Have you ever looked at a piece of softwood that’s carved with a high level of detail and wondered, “what kind of tool can make such detailed cuts?”
In many situations, that artistic piece of wood is carved with a tool called a “scroll saw”.
Despite not being among the popular hardware tools, the scroll saws are highly beneficial and can be used for a wide variety of projects.
One of the most common uses of a scroll saw is carving intricate curves and details into wood. However, can a scroll saw cut acrylic and other materials?
In this article, I’ll give you the ultimate answer to that question. Additionally, I’ll provide you with some tips while using scroll saws to cut acrylic and other plastics.
Let’s dive in!
What Does a Scroll Saw Do?
Before answering the main question, you need to make sure that you understand how a scroll saw works. This can also help you understand the answer to the main question.
As you already know, a scroll saw is an electric-powered saw that makes beveled cuts and complex details on a variety of materials, but most commonly wood.
The scroll saw is named so because it was used traditionally for creating scrollwork sculptures. These sculptures were graphically designed ornaments that used incomplete circles and spirals artistically.
Scroll saws have a lot in common with the band saw. In fact, some believe that scroll saws are the evolution of band saws.
They both share a similar fine blade in the middle where you pivot your artwork around to make the cuts. However, the scroll saw is different from the band saw in that you use the table itself to move the workpiece.
Additionally, a scroll saw also has a reciprocating blade that gives you the ability to cut edges and curves in the inner part of the wood.
Moreover, scroll saws are a non-stop loop, so they get the work done faster, easier, and with more precise results. To use it, you need to drill a small hole in the piece of work you’re cutting.
After that, you should introduce the blade and mount it on the saw’s arm to start cutting. It goes without saying that you adjust the table angle and speed throughout the process to finish the work.
Can You Use a Scroll Saw to Cut Through Plastic?
Durable and thick plastic is used to make a wide variety of items. As a rule of thumb, cutting plastic requires a fine blade with a decent amount of power.
Since scroll saw blades are fine and powerful, they should theoretically be able to cut through different types of plastic.
In fact, a scroll saw has the ability to cut through a wide variety of materials, provided that you equip it with the right blade. These materials include:
- All types of wood
Not only these materials, but it can also cut through plastics. Acrylic material is a form of transparent plastic.
It’s formally known as “Polymethyl methacrylate”. Some people might call it a bunch of trade names that will be familiar to you, such as Plexiglass, Acrylite, Perclax, Perspex, Crylux, and others.
Acrylic is a transparent thermoplastic that is usually used as an alternative to glass. The reason behind that is that it has similar physical clarity to that of glass. However, it’s much lighter in weight and has better resistance to shattering and breaking.
Tips for Cutting Acrylic with a Scroll Saw
While using the scroll saw to cut through acrylic, there are some problems that you might come across.
Here are some tips that you should use to make the best cut to acrylic and enjoy the best results with excellent quality.
1) Experiment with Blade Sizes
Choosing the blade size is extremely important while cutting acrylic with a scroll saw. Scroll saw blades are measured by teeth per inch. The higher the teeth per inch, the finer the blade.
While cutting through acrylic and other plastics, you need to make sure that your scroll saw blade has relatively high teeth per inch.
If you use a blade with lower teeth per inch, only a few of these teeth will be able to make contact with the acrylic plastic and some of them will remain in the material.
Since acrylic has the tendency to bounce as you saw it, there’s a good chance that it will chip and eventually shatter.
Before choosing a saw blade to work with, you need to make sure that it won’t chip through your acrylic. That’s why you need to try out different blades with different teeth per inch before working on the real project.
2) Give the Saw Blade Time to Cool Down
One of the biggest problems that you might encounter while cutting acrylic with a scroll is melting and fusion.
When you cut through acrylic with the blade, the intense friction that occurs between the blade teeth and the plastic generates an amount of heat that is high enough to melt some of the acrylic plastic.
The problem is, when they melt from friction, they solidify back again in seconds from the colder air around them. However, while solidifying, the acrylic plastic fuses back together instead of letting the cut pieces fall like sawdust.
Also, some models of scroll saws come with a blower feature that cools down the acrylic even faster.
To solve this problem, you need to make sure that you prevent the blade from getting too hot that it starts melting the acrylic edges. This can be done by working on small flashes to allow the blades to cool down.
3) Use Masking Tape While Sawing Acrylic
Another way to prevent fusion while sawing through acrylic is by using the masking tape. In this method, you apply multiple layers of masking tape just below the cut line of the acrylic.
This tape will help in absorbing and dissipating some of the heat produced from the scroll saw blade.
If you don’t like taping the acrylic while using it, you can at least leave the protective backing paper on the acrylic pieces while cutting it. You can easily remove it once you’re done.
4) Work in an Air Conditioned Area
If you have an air compressor, it can produce a stream of cool air. If you use the scroll saw just below this area, that’ll help in keeping the scroll saw blade as cool as possible while cutting through the acrylic.
5) Lubricate the Saw Blade
As you already know, intense friction is the main reason for the melting and fusion phenomenon that occurs to acrylic while scroll sawing it.
Another great way to prevent the saw blade from getting too hot while cutting through acrylic is by keeping it lubricated.
There are many products that do a great job of minimizing friction once applied. One of the top choices is, of course, WD-40. You can also use some advanced lubricants, such as dry lubricants.
To your surprise, some acrylic workers also use simple tricks like ordinary cooking spray oil to get the job done.
You can try dishwashing liquid as well, which is also a good lubricant to use.
Regardless of the method you’re going to use, it’s crucial that you try them out first. This way, you can make sure that the lubricant you’re using doesn’t leave a stubborn residue that you might not be able to remove when finishing the end result.
Best Scroll Saws for Cutting Plastic
There are many scroll saws in the market that are great for woodworking. However, using a scroll saw for cutting plastic requires some special features.
For example, it needs to have a flexible air blower, which can also help in cooling down the blade. Also, it needs to give you ample space to work.
Here are my recommendations for the best scroll saws for cutting acrylic:
- WEN 3921 Scroll Saw
- DEWALT DW788 Scroll Saw
- Delta Power Tools 40-694 Scroll Saw
Best Scroll Saw Blades Available on the Market
In addition to the scroll saw, you need to make sure that you opt for special blades with high teeth per inch. These ones will guarantee that the acrylic plastic won’t bounce, chip, or shatter.
Here are my recommendations for the best scroll saw blades for cutting acrylic:
- Olson Saw PG49802 Precision Ground Scroll Saw Blade
- Flying Dutchman Five Dozen Variety Pack Scroll Saw Blades
- OLSON SAW FR49501 Pin End Scroll Saw Blade
- Olson Saw Skip Tooth Scroll FR49400 Saw Blade Assortment
Wrapping it Up
With that said, you now have a better idea about dealing with plastic while using a scroll saw. So, can a scroll saw cut acrylic?
Yes. However, you need to make sure that you don’t overheat the blade while working to avoid melting and fusing the plastic back again.
If you’re looking for the best scroll saw for cutting acrylic, I have to give it to the DEWALT DW788 because of its versatility and overall quality.
As for the blades, I think that the Olson Saw PG49802 Precision Ground Scroll Saw Blade is the best one to go for. It has high teeth per inch. So, it’s a perfect fit for cutting acrylic without chipping.