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darlingm 08-30-2013 08:53 PM

Strength of unsupported polycarbonate (Lexan) good enough to use as work bench area?
Building a new work bench area. Home business & space is quite limited. Could really use a gigantic light table as well.

If I made a gigantic light table with the top being a large sheet of 4' x 8' polycarbonate (Lexan), could I double up and use the light table as my new work bench area?

The only thing that would put a worrisome amount of stress on the polycarbonate would be when I use my 10" blade miter saw to cut strips of wood, similar to moulding, that are 2" x 2" x several feet. Probably weighs around 30-35lbs, plus a bit of additional force when I set it down from moving it.

If I needed to have the polycarbonate sheet sitting on more of a frame than just on the edges, how much of a frame would I need to be confident I won't break it? Would a single support beam making it two unsupported 4' x 4' areas do the trick?

I know thickness of the sheet will have a lot to do with it, that's part of what I'm trying to figure out.

Also, I need the surface to be flat when not holding heavy weight, so if what I'm planning on doing will warp/bow the polycarbonate, I'd need to build enough support so it wouldn't do that.

SPS-1 08-30-2013 10:25 PM

Does not sound like a good idea. Polycarbonate is plenty strong, but a workbench needs to be well supported and stiff. I have 2 x 6 supports every 12" on my workbench. Workbench takes a lot of abuse, in no time that polycarbonate will be terribly scratched.
Besides, get a price on a half inch or 3/4" sheet of polycarbonate--- that should effect your decision.

wkearney99 08-31-2013 08:53 AM

How about a compromise in-between. As in, make the table with a recessed portion. Put the backlit poly under one section. And then put a sheet of masonite over the whole thing. Or in sections with one that overlaps the poly portion. This way you'd have a surface that wouldn't get ruined with scratches and scuffs like the poly would. Then you'd be able to lift off the masonite to get to your poly section. You would, of course, want to avoid beating the heck out of the surface above the poly area, as there's only so much impact abuse it'd likely take before getting damaged.

I've got a bench set up with masonite this way. I made the bench top itself out of two layers of 3/4" plywood, glued and screwed together. Then I make a lip that ran around the edge of it out of 1x3 lumber, leaving the lip about 3/8" higher then the top. Into this I put a sheet of masonite. Now I can make a mess of the top and just replace the masonite when it gets too far gone.

I'd imagine you could accomplish the same sort of thing but recess a light box under one portion and just have a removable section over it. It might even be worth putting a sheet of felt or something on the underside to help cushion the face of the poly. I suggested the idea of an overlap to help prevent dust that WILL drop through from getting immediately onto the surface of the poly. You'd just need to account for the added thickness of the materials when you set it all up.

Thurman 09-01-2013 08:35 AM

Let me start by saying that I have many years behind me working in Industrial Maintenance and have used "Lexan", one brand of polycarbonate material, many times. Most people believe that Lexan and/or "Plexiglass" ( a different chemical make-up) are super-strong and will withstand a lot of abuse. I have made many guards for machinery, put them into place, and had them develop cracks for no known reason. Funny thing about Lexan: At times you could swing a baseball bat and hit it with no damage, then again just bump the sheet with a sharp object and watch which way the crack runs. Plexiglass is worse about this. IMO--using Lexan for a table top: It sounds as if you are planning on building a frame and using a sheet (4 x 8) of Lexan without supporting cross-bracing. Even two sheet would not be adequate for a table top IMO. IF you were to do this and at some point you were to drop an object onto the Lexan, don't be surprised to see a crack develop. "wkearney99" has a good idea there.

wkearney99 09-01-2013 09:39 AM

In thinking about it, I probably wouldn't do it. Not unless you really know you'd actually make use of that large of a light box on a very frequent basis. Otherwise you'd have to keep clearing the surface in order to access it. Work surfaces are notorious for collecting stuff. Stuff which would need to be stored somewhere else in the meantime.

I'd be more inclined to come up with some other clever way to store the lightbox instead. A way that kept it's more fragile surface out of the way, and away from dust contaminating it. A box built into the work top would be hard to seal up effectively enough to keep lots of sawdust out of it. Because then you'd be making it difficult to keep the lights inside cool or replaceable. Although with modern LED tape lighting that would be less of an issue. But then you get into issues with diffusing the light effectively.

So which would work better?

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