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May 21, 2015

Protechwood – Working With Plastics

Two types of plastic are commonly used in furniture building; acrylic plastic and plastic laminate. Acrylic plastic is used as the principal material in construction of contemporary furniture. Plastic laminate finds use as a hard top for counters and tables.

Acrylic Plastic

Acrylic plastic is rapidly gaining favor as a material for furniture construction. Its popularity is largely due to its clean simplicity and buoyant appearance. Working with the material hardly differs from working with wood. You can buy either translucent or transparent acrylic plastic in sheet form. Almost every color or tint in the rainbow is available, though clear is the most commonly used. Prices vary according to color and thickness of the material. Clear is the least expensive but most likely to show scratches under heavy use.

Thicknesses are as varied as colors, but the most commonly used at 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch. You can easily work with either. Price difference between 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch is minimal.

Some of the tools required for cutting, drilling, bending, finish edges, and cementing plastic are probably already in your workshop. Even though you may be used to the tools, practice the various operations on scrap material before digging into an actual project.


There are several ways to cut acrylic sheet. Thicknesses up to 1/8-inch can be scored with a scribing tool (similar to a knife) then broken. Make several passes with the tool along a straightedge; run a 3/4-inch dowel beneath the length of the cut; hold the sheet down firmly with one hand and press with the other on the piece you’re cutting off. Your hands should be opposite each other about 2 inches on each side of the intended break. Don’t try to break off a piece less than 1 1/2 inches wide.

A circular saw, with a crosscut blade made for finish cuts on plywood, will deliver very straight cuts in plastic. The blade should have at least 6 teeth-per-inch – all the same height, shape, and distance from one another. Blade should protrude slightly above the thickness of the plastic. Hold the sheet firmly and cut slowly. Always leave the paper backing on the plastic sheet until you are finished cutting.

Saber, band, and jigsaws will all cut curves easily. The number of teeth-per-inch on the blade is important – saber and jigsaws should have at least 14 teeth-per-inch, band saws at least 10. Hold the plastic securely and don’t force the cut.

To drill acrylic sheet, use standard twist bits in either a hand drill or a variable-speed power drill set a low speed. Drill slowly with minimum pressure. Hold or clamp a piece of wood firmly to the back of the plastic sheet to prevent chipping.

Bending. To bend plastic, you will need an electric strip heater. You can put one together for less than $10. Purchase a heating element from your plastics dealer and make the rest from odds and ends.

Before heating, remove masking paper on both surfaces of the plastic. Use a grease pencil to mark for bends. Heat the marked area over the electric element (careful not to touch the coils). Don’t heats the plastic over 340 degrees or it may scorch and bubble. If the plastic becomes too hot, widen the distance from the heat source. Allow the plastic to heat until softening occurs (but not bubbles), bend it gently away from the hottest side to the desired angle; then hold firmly until it cools. If you bend the plastic before it’s fully heated, small internal fractures will occur along the bend. Practice on scraps to get the feel. Don’t attempt to bend sheets thicker than 1/4-inch; one side would become very hot, the other not hot enough to bend. It is usually easiest to make complicated bends around a wooden jig.

Cementing. Joining two pieces together is easy by capillary-cementing with a special solvent (available at plastic outlets). Use a hypodermic oilier, syringe, or eye-dropper to apply the solvent to a joint. Surfaces to be cemented should be sanded but not polished. Tape pieces together for support while glue hardens (about 5 minutes) but be careful not to let solvent run along edges of tape. If solvent accidentally runs onto the surface of a panel, wipe it off quickly to avoid certain marring.

Finishing. Acrylic plastic needs no finishing as such, but should be maintained in good condition. Wash it with mild soap and lukewarm water, then blot dry with a damp cloth or chamois. To help fill in minor scratches and retain the original luster, apply a hard auto wax (not a combination cleaner-wax).

Source by Protechwood

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