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Moding With Acrylic

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  • Moding With Acrylic

    One of the most common PC mods is the case window. Today nearly every case manufacturer has several modes that have premodded windows. Now this may be good enough for some, but for enthusiast like myself nothing beats the satisfaction of creating your own window mod. In order to create a one of a kind window you will need to know how to work with Acrylic. These tips will also work with Plexiglass, Lexan, and any other similar material. When i say Acrylic here we are talking about all like materials. In this Article we will cover:
    • Tools Needed
    • Cutting
    • Finishing
    • Molding
    • Joining Acrylic

    Acrylic is a great materials to work with. Once you learn a few tricks you can shape it almost any way you see fit.

    Tools Needed

    A good Razor Blade:

    This is all you need for cutting up to 3/16" Acrylic. Anything thicker may require a table saw. Using a dremel and cutting wheel isn't recommended on Acrylic, Lexan, Plexiglass or any like material. The high RPMs generate allot of friction that melts the material into a gummy mess. This makes finishing the edges very difficult. Pluss its hard to get a goo straight cut.

    A Nice Straight Edge:

    Any metal ruler will do. Also a square is another good tool to have. These will help you get straight and square cuts.


    All you need here is a fine grade of sandpaper. Just enough to smooth out rough edges from cutting.

    Heat Gun:

    A hair dryer won't do. You need a good heat gun like the ones used for stripping paint. This allows you to heat the Acrylic and bend it as needed. It can also be used to clean up the edges of the acrylic to make it nice and clear. I recommend having a good pair of Ove-Gloves while working with a Heat Gun.

    Other Tools:

    Table Saw
    Jig Saw or Band Saw
    Masking Tape
    Power Buffer

    These are just some of the basic tools you can use for working with Acrylic. There are many other tools available that can help in working with acrylic. As with all modding, use your imagination and see what you can come up with.


    Cutting with a knife or scriber:

    Acrylic sheet up to 3/16" thick may be cut by a method similar to that used to cut glass. Use a scribing knife, a metal scriber, an awl, or a utility knife to score the sheet. Draw the scriber several times (7 or 8 times for a 3/16" sheet) along a straight edge held firmly in place. Then clamp the sheet or hold it rigidly under a straight edge with the scribe mark hanging just over the edge of a table. Apply a sharp downward pressure to break the sheet along the scribe line. Scrape the edges to smooth any sharp corners. This method is not recommended for long breaks or thick material.

    Cutting with a Jigsaw/ Band Saw:

    Special blades are available to cut acrylic. Otherwise use blades designed to cut aluminum or copper. Teeth should be fine, of the same height, evenly spaced, with little or no set. Try not to force the saw through the material. Let the blade do all the work and slowly push it through.

    Table and circular saws:

    Use hollow ground high speed blades with no set and at least 5 teeth per inch. Carbide tipped blades with a triple chip tooth will give the smoothest cuts. Set the blade height about 1/8" above the height of the material. This will reduce edge chipping.

    Feed the work slowly and smoothly. Lubricate the blade with soap or beeswax to minimize gumming from the masking adhesive. Be sure the saw is up to full speed before beginning the cut. Water cooling the blade is suggested for thicknesses over 1/4", especially if edge cementing will be performed.

    Routers and shapers:

    Use single fluted bits for inside circle routing and double fluted bits for edge routing. At the high speeds at which routers operate it is critical to avoid all vibration. Even small vibrations can cause crazing and fractures during routing.



    The first step in getting a finished edge is scraping. The back of a hacksaw blade is perfect for scraping. Simply draw the corner of the square edge of the blade along the edge of the acrylic. Any metal strait edge with a nice corner on it will due.


    A 10 to 12 inch smooth cut file is recommended for filing edges and removing tool marks. File only in one direction. Keep the teeth flat on the surface, but let the file slide at an angle to avoid putting grooves in the work.


    If necessary, start with 120 grit sandpaper, use dry. Then switch to a 220 grit paper, dry. Finish with a 400 grit wet/dry paper, use wet. Grits as fine as 600 may be used. Always use a wooden or rubber sanding block. This is used for the flat surface of the material is it has been scratched while cutting. Always remember to leave the protective film on the sheet while working with it to protect the surface and avoid having to sand and polish it.

    When removing scratches be sure to sand an area larger than the scratch. Sand with a circular motion, and use a light touch and plenty of water with wet/dry papers.

    Almost any commercial power sander can be used with acrylic. Use light pressure and slower speeds.


    Final polishing will give acrylic a high luster. Power-driven buffing tools are recommended without exception. Buffing wheels are available as attachments for electric drills.

    A good buffing wheel for acrylic consists of layers of 3/16" carbonized felt, or layers of unbleached muslin laid together to form a wheel. Solidly stitched wheels should be avoided.

    The wheel should reach a surface speed of at least 1200 feet per minute. Speeds of up to 4000 feet per minute are useful for acrylic.

    Acrylic should be polished using a commercial buffing compound of the type used for silver or brass, or you can use a non- silicone car polish that has no cleaning solvents in it.

    First, however, tallow should be applied to the wheel as a base for the buffing compound. Just touch the tallow stick to the spinning wheel, and then quickly apply the buffing compound.

    To polish, move the piece back and forth across the buffing wheel. Be careful not to apply too much pressure. Keep the work constantly moving to prevent heat buildup.

    Never begin polishing at the edge of the sheet. The wheel could easily catch the top edge and throw the piece across the room or at you.

    A butane torch or heat gun can also be used to help make a filed edge nice and clear like the rest of the Sheet. This is very helpful if you decide to bevel an edge with a Saw or Route. Also useful if you plan in inlay a few LEDs into the Sheet and line the outside edge with silver foil to help illuminate the sheet. This is good if you will be adding an etching to the piece.


    Very few people know how to mold Acrylic. Of those that do very few people do it. I've seen too many Acrylic cases that are just 6 square pieces thrown together. The cases would look so much nicer as a well planed 2 piece outer casing. To do this you need to know how to mold the Acrylic.

    Molding takes a lot of time and patience. But is easy to do. All you need is a heat gun and the edge of a table to fold it on. Figure out where you want the fold to be. Line that up with the table's edge and start heating the piece along that line. Weigh down the end that’s on the table. While holding the heat gun 4 to 6 inches away from the piece, slowly run it back and forth across it. Make sure you hold it far enough away and move it so it doesn't start turning black and melting. Too much heat can also cause the material to start bubbling up. As it starts to heat up put so pressure on the other end of the piece. Then fold it over to the desired angle.

    Never heat acrylic in a kitchen oven. Explosive fumes can accumulate inside the oven, and ignite.

    Forming other than straight-line bends will generally require specialized equipment and jigs. But use your imagination. You should be able to find a way to make any shape you need. It's all about safely heating the material enough to re shape it. It’s pretty easy to get a piece heated up enough to mold around basic objects. More complex items like the Mask pictured below takes a bit more time and the top surface are generally pretty ruff.

    It’s hard to tell but there are bubbles in the face of the mask. This little projects end goal was to create a usable mold of the mask for my wife to make new plaster masks.

    Joining Acrylic

    Solvent cement is recommended for joining acrylic. There are two techniques for solvent cementing, capillary and dip/soak methods.

    Capillary cementing:

    This is the most popular method for joining acrylic. However, this method will not work at all unless the parts to be joined fit together PERFECTLY.

    Make sure the parts fit properly. Then join them with masking tape or clamp them in a form to hold them firmly in place. It is important that the joint be in a horizontal plane, or the cement will run out of the joint.

    Apply the cement carefully along the entire joint. Apply from the inside of a box-corner joint, and on both sides of a flat joint. A needle-nosed applicator bottle is recommended. The thin cement will flow into the joint through capillary action and form a strong bond. Maximum bond strength will not be reached for 24 to 48 hours.

    Soak or dip cementing:

    This sounded like a real pain in the butt, and is suggested only for thick joints. Probably not a method you will be using considering the amount of cement you would need to use here.

    Viscous cementing:

    Viscous cements are used for joints that can't be cemented with capillary or soak cementing, either because the joint is difficult to reach or because the parts don't fit properly. Viscous cement is thick and will fill small gaps. It can make strong transparent joints where solvent can't.

    You can make your own viscous cement by dissolving chips of clear acrylic sheet in a small amount of solvent. Paint thinner and Acetone are great solvents for making your own cement. As far as how much solvent to use isn't an exact science. I would use 1 part solvent to 2 parts maybe even 3 parts acrylic chips/flakes.

    Apply a small bead of cement to one side of the joint, join the pieces together. Use tape and/or clamps to hold the pieces in place till dry.

  • #2
    Here is an example of how easy it is to shape Acrylic.

    Using a heat gun, The 'Ove'Glove, and that mask I was able to heat the Acrylic and mold it over the mask. Using a flat head screwdriver I was able to get it shaped into the eyes and around the nose of the little mask. The mask measures about 3 inches tall to give you a better idea of the scale. This was my first attempt at a smaller scaled item. The goal of this project was to create an exact mold of the mask for my wife to use in making more of those masks. So I have to work in a bit more detail into the Acrylic. Not to mention I over cut the Acrylic so it won't do well trying to hold the plaster.


    • #3
      This is an adaptation of the equipment I used for making a tight bend on acrylic (I think it's a jig).

      Bring two equaled level peice of wood/metal(something that doesn't deform under the heat of heatgun) togather creating a gap in between and apply heat from underneth that gap.

      There was one equipment where you can mold the sheet into any shape through sucking. Maybe an adaptation can be made from that with a vacuum cleaner as well?
      -Back to being a hippie


      • #4
        Well the mask was done with 1/8 Acrylic. I beleive the vacuum molds use a sheet that is about as thick as poster board. I've heard of people making there own vacuum molding systems at home but havn't been able to find plans or pictures. I have found at another Forum, not TG, where someone made a folder like you discribed. They got a heating element and layed it between some plywood to heat the acrylic along a straight line. I use the edge of my desk with a heavy object holding the acrylic in place ofver the folding line and then heat it up. I've been wanting to make my own folder with a comapse and everything to get the exact angles i want.


        • #5
          Thank you so much for making this mod thread m! This will be essential to my next rig!
          "Never skimp on the Power Supply" -Me

          Core i7 920 D0 B-batch (4.1) | DFI X58 T3eH8 (Fed up with its' issues, may get a new board soon) | Patriot 1600 (9-9-9-24) (for now) | XFX HD 4890 (971/1065) (for now) |
          80GB X25-m G2 | WD 640GB | PCP&C 750 | Dell 2408 LCD | NEC 1970GX LCD | Win7 Pro | CoolerMaster ATCS 840 {Modded to reverse-ATX, WC'ing internal}

          CPU Loop: MCP655 > HK 3.0 LT > ST 320 (3x Scythe G's) > ST Res >Pump
          GPU Loop: MCP655 > MCW-60 > PA160 (1x YL D12SH) > ST Res > BIP 220 (2x YL D12SH) >Pump


          • #6
            Well i would like to see any Acrylic mods you guys are working on. I'm also still looking for options on my Antec 900 thead in this section. I'll be posting any and all mods i perform with Acrylic. I'm still playing around with the material to test the limits of what i can do with it useing basic tools.


            • #7
              This isn't molded but i did cut it out of Acrylic so i figure i would post it.


              • #8
                Autobots FTW!!
                I am the epitome of a cynical, sarcastic sysadmin. For this, I make no apologies.
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                • #9
                  I don't think i'll use that one on my case. I think i'll etch that and the Disepticon's symble into a thicker sheet and back light it with LEDs.


                  • #10
                    How about making an xcpus logo out of acrylic for the forums war?

                    I had wanted to get a v2000b and put xcpus on the side of it for the forums war, but due to not getting the phase done in time (yeah, I know I'd need to compete in the ultra extreme to use subambient cooling) and money I never got around to doing it. Perhaps next year I'll do that, but first I need to save up for a phase controller, which I really don't want to get because it's $150 but for safety reasons (for the hardware), I suppose I'll have to

                    why celebrate christmas with white people when you can have a dead terrorist do it for you!
                    sig art by verndewd!


                    • #11
                      Once a logo if finalized i may do that.


                      • #12
                        I've always wanted to do something like that myself to support xcpus, especially after I saw this by chily1

                        Not to mention he sold tons of these units (and he still may, although last time I checked he mainly works on his phases and even then he's slowed down considerably)

                        why celebrate christmas with white people when you can have a dead terrorist do it for you!
                        sig art by verndewd!


                        • #13
                          That's a nice paint job.


                          • #14
                            I know, that's what made me so interested in it

                            only thing is he didn't do it himself, if I recall correctly he paid a company to do it and he just supplied the photoshop'd image

                            why celebrate christmas with white people when you can have a dead terrorist do it for you!
                            sig art by verndewd!


                            • #15
                              Well sooner or later i will find a good set of dies i can use to color in etched acrylic. Then i can do an etching and get it stained the right colors so when i inbead LEDs along the edge of the peice it will glow. But i got to get more money together before i can do anything more.