A Quick Step-By-Step of the Acrylic Fabrication Process
As mentioned previously in our Injection Molded vs. Fabricated Acrylic piece, the acrylic fabrication process is a very clean, detail-oriented way of manufacturing acrylic. There are virtually no defects due to manufacturing. Fabricating acrylic by hand will eliminate the relief marks and/or blue haze you would get with injection molded pieces. There are four main steps when creating a custom fabricated piece – Cut, Bend, Glue, and Polish.
I’ve chosen to feature a 3/8″ thick, 30″H, 10″D x 10″W clear acrylic tables to walk you through the 4-step process. Acrylic tables can be made in many shapes, colors, and sizes. They can also be used in many different settings. These just so happen to be used in a local Kansas City area church as communion tables.
Steps of Acrylic Fabrication
Before anything can be constructed with the acrylic sheets, they must first be cut into necessary sizes. In the photo below, you see one of our CNC machines cutting the 1″W x 1″H x 10″L blocks. These blocks are used to help stabilize the larger bent sheet of acrylic used for the table top and sides, by supporting a 10″ x 10″ clear acrylic shelf. A CNC machine must also cut 3/8″ thick sheets of clear acrylic into 70″L x 10″W pieces, as well as, the 10″ x 10″ shelves. The 70″L x 10″W piece will be bent to form the top and sides of the communion tables so the CNC also must cut grooves into these pieces to ensure proper corners.
Previously, I mentioned that the the larger piece of acrylic would need to be bent in two places to form the top and sides of the communion table. To do so, each piece is set a few inches atop heat strips. Eventually, heat from the strips causes the acrylic piece to soften along the thinner grooved areas, making it malleable and ready for bending. (You can see below that the piece in the foreground has already been bent while the other groove is waiting for its turn to bend.)
The next step in the acrylic fabrication process is gluing. Once the top and sides are heated, bent and hardened – it is then time to glue the 10″ x 10″ shelf and support blocks into place. A very thin strip of acrylic glue is added precisely to where the support blocks will forever live supporting the 10″ x 10″ acrylic shelf. Then it is held in place by clamps and weights to ensure proper drying. It is very important to glue your acrylic pieces accurately. Failure to do so could result in unfavorable defects.
Once all of your pieces of acrylic are cut, bent, and glued it is time to polish the necessary pieces. Some individual pieces (as in this case) must be polished before they are assembled. The 1″W x 1″H x 10″L support blocks (as seen cut by the CNC above) needed to be polished on their own before being glued and screwed into the table. We polish these pieces by using a very hot flame. By slightly melting the surface of the acrylic, surface tension smooths out the surface of the acrylic piece. When done properly, flame polishing produces the clearest of finishes. For this project an acrylic scratch remover was applied as a final step to provide a flaw-free transparent look.