While most early arcade machines used regular glass during their initial construction, plexiglass has become the standard used in most arcade cabinets since the 90s. Plexiglass is a solid transparent plastic that can be found in various parts of an arcade cabinet including the marquee, bezel and control panel. Due to the increase use of plexiglass in arcade cabinets, repair and restoration experts have had to get acquainted with how to work with it properly. One of the more challenging aspects of working with plexiglass is trying to trim it to the dimensions you need for the cabinet you are working on. In this post, we will discuss some techniques you can use to cut and score plexiglass to the size you need for your arcade projects.
Cutting And Scoring Plexiglass (Using A Weller TB100PK)
Before we get started, we should mention that this process involves using saws and other sharp objects to accomplish our goal. Please be careful when using these objects. Improper use of these objects can result in injury and/or more severe consequences. Make sure you pay attention and exercise extreme caution throughout the entire process. Please visit our website disclaimer page for additional information.
Let us start off by saying that this post will mainly focus on cutting and scoring plexiglass to use in smaller applications (i.e. no bigger than the width of an arcade cabinet). If you need to cut large pieces of plexiglass for a project, your best bet will be to use a water jet cutter or some sort of saw (such as a circular saw, scroll saw, table saw, jigsaw, etc.). Be sure to use a fine blade regardless of the saw that you decide to use. Blades with fine closely spaced teeth (like those used for plywood) should work well. Make sure to avoid blades that have a significant rake angle as that can cause chipping along the edge of the plexiglass. Even if your saw has a fine blade, cutting plexiglass can be quite a challenge. Remember to make slow and steady movements with the saw so that you don’t experience any accidental cracking or chipping. Clamping down your sheet of plexiglass to a stationary object will prevent it from moving which will also help you avoid costly mistakes.
For most of our plexiglass projects, we use the score and break method. This method basically consists of cutting a deep scratch into the plexiglass then applying pressure along this scratch so that it will break cleanly along the desired line. Please note that we only recommend this method for plexiglass that is a 1/4″ thick or less. The most popular tool for cutting this scratch is known as a plexiglass cutting/scoring tool. It looks very similar to a standard box cutting blade except for a small hook located on the end. This hook acts like a single tooth of a table saw blade (but much thinner). As you drag it along a straight edge guide (such as a metal ruler), it carves out the desired groove in the plexiglass. Just as we discussed in the section on using saws with plexiglass, make sure that the sheet is clamped securely in place before you begin to prevent it from moving. You will need to continue scoring the plexiglass until the cut is about halfway through the sheet. It make take several passes depending on the thickness of the plexiglass you are working with. Once you are satisfied with the groove you have created, clamp the sheet down again so that the edge of the table aligns with the cut. Make sure that the sheet is clamped very securely in place so that it can not flex or move. Then, apply even pressure to the piece located beyond the edge of the table until it breaks off. If the cut is deep enough, it should break cleanly along the desired line. If you’re having trouble trying to get a good groove in your plexiglass, try scoring it from both sides if it’s possible. This may take a bit more effort but will result in a better groove and a cleaner break.
The standard plexiglass cutting/scoring tool works pretty good in most cases but we’ve found another tool that we feel works a bit better and requires less physical effort. In the video for this post, we use the Weller TB100PK Therma Boost Heat Tool to score the plexiglass with pretty good results. Instead of cutting a groove into the plexiglass, the Weller Therma Boost Heat Tool uses heat to melt a groove into the plexiglass which basically accomplishes the same thing but with less strength required on your part. Just like with the standard plexiglass cutting/scoring tool, it still takes multiple passes in order to get to the halfway point of the sheet. With that said, the Weller Therma Boost Heat Tool did seem to get to that point faster than the standard plexiglass cutting/scoring tool. Please note that unlike the standard plexiglass cutting/scoring tool which will work fine with a wooden yard stick, you will need to use a straight edge that can withstand the heat that The Weller Therma Boost Heat Tool uses to melt the plexiglass. We recommend a metal ruler or square for this task. Other than that, we’ve found The Weller Therma Boost Heat Tool to be quite useful. The Weller Therma Boost Heat Tool can also be used for other tasks as well including soldering, cutting material and shaping material. We highly recommend picking one up as it can be a handy tool to have in your arcade toolbox.
With the increased use of plexiglass in arcade cabinets, many of us who repair and restore games have had to become acquainted with the material. Anyone who has tried to cut and score plexiglass in the past has found out just how difficult the process can be. Cracks, chipping and scratches are just some of the obstacles you will need to overcome in order to create the perfect piece of plexiglass. Hopefully the information in this post has helped inform you about the process and will allow you to create plexiglass sheets in your desired dimensions for your future projects. Please leave any questions or suggestions in the comments section below.