Today’s cutting tools are sure to ‘shave off’ time and effort from a woodworker’s job.

There are so many types and styles of cutting tools available that even the savviest custom woodworker is liable to end up confused when it comes time to picking out the right saw blade or router bit. Some of the woodworking industry’s tooling suppliers have provided a few tips below on how custom woodworkers can find the appropriate tooling for high-performance CNC equipment.

They also discuss some of the latest advancements.

Chuck Hicks, president/owner, Southeast Tool Co.:

First of all, they need to rely more on the tooling companies and their distributors. Most of these companies have the knowledge and experience to help determine the proper tooling. Also, they can check supplier Web sites; there is a lot of helpful information on ours under “tips.”

There have recently been harder, more wear-resistant grades of carbide available to tooling companies, for making such items as solid carbide spirals and compression bits. Insert tooling has came a long way as well on new carbides, grinding wheels and machines used to grind the carbide. Diamond tooling has become very popular right now. The machines that are used to grind diamond are able to grind a better, finer edge on the diamond, which has been an issue in the past.

Linda Wyant, vice president, Safranek Enterprises Inc.:

To determine what cutting tool is right for the job, talk to the tooling manufacturers. Explain what you’re trying to accomplish in what type of material. As much as I would like to say that there is one tool that will work for everything, there’s not. The wide array of materials being used in woodworking today requires a variety of tooling. Asking questions of the tooling manufacturers can be a great help.

The latest development in cutting tool technology is the expanding application of insert style tooling. Insert tooling is not new, but the styles and designs for use in woodworking are new. In a world that is looking to recycle and “be green,” insert tooling is one that can easily be recycled. Carbide recycling is popping up across the country. We have been recycling our carbide and other metals for years.

Bob Arick, director of sales, H3D Tool Corp.:

As a tooling manufacturer specializing in very low tolerance tooling for optimum speeds, feeds and finish on the material, we believe the woodworker must first pick a reputable cutting tool source before trying to decide the proper tool for a given application. The source should have full manufacturing (new tooling) and service/sharpening capabilities. The woodworker should allow the tooling expert (source) to guide his decisions on the appropriate tool for an application.

In some applications, brazed carbide tools are still the best choice. In other applications, insert tooling may provide the best solution. And of course, diamond tooling is the premier choice, but is not suited for all applications.

In any case, the woodworker should decide what his goals and objectives are with regard to cutting or shaping a specific project or wood species, etc., gather all pertinent information with regard to expected throughput (feeds and speeds), the desired finish on the material, and the amount of secondary operations (sanding, etc.) to make the cut or shaped part a component in their finished goods. Armed with knowledge and expectations, the woodworker can then work with his tooling supplier to choose the appropriate tool for the application.

Normand Hubert, president, LRH Enterprises:

On insert tooling in the past, it was always a designated head. People would order a certain pattern, and we would make a head just for that.

What appeals to a lot of custom manufacturers today is flexibility. They need to do more than one thing. We designed our tooling to accept different patterning just by inserting different tips. It’s like what they call a “universal designated head,” where once they buy the cope side and the stick side, then they’ll pick a particular pattern. Down the road, if they want to change the pattern, all they have to do is take out the tips that they originally bought and put different tips in there. That way, they only have to buy the heads once, and then they buy different tips for different patterns.

We did the same thing with raised panels and the edge details. Now, you do have certain limitations, but at least it gives them something more than just one pattern. The heads cost $300 or $400 apiece, and every time they buy one, they pay an extra $300 or $400. This way, they are only paying $60 or $70, whatever it might be. Custom woodworkers want more versatility and want their investment to do more than one thing. They also want to be able to use their tooling on CNC equipment as well as manual equipment, because most shops have both. For short runs, it’s great if they can use the tooling for both.

On the CNC, once it is programmed you want it to cut through, because once it starts, there’s no stopping it. So tools have an open body style. On manual machinery, because it’s being hand-operated, operators want an anti-kickback feature. Our insert tooling is designed with a gib (some people call it a wedge). You trace the gib with the same universal pattern I mentioned. There’s support on the front of the carbide insert tip as well as the back.

This acts like a European safety feature called a “chip limited.” It’s anti-kickback, so it only allows a 1-1/2mm bite at a time. I can make a deep cut in one pass, but there’s no blowout, no grain pull, because I’m only taking 1-1/2mm at a time. This especially applies well on material like maple or cherry. Having that wedge traded to the same detail as the head prevents all the sniping.

Bill Kochan, product manager, Onsrud Cutter:

Selecting a router bit used to be simple; you just picked one that was designed for the material being cut and began production. Times have changed; router bits have evolved with new cutting geometries and tool styles to keep pace with the ever-changing materials and high-performance machinery. Customers now have to review many aspects of the manufacturing process to select a router bit that will increase their efficiency. These criteria include the material being cut, tool material, machine, size and shape of the part, and flute direction.

Your first step in this process is to determine what material is being cut and this is broken down into hardwood, softwood and composite wood. Hard and softwood are self-explanatory, but composite wood consists of any product using glue to hold the material together. This is important because cutting geometries and material substrate change in order to achieve a good edge finish and obtain long tool life.

The next step in this process is to determine what material the tool will be made of: Solid carbide tools are primarily used on CNC machines, due to their rigidity and long tool life. Solid carbide also offers the broadest range of cutting geometries.

Polycrystalline diamond tools are also used on CNC machines where long tool life is required. The diamond is harder than carbide, allowing for longer tool life. But the drawback is its brittleness.

Any foreign matter in the material will chip the cutting edge, damaging the tool. Diamond tools are primarily used on composite wood where glue affects the tool life.

Machine capability also must be reviewed to help narrow down the tool selection. Assuming that the machine being used is in good working order, the two main criteria to review are the spindle speed (rpm) and feed rate. 

The operator needs to know the maximum and minimum speed the spindle can operate at without stalling it and how fast the machine is capable of feeding at. This will dictate how many flutes the tool needs to have. The general rule is that the more flutes a tool has, the faster you need to feed it.

Part size and shape play a role in determining the style of tool. Today’s CNC machines read ahead in the program and automatically adjust the feed rate so shapes and corners can accurately be produced. Just because a programmer programs a tool to cut at 1,000ipm doesn’t mean the tool will cut that fast; it may only achieve 500ipm. The operator must be able to estimate the actual feed rate and select the appropriate tool, based on the size and shape of the part.

If large parts are being produced, high feed rates can be achieved, allowing for three- or four-flute tools to be used. If small parts are being produced, a one- or two -flute tool may be selected but the machine may still have problems achieving the proper feed rate. If this is the case, the number of flutes must be reduced and/or the spindle speed must be reduced.

The last consideration is the direction of the flute. Today’s tooling is available in upcut, downcut, straight and compression styles. Upcut flutes are very popular due to their ability to lift and evacuate the chips away from the cut area. The drawback is that fraying may occur on the top edge of the material. Part lifting may also be an issue if the vacuum or fixturing is not sufficient.

Downcut flutes provide a downward force, helping to eliminate part lifting. Downcut spirals are also used to prevent fraying on the top edges of wood products. Straight flutes offer a neutral cutting action which does not lift or push down on the material. Compressions are used on laminated materials and produce a good edge finish on the top and bottom of the parts.

Once all of these items are reviewed, the operator will be able to select the proper tool to fit his specific application.

Karin Deutschler, president, GUHDO USA Inc.:

Selecting the proper cutting tool for a CNC application is crucial to maximizing performance of the machine capability itself. Selecting tools that don’t meet the challenge is nothing short of reducing your output by double-digit proportions and increases your costs substantially.

Solid carbide spiral bits have been evolving with new designs and carbide grades, resulting in faster feed rate capabilities, better finish and improved tool life for several applications. A two-flute 1/2-inch router bit in solid carbide is being replaced with three- or four-flute bits to accommodate the new machinery’s increased feed rate capabilities and maintain excellent finish.

Choosing the proper tool requires a good understanding of what options are out there, and a knowledgeable tooling rep is key. If you are using carbide-tipped profile tools, it’s time to get into the 21st century and switch to either polycrystalline diamond or carbide insert tools, dependent on what it is you are doing. Although the investment is going to be a little more initially, the payoff will be quick and big.

Sharing all your application information with your tooling supplier is important in determining what the most efficient tool will be. As machinery feeds and speeds have increased in recent years, the importance of a balanced tool body has become paramount. Not only will your tool life be compromised, high machinery maintenance costs will become inevitable if tooling is not manufactured to highest quality specifications. Getting the most from your cutting tools requires a good maintenance plan as well, replacing and cleaning collets on a regular basis and assuring that the hold-down system is fully functioning to reduce any vibration during the cutting process.

New tooling developments within our company in the last year include an ever-increasing offering of “off-the-shelf” tool bodies that are capable of accommodating a wide range of “custom” profiles. The development of a diamond “spiral” bit for diameters as small as 1/2-inch has provided an option for customers that must maintain a small diameter but don’t want to compromise on the feed speed.

Rick Paul, president, Charles G.G. Schmidt Co.:

It is our opinion that selecting the appropriate tooling is dictated by the type and size of the job a woodworker might be doing. As a custom tooling manufacturer and a supplier of standard tools as well, we can supply standard carbide-tipped or solid carbide spiral router bits for certain jobs, and custom-made profiled bits or even insert style bits for larger jobs where more tooling is required.

It is our goal for the customer to get the most out of our tools for the least amount of expense. Where long runs are required, diamond tools and insert tools are recommended, so machine down time and job expenses are kept to a minimum.

Mike Serwa, vice president-sales/engineering, Vortex Tool Co. Inc.:

In a router application, between the end of the spindle and workpiece, there are two main tooling selections that typically need to be decided. One is the tool-holding system and the second is the cutting tool itself.

The typical selection these days is a collet type of tool holder, which on average works adequately well. There are other tool holding systems that provide up to 100 percent more clamping pressure of the cutting tool, which in a high-rpm work environment can have a huge advantage in tool life, cut quality and even help protect the life of the machine’s electrospindle. Customers should discuss their desired performance expectations with their tooling provider and determine which system is appropriate.

The typical choices for cutting tools include PCD-tipped, solid carbide and insert-style cutters. PCD tooling will typically provide unrivaled tool life, but does not like large chip loads. So overall feed rates will be lower over a long period of time. Insert tooling will typically be reasonably priced as far as “per tool change cost,” but will be limited in feed rate capacity and part finish may be inadequate.

Solid carbide tooling will provide by far the fastest feed rate capacity and best part finish possible. Although the per-tool cost may intimidate some customers, getting excellent part quality at extremely fast feed rates usually makes it an economical tool choice.

With the increased capacity of machine tools to effectively cut at faster feed rates, we have concentrated on providing tooling that can give cost-effective performance at increased feed rates in increasingly difficult-to-cut material and new types of materials. More customers are bringing in materials from overseas, and when that happens it usually means that this material does not machine anywhere near the same way as their domestic-based materials.

In many cases we are tweaking tool geometries, increasing the number of cutting edges, using coatings and even coming up with completely new tool designs to accomplish these goals. We have found it tremendously helpful to have on site a CNC router where we can actually get samples of “tough-to-cut” or new types of materials, test different tool geometries side by side and witness first-hand the results.

To find the newest cutting tools on the market, visit for a full listing.

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