How to Cut Solid-Surface Material With Simple Woodworking Tools

Close-Up Of Tools On Table Against Window
Thnathip Pha Tir Wat'hn / EyeEm / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 60 mins
  • Total Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $Variable

Up until a few years ago, homeowners were not allowed to purchase Corian and most other brands of solid-surface material. You could only buy it from officially certified dealers, who generally sold only to contractors. Now, however, homeowners can buy full-size sheets of solid-surface material, as well as partial overstock remnants. Whether it is wise to try to fabricate your own solid-surface countertops is another matter. Certified fabricators usually produce better results when cutting and seaming the material. They have the right tools and they have had lots of practice.

Nevertheless, some experienced DIYers do fabricate their own solid-surface countertops. You make fairly good cuts in Corian and other solid-surface materials, using common power tools you probably already own.

Manufacturer Recommendations

Begin by looking at what the manufacturers recommend for cutting solid-surface material. For example, the bible of Corian installation and fabrication is the Corian Fabrication Manual, which is specific in terms of the saws and blades you can and cannot use.

Saws That Can Be Used

  • Stationary saw bed with sliding tray
  • Vertical panel saw
  • Drop-cut saw
  • Heavy-duty portable circular saw
  • Radial arm saw
  • Beam saw

Saws and Blades That Should Not Be Used

  • Jigsaw
  • Hack saw
  • Auger bits
  • Ripping or combination blades

Blade Requirements

  • Should have six teeth every 1-inch (so, for a standard 7 1/2-inch blade, that means a total of 40 teeth)
  • Should have triple-chip tungsten carbide teeth
  • Should be specified "for cutting hard plastics"

For DIYers

Dupont's recommended saws and blades are ideal, but for most do-it-yourselfers, it is prohibitive to buy a radial arm or beam saw just to make a few straight cuts in solid-surface material. The same goes for blades. On the low end, 7 1/4-inch blades designed specifically for cutting solid-surface material can cost $85 and more. Therefore, for most homeowners, a standard corded 15-amp circular saw with a 40-tooth blade is the best option for cutting solid-surface material.

Cutting solid-surface material is harder than you think, due to the mineral content of the material. This is not a solid plastic material, as is sometimes believed. About 66 percent of Corian and other solid surfaces are made of a mineral bauxite derivative—with the remaining 33 percent comprised of acrylic or polyester resins. Cutting solid-surface material requires a new blade—or one that has been sharpened recently. And while the sawdust that is created does not come with the same health risks as the sawdust from cedar and some other forms of wood, the manufacturer still recommends wearing breathing protection while cutting or sanding it.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Marker
  • Straightedge
  • Circular saw with 40-tooth blade
  • Straight cut guide fence
  • Woodworking clamps
  • Eye protection
  • Respirator

Materials

  • Sheets of solid-surface material
  • Masking tape

Instructions

  1. Mark Cutting Lines and Attach Straight-Cut Guide

    Cutting solid-surface material is a difficult process, especially if you are cutting it with a simple hand-held circular saw rather than one of the five guided saws officially sanctioned by the manufacturer. When using a circular saw, it can be quite difficult to keep the blade running straight while cutting.

    The answer is to clamp a straight-cut guide onto the solid-surface sheet to guide the foot of the circular saw. While it is possible to clamp a straight 2x4 or other board to the sheet to serve as a fence, remember that it is very critical that the cuts be made perfectly straight to ensure a perfect seam when pieces are joined. For this reason, it is best to use a commercial straight-cut guide fence when cutting solid-surface material with a circular saw.

    First, draw a cutting line on the sheet of solid-surface material. To minimize the risk of chipping, it is a good idea to first lay a strip of masking tape over the material, then mark a cutting line onto the tape. Then, clamp the straight-cut guide fence to the solid-surface sheet, While Dupont recommends using spring clamps to secure a straight cut guide to the sheet of Corian, any woodworking clamps you own will suffice.

    Placing Fence Before Cutting Corian
    Lee Wallender
  2. Adjust the Straight-Cut Guide

    Before cutting, adjusting the straight-cut guide fence carefully so the saw blade will run precisely along the marked cutting line. Confirm precise fence width by lowering the blade depth and rotating the blade cover out of the way. With the tool unplugged, gently slide the saw down the length of your fence while watching the blade's alignment with the marked cutting line.

    Make sure to create a support for the cut-off portion of the solid-surface sheet so that you do not have tear-out at the end.

    Setting Width of Gates
    Lee Wallender
  3. Cut the Solid-Surface Material

    Set the blade depth abut 1/8 inch deeper than the thickness of the solid-surface material, then plug in the saw and begin cutting. Feed speed should be very slow—considerably slower than you would use when cutting wood. Keep the saw steady and continuously moving ahead. The need for slowness and patience cannot be overemphasized, since this is a very hard material. At the same time, do not pause while cutting, since the edges of the material may scorch and melt due to friction with the blade.

    If you need to rest, let go of the power switch and hold the saw firmly in place until the blade has stopped moving.

    Cutting Corian With Circular Saw
    Lee Wallender

Making Cutouts in Solid-Surface Material

While manufacturers recommend using a variety of circular-motion saws for straight-cutting where pieces of material will be seamed together, such saws don't work to make the countertop cutouts for sinks and other inserts. Here, the standard method is to use a router with straight bit. The router is guided around the cutout by running the base of the tool along a plywood template clamped to the solid surface material. This is the officially sanctioned method that solid-surface manufacturers recommend.

For DIYers, a rotary tool equipped with a straight cutting bit also works to make cutouts. It may be necessary to make several passes with the tool, gradually increasing the depth of the cut, to fully penetrate the solid-surface material.

Finally, some DIYers have good luck making cutouts with a jigsaw. While this tool is never recommended for straight cuts that will be seamed, a jigsaw can work well enough for making sink cutouts where the rough edges will be hidden by the sink flange. If you want, the rough edges left by the jigsaw blade can be smoothed with a power sander.

Holes in solid-surface material, such as those needed for countertop-mounted faucets, can be cut with a drill and hole saw.

Warning

The fine plastic sawdust created by cutting solid-surface material can irritate lungs, but the dust itself is not considered toxic. Manufacturers generally recommend using a simple woodworking particle mask when cutting or sanding solid-surface material.


Cautious DIYers—especially those with underlying lung conditions, or those who work with the material often—may want to go an extra step by wearing an organic compound respirator with dual cartridges fitted with NIOSH particulate filters. According to manufacturer's the heat generated by saw blades cutting solid-surface material may be sufficient to release a very small amount of methylmethacrylate (MMA), a known chemical lung irritant.