CNC machines have changed the way modern manufacturing works. Combined with cutterheads, end mills, CNC router bits and other cutting tools, modern CNC machines are capable of producing extremely complex parts.
Reducing or eliminating the need for time-consuming manual labour means that CNC machines have found a home in industries all over the world. Timber manufacturers remain some of the biggest users of CNC technology, and CNC cutting tools play a crucial role in their production processes.
The Different Types of CNC Cutting Tools
Combined with the right cutting attachment, timber CNC machines can be used to cut shapes, size boards, drill holes and finish components. These operations are all performed by CNC cutting tools, which are some of the most useful tools in a machinist’s arsenal.
Depending on the material being cut, a CNC operator will usually use one of five CNC cutting tools:
- End mills. End mills are the most commonly used CNC cutting tool. Shaped similarly to a drill bit, end mills feature cutting edges on the contact face and along the edge of the tool. This means they’re capable of cutting in any direction, so they’re often used for cutting, shaping and boring out material.
- Router bits. Just like the hand tool, CNC router bits can be used for all sorts of cutting and shaping operations. Straight-cut router bits are often used for cutting out components and sizing panels, and profiled router bits are used to shape and finish the edges of workpieces.
- Drill bits. The common twist drill bit sees use throughout timber CNC manufacturing. CNC machines are also compatible with other types of drill bits, including stepped bits, spade bits, brad bits, forstner bits and augers.
- Cutters. Cutterheads is a catch-all term for CNC tooling that uses knives to shape workpieces. Cutterheads can be formed into almost any shape, making them ideal for performing complex or CNC cutting and shaping operations. Most cutterheads use replaceable carbide knives that can simply be swapped out once their edge has worn down.
- Surface planes. Surfacers and CNC planers are used to scrape material off the top face of a component. These are commonly used for finishing work. In most cases, CNC timber manufacturers will also use large surface planers to calibrate the workpiece to ensure other cutting and shaping work is as accurate as possible.
What are CNC Cutting Tools Used For?
CNC machines are some of the most versatile pieces of equipment in the world. From the 3-axis machines used to cut flatpack furniture to 5-axis machines that carve incredibly complex 3D objects, your imagination is the only limit to the use of CNC machines.
CNC cutting tools are used to perform all sorts of production processes, including:
- Sizing. Sizing lies at the heart of all timber CNC manufacturing. CNC machines are often used to cut timber boards and sheets down to a usable shape and size.
- Cutting. More complex than sizing, cutting tools are often used to cut out the exact shape of a component. Cutting processes can be highly complex, involving a range of cutters, end mills and drill bits to deliver components that require as little hand finishing as possible.
- Shaping. Not all processes are simple cuts. Timber can also be profiled and shaped using a CNC machine, with cutting tools being used to cut grooves, chamfers, bevels and other profiles.
- Finishing. The main aim of CNC equipment is to reduce the need for expensive, time-consuming labour. To avoid the need for manual labour, CNC manufacturers often use fine cutting tools to finish and perfect edges prior to shipping.
CNC Cutting Tool Materials
The CNC industry is always on the move. Research into CNC tools continues to improve the toughness and efficiency of tooling, helping factories improve their processes even further.
CNC tools used by the woodworking industry are made from a handful of different materials. The type of tool you choose depends on the material being cut and the complexity of the cutting operation. In most cases, CNC router bits and other tools are made from one of four materials:
- Carbon steel. Tough and inexpensive, high carbon steel CNC tools are a common sight in CNC manufacturing. These tools are often limited to low speed operations that won’t place the tool under too much strain.
- High-speed steel. Made from chromium, tungsten and molybdenum, high-speed steel (HSS) is tougher, harder and more resistant than carbon steel tools. HSS tools are built to last and are suitable for use in high-speed cutting operations.
- Carbide. CNC cutting tools and knives are often made with carbide coatings or solid carbide construction. Solid carbide is more resistant than HSS. It also dissipates heat better, extending the lifespan of the tool and improving the quality of surface finishes.
Ceramic. Ceramic tools are among the latest and most resistant types of CNC tooling. Extremely resistant to wear and heat, ceramic tools are typically used to process harder materials like steel.