How to work with polycarbonate sheets

Written by heather mckinney
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How to work with polycarbonate sheets
Helmet visors are often made from polycarbonate. (Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Polycarbonate is a sturdy transparent plastic used for items such as helmet visors and display cases. You can purchase polycarbonate sheets directly from plastic suppliers for your own custom projects. You can work these sheets into numerous objects for your home. You might make items such as magazine holders, protective screens for electronics or shelving. Bending polycarbonate opens many opportunities for working these sheets into new shapes for your projects. A homemade strip heater provides enough heat to bends polycarbonate this is up to 1/8 inch thick.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • 1/8 Inch polycarbonate sheets
  • Strip heater kit
  • One 3 foot-by-2 foot plywood panel
  • Two 2½ inch-by-36 inch plywood strips
  • Wood glue
  • Staple gun
  • Electrical tape
  • Three holed extension cord
  • Aluminium foil
  • Fibreglass tape
  • Ten foot electrical wire
  • Screws or nails

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Create the channel for the heating element. Use plywood that is ¼ inch thick for the project. Glue your two plywood strips to the larger plywood panel using wood glue. Space these strips ¾ of an inch apart and let dry.

  2. 2

    Insulate the channel. The heating element reaches temperatures of up to 482 degrees C and can burn the plywood, so insulation is necessary. Press two or three layers of aluminium foil into the channel. Cover the foil with two layers of fibreglass tape. Staple the insulation into place.

  3. 3

    Secure the heating element. Uncoil the heating element and slip it into the channel. It should have tie cords at each end for fastening. Drive a screw or a nail at each end of your channel and tie the cords to these.

  4. 4

    Ground the line bender. Foil can potentially conduct electricity and should be grounded to prevent shock. Lift a corner of the fibreglass tape and drive a nail or screw into the foil. Strip an inch of insulation from both ends of your ten-foot electrical wire. Attach one end to the nail. Fold the other end back and put it into the bottom hole of your extension cord. Secure your ground wire to the extension cord with electrical tape and plug the heating element into it. You are now ready to plug in your strip heater.

  1. 1

    Lay your polycarbonate sheet on the strip heater. The strip heater softens the plastic in a thin line across the sheet, allowing you to bend it at that spot. As the sheet softens, it bends inward, and then lies straight again.

  2. 2

    Bend the polycarbonate sheet. Now that the polycarbonate is soft, you can bend it into your desired angle, creating a new shape with the panel.

  3. 3

    Hold the sheet into place. It only takes a few minutes to harden and remain in its new shape.

Tips and warnings

  • For thicker material, heat the polycarbonate on both sides to reduce the likelihood of warping. Make sure that you heat the same spot of the panel when you flip it. Use guide marks on the edges of the panel to indicate where the bend point is.

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