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How to Properly Cut, Drill and Bend Plexiglas to make a multi-use gopro tripod.

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This instructable is in the "UP!" contest and I would love it if you could take the time to vote if you feel I deserve the vote, thanks! Enjoy! 
 
I had been doing some work with plexiglas lately and found some good ways to score and cut, drill holes in, and bend plexiglas. I wanted to create an instructable on how to properly perform these tasks but thought I needed to actually make it into something to make it interesting.

Plexiglas is a very cool material, a clear, tough plastic that can be used for a variety of projects from see through cases, to a pseudo blast shield, to the tripod I will teach you how to make. While it's not technically a tripod it serves some similar purposes. By itself it can hold the gopro on top to gain a little more height. The gopro can also be hung underneath if you are trying to show how to repair something on a car and the plexiglas will protect the camera from harmful slag while welding or grinding. Also with the new wifi live view function through wifi on the Hero3 cameras the "tripod" can actually be used as a cover over the gopro that holds your ipod or phone on top. 


 
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Step 1: Cut a strip of Plexiglas the proper way (Scoring)

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Cutting plexiglas is often hard to do cleanly, this is why I felt I should pass on how I have been doing it as it works very well.

For this step you will need the scoring tool (Or box cutter or x-acto knife), the ruler and the quick grips.

You will begin by scoring the plexiglas. This part is crucial as where you score is where it will be "cut". If your line is crooked your "cut" will be crooked. You must also take special care to cut clear to both edges, if you don't cut the edges it will shatter on the ends and destroy all of your work. The way I have found that works the best for this is to clamp down the ruler where you want to score and make sure to get the metal banding on the ruler on the side that you will be cutting. Once you have your guide attached you will begin scoring. Push your scoring tool up against the metal edge and pull toward you, little spirals of the material should come out as you go. You will score the piece several times. From what I've found, the longer the line you're cutting the more times you'll have to score. You will need to score roughly 10 times with the tool. Also the scoring tool is fastest, you will need to make roughly 3 times as many passes with a box cutter or x-acto knife so I'd recommend picking up one of these scoring tools. They're only about 5 bucks at Menards and they work really really well. 

Step 2: Cut a strip of Plexiglas the proper way (Breaking)

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After scoring you will need to bend the plexiglas on the line until it breaks off. The score lines make this much easier to do and also ensures a nice clean edge rather than something that looks like it was chewed off. You will want to keep the ruler from the scoring step on, it will help keep your edge from breaking anywhere but the score line. You will then line it up so that your score line just barely sticks off the edge of a counter or workbench that has a hard 90 degree edge rather than a rounded one. This will also help make sure it cracks on the score line. Then you will start bending the plexiglas by pushing down on the part sticking over the counter. When doing this the score line must be up otherwise it won't work. You will continue bending until, in one big crack the piece you scored will pop off with a nice clean edge. If you can't get it to crack you will need to score it more. Then you can remove the ruler by releasing the clamps. 

Step 3: Drilling Plexiglas the proper way (pilot hole)

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Often with plexiglas, you will try to drill a hole and it will shatter or crack. One way to avoid the cracking is to drill a smaller, pilot hole. You must also be careful when you do this though as a small hole can still cause a crack. The best way I have found for drilling into plexiglas is getting the bit spinning as fast as your drill will make it go and then just barely pushing on the plexiglas. If you push too hard the cutting part of the bit will grab a lot of the plexiglas and it will torque the material and crack or shatter it. Choose a nice small bit and drill your hole.

Step 4: Drilling Plexiglas the proper way (Next hole)

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Now that we have out pilot hole drilled we will need to start stepping it up to get to our full size hole. If you are drilling a large hole you will probably have to use more than just 2 different sized bits. The bigger the difference in hole sizes, the more likely you are to crack the plexiglas. When I made the demo I only used two bits but to finish out the strip I had to make the whole another step larger. Work it up slowly and you'll be rewarded for your work with a clean hole. 

Step 5: Bending plexiglas the proper way (Prep)

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When bending plexiglass you will need to have a straight edge to make sure you get a nice clean bend. I used the ruler and the clamps from the first step as my guide. You will go ahead and put your ruler on where you want to bend it and then clamp it down. If you want a gentle rolling curve you may want to use something like a coffee can and then heat the whole piece and form it around the can. I however just opted for a nice small curve. You must be careful to place the ruler on the correct side, you will be essentially bending it around the ruler so if you are going to bend down (Like in the picture below) you need to have the ruler on the bottom. 


Step 6: Bending plexiglas the proper way (Heating and forming)

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Now that you have the form clamped down the guide for bending you will want to plug in your heat gun. The gun I have is designed for doing the plastic like wing coating on model airplanes and being such it has a sort of fan tip. This helps as you can use it just to heat right along the line you want to bend, if you don't have the nice fan tip you may want to make a sort of heat shield or just be careful bending as you will have a much thicker band of semi molten plexiglas. Heat the plexiglas until it is malleable, then carefully begin folding it over the ruler. Since the temperature difference between melting and the point at which it becomes workable is rather large, you can easily get it to malleable without melting it. Since it's not actually melted you can pull the end taught so that the edge stays crisp. Once you have it to the desired angle I've found it works best to put the part you were holding onto down on a surface and put the guide down against it. Again you can tug on the end to sharpen the curve to your liking. 

Step 7: Making your gopro stand

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To finish out your multipurpose stand for your gopro you only need to make one more bend. I had fixed in my gopro on the tripod mount and just eyeballed it to get the center section large enough to fit the camera. Then you bend it around until the part with the hole and the part you just bent are parallel. Feel free to play with angles to suit your needs. 

Step 8: Using your gopro stand

I am still finding uses for this interesting looking stand. Below is a list of just a few of the ideas I have come up with.

-Stand right side up and mounted right side up allows you a little bit of vertical as well as a stable base to place your gopro on
-Stand right side up mounted upside down allows for an ideal angle* for viewing underbodies of cars and can protect from welding slag
-Stand upside down and tilted with gopro upright and looking through stand gives a good shield* while allowing tripod mounting for use with a cooking video or something that would splatter and melt or dye the gopro's housing
-Stand upside down and tilted with gopro upright and not looking through stand allows you to use the top portion to hold whatever you are using for the live view capabilities 

*when the gopro is facing into the plexiglas you must take care to get the lens as close to the plexiglas as possible to reduce sun glare and you also might want to cover up the recording and wifi light on the front to keep it's glare out of the image too.

Mindmapper12 months ago

I have been using acrylic for over 30 years and the way in which you describe drilling a hole is not the best to get a clean hole. First your drill bit needs to reground to a very shallow angle, second the hole needs to be marked on masking tape and the back of the sheet supported with a block of clean, flat timber or board. Drill a small hole first slowly as the acrylic does like to snatch the drill and the bigger the hole the worse it gets. Gradually increase the drill size and drill slowly with very little pressure.

Bending acrylic is best done with a strip heater or line bender but you can use an ordinary oven set at 120-160C use a jig or former to get the angle correct. Never use water to cool the acrylic as this will make the acrylic brittle.

Scoring is the best way to cut the acrylic in straight lines and then snap it like you do with glass. Cutting curves is bes done with a mechanical saw and protect the edge/line of cut with masking tape as this prevents the material welding itself back after the saw balde has passed.

How would one cut small squares out of 1/8" plexiglass sheets by hand? I have no power tools (except a hand drill). Could you score both sides in the shape of say a rectangle, then hit it with something to "pop it out" or would that crack the sheet? I do have a coping saw so I imagine I could drill holes in the 4 corners of the rectangle or square shape and then use the coping saw to hand saw it out. Is there anyway to simply score the shapes and then "pop" them out? Thank you.

dmo_act1 year ago
how about plastic welding plexiglass? Does anyone have any experience with this?
eelco_g1 year ago
I have good experience with brad point drill bits. They have a small center spike and two cutting teeth. These start cutting the hole on the outer diameter instead of pushing material away from the center. Use them at very low rpm because you want to cut the plexi, not melt it.
Less RPM is always better, since heat causes the plexiglass to melt and grab the bit, which eventually leads to shattering. When do it on a mill, I give it something around 300-400 RPM, which, most of the time, doesn't even require a pilot hole if you go slow.
Ben The Builder (author)  Technoshaman1 year ago
With the standard bits I was using it seemed to work better to get the bit moving pretty good. If it was moving too slow, when I grazed the surface of the plexiglas it would bite in really deep, when I spun it at higher speeds it would begin to scrape more than bit in immediately, thanks for the input.
And thank you for this article, even though I punched many holes through plexiglass, I came here to learn how to bend it (finally a good use for my heatgun) ;) And if you go down very very slow, the bit "shaves off" little chips, first carving a nice cone (the bit should be real sharp), which gets wider and wider finally creating a hole. Now, I gotta go get me some plexiglass sheets, time for work ;)
sickchuck2 years ago
The best way to drill ANY plastic is to regrind your drill bit to a ZERO DEG. rake The cutting edge from the tip to the corner needs to be inline with the shaft of the bit. This makes it into a scraper instead of a cutting tool and will not blow out the back side if it is sharp. The only exception to this is if the tip of the bit breaks thru before the full width of the bit is in the hole it could still blow out.
Ben The Builder (author)  sickchuck2 years ago
To be fair that would be a good method but then it's hard to get it to stay in one place, and also I wanted to do it with regular bits and the 2 step method seems to work well for me.
The bit is still POINTED, just there is no rake on the cutting edge.
I agree. Scraping angles, and also running wet and you can make a hole with a virtually polished bore.
niebyl20022 years ago
I wonder if heating plexiglass (just a bit) would prevent cracking. I think there will be less stress. Never tried it though.
Benwa2 years ago
Not bad, I could never get the score/break to work properly. I'll try again. I usually tape both side with masking tape, mark my line and use a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade. I'll clamp a level in the proper place to use as a guide. Keep saw butted against level and you can rip a nice straight cut. Tape seems to minimize the chewed edge.

If I want to mount hardware on plexi, like hinges or clasps... pop rivets are your friend. Screws tend to break it. Nuts & bolts look too "frankenstein" for my tastes. Drill hole just big enough for rivet, try to put a washer on the back side (I've done it without them with fine results) and pop it. A nice solid and clean looking fastener.

The only other tip I have is to use scrap pieces to test a technique first. There's nothing worse than to be on the last step and crack your finished piece because you didn't factor in something.
Great instructable especially about bending plexiglass. A couple of things I have tried with success is drill through the plexiglass with wood underneath you will find it doesn't crack and creates a clean hole. Because I have an electric tile cutter when I cut plexiglass with a diamond blade it cuts it quickly and cleanly...don't use water!
I just scored and broke a 2 ft. long by 4 inch wide piece of plexiglass--and it worked great!!

Thanks for the good instructions.
astroboy9072 years ago
Be careful, and always use your correct tools. Got sliced trying to cut plexiglass, scoring them with my house keys. Tried breaking it, got a nice cut near the ball of my thumb for the trouble.
Ben The Builder (author)  astroboy9072 years ago
Gloves are also not a bad idea, but but being careful and not rushing it should keep you safe.
ringai2 years ago
Thanks for the nice explanation of bending. I've tried it a couple times and it didn't quite turn out for me. I think perhaps using that fan-shaped flow director would have helped. I used a hairdryer with just its round opening and probably didn't have the plastic heated right.
Phil B ringai2 years ago
I second what you wrote about heating for bending. I have tried it and got bubbles in the Plexiglas, or even singed it a little brown. I know there are special hot wire heaters that are thermostatically controlled, but most of us do not have those.
Ben The Builder (author)  Phil B2 years ago
This may be a brand thing, everyone makes their acrylic or Plexiglas a little differently but it sounds like you may be getting it too hot, it really doesn't take much heat.
Correct. I have found that it is best to direct the heat to the area that you want, at the lower temperature setting for a longer time. This lets the heat transfer all the way through the thickness of the material.
Ben The Builder (author)  ringai2 years ago
This heat gun works incredibly well for this task. It has two temperature settings and the low one I think is still hotter than a hair dryer. As with bending most things it helps to heat, and try to bend and repeat because then you get it bending as soon as possible, and also with the hair dryer you could probably try the method where you tug to pull the curve tight and the flatten it down on a workbench.
Barb372 years ago
THANK you for your concise instructions! You’ve done a superb job of integrating embedded notes, photo’s, and written directions. I’m a Plexiglas novice with a project in mind, and your be-careful and in-my-experience tips inspire confidence. How thick is the Plexiglas used in this project, and how thick is TOO thick for this project’s instructions to be practical, please?
Ben The Builder (author)  Barb372 years ago
I'm glad you found them helpful. The plexiglas I used is roughly 1/16th of an inch thick. You could probably use similar techniques for thicker pieces, but you will need more heat and you'll need to be much more patient. As far as scoring and breaking, the thicker it gets the harder it becomes to cleanly break and I would imagine drilling would get harder. How thick of a sheet were you planning on using?