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I would like to attach a 1/8" thick piece of plexiglass to the front of a bookcase. (It will be open at the top and will be used to house a hamster, so no hinges are needed.)

Can I use small nails?

Should I drill a very fine pilot hole?

If the nail idea is no good, then should I use a special adhesive, or should I use screws?

I do not have clamps and I do not have any special drill bits. If you want me to buy a special drill bit that doesn't cost more than $15 and that's available at Lowe's or Home Depot I'm game.


Edit:

I followed the recommendations and it worked great. Very fine bit first, dipped in the dish soap. Went partway into the wood too. Then switched to a slightly larger bit and didn't go into the wood. (Particle board, actually.) The fine nails (1 1/4 " long) went in nice and straight thanks to the partial pilot hole. Used a slow speed and didn't push much. Operated drill while removing the drill from the hole. Made sure not to overhammer the nails.

I left the outer backing film on, to reinforce.

Tip: to remove the inner backing film, I rolled it up with a heavy cardboard mailing tube (borrowed from hamster).

Comments: the plexiglass didn't slide around even though I didn't have clamps. The drill bit never got hot but I did periodically dip it in the dish soap and I had the sense this was helpful.

Conclusion: faster and easier than it would have been with screws.

  • i've used a lighter to heat metal spikes that i then pushed into plexi. worked fine, except where my hand was shaky. if you're calm, it can work just fine... – dandavis Jan 19 '18 at 20:44
  • @dandavis - I don't think I have a problem with shaking but I don't have a lot of wrist strength. For heating -- what do you think about wrapping a nail around a soldering iron for the heat, to make a hole? Also, I don't have metal spikes. What would I buy at the Home Depot? – aparente001 Jan 19 '18 at 20:50
  • soldering iron is better, i had low exceptions about equipment. a nail is a spike. the thing is, you don't want it to wiggle at all while cooling. some kind of a jig would help. If you sink in the nail itself, and it cools around it, that's going to be a very tight and strong seal. – dandavis Jan 19 '18 at 20:51
  • @dandavis - low exceptions? – aparente001 Jan 19 '18 at 20:52
  • The off-gassing might be even worse if you melt it instead of burn it. You shouldn't do either anyway. – Mazura Jan 20 '18 at 1:00
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Fine nails are fine. But you do need to drill a clearance hole the full diameter of the nail shaft through the plastic. You may want to drill a smaller pilot hole at least partway into the wood to reduce the chance of splitting.

Any standard drill bit will do, but go very slowly to avoid melting the plastic as you drill.

Drill bits tend to walk on plastic, so you may want to put a piece of masking tape over each area to be drilled, which will give a bit of grip to avoid the slide.

Screws would also be fine (and a bit stronger; maybe overkill), but the same pilot hole rules apply.

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    I've used small nails and even large screws in plexiglass, and you definitely have to drill the right sized hole. You have to be careful not to tighten the screws too much. Good answer. – JPhi1618 Jan 19 '18 at 20:09
  • Thanks, this seems doable. // I read one forum post that said to heat the drill bit and one that said to let the drill bit cool off before making the next hole. What's your view about the temperature? If I should cool it off, would it be good to dip it in a glass of water? Also, another source said to lubricate the drill bit. In addition I read that I should start with a smaller drill bit than I actually need, and then gradually step up until I get the right size. That's how I got the idea that tiny nails might be better. But I suppose screws would hold better? – aparente001 Jan 19 '18 at 20:43
  • As a final step I'm planning to use aquarium grade silicone caulk along the inside angle. This was recommended in the hamster DIY tutorials. – aparente001 Jan 19 '18 at 20:44
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    @aparente001 Neat washing up liquid (dishwashing liquid/liquid soap) works well as a lubricant for drilling acrylic. Keeps the bit from binding and melting the plastic. – Tom Carpenter Jan 19 '18 at 22:00
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    "a pilot hole the full diameter of the nail shaft" is a clearance hole not a pilot hole :-) – RedGrittyBrick Jan 20 '18 at 18:08
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Polycarbonate (Lexan) might be a better choice than acrylic (aka Plexiglas, Lucite or Perspex).

It's very tough but a bit softer with a bit of a yellow cast in the transparent 'color', whereas acrylic tends to be hard, more transparent and much more brittle.

See, for example, this comparison.

I would still drill the holes of nail diameter + a bit. Go a bit slow and use a sharp bit.

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    I actually prefer slightly dull drill bits for hard plastic because it doesn't 'grab' as much, similar to how you use zero rake drills for brass. That tip in the link also works for plastics. – jkd Jan 20 '18 at 8:26
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    And a reminder to clamp your work down on the drill press or it may ride up the drill. – Spehro Pefhany Jan 20 '18 at 15:15
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Too late to help you this time, (but for others); using washers under the head, especially if using countersunk screws helps, as it creates a clamping force with no chance of a wedging or splitting force building up in the plastic.

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