The Better To Cut Polycarbonate

Cutting polycarbonate with a knife

The knife is the most affordable tool for cutting solid or honeycomb polycarbonate. For such work, stationery or construction knives with retractable and replaceable blades are used. It is better to take a construction one, as it has a comfortable handle and a more reliable blade locking mechanism. It’s a good idea to cut polycarbonate with a boot knife.

Regardless of the type of tool, it must be well sharpened, a blunt knife will not only significantly slow down the process, but also leave a lot of burrs on the material. The construction knife is best for working with small sheets, cutting and adjusting them to size.

But, compared to an electric jigsaw or an angle grinder, cutting polycarbonate with a retractable blade is time consuming. It is not very convenient for them to work with sheets of a large area. It is also worth considering that clerical and construction knives are suitable for cutting polycarbonate up to 6-8 millimeters thick, but no more.

Step 1. Prepare the site for work. Detailed instructions on how to do this are outlined in the section above. Mark the polycarbonate with a black marker.

Step 2. Test the knife on scraps of material or that part of polycarbonate that will not work; you need to check the sharpness of the tool. If it is not enough, replace the blade (for stationery and construction knives) or sharpen (for a boot knife).

Step 3. Attach a rule or a thick metal ruler to the cut line. If they are not available, use a flat board or building level. When working with sheets of a large area, your assistants should keep the rule and the sheet itself, so the accuracy and quality of cutting will increase.

Step 4. Move the knife blade to the end of the cut line. When working with thick polycarbonate, hold the tool perpendicular (or nearly perpendicular) to the plane of the sheet. If the polycarbonate is thin, then it is permissible to hold the knife at an angle of 30-45. Slowly insert the knife into the end of the sheet to leave the initial notch there.

Step 5. Guide the knife from the notch along the mowing line of the cut. A rule or ruler will help you to follow the pattern.

Cutting speed should be low, accuracy is more important here. When working with rounded elements, wind the knife in bends carefully, not allowing burrs or cuts in the line drawn with a marker. Do not be afraid to leave excess trim after.

Step 6. If the cut polycarbonate sheet does not separate from the rest of the material, run the blade again along the cut line. Do not break or bend the material, there is a risk of cracks and other defects.

Step 7. Trim any burrs, if any. Trim any excess to fit the sheet. If cellular polycarbonate was cut, then glue the ends with construction tape or electrical tape so that dust and debris do not get into the cells.

For cellular polycarbonate

Table. The main dimensions of polycarbonate sheets.

Length and width, mSheet typeStandard thicknesses, mm
6.05×2.05Monolithic2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12
6×2.1Cellular4, 6, 8, 10, 14, 16, 25
12×2.1Cellular4, 6, 8, 10, 14, 16, 25

Density of polycarbonate

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about density and other characteristics of polycarbonate! In addition, we recommend that you read the article on what thickness polycarbonate is best to use for the greenhouse.

Laser

The most accurate, fast and high-quality tool for cutting polycarbonate sheets is an industrial laser. Using modern technologies and numerical control, it provides cutting accuracy up to 0.5 mm, high speed of work and, most importantly, perfectly smooth edges along the mowing line of the cut.

However, equipment with such outstanding characteristics and advantages is very expensive, so it is impractical to purchase it for one-time or rare use. Another thing is if you are going to open a workshop for the manufacture of greenhouses, roofs, canopies and fences made of polycarbonate. It should be understood that working with an industrial laser requires appropriate skills, which are almost impossible to learn on your own.

Cutting Polycarbonate Angle Grinder

The next most popular tool after the knife is the angle grinder, better known as the angle grinder. It is well suited for sawing large sheets of polycarbonate with straight lines. If you need to make a cut with rounded elements, for example, cut out the end wall of an arched greenhouse, then it is better to use a knife or electric jigsaw.

To cut polycarbonate, use metal cut-off wheels, preferably those that are designed to work with aluminum. This is due to the fact that when using them, the temperature in the cutting zone will be lower than when using a wheel on steel. Accordingly, the risk of melting the edges of the polycarbonate sheet will also be less. To make the chances of melting even less (and at the same time to reduce the likelihood of burrs), use an angle grinder at low speeds.

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Step 1. Prepare a sheet and a platform for work as described in the instructions in one of the previous sections of the article. When working with an angle grinder, fit props and plank scaffolding to the right and left of the cut line. Do not remove the protective film from the sheet.

Step 2. Test the angle grinder on cuts or unnecessary pieces of polycarbonate. This will give you some practice and a little experience with a similar material and an angle grinder. After that, it will be much easier and safer to correctly cut the main sheet.

Step 3. Turn on the angle grinder, let it pick up the required number of revolutions and move the cut-off wheel to the end of the sheet along the cut-off line.

Step 4. Start the cutting process. Slowly move the angle grinder cut-off wheel forward on the cut-off line. Control the position and do not rush, otherwise there is a risk of leaving a large burr. When cutting cellular polycarbonate along the stiffening ribs, the cutting line should be positioned so that the cut-off wheel of the angle grinder does not cut into the walls of the cells. Wear protective goggles to keep plastic chips out of your eyes.

Step 5. When finished cutting, turn off the angle grinder and de-energize it. As a rule, the sheet is cut off immediately and completely; additional work with a knife is not required.

Step 6. If you are cutting cellular polycarbonate, remove any plastic shavings and dust from the cells after the process is complete. To do this, use a jet of compressed air, vacuum cleaner or fan.

Step 7. Cover the edge of the honeycomb polycarbonate sheet with construction tape.

You can cut with a circular saw in a similar way. Choose fine-toothed saw blades designed for metal or plastics. Immediately before starting to insert the disc, let it gain the required number of revolutions. The base plate of the tool, which needs to be pressed against the sheet, will help you to increase the accuracy of cutting.

Cutting polycarbonate with an electric jigsaw

The choice of an electric jigsaw as a tool for cutting polycarbonate sheets can be called a kind of compromise between the cutting speed of an angle grinder and the safety (as well as relative simplicity) of working with a construction knife. In addition, the jigsaw is great for sawing semicircular / round elements and complex parts.

The main thing is to choose the right file. First, notice the shape of the teeth. Straight or wavy prongs will give you exactly what you need for an even and clean cut. With adjustable teeth, on the contrary, they are intended for working with wood, therefore an electric jigsaw with such a file will not cut, but tear the polycarbonate, leaving in it a lot of chipping, burrs and other defects.

Second, pay attention to the number and size of the prongs. They should be frequent and small. These properties are determined by the TPI parameter, the number of teeth per inch. In our case, give preference to files with TPI from 9 to 13 and more.

Thirdly, ask the seller what material this or that file is designed for. You need those canvases that are designed to work with metal, plastic or plexiglass. Choose specialized files whenever possible, they will give a clean cut with a minimum of defects.

Step 1. Mark out the polycarbonate sheet and prepare your work area.

Step 2. Place the file in an electric jigsaw. It is advisable to use a new and sharp blade. Fix it carefully and adjust if it is not properly fixed, the file will vibrate and leave defects on the polycarbonate.

Step 3. Bring the jigsaw connected to the power supply to the end of the sheet along the cutting line of the cut. For greater convenience, make a notch in this place in advance with a sharp knife with a retractable blade. Do not remove the protective film from the sheet until the cutting process is complete.

Step 4. Press the base plate of the jigsaw against the material. Make sure that the force applied to the tool is not excessively large, otherwise the polycarbonate along the cut line will bend. It is advisable that your helpers or clamps hold the sheet, not allowing it to move or vibrate.

Step 5. Turn on the electric jigsaw and let the saw speed up. As soon as it does this, start cutting into the material along the cut mowing line, slowly and carefully guide it forward, pressing the base plate of the jigsaw against the plane of the polycarbonate. Take special care in curved sections. It is a good idea to pre-practice cutting rounded parts on polycarbonate cuts and waste, which will give you experience and simplify your business.

Step 6. After completing work with the electric jigsaw, turn it off and unplug. Clean the cells of the polycarbonate sheet from chips using a vacuum cleaner or a jet of compressed air. Cut off the excess with a knife and clean the edge of the sheet from defects. Cover it with construction tape to protect the cells from dirt and dust.

Preparation and markup

These step-by-step instructions for preparing the workplace are common to all types of tools used, except for industrial laser and milling machine.

Step 1. Clear debris and unnecessary items from the work area. This is necessary not just for reasons of cleanliness, but so that they do not interfere with the process and do not leave dents, scratches or other marks on the back of the sheet.

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Step 2. Lay a sheet of plywood, chipboard or fiberboard on the site. The cutting area is now as flat as possible.

Step 3. Transfer and place a sheet of polycarbonate on the work area. If it has a laminated, mirror or UV coating, then it should look up. Do not remove the protective film from the sheet until after cutting the material.

Step 4. Perform preliminary layout in the form of a diagram on paper, observing the scale.

Step 5. Transfer the layout from the paper to the polycarbonate. For measurements, use a tape measure, a metal ruler and a rule for drawing cutting lines with a black marker.

When working with sheets of a large area, place a board on top (at least 100 mm wide) and walk only on it so as not to damage the polycarbonate surface. Examples of cutting material for the gable of greenhouses are shown in the image below.

Step 6. Not far from the mowing line of the cut, to the left and right, place boards with a height of at least 4 cm and a width of at least 10-15 under the polycarbonate. Their ends should look out from under the sheet on both sides. The boards act as props to prevent the tool from cutting directly into the backing material.

Step 7. As with striping, when cutting polycarbonate, move not along the surface of the sheet, but along a wide board lying on it. Working as a kind of ski, it reduces the risk of damage and deformation of the material under the weight of the cutter.

General recommendations

When choosing how to cut monolithic polycarbonate or its hollow analogue, you need to pay attention to the thickness of the material and the shape of the cut lines. It is most convenient to divide thin sheets with a knife, perform straight cuts with an angle grinder or circular, and rounded with an electric jigsaw.

The Better To Cut Polycarbonate

If polycarbonate has a mirror or laminated coating, it must be turned with the decorative side up when marking and cutting. The protective film is not removed until the end of the work in any case.

If you need to make a round or curly hole in the sheet, it is first drilled through with a metal drill. The drill should enter the material near the scribe line inside the shape to be cut and pass between the inner baffles. Then a jigsaw file or a thin sharp knife is inserted into the resulting hole, with which the whole figure is cut.

The elements of the cellular coating are fastened to the frame with self-tapping screws with special thermowells made of polycarbonate or silicone with a foam rubber gasket and a cap for the fastener cap. They tightly seal the mounting holes, preventing moisture and dust from entering them. To avoid the appearance of cracks, holes for self-tapping screws are pre-drilled, retreating from the edge by 3-4 cm.

We prepare the workplace and do the markup

Before cutting the polycarbonate, it must be cut. Despite the sufficient strength of the material, scratches or dents may appear on its surface if handled carelessly, which is especially likely when working with sheets of a large area, which you have to rely on in the process of marking and cutting.

Then, using a tape measure, a corner, a long ruler and other measuring instruments, the contours of the cut out elements are applied to the sheet directly over the protective film with a marker. Sometimes for this you have to first draw up a diagram on a scale on paper or in a computer editor in order to make the most efficient use of the material and avoid a lot of waste.

If during the cutting process you have to lean on the sheet or move along it, then this should be done by laying a wide board or a piece of plywood on the surface so as not to leave dents.

Hacksaw for metal

This tool should be considered last, as it is not very convenient, long and labor-intensive to work with. Although it is quite possible for them to make a neat straight cut, if the polycarbonate is well fixed, do not rush and do not pull the canvas, but make smooth movements. Abrupt jerks can deform and crack the edge. Holding the hacksaw at a constant angle to the surface (30-45 degrees).

Angle grinder

An angle grinder, like a knife, cuts polycarbonate well along a straight mowing line or along a mowing line with a large radius of curvature. In other cases, the cutting disc gets stuck between the halves of the blade, and the cut is torn.

To get a smooth, non-melted edge, the tool is used at low speeds, with a disc for cutting aluminum or concrete. It easily handles any kind of material and any thickness.

The sheet is prepared for sawing by placing thick boards under it on both sides of the cut mowing line. They will provide the necessary clearance between the base and the polycarbonate lying on it, allowing the disc to move in free space.

You can move the cutting line a little further than the edge of the flooring, but then the hanging side of the blade must be held securely, for which you will need the help of a partner. If you do not do this, light material will vibrate, preventing you from getting an even cut.

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Before cutting solid polycarbonate at home, turn on the angle grinder and allow the engine to reach the rated speed. Only after that, the cutting wheel is brought to the edge farthest from itself, cut through it and, having deepened the disc, slowly lead it towards itself along the cutting line of the cut.

Material characteristics

The demand for this material is largely due to its characteristics.

The most significant advantages of polycarbonate are as follows:

  • The impact resistance of the material, that is, the ability to withstand significant mechanical stress. It is almost impossible to break it; when struck, small fragments are not formed, which can cut.
  • Ease of styling.
  • Flexibility. Due to this indicator, polycarbonate is often used for glazing various frames.

However, polycarbonate is extremely sensitive to UV radiation and extreme temperature fluctuations. Under the influence of these factors, the material gradually loses its transparency, acquiring a yellowish or mealy tint, and also becomes very fragile.

There are several types of polycarbonate, however, the most demanded are monolithic and cellular.

When working with one or another type of material, it is extremely important to know how to cut polycarbonate correctly so as not to damage it. Next, we will describe a few common methods.

Slicing with an angle grinder

Cutting polycarbonate at home with an angle grinder is a fairly common way of working. To do this, use a circle number 125 for metal.

It is difficult to overestimate the value of this tool in the right hands, it can be used in a variety of construction processes.

Using an angle grinder can cut polycarbonate very quickly. The main thing is not to put pressure on the material so that it does not burst, especially if your tool is operating at high speeds.

It is recommended that you practice cutting into small pieces to determine the pressure. In any case, do not press hard, making the cut as carefully as possible.

Laser cutting

The newest way to cut polycarbonate is laser cutting. This requires special equipment that generates a laser beam that cuts the polycarbonate sheet.

Among the advantages of this method are:

  • Perfectly straight edge;
  • The ability to cut material of various thicknesses;
  • High manipulation speed.

However, there are some disadvantages to laser cutting:

  • Special expensive equipment is required to carry out the work. It is advisable to purchase it only if it is planned to use it professionally in the future.
  • Before starting cutting, it is necessary to correctly configure the equipment for this, certain skills are required.

Thus, laser cutting is acceptable for only a small number of users. Of all the options for cutting cellular polycarbonate, you should still choose an angle grinder or an electric jigsaw. After some training with such tools, you can make a beautiful, high-quality cut.

Having dealt with the basic tools, we will tell you how to cut polycarbonate with one of them.

Using a utility knife

When deciding what is better to cut polycarbonate, you should pay attention to a simple and affordable clerical knife tool. Even novice builders can use it.

Such a tool can cope with sheets of cellular polycarbonate, 4-6 mm thick. But material with a thickness of 8 mm or more with a clerical knife will be quite difficult to cut.

Of course, you need to use a quality knife with a sharp tip and blade for work. Then it will be very easy to make a cut.

Before cutting polycarbonate, you need to measure a piece of the required size and mark it. A ruler or any other flat bar is applied to the applied marks, and a knife is drawn along it.

Jigsaw

Sometimes the only viable option than sawing polycarbonate is an electric jigsaw. With this tool, you can cut material of any type and thickness. over, the jigsaw allows you to perform figured cutting of monolithic polycarbonate of any complexity in the shortest possible time. However, in the process of work, you need to use the smallest file so that the material is not damaged.

As with an angle grinder, it is better to fill your hand in cutting polycarbonate on small pieces of material. Having acquired the necessary skill, it will be possible to proceed to making cutouts of a complex configuration.

Experienced builders cut thin sheets of polycarbonate 4 mm thick, stacking them in several layers and cutting everything together. This makes work easier and faster as thin sheets do not break or deteriorate.

Polycarbonate fixing tips

Fixation of polycarbonate sheets should be done with self-tapping screws with sealing washers. It is noteworthy that the diameter of the self-tapping screws should exceed the cross section of the hole in the polycarbonate by 1-2 mm. This allows you to compensate for the expansion of the material when heated.

In addition, it is very important that the self-tapping screw into the polycarbonate sheet is free. Otherwise, a hole that is not drilled properly may deform the material.

Laying polycarbonate should be done end-to-end, but gaps should be left for thermal expansion of the material. This approach will avoid mistakes in the installation of polycarbonate.

Use neoprene or silicone tapes to seal material joints. You should not use soft PVC sealing materials, as as the polycarbonate is used, they release substances that gradually destroy the material.

Sealing compounds for insulating polycarbonate joints can only be silicone and no other.