How To Cut Polycarbonate Sheet

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You should know that the polycarbonate It is a plastic that, among its main assets, has great resistance and insulation, but it is certainly delicate because it can break with a certain effort. Thus, knowing how to cut polycarbonate sheet properly is necessary.

Polycarbonates, often referred to by the abbreviation PC, are plastics based on carbonic acid polyesters. It is one of the most popular plastics on the market since we can find this material in common objects such as CDs, toys, camera parts, pastry molds, greenhouse covers or vehicle headlights. This material is valued primarily for the following properties:

  • very high impact strength,
  • high transparency and light transmission,
  • light weight,
  • Possibility of simple mechanical and thermoplastic processing.

The properties of this plastic mean that polycarbonate is widely used not only in construction, but also in a number of specialized industries. Solid polycarbonate is used to make various types of shielding, including bulletproof glass. 

Polycarbonate is also used in the manufacture of boats, submersibles, airplanes and even in the space industry e.g. B. as a protective shield for the helmets of the astronauts. Polycarbonate is suitable for most situations where a material with high transparency and resistance to strong forces is required.

It is possible to cut polycarbonate sheets, trim polycarbonate and drill holes in this material. For very simple jobs that do not require particular precision, polycarbonate sheets can be cut in the home workshop using power tools or even hand tools. 

However, cutting polycarbonate sheet requires a bit more effort than cutting PLEXIGLAS®, which is a more malleable material. Therefore, if you require precision and do not want to risk damaging this expensive material, it is better to use the polycarbonate cutting machines.

Options for cutting polycarbonate sheet

Polycarbonate sheet can be processed with a wide variety of tools. In the commercial processing of plastics, panel dividing systems and CNC milling machines are usually used for this purpose. Computer-controlled laser cutters (CNC laser systems) are also used for acrylic glass sheets (PMMA) . 

With laser cutting, the plastic is not burned by the laser beam, but vaporized directly. This guarantees a very clean and post-processing free interface. In the do-it-yourself sector, other, simpler systems are used. The properties and material thickness of the plastic sheet determine the right choice of tool. The tools available are:

  • Cutter knife
  • hacksaw
  • jigsaw
  • circular saw

In the following we will go into more detail about the individual tools.

Cutter knife

A simple cutter knife can be used to cut thinner plastics (only PVC up to approx. 4-5 mm panel thickness).

In many cases it is sufficient to simply cut into the plastic and then break off the cut edge. In order to achieve a straight cutting edge, it is best to place a metal ruler on the planned cut and pull the cutter knife along it.

Hacksaw

The hacksaw can also be found in the tool box of most craftsmen and do-it-yourselfers. If not too many cuts are required, the use of this saw usually makes sense.

For cutting plastic materials, a saw blade with the most fine teeth should be used, with the teeth not protruding to the side. You should avoid pressing down firmly during the cutting process, as this can lead to material damage. The planned cutting edge should also be marked in advance of the cutting process.

Jigsaw

Depending on the material, the jigsaw achieves good saw edges. Soft and elastic plastic can be cut very well with a jigsaw, but with increasing hardness and porosity of the material there is a greater risk that the cut edge will fray or even break off.

Wheb using the jigsaw, it is important to switch off the pendulum stroke completely while you set the stroke to the maximum speed, but. The time required for cutting with a jigsaw is significantly higher, so it is usually only worth using if there are only a few panels to be cut.

Circular saw

A plastic panel can be cut or sawed very easily with a circular saw. To do this, set the saw to the highest speed. As a result, the cut edges are very clean and straight, and fraying can be almost entirely avoided.

When using a circular saw, the cutting of the plastic sheets is very quick, so the circular saw is particularly recommended when cutting larger quantities of plastic sheets. Similar to the hacksaw, the saw blade should meet the requirements for cutting plastic panels. You need a blade that is as fine-toothed as possible and on which the teeth are not flared to the side. You can also use special plastic saw blades, but multi-material saw blades are also suitable.

How to cut polycarbonate

Of course, how to cut polycarbonate sheets depends on the use of the material and your needs. The popular multiwall polycarbonate used for inexpensive and practical canopies is often cut to size at home. With this type of project, a margin of error of 1 to 2 mm often does not matter. With a little practice and the right tools, you can cut hollow chamber polycarbonate yourself.

However, cutting solid polycarbonate is a little different, especially for thicker sheets with a large area. It is worth noting that large and stronger solid polycarbonate sheets are relatively expensive. If you decide to cut such material at home, you risk significant financial losses if something goes wrong. When cutting solid polycarbonate, it is better to hire a professional service that will cut this material to any size and shape.

Panel saw

Cutting polycarbonate with a panel saw guarantees very high precision of only 0.1 mm over a cutting length of 3 meters. The advantage of this technology also lies in the possibility of cutting thicker panels or whole packs of sheets. 

The maximum thickness of the material to be cut with this machine is 100 mm. The only disadvantage of this technology is that that the panel saw can only make straight cuts. Therefore, when cutting polycarbonate sheets in this way, only rectangular shaped pieces are produced. On the other hand, the advantages of cutting polycarbonate with this saw include the low cost of this type of service and the short implementation time.

Milling machine

If you want to cut a complicated format from polycarbonate and you need special precision, you can use a milling machine. Thanks to the interchangeable milling tools, cutting polycarbonate with this machine is fast and efficient, regardless of the material thickness. The milling plotter not only cuts polycarbonate, but also mills the edges or creates cut-outs with any depth and surface.

Cutting polycarbonate with angle grinder

There are situations where, despite everything, we decide to cut polycarbonate with an angle grinder. Cutting polycarbonate with the angle grinder is particularly popular with materials such as hollow-chamber polycarbonate or corrugated polycarbonate sheets. 

Cutting polycarbonate into corrugated sheet with the angle grinder is a relatively easy task. In most cases we can use universal cutting discs or discs designed for plastics. However, we must reckon that cutting polycarbonate with the Flex will not offer the same precision and accuracy as having this material cut by a professional service.

Drilling holes in polycarbonate, on the other hand, does not pose a major problem. This type of processing of solid polycarbonate can be successfully performed even at home. For this purpose, we can use a high-speed electric drill and a metal drill bit. 

Care should also be taken to ensure that the panel is adequately supported as close as possible to the drilling site. This avoids vibrations in the material. When drilling holes in hollow chamber polycarbonate, a distance of at least 40 mm to the edge should be maintained. As with cutting the twin-wall sheets, the chambers must be blown out with compressed air after drilling.

Summary

Polycarbonate is a type of plastic commonly used to make or modify window panes. It nearly always comes in sheets and is relatively  easy to cut. Thinner polycarbonate sheets can be scored and torn with a utility knife. With a circular saw, you can make straight cuts on thicker sheet metal. If you want to cut angles or odd shapes in your polycarbonate, you can use a jigsaw. Remember to always wear safety goggles, gloves and earmuffs when working with power tools.

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