How to Cut Shapes out of Plexiglas
Plexiglas, one of the many products created out of acrylic resin, is stronger, safer and easier to cut than glass. The uses for Plexiglas are extremely numerous, from storm windows to craft projects. Its durability and greater shatter resistance make it superior to glass in many ways. While it is a versatile product to work with, you may have some trouble cutting it the first time you attempt to do so.
Plexiglas comes coated in a layer of paper that peels off when installed. You should plan on cutting the Plexiglas with this layer still attached. It will give you a surface on which to trace out the shape you want the plexiglass to assume.
Step 1 - Trace the Shape onto the Plexiglas
Lay out your piece of Plexiglas on a flat surface. Position the template of the shape you wish to cut on top. If the template is large, tape it to the Plexiglas in a few places to keep it steady. Otherwise hold it steady with one hand. With the pencil, trace around the template onto the paper wrapping. If yours does not have the layer of protective paper, use a grease pencil or some other erasable marker.
Step 2a - Use a Scroll Saw for Small Pieces
The first tool you can use to cut out shapes is a scroll saw. It is a shop machine with a thin blade that cuts in a vertical motion. The teeth are spaced closely together, so it can make precise, relatively clean cuts. The arm of a scroll saw is deep-set, but it may not be able to accommodate a large piece of Plexiglas. However, if the shape you are cutting is small enough, it should work.
Wear safety glasses and turn the machine on. Align the moving blade with the start of the traced line. Moving slowly but confidently, apply enough pressure on the Plexiglas to keep it moving through the blade. A scroll saw's blade is fine enough that you can easily turn the material you are cutting to make curved shapes. If you have to cut sharp angles, however, reverse the material and go at it from a different direction.
Step 2b - Use a Coping Saw for Large Pieces
If the scroll saw is too small for the piece of Plexiglas you want to cut, you can use a coping saw. It is a handheld tool with a fine, thin blade similar to a scroll saw. The blade is bound by two clamps attached to the handle. The process will be slower, but the piece can be as large as you need. Coping saws cut on the pull stroke, so don't spend effort pushing hard on the saw. That will just dull the blade. The biggest problem with this saw is that you may have to somewhat frequently reverse the blade and come at the cut from a different direction in order to provide room for the metal clamp that holds the blade. This scenario will add to the time the cutting takes.
Step 3 - Sand the Edges
Once the cut is complete, go over the entire cut edge with fine-grit sandpaper. If the cut has any jagged edges, recut that section with either the coping saw or the scroll saw; then sand again until the edge feels evenly cut and smooth.