Whether you are new to CNC milling or have been using a desktop CNC mill for some time, there’s always a way to make your workflow more reliable or efficient. Here are three simple and easy tricks you can use to simplify your workflow and make higher quality parts faster.
1. Cut only one type of material per tool.
This is a simple tip but it yields great results. By keeping your tools confined to cutting one type of material, you will usually get a better finish and increase the longevity of your tools. Plastics in particular get much better results with dead-sharp tooling that has never been used on metal or PCBs. PCBs aren’t as picky, but it does reduce fuzzy edges quite a bit when you follow this tip. Metals, on the other hand, are the easiest to deal with, so cycle older plastic or PCB-cutting tools onto cutting metals. If it’s not feasible to have separate sets of tools for every type of material that you work with, we recommend at least keeping tools used on metal and PCBs separate from tools used on plastic and other soft materials like wax.
2. Add fixtures to your CAM simulations.
Running a simulation in your CAM software to ensure your part looks correct before milling it is a great practice to have, but it can get even better. Adding the fixturing that will be used when you mill your part can keep you from having to make multiple parts, and from damaging your equipment. You can determine whether there will be any head crashes or if there will be unreachable areas. A model of your machine's bed is a great place to start. You can add brackets, toe clamps, and other fixtures to your simulation. Many desktop CNC manufacturers have dimensions, diagrams, or models available to download. If not, it’s often still possible to measure yours with calipers and make a simple model of it.
3. Engrave your PCBs.
If you’ve been using end mills to make PCBs, try using engraving bits (also called V-bits). If you have an 80-degree 0.005” tip engraving bit, you can substitute it in place of a 1/64" flat end mill when milling traces. As long as you only mill 0.006" deep, it works out to basically the same effective diameter. Because 80-degree engraving bits are much stronger than 1/64” end mills, you can increase your feed rate and significantly reduce the milling time for that tool. The caveat is that you have to make sure your material is flat, or else you’ll mill too wide. For an example of milling properly with engraving bits, check our detailed blog post on using engraving bits to mass produce PCBs on the Othermill.
That's it! We hoped you enjoyed our tips. If you have tips of your own you'd like to share, we'd love to hear them. Tweet us @othermachine or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.