Diamond Tooling Gains Luster ... and Usage

Tool manufacturers discuss the new developments in PCD tooling and the greater acceptance it has gained in the woodworking industry.

By Bernadette Freund

The question among woodworkers for years has been: Should I switch to diamond tooling or stick with carbide tooling for machining MDF?

Both carbide and polycrystalline diamond tooling have their drawbacks and their advantages. Carbide tooling is less expensive and easy to sharpen, but has a shorter life on MDF and requires more downtime for sharpening, which can change the tool’s hooks and shears. Diamond tooling has a longer life and resists the abrasive nature of MDF well, but it can be up to 10 times more expensive than most carbide tooling.

Diamond tools such as this profiled router bit are serviced with Electrode Diamond or Diamond Wire EDM machines.

(Photo courtesy North American Products Corporation.)

David Freund, president of Saber Diamond Tools Inc., says the last few years have been very promising for diamond tooling. “Recently the companies that manufacture PCD have developed new diamond types that further enhance the performance of diamond tooling on MDF and other materials. This combined with the tool manufacturers’ improvements in tool geometry and ability to put sharper and stronger cutting edges on the diamond has led to cost reductions.”

Diamond Tooling Developments

The last few years have seen many advancements in PCD tooling for woodworking. All nine industry experts interviewed for this article agree that the recent developments in diamond tooling have brought about more acceptance and wider usage of the tooling.

Gary Metzgar, head of marketing and training of North American Products, says the manufacturing processes of the diamond itself have made diamond tooling more accessible. “Years ago, the cost of PCD diamond blanks used in the manufacture of diamond cutting tools was exorbitant, which directly affected the total cost of cutting tools and made it hard to justify for woodworking. New grades of diamond have been developed which are designed to target man-made materials and improve the tool life.”

Gene Veening, president of Royce Ayr says, “Great advances have been made in diamond tool geometry. Now tools are designed with up and down shears and spirals to increase feed speeds and still obtain a good finish. When machining MDF, melamine, foil or paper finishes it is critical to have a high shear or helix towards the center of the board to prevent chipping or tearing of the finish and to improve the life performance as well as the finish on the board.”

Grant Horvath, operations manager of FS Cruing, a division of FS Tool, says, “Manufacturers’ tooling machine computers have allowed us to create better diamond cutting tools. The computers allow us to see the shears before they are produced, the imperfections that could be in the tooling and what kind of cut it will give on the MDF.”

Karin John-Deutschler, vice president of Guhdo, says she thinks the most significant development in recent years have come in diamond saw blades for MDF. “They were not perfected until recently because the bigger the blade, the quicker it warps. In years past there wasn’t the plate material that could stand up to the run time or was cost effective for MDF.”

“There are now PCD-tipped, econo-model saw blades,” says Glenn Mihalovic, market development manager of Gladu. “Our company provides a standard saw blade where only enough diamond for one cycle is provided. The blade is then retired and the costs can be seen and budgeted.”

“To deal with the possibility of a finish showing imperfections from cutting,” says John Michel, director of technical services of Leuco Tool, “larger diamond tips can be used so that lines left by overlapping cutting edges are not an issue. The diamond grades as well as brazing technology have come a long way so that these larger tips do not break. More complex tool geometries are being implemented thanks to acquired global knowledge and improved tool building practices.”

Gary D. Dyer, president of Herco Cutting Tools and 3D Diamond Tooling, has also noticed progress in several areas. “Developments in the last few years include be different size grain structures of PCD, various thicknesses and polished or non-polished faces. Tool manufacturers have been able to become more creative with the tool design and customize the tool to better meet the goals and expectations of the customer depending on the material to be cut.”

According to Mike Vetter, national sales manager of Leitz Tooling, diamond tooling now has greater heat resistance and can stay sharper longer. This allows manufacturers to produce tools with lower cutting angles, which create more heat in the cut.

Even the machines used to produce the tools themselves have helped improve diamond tooling, according to Freund. “Continued improvements in technology has enabled tool manufacturers to design tools with higher shear angles and higher hook angles and at the same time maintain the maximum strength.”

Jumping Hurdles to Gain Acceptance

In order to bring their new developments to market, industry experts have had to overcome negative responses and clear a variety of technical hurdles to gain acceptance in the industry for diamond tooling.

“We have had to overcome the very heavy capital expenditure for manufacturing and sharpening the complicated tooling designs,” says Dyer. “Many sharpening machines purchased as little as six years ago are already obselete so we have learned to continually update our equipment.

“We have also had to deal with woodworkers who have sticker shock because they have paid six figures for a machine and then pay $500 to $1,000 for custom diamond tooling. Most woodworkers, however, have come to realize how important it is for that expensive machine to be kept running as much as possible.”

Bertch uses this Celaschi Progress 54 MESC tenoner to machine raised panel profiles. This photo is an inside view of the third spindle diamond profiling head and the fourth spindle, which is the first of three Arminius sanding heads.

Cabinet Manufacturer on the PCD Cutting Edge

Bertch, a cabinet manufacturer in Waterloo, IA, has been producing kitchen and bath cabinets for the last 25 years. The company’s 1,300 employees use a full complement of standard and computerized machines.

For creating raised panel profiles it uses Celaschi double- and single-end tenon machines. These machines used to include carbide insert tooling which regularly produced problems, says Jim Senn, division manager for the dimension division of Bertch.

“The Celaschi machines do our raised panel profiles and outter edge profiles on the doors and drawer fronts,” says Senn. “Since it profiles and sands on the same machine the insert tooling we used to have would deteriorate quickly and then the sanding couldn’t get to it.”

The company has recently converted most of its insert tooling to polycrystalline diamond tooling from FS Tool. It has switched from six-wing inserts with 8- and 10-inch cutterheads to six-wing diamond tooling. The FS Tool diamond tooling has different tool geometries with the tools being split into multiple pieces and are designed to be taken out of the machine without repositioning it.

Senn explains the diamond tooling’s impact, “Diamond tooling as opposed to insert has helped us reduce downtime to sharpen or replace tools, lessen cost for service, give a better quality of cut and aid in sanding. In fact, the insert tools used to run 1,000 panels per profile and now the diamond tools can run 63,000 before having to be changed.”

“We have tracked our costs for sanding and abrasives and this has saved us time and money,” Senn adds. “The quality of the cut is such that we rarely have to hand sand our raised panels anymore.”

It has taken two years for Bertch to upgrade from insert tooling to diamond. Senn thinks that the two years spent have been worth it because the benefits have outweighed the initial sticker shock on the cost of diamond tooling.

“We have lowered our cost on manufacturing significantly, on labor downstream and on processing materials,” explains Senn. “The biggest benefits we have recieved are the increased accuracy, higher quality and more consistent output for our raised panels.”

—Bernadette Freund


“Customers have tended to shy away from diamond,” states Metzgar, “because they were nervous about having workers maintain such expensive tooling. We have recently made a substantial investment in state of the art Electrode Diamond Machines that are needed to manufacture and service diamond cutting tools that has increased run time and accuracy of the tooling as well as the popularity of diamond tools.”

Veening thinks the diamond tools’ cutting edge and final finish have been greatly improved by tool manufacturers’ inventment in the latest technology for creating diamond tooling.

Vetter says start-up costs have made woodworkers wary of PCD tooling because they must purchase a number of tools to have one running and one on standby while one is being sharpened. “Customers need quick turnaround to minimize the number of tools needed and investments in new machinery have helped reach this.”

Michel says some woodworkers may have had a bad experience in the past with poor-quality material, tool design or the wrong tool for the application. “Education has been a hurdle for us. Change comes very fast and woodworkers must concentrate on what’s available and also how to take care of the investment. Second, woodworkers must measure tooling’s performance to determine applied costs.”

Mihalovic explains that PCD working machinery’s maintenance and renewal can reach the millions of dollars, but tool manufacturers understand the importance of these machines and that of educating woodworkers on the advantages of tooling.

John-Deutschler says woodworkers need to educate themselves so they look at the “bigger picture” when considering the purchase of diamond tooling. “Often woodworkers don’t consider tooling when buying a new machine. Once the machine is on the shop floor it’s too late to provide custom tooling because at that point toolmakers can only provide carbide tooling or whatever fits. Companies must consider their tooling options, how much diamond is on the tool, what kind of diamond, how many times it must be sharpened, etc.”

“We really have been working on educating everyone in a woodworking company,” says Horvath, “from the managers right down to people on the shop floor on how to properly use diamond tooling and find problems before they happen.”

“I think the time has really become ripe for advancements in tooling technology such as diamond,” states Freund. “Tooling producers, equipment producers and wood product manufacturers have all been seeking ways to be more efficient and this has become one of them.”

Easing into Acceptance

The result of an increase in product development and bringing out the positives about diamond tooling has been slow acceptance. It may have taken a couple of decades, but tool manufacturers have seen woodworkers ease into accepting and buying more diamond tooling.

Veening says that the fear of breaking or damaging an expensive tool was an obstacle to change to diamond, but “now with the greater use of MDF and that woodworkers see the cost savings of diamond and the shorter life carbide provides, they are more open to try diamond.”

“The tooling is more expensive than the alternatives,” says Vetter, “but the industry is quickly understanding the cost-effectiveness of purchasing the correct tool from a reliable source.”

Metzgar says the ability to produce better, more precise tooling has reduced the overall cost of diamond tooling which has drawn in more woodworkers.

“Most woodworkers are constantly looking for areas of improvement,” says Michel. “Ones who are machining MDF in volume have or are in the process of applying diamond cutting tools.”

Freund explains that with diamond tooling the overall cost of production decreases, despite this tooling’s significant initial cost, because it results in a lower cost per foot.

“They (diamond tool users) realize that their machine tool investments are only earning their keep when they are producing parts,” Mihalovic says. “The more parts produced over a period of time, the lower the cost of production.”

Dyer sees a different reason for the more recent acceptance of diamond tooling. “One really big reason is woodworkers see the advantage of a longer tool life and improved cut quality.”

“I think a lot of woodworkers are getting pushed into accepting diamond tooling,” says Horvath. “Many woodworkers have seen the success of European woodworkers using this tooling and the higher level of performance it has given their million dollar machines thereby equaling cost savings.”

“For woodworkers to accept diamond tooling even more than they already have,” says John-Deutschler. “I think when companies are looking for diamond tooling they need to look at the big picture. Woodworkers should ask questions such as who produces the synthetic diamond and how thick is the diamond inlay so they know how many sharpenings the tool will need.

“I think the acceptance of diamond tooling will increase as tool manufacturers help woodworkers understand the tooling and as consumers work to inform themselves.”

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