Plexiglass is a slightly altered brand name that is commonly used for engineering plastic, acrylic glass, or simply polymethyl methacrylate. So, Plexiglas brand plexiglass actually makes sense. But the focus of this article is not on the names but rather on how you can cut plexiglass on table saw.
I will cover some properties of the material, and provide detailed instructions on how to cut it on a table saw, and along with all of it, we’ll take a look at some alternative ways of cutting acrylic sheeting.
- 1 What is plexiglass?
- 2 Types of plexiglasses
- 3 Table saw requirements for cutting an acrylic sheet
- 4 The best saw blade to cut plexiglass
- 5 Setting up the table saw for cutting plexiglass
- 6 Recommendations on actual cutting
- 7 Working on edges
- 8 Are there any other ways to cut plexiglass?
- 9 Q&A bit
- 10 Wrapping it: how to cut plexiglass on table saw
What is plexiglass?
Plexiglass is a type of plastic sheeting made of polymethyl methacrylate. It is durable enough, transparent, and cheap enough to be used instead of actual glass. Though in some cases, it can’t serve as a viable substitute for glass.
Plexiglas is the brand name, so actually not all acrylic sheets are Plexiglas, but all plexiglass sheets are acrylic.
For instance, plexiglass being a polymer material is really sensitive to high temperatures. It melts. Also, it is sensitive to certain chemicals. On the other hand, it is more affordable, less brittle, and can be deformed in the needed way with using of heat.
There’s also a very similar material called polycarbonate. It is also a durable, transparent, and cheap sheet material made of polymer with the same name. There’s almost no way to tell them apart on a shelf, so the term Plexiglas is often mistakenly used for polycarbonate.
Types of plexiglasses
Along with numerous brands of acrylic glass, there is also a division of other acrylic materials based on the type of manufacturing. Cast and extruded plexiglass have slightly different properties compared to one another. And polycarbonate is different from both of those.
You can use acrylic sheeting for making transparent windows in boxes, fabricate see-through bodies for your projects, and in many other ways, including intricate bend details.
Extruded acrylic sheets
This type of acrylic sheet is produced by extrusion. The resulting extruded acrylic sheets are not as hard as the cast plexiglass, so it is less suitable for cutting on table saws. Hand tools are your best option.
Pro-tip: If you are uncertain if your plexiglass is extruded or cast, then just use a sacrificial piece for some test cuts.
Extruded acrylic sheets are also more sensitive to temperature than cast acrylic sheets, so it is the best option for bending and forming. Just make sure to not overheat the region you are working on. Plexiglass is prone to bubbling and can even catch on fire.
Cast acrylic sheet
In complete accordance with the name, cast acrylic sheets are produced by casting. This type of material is harder and the most suitable for cutting with power tools. On top of it, cast acrylics tend to have better optical properties. Be it plexiglass sheet material or a resin for casting.
Differences between extruding heated material through a respective mold and natural (or assisted) setting of the polymer are responsible for differences in the finished product Plexiglas sheet.
In terms of physical properties, polycarbonate is somewhere in between extruded and cast acrylic sheets. The surface of polycarbonate sheets is more prone to scratching compared to acrylic plexiglass. At least without a protective coating. A buffing pad will help clean up the surface.
Warning: Polycarbonate sheets are made of potentially harmful material. Cutting, heating, and long exposure to water release Bisphenol A, which can harm the endocrine system.
Table saw requirements for cutting an acrylic sheet
There are no special requirements for a table saw to be able to cut plexiglass. Most of them will do. But I surely have some recommendations that will make the process much easier, faster, and tidier.
Tip. You can read my guide about Types of power saws.
2 horse powers and above is the best power for cutting plexiglass with a table saw. It provides the needed linear speed of a tooth on the table saw blade for cutting.
A rotation rate of 3400 rpm is the optimal setting for a standard saw blade of 10” diameter. For smaller blades, you’ll need to increase the rotation speed a bit to preserve the linear speed of a tooth.
A basic barebones table saw is good enough for cutting plexiglass, but having a dust-collecting system attached to it will make your life much easier.
Small chippings and dust from an acrylic sheet are accumulating plenty of static charges and end up sticking to every surface. It is a lot of mess to clean up. Dust collecting system will reduce it to a certain extent.
The best saw blade to cut plexiglass
Having the right blade is a much more efficient way to make a decent cut on a plexiglass sheet, though by any measure not the only one. There are dedicated blades for cutting plastic materials, but a regular carbide-tipped blade for cutting wood or plywood will do too.
The standard diameter of a blade for cutting wood for a table saw falls within the range between 8 ½ and 10 inches. And it actually makes no difference as long as you compensate smaller diameter by increasing the rotation rate a bit.
The optimal teeth count for cutting plexiglass is anywhere above 60. It is possible to cut plexiglass with blades with lower teeth count but you will have to adjust feeding speed to prevent sloppy cuts, cracking, and excessive vibration.
Saw blade configuration
Carbide tips are the most common requirement for cutting plexiglass with a table saw. A dedicated plexiglass blade for cutting polymer materials such as vinyl or acrylic glass has triangle-shaped teeth that are located at a right angle.
Though the traditional configuration of teeth for cutting wood will do too as long as it has enough teeth, and you maintain the right feeding speed.
Setting up the table saw for cutting plexiglass
Once you made sure your table saw blade is suitable for cutting plexiglass, the rest of the setup is pretty simple.
Pro-tip: Having additional space behind the actual working surface of the table saw is very convenient for any plastic sheeting, metal sheets, and even boards. Consider adding a sort of table extension. It can be a great woodworking project too.
The actual settings are as follows:
- Set the rotation rate to 3400 or slightly above for blades smaller than 10” in diameter.
- Set the fence to the desired width of the cut.
- Set the height of the blade to be around half an inch higher than the thickness of the plexiglass sheet.
- Set the desired angle for your cut.
Now, your table saw is ready for cutting some plexiglass.
Pro-tip: To make a precise cut, you’ll have to account for the width of the blade. The usual blade thickness is 1/8 of an inch when it comes to wood-cutting blades. Dedicated polymer cutting blades are thinner.
Never hesitate to make some test cuts to make sure everything is set up right and to get the feel of cutting plexiglass in general. It may seem like a waste of material, but trust me it will save a lot in the long run.
Tip. Furthermore, you can read more about the 9 Best table saw fence.
Recommendations on actual cutting
Feeding speed is the key parameter to have a nice cut in plexiglass with a table saw. Especially when the blade type and speed are right. But there is a bit more to it. Especially when it comes to safety measures.
Pro-tip: Keep the protective film on the plexiglass sheet for as long as possible to prevent accidental scratching and other damage to the surface. If the film starts to peel away, just put some painter’s tape on the edges of the film.
A table saw is far from being the safest tool. So, when cutting plexiglass with a table saw, you would want to follow general recommendations and protect:
- Fingers by using a push block.
- Eyes by protective goggles or some safety glasses. Acrylic particles will fly around and have a good chance to end up in your eyes.
- Ears from a lot of noise created by the working table saw.
Adding a respirator to safety glasses will be a great idea if you are using a blade with high teeth count. The fine dust that the saw takes out from the cut can get airborne and end up inside your lungs. Not the most desirable outcome.
Furthermore, sheets of plexiglass are prone to vibration. Plexiglass that flaps around can cause some serious injuries through kickback. Steady and strong downward pressure is really helpful for avoiding it.
Fashion some custom push block out of plywood or any other suitable material if needed. A thick sheet will be more stable than a thin one and will require less pressure to maintain stability.
The ideal measurable feed rate for cutting plexiglass is 3” inches per second. There are not many ways to measure the feed rate properly. And actually, just taking a couple of test cuts is a much easier and faster way to figure out the best feeding rate for your setup.
Steady feeding is actually more important than the actual speed as it prevents melting, cracking, and chipping of the sheet. In terms of thickness, the thinner the material, the slower feeding should be.
Steady feeding at the right speed is the crucial aspect of having nice and clean cuts. If it will be too slow, the blade will just hit the sheet, causing it to vibrate and crack. If the feed is too fast, the edges of the cut will simply melt.
Working on edges
After cutting, you’ll end up with pretty rough edges. Even if the setup was perfect, the edges of the cut will be rough. Further work on them would require different work depending on the things you are planning to do with the part.
There are three main things you can do to the edges:
- Leave them as is if the edges in the finished project won’t be glued or exposed to the sight.
- Sand acrylic a bit for further gluing.
- Treat the edges with heat if they will be exposed.
A handheld gas burner is the fastest and the best way to smooth the finishing of a rough surface in any plastic sheet. It will work on edges and any scoffed surface. Just try not to overburn the scoffed region as it may cause bubbling. A buffing pad on some power polishing too will do too.
Moreover, a smooth surface is not really suitable for gluing. Sanding with finer grit sandpaper (120-180 grit) on a sanding block is enough to have decent relief for gluing. Coarse grit sandpaper or fine grit waterproof sandpaper will work too. You will be literally able to see how the glue spreads between the surfaces.
Tip. Get more useful information about the 10 Best sanders in 2023.
But don’t go too far on sanding. A polished acrylic edge will stick to the mating surface a lot worse than the rough one. Make a couple of passes, starting with finer grit sandpaper.
Use some cyanoacrylate glue. It is the best option among all the available for gluing plexiglass. Chloroform-based glues will literally melt plexiglass and fuse parts together, but they are almost impossible to obtain legally within a reasonable price range.
Pro-tip: Use a special chamfer cutting tool, a sanding block, or some sharpened long putty knife to make small chamfers on the sharp edges of each piece to prevent cutting your hands while handling pieces of plexiglass.
Are there any other ways to cut plexiglass?
There are plenty of other tools and methods to cut plexiglass aside from using the table saw. They require much more effort but, in some situations, it is a much more reasonable option. For instance, if you don’t have a table saw. Or it is the singular cut that isn’t even worth starting up the saw.
Actually, you can use a lot of other power tools including a band saw, scroll saw, or even a handheld rotary tool aka a Dremel grinder. The right type of blade is more important than the type of saw.
Knife and ruler
A straight-edge knife (utility knife, box-cutter, dedicated plexiglass knife) is the most accessible setup for cutting plexiglass.
The process of cutting is pretty simple:
- Mark the cutting line with a straight edge and a shallow path with a utility knife.
- Use a ruler to guide the knife for making enough passes for the knife to penetrate at least a third of the thickness of the sheet.
- Flip the sheet and make the same number of passes from the other side.
- Crack the sheet along the scoffed line.
It is a time-consuming method and not as reliable as cutting on a table saw, but it’s the best option for a singular cut, for instance.
Inherently, a jigsaw is not the best option for cutting plexiglass. The wrong blade and feeding rate are the main complications for successfully cutting plexiglass with it. General wood-cutting blades will just melt the material.
Dedicated jigsaw blades for plastic have no offset on teeth to prevent chipping and cracking of the plexiglass. The right blade and steady feed are the two key features of the successful cutting of plexiglass with a jigsaw.
Pro-tip: Turn off the pendulum motion on your jigsaw if the tool allows it. Simple reciprocating motion at the speed of around 4000 will do the trick.
Circular saw of any kind
Since the circular saw is really similar to a table saw, it can cut plexiglass sheets too. Given the smaller size of the blade, you will have to set the rotation rate higher.
In terms of blades, you can use both dedicated blades for plastic and regular woodcutting blade. To achieve the best results with a regular wood-cutting blade, you would want to flip it. Reversed teeth will reduce the risk of chipping some material away and cracking it.
Hand saws are the most reliable tools for cutting plexiglass. Especially having the needed configuration of teeth. Fine teeth with no offset are the best configuration for hand saws, too. You will highly likely have a bimetal metal cutting blade in the workshop. That or Japanese woodworking saw will do.
Of course, hand-cutting will take a lot more time and effort. But for a couple of cuts, it will do too. On top of it, there is almost no way to burn and melt the plexiglass.
What kind of saw do you use to cut plexiglass?
The configuration of the blade is more important than the type of saw for cutting plexiglass. You can use various types of power saws and hand tools that have the right blade with fine teeth and no offset (including a Dremel grinder or an abrasive disc with an electric drill).
Naturally, there are some limitations. For instance, cutting sheet material on a miter saw is extremely uncomfortable, and a hand saw with an enforced back won’t allow it. Just follow the recommendations from above and your best judgment to be able to pick the most suitable tool.
Can plexiglass be cut on a table saw?
Of course. You’re just going to need to make sure that the blade on the saw is suitable for the job. Follow all the security measures and keep a steady feed rate. Such simple tricks will improve the quality of the cuts.
Can you cut plastic with a table saw?
A table saw is completely suitable for cutting a wide range of materials including various plastics (vinyl, polycarbonate, methacrylate, etc.) All it takes is just using the proper blade.
Wrapping it: how to cut plexiglass on table saw
All in all, cutting plexiglass with a table saw is completely possible. Moreover, it is a fast and reliable way to do so. Pay attention to the type of blade, keep a slow and steady feeding rate, and you’ll have a nice and clean cut even in the thickest plexiglass.
Further work on the edges depends completely on the type of project you are making. Now you are all set to cut plexiglass on table saw. The rest is just a matter of practicing.
My name is Alex Mashinsky
I am an enthusiastic woodworking hobbyist who created topwoodworkingtools.com to provide helpful information and advice to fellow woodworkers.
The goal of the website is to help readers make informed decisions about woodworking tools and materials, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that they achieve the best possible results from their projects.
My main focus is on offering accurate, honest, and well-reasoned opinions and advice to help readers choose the most suitable tools and materials for their particular needs.