Practical Advice On How To Cut Plexiglass

History, features, applications and advice on how to work what is considered one of the most revolutionary and versatile synthetic materials in the world.

The material we are talking about is polymethylmethacrylate, or PMMA, but it is known above all by one of the trade names registered by the companies that produce it: Plexiglas. The most attentive readers may have noticed that in the title of the article, the name Plexiglass is shown with two S; although it is a wrong transcription, given that Plexiglas is a registered trademark and is written with only one S, the error is so widespread that it has become part of the common lexicon and consequently, for the convenience of the reader, we will also use us this shape.

In our article we will further deepen the knowledge of this material and of the processing methods useful for DIY enthusiasts, including tips on how to cut plexiglass without damaging it.

History, features and applications
Polymethylmethacrylate was developed in several European laboratories in 1928 and placed on the market in 1933; three years later, in 1939, the first plastic contact lens made entirely of PMMA was created.

The main characteristics of this material are that of having a degree of transparency higher than that of glass, in fact some varieties can also be crossed by ultraviolet and infrared rays, and to be made more or less unbreakable depending on its compound. Furthermore, another typical characteristic of PMMA is that it is biocompatible with human tissues.

Its applications are many, in fact it is used in numerous sectors, from engineering-architectural to medical, for the manufacture of a wide range of objects. The most common form in which it is manufactured are slabs and blocks, but PMMA is also processed to take complex shapes and produce transparent domes, bathtubs, shower trays and lenses of various sizes, or it is “spun” and then used to manufacture optical fibers; in the medical field, on the other hand, it is used for the production of contact lenses, orthopedic prostheses and for cosmetic surgery.

Some industries are able to produce bespoke plexiglass scaled higher than the standard, even over 40 centimeters thick, and produce sheets to be used for submarine windows or as walls for large ocean aquariums. The curved plexiglass , however, is mostly used to create transparent domes for cockpits of planes and helicopters

Methods for cutting, drilling and bending plexiglass

Since it is a plastic material obtained by polymerization, cutting PMMA is like cutting plastic , with the difference that it requires some additional measures.

First of all it is of fundamental importance to use blades with a high number of teeth, so as not to run the risk of chipping the slabs; Furthermore, the advancement of the blade must be slow so as not to create tears, especially at the exit edge, and during cutting it is advisable to use a lubricant to prevent the plexiglass from overheating. The same goes for milling and drilling.

The slabs or blocks to be cut must be adequately blocked by clamps, in order to reduce vibrations as much as possible; by implementing these precautions it is possible to make linear and even curved cuts with a certain ease. To make curved cuts on the plexiglass sheets in a precise way, it is good to use a circular glass cutter in order to make a guide incision to be followed with the blade; to minimize the vibrations of the plate during the cut, then, it is advisable to prepare a support that has the same curvature of the cut to be performed, so as to be able to support the entire plexiglass plate up to the edges of the curvature. Better not to rely on a table saw or tools designed for other purposes.

Bending plexiglass , on the other hand, is an operation that requires the method of hot forming, and therefore the use of ovens or bench heaters; the latter can also be found for hobby use, but they are still bulky and expensive machines, mainly intended for artisanal and semi-professional use.

DIY applications of plexiglass

Plexiglass is also used in DIY, to create objects for functional and furnishing purposes. PMMA plates and blocks can also be easily purchased online and used for various applications. The price varies according to the thickness and size, but usually sheets with thicknesses ranging from 2 to 5 millimeters are used above all, because they are easy to work with a multifunction tool with a spindle, or using the classic hobby power tools.

In this case, the same precautions described above remain valid, so that you can cut and drill the plexiglass without running the risk of damaging it.

The sheets are also covered with an adhesive film to protect against scratches and abrasions and can be handled freely during the processing stages without running the risk of damaging them. Furthermore, if the slabs to be processed are small, it is also possible to apply the hot forming method using a heat gun.

How to glue plexiglass

Fans of modeling and dioramas make extensive use of plexiglass plates for various purposes; one of these consists in cutting the slabs into shaped pieces to be glued together, in order to create containment walls for epoxy resin castings, to create customized display cases for the models and dioramas, instead, or transparent boxes. A cutter is usually used to cut the slabs, with which an incision is made which, once folded by hand, splits sharply along its entire line. To glue them together, however, the methods required vary from case to case.

If the main purpose is to create a containment tank for resin castings, for example, then it will be necessary to use hot silicone glue; this can be easily removed later, in fact, in order to detach the plexiglass from the resin block once solidified. If, on the other hand, slabs need to be glued together to create boxes or display cases, then it is better to use the special glue for plexiglass ; which has a liquid consistency like water and a solvent base that acts only on methacrylate molecules.

The solvent dissolves the pieces of methacrylate with which it comes into contact, and melts them together, drying almost instantly; for this reason the pieces of plexiglass must first be assembled dry and fixed in the final position with the help of gummed paper, after which the glue is applied along the joints with the help of a brush. Here is the procedure to follow, therefore, to glue the plexiglass .

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