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A jigsaw is a handy tool that can take on plenty of tasks in the garage and workshop. However, it is important to know what a jigsaw is best used for. If you’re wondering how to cut plexiglass, a jigsaw is the perfect tool to do so.
When cutting plexiglass, it’s important to take a few safety precautions and protect the material while you work. Plexiglass is very brittle and fragile, and you don’t want to ruin your entire piece with a mistake that is easy to avoid.
Here, we’ll explain how to safely and precisely cut plexiglass with a jigsaw. We’ll also share how to ensure you don’t break or chip your plexiglass in the process.
- What is Plexiglass
- When to Use a Jigsaw for Cutting Plexiglass
- How to Cut Plexiglass with a Jigsaw
- Before You Start Cutting
- 1. Chose the Right Jigsaw Blade
- 2. How to Approach the Cut
- 3. How to Avoid Melting
- 4. How to Prevent Plexiglass Breakage
- 5. Use Your Jigsaw to Cut the Plexiglass
- 6. Cleaning Up the Edges
- When to Use Other Saws to Cut Plexiglass
What is Plexiglass
Plexiglass is a transparent plastic that goes by the title of “acrylic glass,” but the brand names Plexiglas, Acrylite, Lucie, and Perspex all indicate the same material. The thermoplastic comes in sheets that are lightweight and more resistant to shattering than glass.
Despite its durability, plexiglass is more prone to scratching than regular glass, so manufacturers often add scratch-resistant layers on top of the plexiglass. A conventional method of cutting this material is via laser, which achieves a clean cut.
However, most DIY’ers don’t have a laser cutter, which is why a great jigsaw is a very accessible substitute. The jigsaw will work great, provided you follow these instructions so you don’t break the plexiglass.
Ways to Cut Plexiglass
- Use a jigsaw when you’re making curved cuts
- Use a circular saw for quick cuts that don’t have to precise
- Use a band saw if you have particularly brittle plexiglass
- Use a table saw when you’re making long straight cuts
- Use a hacksaw only if you don’t have any of the saws mentioned
- Use a laser cutting device if you’re fancy and own one. Ok, lets be honest – if you have a laser cutting device, you’re probably not reading this article 🙂
Although plexiglass is durable, it will break when stress is applied. Fortunately, it won’t shatter the same way glass does. Instead, it will break apart into large pieces without sharp edges. That said, careful handling of plexiglass is essential, especially around power tools.
Why Use a Jigsaw?
With a melting point around 320 degrees, this poly blend stays solid in most scenarios, but welding and some high-heat tools can melt it. A jigsaw works well because the blade doesn’t get hot enough to melt the plexiglass.
A jigsaw is particularly good choice because of it’s ability to cut both straight and curved lines, while also allowing you to work across large plexiglass surfaces.
When to Use a Jigsaw for Cutting Plexiglass
As you can see, there are a lot of different saws that you can use to cut plexi glass with. However, the jigsaw is the perfect saw when you need to make curved cuts, or adjust your angle as you go.
Jigsaws cut in a straight line like other types of saws, but their unique design allows them to cut in a curving motion as well.
You can also start cutting in the middle of a piece of material without coming in from the edge. This is done by drilling a hole in the plexiglass, then placing the jigsaw blade in the hole.
Jigsaws’ ability to cut straight, at angles, and in a circular (or another shape) motion makes them versatile tools for cutting plexiglass (along with a lot of your other woodworking needs).
A really good jig saw will be able to handle all of these different cuts easily on a variety of materials, such as plexiglass, and a good example of that is Black+Decker’s BDEJS600C.
How to Cut Plexiglass with a Jigsaw
Choose a surface that will support your plexiglass sheet while you work. Dropping the material with a jigsaw in your hand not only ruins your project, but it’s dangerous too. Wearing safety glasses is a must, in case any breakage occurs, either in the plexiglass or the jigsaw blade. Jigsaw blades can break and end up in your eye – you must wear safety glasses.
Before You Start Cutting
One way to prevent your plexiglass from chipping as you cut is to apply masking tape on both sides of the cut before starting. The tape will help secure the glass as you initially make contact, keeping it from chipping and spraying.
Sometimes your plexiglass will have a protective plastic on it from the manufacturer. If this is the case, leave it on instead of applying masking tape. You can cut through the plastic and then remove it when you are done cutting.
Also, if the type of cut you are doing allows for it, try clamping the plexiglass down to a surface. Once you get into the cutting portion, it can be hard to hold the plexi in place at times.
1. Chose the Right Jigsaw Blade
Choosing the right blade is a vital part of the preparation because a blade that’s not fine enough will only chew up the plexiglass. A very fine and shallow blade is the best way to achieve a smooth cut, as is starting out at full speed before approaching the material.
A good choice for cutting plexiglass with a jigsaw is a 10 TPI (teeth per inch) bi-metal jigsaw blade. Another recommended choice is a really sharp hollow ground wood blade. Avoid very fine metal blades, as they can clog while cutting, melting the plastic in the plexi.
Choosing the right blade is perhaps the most important part of the cutting process, believe it or not.
2. How to Approach the Cut
Avoid laying right into the plexiglass with the jigsaw. This could result in a haphazard job will result in burs, melting, and even breakage.
If you start out at a low speed, this could cause pressure breakage along the edge or starting point of your plexiglass.
Unfortunately, if your jigsaw has a “soft start” feature, it’s probably not the best tool to use to cut this type of material.
Soft start jigsaws don’t hit full speed until they meet resistance, making them difficult to use in some precision applications.
Aside from the soft start, you should be fine.
Practice on a Smaller Piece
Practice on a smaller, scrap piece of plexiglass before making your first cut. This will allow you to get the hang of cutting a new surface like plexiglass. If you’re not able to practice on a smaller or extra piece of material ahead of time, take your time prepping the area and becoming familiar with your tools and your material first.
Approach with Some Speed
Don’t start your jigsaw up with the blade in contact with the plexiglass. Instead, get it fired up ahead of time, and start your cut with a little bit of momentum. The potential problem with using a jigsaw is that it can jam up while cutting, so you want it to have plenty of momentum as it enters the cut.
This momentum can mess up your accuracy a bit, though. This is why practicing is important. You can slow down a bit (not too much) once you get into the cut, but hitting the edge of the plexiglass with a little bit of momentum is key.
3. How to Avoid Melting
Because plexiglass is plastic, it is prone to melting from blade friction and heat. There are ways to avoid melting your plexiglass as you work, however. This is key because the material can melt together immediately following your jigsaw’s cut, destroying any progress that you’ve made.
If you cut too slowly, this gives the jigsaw more time to transfer heat to the plexiglass. Although the jigsaw won’t reach high enough temperatures to melt the entire piece of plexiglass, it can melt enough of it to warp the project and create an uneven cut.
Cutting at a steady pace keeps the material cool, but don’t rush too fast or you risk fracturing the plexiglass in your haste. A moderate, steady, and careful speed will earn the best results.
If you’re thinking to yourself “it sounds like I shouldn’t cut too fast, and I shouldn’t cut too slow”… well, thats exactly right. Therein lies the finesse of cutting plexiglass, especially curved cuts with a jigsaw. Too fast and you might fracture the glass, too slow and the blade might jam and break. In this case, right in the middle between fast and slow is perfect.
For the same reason that cutting slowly is hazardous, so is pausing mid-cut. Leaving the saw in one place for too long lets the surrounding plexiglass heat up, potentially ruining your work. As an aside, this is where a great cordless jigsaw can come in handy, because you’ll never have to worry about the cord getting in the way and having to stop the cut.
4. How to Prevent Plexiglass Breakage
Another issue with cutting plexiglass, regardless of the method, is its tendency to break. Although it’s durable, plexiglass is somewhat brittle, and many people prefer to score and then snap thinner sheets. This may not be the most precise method of making a straight cut, but it is useful in some scenarios.
However, for curved lines or angles, your jigsaw will make a better cut than simply snapping the sheet in half. But you also run the risk of chipping or cracking the plexiglass. Here are a few ways to avoid breakage:
Use a Cooling Lubricant
Applying a lubricant has two functions- it helps to cool the plexiglass and reduces friction. Choose a non-flammable lubricant to apply to the plexiglass before cutting, and the sawing motion will proceed more smoothly.
Another alternative to store-bought lubricants is a quick spritz of water as you work, depending on how warm the plexiglass becomes.
You can use water to keep the blade of your jigsaw cool. The hotter the blade gets, the easier it is for the glass to warp or melt.
Apply Masking Tape
As we mentioned at the start, a layer or two of masking tape on the surface of the plexiglass can help prevent chipping by physically protecting the edges of your cut. At the same time, the jigsaw will have no difficulty cutting through the tape at the same time it shears off the plexiglass. Afterward, removing the masking tape is a simple and relatively clean process.
5. Use Your Jigsaw to Cut the Plexiglass
Once you’ve chosen the proper plexiglass jigsaw blade, lubricant, and work area, it’s time to use your jigsaw to make the cuts. Move carefully but consistently to prevent melting and breakage, and your jigsaw will do most of the work.
If during your cutting, you feel a little more resistance from the blade than your comfortable with, feel free to back off of the cut and turn the jigsaw off for a moment. You can start the saw back up from outside the cut when ready and re-enter.
6. Cleaning Up the Edges
When you’re done making your jigsaw cuts on plexiglass, you might be left with a few ragged corners or edges. Sharp cuts and curved edges can sometimes have this as a result.
If you want to clean up those edges and make them smooth, you can sand the areas with a fine grit of sandpaper.
If you really want a smooth edge, try using a router instead!
When to Use Other Saws to Cut Plexiglass
The jigsaw is the perfect saw to use for cutting plexiglass when you need to make tight, curved cuts. It is also really convenient, as you’re using a powerful, handheld saw.
However, there are situations when it makes sense to use a different saw for cutting plexi:
When to Use a Bandsaw to Cut Plexiglass
A bandsaw makes a great cutting saw for plexi glass because it has a continuous blade that moves in one direction. Rather than a jigsaw, which has a reciprocating blade that moves back and forth, a band saw uses a long, continuous blade for cutting.
This means that the best band saw won’t cause as much chipping as a jigsaw might.
However, a bandsaw is not a hand saw – it is a big saw that you use a lot differently. Most notably, with a bandsaw, you push the plexiglass through the cut. With a jigsaw, you push the saw through the plexiglass.
Why does this matter? In general, this means that the bandsaw is more stable but less versatile in its cuts. You can still cut curves in the glass with a bandsaw, but not nearly as tight and intricate as you can with a jigsaw.
When to Use a Table Saw to Cut Plexiglass
A table saw is the perfect power saw to use on plexiglass, so long as you’re making long, straight cuts. A table saw can not make curved cuts, period. To even try is extremely dangerous, and pretty much ineffective.
However, if you have a straight cut, then the best table saw will be wonderfully accurate and efficient. You’ll be able to measure and cut with ease.
Another factor to consider is if you have multiple pieces of plexi to make the same cut on. If so, the table saw speeds up your cutting quite a bit. Once you measure and set up your table saw and table saw fence, you can rip through all of the cuts (pun intended).
Make sure you are using the right table saw blade to cut plexiglass with. Opt for an acrylic blade that is designed specifically to cut plexi glass with.
When to Use a Hacksaw to Cut Plexiglass
Don’t use a hacksaw to cut plexiglass. There, we said it. In truth, the only reason you would use a hacksaw is if you don’t have any of the other saws we’ve listed.
To be honest, using a hacksaw just won’t give you a nice result. Unless you an expert craftsman with this type of saw, chances are high you’ll have some extremely rough edges, and your plexi might not survive the cut.
Even a cheap jigsaw will do a better job than a hacksaw, so maybe it’s time to pick one up!
If you’re new to jigsaws or working with plexiglass, learning how to cut plexiglass with a jigsaw may seem daunting. But with these simple steps, it’s easier than ever to create a clean and intentional cut in your material of choice.