What Can a CNC Machine Cut?

CNC cut closup

Thinking of buying a CNC machine? Want to create impressive designs that can be replicated time and time again? If so, you’re curious course about the different materials that you can use to create designs.

What can a CNC machine cut?

A lot of materials can be cut, and even some materials people aren’t sure will work, are likely able to be cut with the right bits. The stronger bits with high hardness levels may be more expensive, but they can cut through your harder materials where a brittle bit would likely fail.

What Can a CNC Machine Cut?

CNC machines can cut through non-metallic and metallic materials. While some materials are quite popular and often cut using one of these machines, others are not as popular but still an option.

A few of the most common questions asked when choosing the material for your next CNC project, and answers to these questions, are:

Can CNC Cut Aluminum?

Yes. Aluminum is one of the leading materials used in CNC machine designs. The powerful spindles and motors allow you to engrave aluminum to make:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Signage
  • Parts used in manufacturing
  • Industrial parts

Engravings can also be made, allowing for a wide range of applications and designs. Carbide-tipped bits are a good option if you’re trying to cut through aluminum, as they’re able to withstand the higher speed and temperatures.

Variable speeds may be required so that you can regulate the speed of the equipment. 

Can CNC Cut Glass?

Glass designs can be achieved with a CNC machine. You’ll need special materials to pull off these unique designs, but they’re easy enough to source. All you need to have is either a glass drilling bit or a diamond burr to be able to efficiently cut through glass.

But you will also need a lot of coolant.

Coolant is going to be the main issue for many people. Cutting completely through the glass is possible with the right machine, but you’ll need to have a water jet cutter.

It’s a delicate process to cut through glass, but with the right tools for the job, you can do it without breaking the glass in the process.

Can a CNC Cut Granite and Marble?

Stone has a higher hardness level, so it’s important to use the right bits to cut through the stone rather than weaker bits that will suffer from excessive burning. A CNC designed for cutting wood is not ideal for this application.

While carbide bits can be used for some softer stones, granite is a bit tricky to carve or cut.

You’ll need to use a very hard bit, a diamond bit, to be able to cut through granite properly. Cooling would also be necessary due to the high RPM needed to cut through the stone. So, while it’s possible to cut through these materials, it’s often not a practical option for a hobbyist.

Can CNC Cut Laminate?

HPL laminate is one of the most common materials people use in tool cutting. While it is popular, you’ll need to use the right bit for the job. A carbide bit is a good tool of choice for HPL laminate.

A few recommendations from others people in the business or that have been cutting laminate using CNC are:

  • Run at 18,000 RPM
  • Run at 950 IPM
  • Adjust speeds if you achieve bad results
  • Decrease RPM if you need better control over chip load
  • Increase the number of flutes

Experimentation is key when trying to cut through laminate. You’ll easily dull a bit prematurely if you’re not using the right settings. Be willing to adjust your settings as needed to find the right settings for your laminate cutting or engraving needs.

Can CNC Cut Plastic?

Yes, some models can. You’ll need to have a large range so that you can cut through the material properly.  It’s important to research the machine you purchase to ensure that it has the capability to cut through plastic or engrave it as necessary.

Can CNC Cut Steel?

Steel is also able to be cut and engraved in the same manner as aluminum. You’ll need the right type of bit for the job, and it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between steel and stainless steel. You won’t be able to properly cut or engrave stainless steel.

Can CNC Cut Wood?

Yes. A lot of people opt to cut wood with a CNC because they can make endless designs and patterns. Computerized milling machines, with the right bits, are able to cut through all types of wood, including plywood.

You can use your CNC machine to cut:

  • Furniture
  • MDF
  • Plywood

The material can be cut into everything, from molds to signs and industrial pieces. Deep cuts can even be made without damaging or burning the wood in the process. Soft and hard woods can equally be cut.

Additional Materials That a CNC Machine Can Cut or Engrave

CNC machines can cut through an array of materials, but you’ll need to research any materials that you want to cut, their bit requirements and cooling needs. You’ll see a lot of sources stating that you can use any material in a CNC machine, and while this may be true to some extent, it’s not true for every machine.

Some machines have add-ons that can help you work on different materials.

The materials that can be used that have not been mentioned yet are:

  • Brass
  • Copper
  • Titanium
  • Foam
  • Fiberglass

Again, if you just put any random bit into the machine and don’t consider the material you’ll be working on, you’ll risk damaging bits or your materials.

CNC machines are versatile, and it’s not uncommon for professionals and hobbyists alike to try cutting through an array of materials. Experimenting with new materials, bits and settings is the best way to get accustomed to using your machine.

While bits may dull and materials can become damaged, experimenting is the best way to see which materials can and cannot be cut easily. Harder materials, such as stone, may require cooling to stop the bit from heating up too much and potentially becoming damaged.

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