How do I cut a small rectangular hole in plastic?
July 26, 2014 10:15 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to tidy up my Raspberry Pi projects by putting them in custom cases. The pre-made cases have holes for every port, which I don't need (and sometimes I have sensors and other things that need holes of their own). I have some plastic project boxes, but I'm not sure how best to cut the holes I do need.

For example, I always need a hole for the USB power plug. That's a very small rectangular hole. Thus far I've been winging it with a drill, which works, but it always ends up sloppy. The plastic is too thick and hard to effectively cut with an xacto knife. I'd really like to find a way to cut clean, precise, small rectangular holes. Is this something I could do with a Dremel? Other suggestions? I'm pretty good at electronics, and software isn't a problem, but this kind of hardware stuff has never been my string suit, so feel free to explain tools and techniques as if I'm completely clueless....
posted by primethyme to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I use a laser cutter to cut acrylic cases. Works like a treat. Ponoko can lasercut from illustrator files.
posted by mike_bling at 10:20 PM on July 26, 2014

I drill out the holes, then clean up the edges with a small file. I have different file profiles for circular, rectangular, and odd-shaped holes.
posted by gox3r at 10:26 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

2D laser cutting is awesome. I use Ponoko as well.

I asked about 3D printing bigger-than-a-matchbox-car on MeFi a while ago and quickly realized that at the scale that I work at, getting acrylic sheets cut and mailed to me to cement together is cheap and quick.

Find a local maker space and use their laser cutter if you don't want to order more cases via Ponoko (or another provider).
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:03 PM on July 26, 2014

I'm a fan of using a nibbler tool. Drill a hole and nibble out the rest. I've mostly used mine for metal but it's fine for plastic too. I suppose that particular tool may be too large for the micro USB plug on the RPi, though.
posted by zsazsa at 12:33 AM on July 27, 2014

Best answer: I have a bunch of tools sitting around, but a laser cutter is not among them. I actually could probably get access to one pretty easily at work, but I wouldn't bother unless I had a lot of fairly elaborate cutting to do.

Files are definitely the best and tool for shaping flat edges and sharp corners on small cutouts like you're describing, but they don't cut quickly so it's nice if you can use something else to take out most of the material. A Dremel isn't going to give you flat edges or sharp inside corners, but it is good for roughing out a small opening. A jeweler's saw could work well in some circumstances, but probably not for project boxes because the far side of the box would be in the way.

For cleaning up the edges and corners of smaller holes, a set of needle files is probably what you want.
posted by jon1270 at 3:19 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the initial hole, you can't beat step drill bits for clean holes in thin plastic. They don't grab the way a regular twist drill bit would.

Then clean up to the rectangular shape as others here have said, with files or a dremel.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 8:19 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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