The versatility of polycarbonate has made it very popular among the DIY community. Since it is neither plastic nor glass, the cutting techniques may be confusing for your special projects. Luckily, you can easily cut your polycarbonate sheets at home.
A variety of tools can cut through polycarbonate material (Lexan) depending on the thickness, hardness, and purpose of your sheet. For thin layers, you can use a utility knife or shears. For more difficult tasks, you should cut using power tools such as fine-tooth bladed saws, a Dremel, an angle grinder, a router, or a laser cutter.
This guide will address various ways you can cut a polycarbonate panel without damaging the material.
Things You Need
- Cutting tool( power saws, utility knife, router, angle grinder, Dremel, laser cutter)
- Tape measure
- Protective gear (safety goggles, gloves, respirator, earplugs, overalls)
- File or fine-grit sandpaper
1. Sawing the polycarbonate sheet
You can use a jigsaw, saber saw, scroll saw, or circular saw. A circular saw is appropriate for cutting much longer polycarbonate sheets with a thickness of 3mm or more. For an excellent quality finish, use a fine-tooth hollow ground blade for a 1/16″ -3/32″ thick sheet and triple chip carbide blades for thicker sheets.
The jigsaw should also have fine teeth and made of non-ferrous metal. The jigsaw and band saw are best used for curves and designs. Band saws should have 8-12 teeth per inch.
- Wear your protective gear.
- Clean the area around your saw table to remove specs that may scratch your sheet.
- Fix a small-tooth circular saw blade of 250-300 millimeters to reduce chipping. When cutting curves using the band saw or jigsaw, use a metal blade with 2-4mm of tooth spacing.
- Set the speed at 6000-8000 feet per minute.
- Carefully measure your dimensions and using a marker, mark where you need to cut your sheet. Use a straightedge to guide the pen.
- Secure your polycarbonate sheet on a stable table with clamps to reduce vibration. If you are cutting more than one panel, you can layer them together to get a similar cut, but if it is your first time, try using one first.
- For a table saw, raise the blade about 0.5mm higher than the thickness of the polycarbonate.
- Run the saw with moderate speed through your panel until it breaks off. Pause between cuts to allow the blade the cool off even if you’re using a ‘No Melt” blade.
- Run your fingers on the cut edge and file it down for a smoother finish.
Note: For roofing sheets, you will need a blade long enough to cut from the top the bottom of the ridges.
2. Using a Dremel
With the appropriate attachment and a steady hand, a Dremel can cut thin polycarbonate panels at 25,000-30,000 RPM, but be careful about trying to hurrying it along. You can also use it to file down the rough edges.
It is not recommended for panels above 1/4 inches, since it does not provide much depth.
- Unplug the Dremel to loosen the collet.
- Attach a 561 multipurpose cutting bit and tighten the collet.
- Measure and mark the cut line on your panel.
- Plug the machine to a power source and turn the tool to 6 or 8.
- At a 45 degree angle and cut into the panel to your desired shape.
- To prevent burning and melting, have someone spray the panel and cutting bit with cold water. It helps in cooling down.
- Buff the edges with sandpaper for a smoother finish.
3. Using an angle grinder
An angle grinder is a hand-held machine for cutting that has grit on the cutting wheel. The cutting mechanism is similar to that of sawing. However, an angle grinder rotates much faster than a circular saw. To reduce the risk of melting the sheet, use a cutting wheel for cutting aluminum, it heats up less. Also, use an angle grinder with speed control and should be used at a low speed to reduce burrs.
- Wear your protective gear.
- With a measuring tape, measure and mark your cut line on the polycarbonate panel.
- Clamp the panel on a raised and stable surface.
- Then turn on the power tool and wait until it picks up the required speed.
- Cut the panel by slowly moving the angle grinder away from you along the marked cut line.
- An angle grinder always results in burrs you can buff off with the angle grinder.
4. Using a router
A router uses computer numeric control to route desired designs using a high-speed tool. It is considered the best way to cut polycarbonate panels since it has the advantage of precision and accuracy and is often used to curve and cut irregular shapes. To use this tool, you will need basic CAD software knowledge.
- Ensure the machine is unplugged first to avoid accidents.
- Read the manual carefully, since router machines have different set-up procedures.
- Wear protective gear to protect your body from the flying fragments.
- Attach the desired carbide-tipped or high-speed steel router bit of 1/4-1/2 inches in diameter on the motor shaft tightly.
- Adjust the depth setting by router depth and cutting depth.
- Set your router at the speed of 20,000-25, 000 rpm your router, and gently move it according to the shape you want.
5. Using a utility knife
For simple projects, a utility knife or hand shears can help you cut your polycarbonate sheet up to an eighth of an inch(0.125 inches) thick.
- Clamp the sheet on a stable flat surface.
- Use a straightedge and marker to mark the cut line.
- While still holding the straightedge on the cut line, score the sheet with the utility knife several times for deeper grooves.
- You can flip the sheet, secure it, and repeat the scoring process until it breaks off. Or, you can snap off the piece hanging off the edge.
- Sand the edge for a smooth finish.
Laser cutting is a poor choice for a thick polycarbonate panel of more than 1mm thick. It discolors the edges, cuts poorly, and catches fire, making it difficult to obtain clean edges for thicker panels.
If you do not mind the discoloration and fumes, you can laser cut very thin sheets of less than 1mm using a 10.6-micron CO2 laser.
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to cutting tools for polycarbonate sheets. Be sure to use the right blade so you won’t damage the material. If you want to avoid all this hassle, you can always get your sheets professionally cut according to your dimensions.