I live in NYC. I have a small roof deck but mostly must work inside and I have very little space to keep tools. I need to build cases for my electronics projects. Acrylic/plexiglass seems like a nice option but I'm at a loss when it comes to cutting square holes in it. Some say a Dremel will work others say it will melt the acrylic.

Right now I have:

  • Large manual drill
  • Small manual jeweler's drill
  • serious glue gun
  • soldering station
  • heat gun
  • various needle nose pliers
  • a million scissors
  • every screwdriver
  • nippers/tin snips/snippers/flush cutters
  • Tiny shop vac

I'm thinking of getting one of the following:

  • manual scroll saw
  • scroll saw
  • jig saw
  • Dremel

But I can't decide what would help me build cases for my small electronics projects most out of thin (think under 1/4" wood) and plastic. Noise can be and issue. That's why I love my manual drills. They also are much more precise and don't melt plastic. I'm leaning towards the manual scroll saw ... but I don't have any way to try before I buy...

Maybe I need more than one saw? Any advice?

  • (not precisely woodworking) Melting is mostly a matter of using too much speed (and, possibly, blunt tools). You can use a dremel, but be sure to reduce the speed. Also, if you can afford (costs about 2.5 times as much) use polycarbonate, not acryl/plexi. Tougher, more heat resistant, and much easier to work with tools (as it doesn't stick and glue everywhere).
    – Damon
    Oct 15 '15 at 22:51
  • 2
    Find a local hackerspace that has a laser cutter you can use.
    – jpa
    Oct 16 '15 at 6:55
  • 1
    These days the option of a hobby 3D printer is available for building custom project cases. reprap.org
    – KalleMP
    Oct 24 '15 at 20:06

If you are just trying to cut out small squares I would favour hand tools as well. I would think primarily out of respect for you neighbors but also to keep clean up a little more manageable. Also hand tools can be cheaper in some cases. That of course depends if you are trying to get a production going in which case it might be considered inefficient.

So I would suggest you get a small saw like a keyhole / compass saw if you do not already have one. The blades are designed for cutting small holes which sounds like what you are doing. If the holes are not on the edge of your work then you would just need to drill a hole, on the inside of the square, large enough to get the saw in.


Cut on the inside of your lines and then you could sand smooth.

You can essentially do the same thing with a jig saw and you can get them fairly cheap. As long as you are cutting sheet goods it will serve you well. Still need to make a starting hole if you are cutting in the middle of the board obviously.

Coping saw came to mind as well but they are better at cutting curves and might not fit depending where these squares are in relation to the edge of the stock.

As for other places to work, besides your apartment, there are location for that like TechShop. Unfortunately it does not look like there is one in your area even though they mentioned back in 2010 they would have one in New York "soon".

I'm sure that there are other solutions available as well. Have a look at this article from MakersAlley that links you to some that might be in your area.

  • Another nice option is a large, wide throat coping saw. Oct 19 '15 at 17:38

For apartment woodworking, I'd stick mostly with hand tools. Handsaws are much quieter than their powered cousins, especially if there's carpet or other padding under the workbench to reduce sound transmission to the floor. Hammering is noisy, but screws are quiet; a bit less so if using an electric drill and driver but still should be OK unless you're using an impact driver.

Useful tip: Many lumberyards and home-improvement centers will cut boards and plywood to size for low or no cost. Even if you don't trust their measurements and have them cut a bit oversize, this can make handling the wood a lot easier.

I'm still using bookcases I threw together in my 2nd apartment. 2x12's, ply, adjustable shelf support and screws; not even glue. They could be much prettier, but they've been rock-solid... good enough for what I needed at the time.

For small electronic projects, most of the wood cases you make will have drilled holes for lights and controls; maybe an occasional slot or rectangle for sliders and displays, right? Not convinced you need a powered saw at all, as long as you have some sort of fret saw that you can feed through a starting hole to make cutouts in the middle of a panel. (Scroll saw is essentially a powered fret saw). Scroll/fret saws are also great for making fancy decorative speaker grilles, if you have the patience for detail work.

Dremel tools are very useful for a very few specific tasks. For most folks, most of the time, they just gather dust. If you're making your own pcb's -- and not using smc's yet -- a high-speed rotary tool might be worth considering; ditto if you need a micro-router (woodworking, not networking), but I'd hold off buying one until you have a specific task for it.

Generally, I'd suggest waiting and buying tools only when you have a project which needs that tool.

Another thought: If you make something as a gift for the adjacent apartments -- including directly below you -- and ask them about what hours you should make sure to keep quiet, they may be more inclined to cut you a little slack it there's an occasional noise.

  • BTW, one place where the Dremel tool is definitely useful is as a miniature angle grinder. If you get the fiberglass cut-off disks, rather than the emory ones that usually come in the kits which tend to shatter under serious use, you can do some fairly serious sheet-metal cutting. The grindstones, likewise, can do a nice job of fine-tuning metal cutouts. But those aren't common tasks for most woodworkers.)
    – keshlam
    Nov 6 '15 at 19:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.