Posts

Achieving Success in CNC Woodworking

Developing a Successful Cutting Direction Strategy

There are a number of factors that can affect the machining practices of wood. One that comes up a lot for certain hardwoods is the cutting direction, specifically in relation to the grain pattern of the wood. Wood is an anisotropic material. This means that different material properties are exhibited in different cutting directions. In terms of lumber, there are different structural grades of wood related to grain orientation. If the average direction of the cellulose fibers are parallel to the sides of the piece of lumber, then the grains are said to be straight. Any deviation from this parallel line and the board is considered to be “cross-grain”. Figure 1 below depicts a mostly straight grain board with arrows indicating the different axes. Each of these axes exhibits different sets of mechanical properties. Because of these differences, one must be conscious of the tool path and minimize the amount of cutting forces placed on the cutter in order to maximize its tool life.

Figure 1: Mostly straight grain board with arrows indicating different axes

Cutting perpendicular to the grain is known as cutting “across the grain”. In Figure 1 above, this would be considered cutting in the radial or tangential direction. Cutting parallel to the grain is known as cutting “along the grain” (longitudinally in terms of Figure 1). The closer you are to cutting at 90° to the grain of the wood in any direction, the larger the cutting force will be. For example, a tool with its center axis parallel to the tangential direction and a tool path along the longitudinal direction would have less wear than a tool with the same center axis but moving in the radial direction. The second type of tool orientation is cutting across more grain boundaries and therefore yields greater cutting forces. However, you must be careful when cutting along the grain as this can cause tear-outs and lead to a poor surface finish.

The Proper Formation of Wood Chips

When cutting wood parallel to the grain, there are three basic types of chips that are formed. When cutting perpendicular to the grain, the chip types generally fall into these same 3 categories, but with much more variability due to the wide range in wood properties with respect to the grain direction.

Type 1 Chips

Type 1 chips are formed when wood splits ahead of the cutting edge through cleavage until failure in bending occurs as a cantilever beam. A large force perpendicular to the shear plane is produced, causing the wood ahead of the cutting edge to split, forming this tiny cantilever beam. When the upward force finally exceeds the strength of this tiny beam, it breaks off.  These types of chips cause comparatively little wear compared to types 2 and 3, as the material is splitting before coming in contact with the pointed edge. End mills with either extremely high rake or very low rake angles often produce type 1 chips. This is especially true when machining against grain slopes that are greater than 25°. Woods with moisture content less than 8%form discontinuous chips and are at a higher risk of tear-out.

Type 2 Chips

Type 2 chips are the most desirable of the three types in terms of surface finish. They are a result of material failure along a diagonal shear plane, extending from the cutting edge to the workpiece surface. Type 2 chips form when there is a proper balance between the properties of the wood, cutting parameters, and cutter geometry. Woods with a moisture content between 8% and 20%have a much higher chance of forming continuous type 2 chips while leaving a good surface finish.

Type 3 Chips

The last type of chip forms when the rake angle of a cutter is much too low. In this scenario, the cutting force is almost parallel to the direction of travel. This causes a soft material, such as wood, to be crushed rather than sheared away, leaving a poor surface finish. Generally, the surface left behind looks like tiny bundles of wood elements, a surface defect commonly known as “fuzzy grain.” This type of chip occurs more frequently in softwoods as the crushing situation is compounded in low-density woods.

Figure 2: Different types of wooden chips

Extending Tool Life When Machining Wood

Speeds & Feeds Rules of Thumb

There are several different categories of tool wear that occur when machining wood. General rules of machining still apply as RPM has the greatest influence on wear rate. Over-feeding can increase tool wear exponentially and also cause tool breakage. As with most machining operations, a balance between these two is essential. If you are looking to increase your productivity by increasing your speed, you must increase your feed proportionally in order to maintain a balance that keeps the tool properly engaged in the material.

Proper Management of Heat

When cutting tools are exposed to high heat, they begin to wear even faster, due to corrosion. The cobalt binder within most carbide tools on the market begins to oxidize and break free of the cutting edge. This sets off a chain reaction, as when the binder is removed, the tungsten carbide breaks away, too. Different species of wood and types of engineered wood have different corrosive behaviors at high temperatures. This is the most consistent type of wear that is observed when machining MDF or particleboard. The wear is due to the chlorine and sulfate salts found in adhesives as this accelerates high-temperature corrosion.  As with aluminum, when the silica content of a wood increases, so too does its corrosiveness.

Generally, increased tool wear is observed in wood with high moisture content. This trait is due to the increased electro-chemical wear caused by the extractives in wood., Moisture content in wood includes substances such as resins, sugars, oils, starches, alkaloids, and tannins in the presence of water. These molecules react with the metallic constitutes of the cutting tool and can dull the cutting edge. Carbide is more resistant to this type of wear compared to high-speed steel.

Best Coatings for Extended Tool Life in Wood

If you want a longer-lasting tool that will maintain its sharp cutting edge (and who doesn’t), you may want to consider an Amorphous Diamond coating. This is an extremely abrasive resistant coating meant for non-ferrous operations in which the temperature of the cutting zone does not exceed 750 °F. This coating type is one of Harvey Tool’s thinnest coatings, therefore minimizing the risk of any edge rounding and maximizing this edge’s durability.

Avoiding Common Wood Machining Mishaps

Tear Out

Tear out, sometimes called chipped grain or splintering, is when a chunk of the wood material being machined tears away from the main workpiece and leaves an unappealing defect where it used to be. This is one of the most common defects when machining wood products. There are many different reasons that tear out occurs. Material characteristics are something to be considered. Tear out is more likely to occur if the grain orientation is less than 20°relative to the tool path, the moisture content of the wood is too low, or the density of the wood is too low. Figure 4 shows the grain orientation angle relative to the tool path. In terms of machining parameters, it can also occur if either the chip load, depth of cut, or rake angle is too high.

Figure 4: Example of grain orientation angle relative to the tool path

Fuzzy Grain Finish

Fuzzy grain looks like small clumps of wood attached to the newly machined face and occurs when the wood fibers are not severed properly. Low rake or dull cutting tools indent fibers until they tear out from their natural pattern inside, causing type 3 chips to form, resulting in a poor finish. This can be exacerbated by a low feed or depth of cut as the tool is not properly engaged and is plowing material rather than shearing it properly. Softer woods with smaller and lesser amounts of grains are more susceptible to this type of defect. Juvenile wood is known to be particularly liable for fuzzy grain because of its high moisture content.

Figure 5: Example of a fuzzy grain finish

Burn Marks

Burn Marks are a defect that is particularly significant in the case of machining wood, as it is not generally a concern when machining other materials. Dwelling in a spot for too long, not engaging enough of the end mill in a cut, or using dull tools creates an excessive amount of heat through friction, which leaves burn marks. Some woods (such as maple or cherry) are more susceptible to burn marks, therefore tool paths for these types should be programmed sensibly. If you are having a lot of trouble with burn marks in a particular operation, you may want to try spraying the end mill with a commercial lubricant or paste wax. Be careful not to use too much as the excess moisture can cause warping. Increasing your tool engagement or decreasing RPM may also combat burn marks.

Figure 6: Example of burn marks

Chip Marks

Chip marks are shallow compressions in the surface of the wood that have been sprayed or pressed into the surface. These defects can swell with an increase in moisture content, worsening the finish even more. This type of blemish is generally caused by poor chip evacuation and can usually be fixed by applying air blast coolant to the cutting region during the operation.

Raised Grain

Raised grain, another common defect of woods, is when one or more portions of the workpiece are slightly lower than the rest. This blemish is particularly a problem when machining softer woods with dull tools as the fibers will tear and deform rather than be cleanly sheared away. This effect is intensified when machining with slow feeds and the wood has a high moisture content. Variations in swelling and shrinking between damaged and undamaged sections of wood exacerbate this flaw. It’s for this reason that raised grain is a common sight on weather-beaten woods. Work holding devices that are set too tight also have a chance of causing raised grain.

Differentiating Harvey Tool Wood Cutting & Plastic Cutting End Mills

Machinists oftentimes use Plastic Cutting End Mills to machine wood, as this tool has very similar internal geometries to that of an End Mill for Wood. Both tools have large flute valleys and sharp cutting edges, advantageous for the machining of both plastic and wood. The main difference between the Harvey Tool plastic cutters and the woodcutters is the wedge angle (a combination of the primary relief and rake angle). The woodcutter line has a lower rake but still has a high relief angle to maintain the sharpness of the cutting edge. The lower rake is designed to not be as “grabby” as the plastic cutters can be when machining in wood. It was meant to shear wood and leave a quality surface finish by not causing tear-out.

Harvey Tool’s offering of End Mills for Wood includes both upcut and downcut options. The upcut option is designed for milling natural and engineered woods, featuring a 2-flute style and a wedge angle engineered for shearing wood fiber materials without causing tear out or leaving a fuzzy grain finish. The downcut offering is optimized for milling natural and engineered woods and helps prevent lifting on vacuum tables.

For more help on achieving a successful machining operation, or more information on Harvey Tool’s offering of End Mills for Wood, please contact Harvey Tool’s team of engineers at 800-645-5609.

Successful Slotting With Miniature Cutting Tools

Whether your tool is a 1” diameter powerhouse rougher or a .032” precision end mill, slotting is one of the hardest operations on the tool. During slotting operations, a lot of force and pressure is placed on the entire cutting edge of the tool. This results in slower speeds and feeds and increased tool wear, making it one of the nastier processes even for the best cutting tools.

With miniature tooling (for the purposes of this blog, under 1/8” diameter) the game changes. The way we approach miniature tooling is completely different as it relates to slotting. In these instances, it is vitally important to select the correct tool for these operations. A few of the suggestions may surprise you if you are used to working with larger tooling, but rest assured, these are tried and tested recommendations which will dramatically increase your success rate in miniature slotting applications.

Use as Many Flutes as Possible

When running traditional slotting toolpaths, the biggest concern with the cutting tool is getting the best chip evacuation by using the proper flute count. Traditionally speaking, you want to use the fewest amount of flutes possible. In Aluminum/Non-Ferrous jobs, this is typically no more than 2/3 flutes, and in Steel/Ferrous applications, 4 flutes is recommended. The lower flute count leaves room for the chips to evacuate so you are not re-cutting chips and clogging the flutes on your tool in deep slots.

When slotting with miniature tools, the biggest concerns are with tool rigidity, deflection, and core strength. With micro-slotting we are not “slotting”, but rather we are “making a slot”. In traditional slotting, we may drive a ½” tool down 2xD into the part to make a full slot, and the tool can handle it! But this technique simply isn’t possible with a smaller tool.

For example, let’s take a .015” end mill. If we are making a slot that is .015” deep with that tool, we are likely going to take a .001” to .002” axial depth per pass. In this case, chips are no longer your problem since it is not a traditional slotting toolpath. Rigidity and core strength are now key, which means we need to add as many flutes as possible! Even in materials like Aluminum, 4 or 5 flutes will be a much better option at smaller diameters than traditional 2/3 flute tools. By choosing a tool with a higher flute count, some end users have seen their tool life increase upwards of 50 to 100 times over tools with lower flute counts and less rigidity and strength.

Use the Strongest Corner Possible

Outside of making sure you have a strong core on your miniature tools while making a slot, you also need to take a hard look at your corner strength. Putting a corner radius on your tooling is a great step and does improve the corner strength of the tool considerably over a square profile tool. However, if we want the strongest tip geometry, using a ball nose end mill should also be considered.

A ball nose end mill will give you the strongest possible tip of the three most common profiles. The end geometry on the ball nose can almost work as a high feed end mill, allowing for faster feed rates on the light axial passes that are required for micro-slotting. The lead angle on the ball nose also allows for axial chip thinning, which will give you better tool life and allow you to decrease your cycle times.

A .078″ ball nose end mill was used for this miniature slotting operation

Finding the Right Tool for Miniature Slotting Operations

Precision and accuracy are paramount when it comes to miniature tooling, regardless of whether you are slotting, roughing, or even simply looking to make a hole in a part. With the guidelines above, it is also important to have a variety of tooling options available to cater to your specific slotting needs.

Harvey Tool offers 5 flute end mills down to .015” in diameter, which are a great option for a stronger tool with a high flute count for slotting operations. If you need even smaller tooling, there are 4 flute options available down to .005” in diameter.

Harvey Tool offers many miniature end mill options, like the .010″ long reach end mill above.

If you are looking to upgrade your corner strength, Harvey Tool also offers a wide selection of miniature end mills in corner radius and ball nose profiles, with dozens of reach, length of cut, and flute count options. Speeds and feeds information for all of these tools is also available, making your programming of these difficult toolpaths just a little bit easier.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, there are three major items to focus on when it comes to miniature slotting: flute count, corner strength, and the depth of your axial passes.

It is vital to ensure you are using a corner radius or ball nose tool and putting as many flutes as you can on your tool when possible. This keeps the tool rigid and avoids deflection while providing superior core strength.

For your axial passes, take light passes with multiple stepdowns. Working your tool almost as a high feed end mill will make for a successful slotting operation, even at the most minuscule diameters.

Grappling with Graphite: A Machining Guide

Despite being a softer material, graphite is actually one of the most difficult materials to machine. There are many considerations machinists need to make in terms of tooling, coolant use, and personal safety when it comes to machining graphite parts. This “In The Loupe” post will examine graphite’s material properties, the key machining techniques to consider, and tips for properly selecting cutting tools to achieve success in this tricky material.

What is Graphite?

While graphite is an allotrope of carbon, the two terms are not simply interchangeable. Carbon is an element that can form into several different allotropes including graphite, diamond, and fullerite. Graphite happens to be the most stable form of carbon, and is the most common, as carbon naturally occurs as graphite under standard conditions.

Graphite is most recognized for its superior conductivity and resistance to high heat and corrosion. This makes it a common material in high heat, high-pressure situations in the aerospace, electrode, nuclear, energy, and military industries.

graphite cnc material

Even though graphite can handle intense high-pressure situations with ease, it is actually a very soft, abrasive, and brittle material. This can cause serious challenges when machining, as graphite can eat up cutting tools, and severely minimize a tool’s usable life. However, with the proper tooling and techniques, there are ways to optimize graphite machining to be more cost-effective than the competition.

Graphite Machining Techniques

Since graphite is such a soft and brittle material, special consideration needs to be made when machining to avoid chipping it. To get a good cut, it is recommended that you take light chip loads and use lower feed rates in graphite. If you were to take a heavy cut at a fast feed rate, you would start chipping the graphite and could cause it to fracture completely. To give a comparison point, chip loads for graphite are similar to those for Aluminum materials, but with less than half the feed rate.

To give you an idea of speeds and feeds for graphite, here is an example using a 1/4″ Harvey Tool CVD Diamond Coated, 4 flute Square End Mill. If that tool was running at a standard RPM of 12,000 at 780 SFM, the recommended chip load would be .00292 for a feed rate of 140 IPM.

graphite electrode machining

In terms of machine setup, the one major tip to remember is to always avoid using coolant. Graphite is a fairly porous material, and so it can absorb coolant and act as a “coolant sponge,” which will cause problems with finished parts. Inside the machine and on the tooling, the coolant can actually react with the graphite dust and create an abrasive slurry, which will cause problems while machining. A vacuum system is recommended for clearing material while machining graphite. Otherwise, coated tools should be able to run dry.

Another thing to note when machining graphite is that because graphite does not produce chips, but rather a cloud of very abrasive dust, it can be harmful to operators and machines without proper care. Operators should be wearing a protective mask to avoid inhaling the graphite dust. Proper ventilation and maintaining air quality in the shop is also key for the protection of machinists when working in graphite.

Since the graphite dust is also extremely conductive, it can easily damage non-protective circuits inside your CNC machine, which can cause major electrical issues. While coolant is not recommended, a vacuum system can help to remove the dust, keeping it from accumulating too much inside the machine and preventing serious problems.

Cutting Tools for Graphite Machining

As previously mentioned, graphite is a notorious cutting tool-killer due to its extremely abrasive nature. Even the highest quality carbide end mills, if left uncoated, will wear quickly on most graphite jobs. This extreme wear may force a tool change during an operation, which could lead to an imperfection in the part when trying to restart the operation where the worn tool left off.

graphite cutting tools

When selecting a cutting tool for graphite machining, the coating and cutting edge is the most important consideration. Flute count, helix angles, and other key features of the tool geometry ultimately come second to the coating when purchasing tooling for graphite.

For graphite machining, a CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) diamond coating is recommended whenever possible to maximize tool life and tool performance. These coatings are grown directly into the carbide end mill, improving the hardness and leaving the tool with a coating layer that is 5 times thicker than a PVD Diamond Coating. While not the sharpest edge, the CVD diamond coating provides much longer tool life than other diamond coatings due to the thicker diamond layer.

Even though initial tooling costs may be higher with CVD coated tools versus uncoated tools, since CVD coated tools see considerably longer tool life than uncoated tools, this makes the cost per part shrink significantly. In difficult, abrasive materials like graphite, the uncoated carbide tool will last a short time before the abrasiveness of the graphite completely wears down the cutting edge. Having a CVD coated tool will give you a leg up over the competition, keep your machine running with less downtime for tool changes, and ultimately deliver substantial cost savings.

end mills for graphite
CVD Diamond Coated End Mill from Harvey Tool

Overall, graphite can be a difficult material to machine, but with the right cutting tools and proper speeds and feeds you will be making quality parts in no time. Harvey Tool offers a wide selection of CVD coated end mills in various diameters, reaches, and lengths of cut to ensure you have what you need for any job that comes your way.