Carbide tools are known to be more resistant and accurate than steel tools for many reasons. They are a lot more rigid, preventing them from “walking off” or missing the contact point at higher speeds. They have better heat dispersion properties, allowing for higher rotation speeds on harder materials. And they are a lot sharper given the atomic composition of tungsten carbide.
However, like any other tool in your shop, carbide cutting tools need to be cared for if you want them to last. Here are five tips to maximize their life.
1. Use a cutting lubricant when working with hard materials
When driving your milling machine through materials such as steel alloys or Inconel, you need to “baby” your machine.
Carbide cutting tools rarely need to be lubricated when going through aluminum. Keeping an eye on feed speeds is often enough to keep your chips away from the edges.
But harder alloys can cause serious problems if you don't apply some sort of cutting fluid while machining. They serve two purposes. One is to reduce friction as the bit engages with the material. The second is to keep temperatures under control, thus reducing the chances of localized hardening that can increase brittleness.
2. Keep your tools clean and free of debris by using compressed air
Using compressed air while feeding your mill is just good practice. It keeps chips, dust, and other contaminants away from your cutting tool. Chip evacuation is important to keep flutes free of contaminants that affect precision and might damage your edges. Compressed air also keeps the spindle taper and tool holder shanks free of contaminants that could cause problems when you change your tools.
3. Sharpen the edge periodically with a diamond wheel
Replacing carbide tools can get a bit expensive. One way of extending their lifespan is to sharpen them with a diamond-surface grinding wheel. A word of caution: make sure you place the bit parallel to the grinding surface and work in short intervals so you don't overheat the carbide. You will notice your recently sharpened edges as they have a brighter shine. Don´t forget to wear eye protection.
5. Be sure to use the right size cutter for your application
Material waste is a problem in any CNC machining operation. Using small bits can be tempting as they effectively reduce the amount of wasted material and increase accuracy. However, if the bit is too small, you will dull it out before finishing the cutting process. Always take into account hardness, sharpness, and flute count when going through any material. It can save you a lot of time and expenses.
With those five tips, you can rest assured that your cutting tools are always in top shape and they last you for a very long time. Whether you run a small CNC operation from your garage, or you specialize in manufacturing high-quality parts for the auto industry, you will surely appreciate having your tools last longer without compromising precision and efficiency.
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