Most home woodworking shops will have a table saw. It’s a versatile power tool with many applications, and we’ve written about table saws and their various uses on these pages before. From preventing kickbacks to using a table saw instead of a miter saw to the differences between hybrid and cabinet table saws, we’ve provided a great deal of information about them.
We’ve also discussed using the table saw to cut various materials, and today we want to talk specifically about using the table saw to cut plexiglass.
Let’s get to it.
What is Plexiglass?
First, it’s not glass. It’s actually a hard, clear acrylic, and cost-effective alternative to glass. Acrylic is a see-through petroleum-based thermoplastic material, usually manufactured in sheets. In short, it’s a plastic.
It’s lightweight and shatter-resistant and can be used in place of glass in almost all instances because it is sturdy and translucent. Common uses include:
- And even in viewing panels of 30-foot deep aquariums
Plexiglass usually comes with a protective layer of paper that should be kept in place until the sheet is cut to size and finished. Sheets should be kept uniformly supported on a flat surface until it’s time to cut.
Types of plexiglass sheets come in two forms:
- Cast acrylic sheets. This is what most of us know as plexiglass. They are hard and durable and can be cut with a table saw so long as you use the correct blade and take all necessary safety precautions.
- Extruded acrylic sheets. These sheets are not as hard and durable, have a lower melting temperature, and should be cut only with hand tools.
- Polycarbonate sheets. This third kind of plastic sheeting is an inbetweener. It’s not as hard as cast acrylic sheets but has a higher melting temperature than extruded acrylic sheets. It can be cut with a table saw but does require the correct blade and feed method through the blade.
For this piece, we’ll discuss various ways to cut cast acrylic sheets, primarily focusing on using your table saw.
What Is The Best Way To Cut Plexiglass On a Table Saw?
Any table saw blade will cut plexiglass. But there are some blade considerations that have to do with the accuracy of the cut, the avoidance of chipping and splintering, and safety concerns.
The Right Blade
The thickness of the plexiglass sheet will determine the blade you will use. It is recommended that a sheet thickness of 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch will determine the blade should be 10 to 14 inches in diameter and with 80-teeth and 100-teeth count, respectively.
Blade clearance above the sheet should be 1/8th inch; however, if the sheet is 1/8th to ½ inch thickness, the blade clearance should be ¼ inch. While there are special plexiglass saw blades for cutting acrylic, any metal-cutting blade with carbide tips will also do the job well.
Your table saw should be at least a 2-horsepower model, and your blade speed should be 3,450 RPM, although the latter is not fatal to a good cut (only optimal). Again, we are talking about cast acrylic sheets since their hardness and high melting temperature can stand up to power saws.
The over-arching rule for all woodworking shops is safety first. This is true for using a table saw generally, but especially true when using your table saw to cut plexiglass. The risk of shards and splinters is very real, and serious injury can result.
- First, make sure your table saw can handle the job properly. By this, we mean minimum horsepower and blade speed.
- Secondly, make sure you have chosen the right blade for the job. We’ve already pointed this out above. You want the right size blade, the right teeth count, and the right blade clearance. Double-check everything.
- Thirdly, wear safety goggles. In fact, you should use safety goggles whenever using your table saw. When cutting plexiglass, though, this is extra important. The same is true for a safety mask. Chips and dust from the plexiglass can cause serious injury to your eyes, and you do not want to inhale the dust.
Measure the cut you wish to make, keeping in mind the thickness of the blade. Be sure to leave the protective paper film on the sheet of plexiglass, too, as this will protect it from scratching.
When you are preparing to cut, make sure the sheet is tight against the table saw fence. Be sure to keep the protective paper film side down as you run the sheet through the blade. Use a push stick or block and move it slowly and steadily through the blade, just as you would a piece of wood.
As you do so, apply enough pressure to keep the sheet firmly against the fence. Thinner pieces of plexiglass tend to vibrate, and you don’t want to lose contact with the fence.
Cross-cutting can be something of a challenge with plexiglass, as the corners tend to chip. Starting the cut on one end of the sheet, flipping it over, and completing the cut from the other direction can help mitigate the chances of chipping.
You’ve Cut The Plexiglass With Your Table Saw: What’s Next?
It’s likely the edge of your plexiglass sheet will be a little rough. It might even be a bit glazed from the heat of your table saw blade. It will need a little attention from you to finish the sheet and make it ready for your intended use. You do want a smooth finish on the cut edge.
Choose 120-grit or 180-grit waterproof sandpaper for the job. From here, you know the drill. Attach it to a sanding block, and use it lightly on the cut edge. Graduate to finer grit sandpaper, up to a 600-grit, and you’ll have a smooth finish. Alternatively, you could use a buffing pad attached to a power drill for an even smoother finish.
Depending on your project, though, remember that a polished plexiglass edge can not be glued. If gluing will be a part of your project, skip the polishing.
But Must You Use a Table Saw to Cut Plexiglass?
No, you don’t have to use your table saw. There are other methods of cutting a plexiglass sheet, and it depends on the thickness of the sheet.
For instance, with a thin sheet, 1/8th of an inch, you can use a plexiglass knife or even a utility knife. Run the knife along a straight edge at your measurement a few times, going slightly deeper with each pass, and then snap the sheet where you’ve scored it.
You can also use a jigsaw to cut your sheet. There are plexiglass blades for your jigsaw that will do a very nice job on plexiglass sheets of any thickness.
Thirdly, you can use your circular saw. Use a plexiglass blade for the purpose on sheets of any thickness. The cut will be similar to that from your table saw.
In each instance, the finishing process is the same – – fine-grit sanding paper on a sanding block to make it smooth.
Special blades or blade requirements, a few extra steps for a clean and straight cut, and safety considerations all come into play when using your table saw to cut plexiglass. The finishing steps are no different, though than with a piece of wood or even metal.
The answer to the question, then, is yes, you can use your table saw to cut plexiglass. Follow these steps, and refer to the videos we’ve offered to illustrate, and you’ll do just fine.