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PlexiGlas Display Case Mini-Tutorial

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Building a Plexi-glas display case.


Just the facts:

1. Measure carefully ($Free)

2. Order up some cut-to-size Plexiglas ($50 from TAP plastics online)

3. Glue it up (Weld-On 3 with applicator bottle and needle, $15 from amazon.com)


Total cost: $65 and you can use the glue again next time.


Ordering Plexiglas


1. Know the size of the case you want. The base dimensions will be the INSIDE dimensions of the case.


-L (length) in the direction of the long axis of your model

-W (width) which is the direction of the beam of your model

-H (height) which is, um, the height you want.

-T (thickness) of the plexiglas you want.


The TOP piece will be the size you want the inside dimension of the case, plus the thickness of the Plexiglas.

1 (one) each: L+2T x W+2T


The FRONT pieces (the biggest pieces, the ones you will likely view the model through) will be

2 (two) each: L+2T x H


The END pieces will be

2 (two) each W x H


For example, lets say you decide you want the INSIDE dimensions of your case to be


L = 20 inches

W = 6 inches

H = 24 inches

T = 3/32”


Therefore you should order

One TOP at 20 3/16” x 6 3/16”

Two FRONTs at 20 3/16” x 24”

Two ENDs at 6 x 24”


Next is the actual gluing up of the case.  There isn’t much to be said. Study the diagram carefully. Basically, you want to use just enough of the Weld On to be pulled into the joint by capillary action. Be careful not to drip the solvent onto anywhere but the joint. 


Pull some of the protective backing from the plexi sheet where your joint will be, leaving an inch or so. Leaving most of the protective sheeting in place means less chance of scratching and less chance of dripping solvent/glue onto the viewing surfaces.  But if you don’t peel it back a bit from the edge, capillary action will suck the glue up onto the viewing surface between the sheet and the plexi.


I used a carpenter’s square and masking tape to hold everything in place while gluing. It doesn’t seem to matter if you apply the WeldOn from the inside corner or the outside of the joint; it gets sucked into the seam really well either way. I think doing it from the outside is less chance of dripping onto the viewing surfaces of the case.


Only do one joint at a time. I started with attaching the TOP to one of the FRONTs, but it doesn’t really matter.


You may want to sand the edges a bit with regular sandpaper to make the edges really smooth. I did this, though I’m not sure it accomplished anything.


The glue dries really fast.  In about 10 minutes, you can do the next joint. The whole box took me about 1 hour to make.






Background and other Pointers:


Your model ship deserves a case. I looked at my Phantom sitting on the cabinet for over a year, watching it get dusty, before I figured this out. Some quick online research and, holy cow, a custom case is about $400 to start! Wow! That is 4+ times as much as the kit cost.  And it is, you know, $400!  So, this option fails goal #1.

I then looked about a bit more, and came across modelshipcases.com where you can buy an e-book detailing how to make your own gorgeous custom cases. So I bought that and it is a pretty good resource. Unfortunately, you really need a full woodshop or, at least, some basic woodworking tools like a table saw and some space. Maybe someday, or at least if I had a proper shop, but for right now my “shop” is the floor of my tiny NYC apartment and all of my “equipment” has to fit into a file box. So that was a fail on goal and #3, so this option didn’t work either.

So, what is left? Buying one is out even though it would look the best. Making my own from the available plans would be great, but I don’t/can’t make that happen so that is out. I guess I have to make one myself, by my own design.


Dimensions: Measure your boat. Several online sites suggest adding an extra 4 inches length-wise and 2 inches or so height-wise. My Phantom is a pretty small model and I think that would result in a way to big case. So I sort of settled on 14 inches long by 3.5 inches wide by 16 inches high. These are INSIDE dimensions (important!).


Cutting Plexi-glas.


This is where I failed. There are three options.


1. Order it cut to size.

This is, by far and away, the best option even for my very cheap disposition. It will come to your door perfectly sized, edges crisp, and for about 20% more than if you bought the material yourself. Just do this. Seriously. If you really are that cheap and choose not to, read on, but be warned.


2. Cut it yourself with a scoring tool

This is the first method I tried.  I had previously cut some plexi for another project, and it was easy at the time so why not. But it was long enough ago that I forgot all the fine details. 


I purchased the raw material for $30 tax included. The scoring tool I already had but that was about $7 at Home Depot. Ordering the material cut to size (see #1 above) was $41 shipped. Honestly there isn’t much of a difference between about $37 and about $40. There was a huge difference in $40 and $400 to have someone else build one for me though.


If you still want to save that $3, you can do so as follows:


     Use any convenient straight edge. I put the plexi on the floor right on the carpet of the living room, put a board on top of it as a straight edge, and stood on top of the board to keep it from moving.

SCORE AT LEAST 10 TIMES. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you don’t, when you break off the piece the crack will go in a random direction and mess up the whole thing.

            Then flip the thing over and score a few times on the other side of the plexi.


     Another possible (likely) scenario is that you are scoring along, the first 5 or 7 scores feel good and go one right on top of another, then the eighth score takes off away from the straight edge you are using and BAM. Big ol’ nasty scratch across what had hoped would be a useable piece of Plexiglas. Into the scrap bin! But, like me, you try to salvage it, and instead of breaking cleanly along the 7 scores, it fractures across the entire sheet of raw material, and the ENTIRE thing goes into the scrap box.


Just order it cut for you.


3. Cut it yourself with a table saw.  If you have a table saw (I don’t) this could be a way to go. But you’d probably need a special blade, it might melt instead of cut… I don’t know.  Just order it pre-cut for you. 

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