Any testing or input yet on bending acrylic?


#1

Does anyone have any experience bending acrylic after an object is laser cut? Is it possible to score in cut-phase with the cutter and heat with a heat gun, bending against some hard edged object or template, in order to get attractive bends? Or does one have to get one of those expensive acrylic strip heaters?

I saw a YouTube video where someone actually used their laser to heat the acrylic enough to get a bend along the path, but that machine has much more Z-axis than we’re gonna have.

One of my early projects that I want to do is some custom acrylic stands for my toy/miniatures display cases as well as make some custom acrylic built-in’s for spice organization (as well as some new custom etched bottles, of course! smile). Bending will be nicer for some planar edges than slot and tab for everything.


#2

Yeah, I saw that too, and was amazed by how clean and quick the laser did that, gravity giving the perfect 90.


#3

I can’t comment on how well it would work with a laser like the Glowforge. It would be a question of how long will it stay hot enough to bend after it’s pulled out.

But I’ve looked into acrylic bending the past and most videos and tutorials use handheld heat guns which can be bought for very reasonable prices. I bet you could use the Glowforge to make some sort of jig to get precise angles.


#4

You could use your laser to make custom wooden bending jigs for the acrylic. Then use a heat gun for the bending. I’m thinking there are a boatload of videos on how to do that.


#5

I made myself a strip heater from a quartz space heater I wasn’t using anymore. Works just fine.


#6

Awwwk! It seems always my fate to slowly compose my message, upload it, and find somebody else has already given the same answer!


#7

@paulw Did you follow a “How To” for the quartz heater conversion or invent yourself? (I have an extra quartz heater too.)


#8

@cynd11 Thanks. I’ll dig in more to study that out. I have a 12-setting Wagner 3500 heat gun that I’ve had for almost ten years.


#9

I rolled it myself. Put the heater on a wood base (heater pointing the other way) and put on some sheet aluminum to mask/narrow the beam. The bigger-radius bends are without the mask.


#10

It should work with a laser and using a defocused beam, which should be easy to do on the Glowforge. You can set the focal length in the setting, from what I’ve seen so far.

Here is an old thread with ideas on what could be possible with a defocused beam.

Also, Laser Origami!


#11

@jacobturner has and there is a pretty good topic about it with some demo.

And @Jules has a pretty good topic on this:


#12

I posted this earlier this year…


#13

I’ve used a heat gun, wooden forms and clamps to bend acrylic, even 1/4" thick.

I tend to be impatient and use the 1,000 degree setting on the heat gun for 1/4" material, and be diligent about keeping the heat moving otherwise the acrylic will bubble if it’s overheated. The higher temperature also buys you more time for forming larger pieces, because you can avoid having a section of the planned bend that cools and sets in place before another section of the piece. This isnt as much an issue if you use a strip heater but using a heat gun, you’re bound to get a little uneven heating at some point.

Just beware that any roughness along the edge of the form, or any textures on the form, can imprint onto the softened acrylic.


#14

I would highly recommend any solution which can hold heat along the entire length you plan to bend while you get it in position, and then keep the acrylic in position while you cool it.

Trying to do what I did in the above-linked case and just blast with a heat gun, then bend by hand works well for things that can fit in your palm. But anything larger and it is a serious pain.

If you do create a jig, plan for support along the entire section of acrylic which gains heat, meaning the straight sections as well. Getting a tight corner means little when the entire piece away from that corner is now a warped ugly mess.


#15

A quick google search has a few options, these are targeted for larger pieces of material but I’m sure they could be adapted for a specific application as needed.

Might be worth a look if your brainstorming.


#16

I’m a bit more patient :grinning: I use 500F and leave the protective masking on the acrylic. At that temp it won’t burn the mask or melt/bubble the acrylic if you keep it moving. I heat it until it begins to slump and then bend it over whatever I’m using to form it (usually wooden block pieces). I also generally clamp it to the bending form as it cools so it doesn’t spring back.

I’ve scored it to guide my bending but anything deep enough to catch a fingernail can make it crack on 180 degree or more bends.


#17

“Laser origami”: that’s the gravity assisted bend that I saw on YouTube. Very creative!