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Making Holes in Plastic

holesblog

Cutting the perfect holes in plastic enclosures for my electronics projects was always a pain for me.  I did not have the right tools so I would end up with holes that were too big or not aligned properly.  I’ve tried many tools over the years and found that the best tool for making holes is a drill press.  I did not have a drill press when I first started, so I’ve learned what tools to use to make perfect holes without one.  I still use these tools today when I’m too lazy to go to the garage to use the drill press or only need to make a couple of small holes.

I’ve used these tools on plastic enclosures that I’ve purchased and on ones I’ve 3D printed. I will use this scrap piece of ABS plastic from a failed 3D print to demonstrate the tools.

plasticpiece

Hand Drills

drills

I always start a hole with some sort of a drill.  These small hand drills, also known as jewelers drills or pin vise drills, are perfect for making small holes up to 1/8″.  You can buy larger hand drills, but at that point, I would just head for the drill press.

handdrill1

handdrill2

These drills are easy to use, just push down and turn. Try to keep the drill steady while pushing down to get a very clean hole.

handdrillhole

This hole is usually not big enough for my needs so I’ll follow up with a reaming tool to enlarge it.

Reaming Knife Drill

reamerknife

This tool works the same way as the drill. Just push down and turn to scrape away the plastic.

reamerknife1

reamerknife2

Be careful not to stab yourself, the point is very sharp!

reamerknifehole

Go slow with the tool and measure often.  You can end up creating a much larger hole than needed by scraping too much plastic at a time.

Tapered Reamer

taperedreamer

This is very similar to the reaming knife drill, but this works a lot faster.  You will not get a nice clean hole with this tool.

taperedreamer1

This tool shreds plastic.  The edges will be rough.  You can make large holes quickly with this tool.

taperedreamerhole

I usually try to clean the hole using the reaming knife drill if the hole will be used for an LED or be visible in some way.

Power Hole Punch

powerholepunch

This is for quick and dirty holes, it will cause stress marks on the plastic but is a quick way to make many consistent holes.  It comes with several different sized punches.

powerholepunch1

This tool only works on flat pieces of plastic and only has about a 2″ reach.

powerholepunchhole

The light blue around the hole is the stress caused by the tool.  You’ll have to be careful not to crack the plastic with this tool.

Nibbler

nibbler

I use this tool to turn circular holes into something else, mostly rectangles.

nibblerbite1

The tool works by “biting” off small pieces of the plastic.  I first cut a large circular hole that is big enough for the tool’s blade.

nibblerbite2

Again you’ll see small stress marks depending on the material you are cutting.

nibblerbite3

I will cut a rough outline then come back with a small file to smooth the area out.

You can find these tools at a hardware store or online on Amazon or eBay.

These are the tools that work best for my needs. There are many other ways to cut holes including using a rotary tool such as a Dremel or a hot knife.  Go experiment with tools and find what works best for you.   I try to include all holes in my 3D prints to make it easier but even then I find myself using a reaming tool to enlarge the holes a bit.  Let me know what your favorite tools are.

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