Cutting Polycarbonate: The Complete Guide
Okay, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about polycarbonate.
Most people get particularly confused when it comes to cutting this remarkable material.
That is why today, I’ve decided that its time I tackle the question of how to cut polycarbonate.
This guide will address the various approaches of cutting polycarbonate including the best tools to use.
So read on.
What is Polycarbonate?
Before we get to the main subject of this guide which is cutting polycarbonate, we’ve first to understand what polycarbonate is.
Well, polycarbonate is a transparent, sturdy, and heat and impact resistant type of plastic.
Polycarbonate chemical formula
This plastic is mostly known for its high thermal and dimensional stability, transparency and toughness.
Because of these attributes, companies widely use polycarbonate to produce a variety of materials, mostly those that are impact resistant and transparent.
Applications of polycarbonate range from making:
- Eyewear lenses
- Automotive components
- Protective gear
In comparison to other sorts of plastic, the polycarbonate’s impact and heat resistance are more superior.
Also know that unlike most other plastics, polycarbonate can form at room temperature.
This flexibility of transition is actually one of the reasons why polycarbonate is widely used over other plastics.
Why Cut Polycarbonate Sheet?
Well, polycarbonate comes in many forms.
Popularly, however, they come in the form of sheets with varying sizes and thickness.
Depending on your individual needs, you can use a polycarbonate sheet as it is or you can resize it to the requirements of your project.
Note this; cutting polycarbonate will not alter its appearance, durability or quality.
It only makes it easier to work with for individual projects.
So do not worry about destroying your polycarbonate when you cut it.
Just ensure that you cut it the right way using the right tool and technique.
Polycarbonate Cutting Process
Polycarbonate can be cut in so many ways and using a variety of tools.
Let me show you some of the tools that you can use when cutting polycarbonate.
1. Cutting Polycarbonate Using a Table Saw
Atable saw is an excellent tool for cutting polycarbonates that are more than 0.5 thick.
The tool will give you a much precise and clean cut for your project.
Table saw – Photo courtesy: BUNNINGS WAREHOUSE
So to cut polycarbonate using a table saw, begin by measuring and marking your cut.
After marking, proceed to frame the mark using masking tape.
Next, you will get your table saw and mount on it a fine-toothed saw blade.
Use a fine-toothed blade as it is the best blade type for use to cutting polycarbonate.
With your saw ready, slowly push the polycarbonate through the saw as you would a piece of plywood.
While pushing, do not exert too much or too low pressure as this can crack the polycarbonate.
Just push the sheet steadily at moderate pressure and don’t stop until you complete the cut.
2. Cutting Polycarbonate Using Band Saw
Aband saw is a table mounted cutting equipment that works pretty well in cutting polycarbonate.
It is an excellent tool to use as it can satisfactorily cut through any polycarbonate thickness.
To use this tool in your cutting applications, you need a fine-toothed blade- at least one with 10-18 teeth per inch.
You’ll mount this blade on the saw and set the cutting speed to at least 2500 RPM.
Once set, steadily push the polycarbonate through the saw to cut – stop only after the cut is completed.
3. Cutting Polycarbonate using Circular Saw
Circular saws have always been rooted for is the one tool that produces good quality finishes on materials.
For polycarbonates, a circular saw can satisfactorily cut through any thickness above 0.125 inches but below 0.5 inches.
Circular saw – Photo courtesy: GENESIS
So if you want to cut a thin 0.0625 inches- 0.0937 inches polycarbonate using a circular saw, it is advisable that you use a hollow ground panel blade with at least 10 teeth per inch.
If cutting a heavy gauge 0.125 inches – 0.5 inches, use a triple chip cut carbide blade with alternating bevel and straight teeth with 3 teeth per inch.
Now to cut polycarbonate using a circular saw, begin by mounting the appropriate blade on the saw.
Then, clamp your polycarbonate to the sawhorse or other cutting support that you are using.
With both your hands grasping the saw, slowly push the saw forward to make your cut.
Don’t put too much force or you’ll have very large chips to clean after.
Too slow force is also not asgood as it can melt the polycarbonate.
Please note that you can only use a circular saw to make a straight cut. Cutting curves or ‘non-straight’ lines will require you to use a band saw or a jigsaw.
4. Cutting Polycarbonate Using Jigsaw
As I have said, a jigsaw is best for use to cut curves and designs out of polycarbonate material.
You just need to prepare the plastic by laying it flat on a cutting surface.
Then press the saw shoe onto the material and direct the blade through to cut.
Like all cutting equipment, you don’t need to apply force or pressure on the jigsaw to cut.
All you need to do is start its motor and guide the blade through the material to cut.
If cutting curves, you’ll need to move the blade from curves to inside corners.
Jig Saw – Photo Courtesy: DEWALT
You’ll also want to guide the blade through the cut at a pace allows it to cut without deflecting.
This will help prevent the saw’s motor from overworking.
You will also need to use relief cuts to remove waste when cutting tight curves.
Otherwise, the saw blade might bind on the curves, and this shouldn’t happen.
5. CNC Router Cutting Polycarbonate
A CNC router is a machine that uses computer technology to perform cutting tasks on various materials.
The router works with the help of computer software known as CAD.
Due to this, CNC routers can produce exact and accurate cuts, better than what is produced by most manual tools.
Now, to use a CNC router for cutting polycarbonate, you don’t need any special knowledge apart from basic CAD software knowledge.
Remember that this is what the router uses to create the work, so knowledge of it is necessary.
With CAD software knowledge, you can create files you can input into a computer.
This will show the router what cut you want to make and how you want to do it.
This means that with a CNC router, you can practically cut any shape or size out of polycarbonate material.
Best of all, this sort of router is anything but difficult to run once you have the software in place.
You merely have to take the polycarbonate that you need to cut and place it on the router table.
You’ll then hold the material in place and allow the router to do the work, following the specifications you input into the PC.
Please note that when working with a CNC router, you don’t have to worry about shattered polycarbonates getting in your eyes.
This is because the router comes with a dust collector that collects any debris that comes off the polycarbonate material.
Now, you may wonder how a computer can cut plastic. Well, it doesn’t. It is the router that does the job.
6. Laser Cutting Polycarbonate
Lasers are powerful optical beams that are used to slice through an assortment of materials like metal, wood, glass and polycarbonate
How does laser cutting work?
Well, the laser is directed at the material and moved around to cut the material in the desired shape.
Like CNC routers, lasers produce very fine finishes to polycarbonate materials.
The good thing is that with a laser cutting device, you can cut precise shapes into plastics of varying thickness.
To cut the polycarbonate, you just need to adjust the intensity of the beam to make it suitable for the thickness you want to cut through.
The good thing with laser cutters is that they bring precision and accuracy to the whole process of cutting polycarbonate.
Also, since they’re fully automatic, laser cutters can perform complex cutting operations at high speeds.
Laser cutting machines are costly, especially for a home user.
Therefore, if you have to laser cut, I recommend that you find a suitable company to do the cutting for you at a fee.
Alright, so we’ve seen the different tools you can use to cut polycarbonate with.
Next, we find out how to cut various types of polycarbonates, i.e. sheets, thick ones, corrugated roofing and tubes.
Without wasting time, let’s get right to it.
How to Cut a Polycarbonate Sheet
As I’ve told you earlier, polycarbonate sheets come in different sizes and thickness.
And, not all projects require you to use the sheets as they are.
Some projects may require you to cut the polycarbonate into appropriate sizes.
The good thing here is that polycarbonate sheet is very lightweight and therefore easy to cut.
Cutting polycarbonate sheet
Keeping this in mind, here is a simple step by step guide on how to cut a polycarbonate sheet.
Step by Step Guide on How to Cut Polycarbonate Sheet
To cut polycarbonate sheets effectively, you will need the following items;
i. Cutting tool, i.e. Table saw, circular saw, jigsaw etc.
ii. Tape measure
iii. Marker pen/pencil
iv. Filter tape
vi. Straight edge
vii. Safety goggles and gloves
viii. Apron if possible
Step 1: gather all of the above equipment and put on your safety gear
Step 2: take your polycarbonate sheet and lay it out on a cutting surface
Step 3: measure out the size of the sheet that you require and using the straight edge, mark out the lines that you need to cut.
Step 4: with the sheet still on the cutting surface, secure it down firmly using the wooden clamps.
Step 5: start cutting the polycarbonate by pushing the cutting tool slowly through the marked line until the cut is complete.
No matter the tool you are using, remember not to apply too much force or pressure when cutting the polycarbonate. Just guide the blade through the cut slowly.
Step 6: when the cut is complete, you can firmly tap the sheet to remove any hanging debris then peel back the protective film and apply the filter tape.
Now, to cut curves into thick polycarbonate material, you’ll need to use a jigsaw for home projects.
Or, you could use a CNC router or laser cutter if you need to cut a large amount of polycarbonate.
So for the home user, here is the process;
Step 1: install a fine toothed metal cutting blade (one with at least 10 teeth per inch).
Step 2: secure the polycarbonate material onto a flat cutting surface
Step 3: Adjust the blade to approximately 12,000 RPM and begin cutting the polycarbonate without applying too much force.
How to cut thick polycarbonate sheet
If you want to make a straight cut onto a thick polycarbonate sheet, use for a table saw, or a circular saw.
Thick polycarbonate sheet
But, if you are cutting curves, you will need to get a band saw, or a jigsaw with a fine-toothed blade for either tool.
To cut thick polycarbonate sheet, assemble the following items.
- Cutting tool
- Tape measure
- Mark pen/pencil
- Safety gear
Then, follow this process to cut a straight line;
Step 1: secure the thick polycarbonate sheet onto a flat cutting surface. Use clamps for this
Step 2: using the tape measure and marker/pencil, identify the cut you want to make on the material.
Identify the cut by marking out two points on either edge of the polycarbonate.
Next, lay the straight edge between the marked points and draw a line to join them.
Step 3: on the circular or table saw, install a fine-toothed saw blade.
Make sure that the blade you are using is fine-toothed with at least 60 teeth per every 10 inches.
The blades speed should also range at 3400 RPM.
Once you have this blade specifications figured out and you have installed the blade into place, check again to ensure that the material is well supported on the cutting surface.
Step 4: now proceed to make your cut.
For this, start the saw and cut into the polycarbonate material.
Kindly, don’t stop the saw until the cut is completed.
Also, let the blade do the cutting, don’t force it through the polycarbonate or else the material could crack.
That is it about cutting a straight line into a thick polycarbonate sheet.
To cut curves into it, you’ll need to use a band saw. Or a CNC router or Laser cutter if you can access them.
If using a band saw, these are the steps to follow:
Step 1: install a metal cutting blade with at least 10 teeth per inch
Step 2: unless you need the table to lay in a specific angle, it is best that you first check to ensure that the table is square to the band saw blade.
To do this, use a combination square to check for the angle between the table and the saw blade.
Step 3: mark out the curve you want to cut on the polycarbonate with a pencil or a black marker.
Step 4: place the polycarbonate material flat on the Bandsaw table then lower the blade guard slightly so that it is just above the level of the polycarbonate.
Step 5: lock the guard and set the cutting speed at a rate of 7500 RPM (check the user manual for information on how to do this)
Step 6: now, move the material into the blade at a steady rate to cut. Don’t be tempted to push the material too fast or too hard into the blade.
If you do this, the polycarbonate may heat up, melt and clog the blade’s teeth. It could even break the band saw blade.
How to Cut Polycarbonate Corrugated Roofing
Of late, polycarbonate corrugated roofing has become quite popular in the construction industry.
Industrial builders, homeowners and DIY’ers widely use this material in their construction work.
But why do you think it is so?
Corrugated polycarbonate sheet – Photo courtesy: Alibaba
Well, you guessed it right! Polycarbonate is an affordable, flexible, impact resistant, transparent, insulating, and highly durable.
So if you are a builder, homeowner, or a DIY enthusiast looking to roof using polycarbonate sheeting, here is a handy guide on how to cut the sheets.
What you need
i. Circular saw
ii. Tape measure
v. Face mask
vi. Safety goggles
The cutting process
Step 1: the first step here would be to gather all the necessary cutting tools and equipment
Step 2: next, take out the polycarbonate sheet and place it on a flat surface
Step 3: identify your cut using a tape measure and marker.
To do this, measure the sheets based on your initial measurement of the roof area.
Now using the tape measure, determine the length that you need to cut and mark it using the black marker or pencil.
After this, take out the level and use it to doublecheck the exactness of measurements.
Step 4: once you’ve identified your cut, you can now proceed to cut.
For this, use a machine saw a circular saw preferably with a 90 fine tooth finish blade.
Mount the blade onto the saw and proceed to cut by pushing the sheets into the blade.
You can apply minimal pressure on the sheets to minimise noise and vibrations. The later can make the sheets to crack.
How to Cut a Polycarbonate Tube
It is easy to cut a polycarbonate sheet as there are many ways and tools to do this.
Cutting a polycarbonate tubing, however, is an all different affair.
You need to use the right tool and technique that will not crack up the tube, and that will give you a nice clean cut.
Laser cutting can give you the above results.
The problem, however, is that getting a laser cutter may not be easy and not many people can afford one.
Alternatively, therefore, you can use a table saw with a carbide tip blade.
Either of the two will allow you to cut nice clean cuts on polycarbonate tubing.
That said, let me show you a simple process of cutting polycarbonate tubing.
What you need
- Table saw
- Tape measure
- Safety gear
- Fine grit sandpaper
Step 1: using the tape measure and marker, identify and mark the length of the polycarbonate tube that you want to cut.
Make two or three marks of the same length that you want to cut around the tube.
After that, you can join the marks with a straight line that will act as your cutting guide.
Step 2: secure the tube on a flat cutting surface and begin cutting following the marked line.
A trick to ensure that you get a nice square cut is to cut while turning the tube around.
Cutting in one direction can crack up the polycarbonate or even give you jagged ends.
Remember not to force the cut. Just allow the saw to do the work.
Step 3: once your cut is complete, take the fine grit sandpaper and sand the cut end to give you a nice smooth finish.
That’s pretty much it.
Safety Precautions when Cutting Polycarbonate
Most DIY’ers underrate safety.
Why wear eyewear protection?
I’ll squint my eyes and avoid the shattered polycarbonates.
This is how most of you convince yourselves that safety gear isn’t as important when DIYing.
Well, let me tell you the truth.
Safety is paramount in any DIY projects, especially where machine and blades are involved.
Cutting polycarbonate sheet – Photo courtesy BFW Group
That said, here are some safety precautions to observe when cutting polycarbonate materials.
Always wear protective gear like:
- Safety goggles
- Face mask
These will help keep you safe from injuries when cutting polycarbonate material.
Polycarbonate sheets come with a protective plastic layer.
When cutting always keep this layer on until you are ready to install the sheet into place.
This will help protect the sheet from mechanical damage during the cutting process.
When getting ready to cut polycarbonate material, always and I mean ALWAYS do it in a suitable area.
You need to prepare and cut polycarbonates in an area with ample space and where there is a flat working space.
Doing this will allow you to cut the material with greater ease and to prevent damage.
Always use the right tool and blade. Depending on the thickness and size of your sheet, choose a tool and blade that works best for it.
Always operate tools according to the user manual.
When using a table or circular saw, always clean the blade after use.
Remember also to inspect the blade now and then to see if there is excessive wear.
Blunt and worn out saw blades can result in binding and kick back which can be very harmful and sometimes fatal.
These precautions may seem a little too obvious, but in haste, most of you overlook them which puts you in great danger.
Do not allow ignorance to creep in when working with a power tool or any cutting tool instead.
ALWAYS put your safety first, learn the right way to use tools and you’ll see that everything else will just fall into place.
FAQs on Cutting Polycarbonate
Well, I’d be lying if I said that you have no questions that you need answers to because I know you’ve got lots of them.
Therefore, I will try to answer a few of the commonly asked questions about cutting polycarbonate in this section.
Tools for cutting polycarbonate sheet
I hope you find some if not most of the answers that you are looking for.
1) Laser cutting polycarbonate has some health implications – Is this true?
Well, to some extent yes.
Heated laser beams tend to produce fumes which can be dangerous if inhaled in large amounts.
This is why I advise you to have on protective clothing and equipment when cutting this material and that you work in a well-ventilated area.
2) How good is a laser cutter?
Laser machines allow you to cut intricate shapes and patterns into polycarbonate material.
They allow for a great amount of creativity during these processes.
However, the laser cutters can be very expensive for a regular home user.
Laser beams also tend to discolour polycarbonate material. It could leave the edges yellow or brown.
Thus, I’d recommend that you use lasers to cut thinner materials for better results.
3) Can I get precise cuts on thick polycarbonates using a laser cutter?
Well, yes. You can make fines cuts on polycarbonate sheeting.
However, you may experience browning on the edges of the polycarbonate for thicker material.
In other words, unless you’ll be hiding the edges, it is inadvisable to laser cut thick polycarbonate sheets.
Instead, use a table, circular or vertical band saw.
4) Do I need any expertise to use a laser cutter?
Okay, you do not need any high-level expertise to operate a laser cutting machine.
However, basic computer knowledge and tool operation are necessary.
The good thing with new generation laser machines is that they come with a video that acts as a manual for amateur operators.
5) Can I use a Dremel to cut polycarbonate?
Yes, you can, but I don’t recommend it for nice clean cuts.
A Dremel can cut polycarbonates, but it leaves the edges jagged.
You may need to smooth and polish the cut edges afterwards.
It is also hard to cut straight lines with a Dremel.
6) Can I use hacksaw to cut polycarbonate sheet?
You can use a hacksaw too.
It is pretty efficient at cutting polycarbonate
7) How do I achieve fine finishes when cutting polycarbonate?
The trick to getting good finishes is to use a fine-toothed blade.
This means that you have to ensure that your blades are sharp all times by regularly checking for wear and sharpening when necessary.
8) How can I get rid of rough edges when cutting polycarbonate sheet?
With fine grit sandpaper, you can easily smoothen the cut edges of your polycarbonate.
9) Are there cut to size polycarbonate sheets in the market?
Yes, you can.
In fact, Weetect offers cut to size polycarbonates.
That implies, you can get custom polycarbonate sheet with whichever coating technology you want.
Well, we’ve come to end of this guide.
I hope you enjoyed every bit of it and that the information herein will helpful to you.
Thanks for reading and remember, Weetect offers cut to size polycarbonate materials at affordable prices.