How To Drill Plastic (Without Breaking It)

Learning how to drill plastic without breaking it is possible but you need to use the right drill bits. Using incorrect drill bits with plastic can lead to rough edges.

Rough edges lead to cracks and chips, ruining the job at hand. If you need to drill through plastic, proper preparation is key. You need to find the correct drill bits before working and understand why they are useful.

Plastic really depends on the individual piece. Thin pieces need very gentle treatment, but thicker pieces can be prone to white marks.

The most important thing is approaching plastic in the right way with the correct tools. This reduces the chances of damaging the piece and wasting materials, time, and money.

As your job requires a lot of specialist treatment, we will offer different insights into different materials. This will help you make the correct choices next time that you need to drill into a piece of plastic.

How To Drill Plastic


Gathering Your Equipment

When working with plastic, there is very little need for specialist equipment. Most of your care concerns the way that the plastic is held before you can actually start drilling into the product. This process does depend on the type of plastic you are using, but there are some general rules of thumb.

The thickness of your plastic will depend on how you set up your workspace. If you are using a thin piece of plastic you will need:

  • A piece of plastic
  • A drill
  • A spur-point drill bit (sometimes called a dowel bit)
  • A piece of plywood
  • A work surface to place your plastic on
  • Appropriate safety equipment like goggles and a dust mask

Thin plastic is unlikely to melt during the job, but you will definitely heat it up due to friction. As you are using a thin sheet, you should counteract this by making your hole slightly larger than you need – when it cools down, it will reduce in size to be closer to what you need.

Along with the slightly larger drill hole, you will need to place plywood underneath the plastic to stop any chipping on the work surface underneath. This can be any material, but plywood is cheap and I’ve found plenty of success with it.

If you are using a thicker piece of wood, you will need:

  • A piece of plastic
  • A drill
  • A spur-point drill bit (sometimes called a dowel bit)
  • A piece of plywood
  • A work surface to place your plastic on
  • A lubricant
  • Appropriate safety equipment like goggles and a dust mask

The key difference here is the lubricant. You will need to stop now and then to apply a lubricant like water to the hole and your drill. As you will be drilling for longer, you will have to cool down the piece to stop it from melting.

When you feel the heat coming off your plastic, remove the drill and apply your lubricant to both the plastic and the drill. This will cool them both down. Failing to do this can cause damage to the material and mean that you won’t have a clean hole.

This is not good for screws as they won’t fit. Also, if the middle of the plastic becomes hot, it will warp and your hole will close up when it cools down.

Safety First

Plastics can contain all kinds of toxins, so you need to protect yourself against long-term damage. This is especially true if you are expecting to be working with drilling plastics over the long term in your career. Protect your lungs and you’re less likely to face serious health issues in later life.

Protecting your lungs involves wearing a dust mask. They can be stuffy and uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as lung disease.

They are cheap and available in all good DIY and hardware shops. There’s no reason not to wear one, especially considering the number of particles some cheaper kinds of plastics can throw up.

Similarly, you will want to wear goggles. As plastic is more likely to melt than to splinter, you are not likely to have shards of plastic flying towards your eyes.

Still, getting plastic particles in your eyes over a long period of time is not good for your eye health. Wear goggles and protect your eyes. You won’t be able to do any work if you don’t have your eyes.

Related Read — How to Drill Quartz?

Preparing The Plastic For Drilling

When drilling through plastic, you will need to place it securely on a work surface. Generally, most plastics will not need any more security than you holding them down with your spare hand and a piece of the plywood board. The board will grip the plastic and keep it in place. This will also protect your work surface from long-term damage.

Drilling into plastic is a thing that most people know how to do. But, drilling into plastic without breaking the plastic is another thing, you need to plan your steps ahead if you want to get that clean hole.

If you need a lubricant, have it to hand. You don’t need a special lubricant dispenser; a cup of water will do along with a towel for cleaning up the mess. A lot of people will suggest a bucket to catch the water that falls off the plastic. If you don’t have one, a few towels will do the job too.

When you have everything in place, make sure there are no trip hazards or anything else that could be a risk during the work process. Loose materials need to be stored properly to avoid the risk of serious damage.

Working Through Thinner Pieces

If you are working with a thinner piece, follow this workflow:

  1. Place the drill over the plastic – You want the drill to be spinning slowly as you place it to the plastic so it doesn’t pull – pulling on plastic will warp the material and leave white lines on the top of the material.
  2. Slowly drilling into the material – speed up your drill about ¼ into the plastic. You don’t want to be going fast while the drill is breaking through and this will either a) move your workpiece and probably cause damage to the surface or b) it will crack the piece from the hole.
  3. Aim for close to full speed when you are in the middle of the plastic –  If it feels like it is getting hot (the drill drags against melting plastic or you can feel the heat from the material), remove the drill and allow it to cool down.
  4. Drill through the other side and slow down again – Before you break through the opposite side, your drill should be spinning as slowly as when you started. If you are going fast, it will cause white pull lines or cracks.
  5. Check the job over and apply sandpaper to any uneven edges – This shouldn’t take long if you have followed the above steps.

And there you have it. A finished piece of drilled plastic.

Working Through Thicker Pieces

This process is largely the same, but there is one key difference found in the middle of the process.

  1. Place the drill over the plastic – You want the drill to be spinning slowly as you place it to the plastic so it doesn’t pull – pulling on plastic will warp the material and leave white lines on the top of the material.
  2. Slowly drilling into the material –  speed up your drill about ¼ into the plastic. You don’t want to be going fast while the drill is breaking through and this will either a) move your workpiece and probably cause damage to the surface or b) it will crack the piece from the hole.
  3. When you remove your drill, apply lubricant to the piece and the drill bit –  This will cool them both down and allow you to see how much damage heat is doing to your plastic. The more heat there is, the more warped the plastic will be at the end. Keeping it cool and taking your time will give you a better finish.
  4. Aim for close to full speed when you are in the middle of the plastic – If it feels like it is getting hot (the drill drags against melting plastic or you can feel the heat from the material), remove the drill and allow it to cool down.
  5. Drill through the other side and slow down again – Before you break through the opposite side, your drill should be spinning as slowly as when you started. If you are going fast, it will cause white pull lines or cracks.
  6. Check the job over and apply sandpaper to any uneven edges –  This shouldn’t take long if you have followed the above steps.

Cleaning Up The Job

If you have followed our steps, cleaning up your pieces should simply be removing any stray plastic and rounding off the edges. Plastic is a very malleable material, meaning that you can make small corrections to it after a job without destroying it.

Take a fine piece of sandpaper to the plastic and round off the edge of the hole if you need to. Using fine-grade sandpaper will give you an excellent finish.

Avoid using this on the actual surface of the plastic as it can cause scuffs and scrapes to the material. This is more likely to ruin your job than a small stray piece of plastic.

Conclusion

Plastic is such a common material. You will almost certainly be working with it during your career. Learning how to drill plastic properly will save you worrying about wasted materials, time, and money. The better you finish a job, the more money you can get for your jobs.

Plastic can be difficult when the heat is introduced. When working with thin pieces, you don’t need to worry about this too much – you can just remove the drill and allow a short time for it to cool down. If you want, you can also use a lubricant to speed up this process.

When using thicker plastic, constantly check for heat and debris. If you can remove these from the process, you will have the best chance of successfully drilling through the piece. If the plastic is see-through, you will need to think about the angle that you use. Drill holes can leave white drill lines that you are able to see from the outside.

Remember to drill slowly on entry, speed up in the middle, check for heat, and drill slowly on exit. This is key to avoiding breaking, chipping, or cracking your workpiece. Follow that rule of thumb and you will be able to drill through any piece of plastic. If you can’t, you might face difficulty in creating professional quality pieces.

FAQs About Drilling Plastic

Can I Drill Through Plastic?

Yes! And you don’t even really need specialist equipment. Using a power drill and approaching the project slowly will give you excellent finishes. For larger pieces, you might need to apply a lubricant like water to cool down the plastic and stop it from melting.

Do I Need a Special Drill Bit to Drill Into Plastic?

A spur-point drill bit (or dowel bit) is best for working with plastic. This will give you a clean entry into the material. Regardless of which kind of bit you use, it is most important to keep the material cool. If you can keep it cool and approach it slowly, you won’t cause cracks and breaks.

Do I Need to Use a Lubricant When Drilling Into Plastic?

The answer is usually yes. You almost definitely have to use lubricants when working with thick plastics to stop the heat from building up in the middle of the material. If it heats up too much, you will cause the plastic to melt and warp.

You might get away with not using a lubricant with a thinner piece. You may be able to drill all the way through without allowing enough heat to build up. If you are in doubt, use a lubricant. It only takes a few seconds and could potentially save an entire job if there is a risk of heat damage.

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