling oil as a coolant when cutting or drilling.  Do not use saw blades with wide-set, irregular teeth; saw teeth should be of uniform height and shape.



Cutting Acrylic Plastic:


Acrylic plastic is available in different thicknesses for different uses.  There are several methods and types of cutting tools that are acceptable for cutting acrylic plastic.


Knife or Scriber:  Acrylic sheets up to 3/16" thick may be cut with a utility knife, scribing knife or an awl.  Using a straight edge, firmly held in place, draw the scriber several times to score the sheet.  Clamp it or hold it very tight along the edge of a table or workbench; apply downward pressure to snap the sheet along the scribe line.  Smooth the edges and sharp corners.  This method is not recommended for long breaks or thick material.


Power Saws:  Special blades are available for cutting acrylic, but you may also use blades designed for aluminum or copper.  These blades will have very fine teeth of the same height and evenly spaced, with little or no set.


Table saws:  Use hollow ground high speed blades with no set and at least 5 teeth per inch.  Carbide tips will give the smoothest cuts and reduce edge chipping. 


Circular saw:  Clamp the sheet to the work surface and use a strip of wood to act as a fence to guide the saw.  Feed the work slowly and smoothly, lubricating the blade with soap or beeswax to minimize gumming from the masking adhesive.  Be sure the saw is up to full speed before beginning the cut.


Hand Saws:  It is very difficult to get good results with hand saws.  Be sure the acrylic is clamped to prevent flexing which may cause cracking.


Routers and shapers:  Use single fluted bits for inside circle routing and double fluted bits for edge routing.


Drilling:  Use only drill bits specifically designed for use with acrylic. 


Finishing Touches:


Filing and Sanding:  Smooth the cut edges by scraping.  File the edges to remove tool marks, filing only in one direction.  Keep the teeth flat on the surface and allow the file to slide at an angle.  For sanding, start with 120 grit sandpaper (dry), then use 220 grit sandpaper (dry).  Finish with a 400 - 600 grit wet/dry paper, used wet.  For best results, use a wooden or rubber sanding block.  Remove scratches by sanding in a circular motion, using a light touch and plenty of water with wet/dry papers.  If you're using a power sander, use light pressure and slower speeds.


Polishing:  A final polishing will give the acrylic a luster.  Power-driven buffing tools are recommended.  A good buffing wheel for acrylic consists of layers of 3/16" carbonized felt or unbleached muslin.  The wheel should reach a surface speed of 1200 - 4000 feet per minute. 


A commercial buffing compound for silver or brass is the best for polishing acrylic.  You may also use a non-silicone car polish with no cleaning solvents in it.  Apply tallow to the buffing wheel first to form a base, and then quickly apply the buffing compound.  


Polish by moving the acrylic back and forth along the buffing wheel.  Do not apply too much pressure and keep the work moving to prevent heat build-up. 


Forming and Shaping:


Acrylic can be heated to make it pliable for forming.  A strip heater is the best tool for forming acrylic, but it will only form straight line bends.  Start by heating the sheet until it begins to sag at the bend line, bending away from the side exposed to the heating element.  Sheets thicker than 3/16" should be heated on both sides for a proper bend. 




Two techniques for joining acrylic with solvent cement are capillary and dip or soak methods.  Capillary cementing is the most popular method.  Make sure the parts fit properly, joining them with masking tape or clamps to hold firmly in place.  Apply the cement from the inside of a box-corner joint and on both sides of a flat joint with a needle-nosed applicator bottle.  The cement is very thin and it will flow into the joint through capillary action and form a strong bond in 24 to 48 hours.  Soak or dip cementing is recommended for thick joints. 


Viscous cements are used for joints that cannot be cemented with capillary or soak methods, either because they are hard to reach or the parts don't fit properly.  Viscous cement is thick and will fill small gaps, making a strong, transparent bond where solvents can't.  Apply a bead of cement to one side of the joint, then tape or clamp together until set.


Acrylic plastic has many uses, including storm door window replacement, children's bedroom windows if they are low to the floor.  It is break resistant for safety and it is economical.  The fact that is it light-weight also makes it great for large picture frames.  Acrylic plastic is a great glass substitute that the homeowner or artist will find many uses for.


This article was written by Collin Dickey, owner of HandyPro Handyman Services in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  HandyPro specializes in home repairs and seasonal home maintenance projects.  They can handle small repairs or do large remodeling jobs.   Our pre-screened contractors are licensed and bonded, experienced and customer friendly.  We strive for 100% customer satisfaction in doing quality work and cleaning up when the job is complete.  http://www.handypro.com services Hennepin County, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Roseville, Osseo, St. Louis Park, Richfield, Brooklyn Center, Deephaven, Crystal Bay, New Hope, Chaska, Hamel, Long Lake, Greenwood, West St. Paul, and neighboring cities and communities.






Comments (1)


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Jul 23, 2010 07:58 PM