How to Machine Copper With Your CNC Router

Working with copper on your CNC router machine
How to machine copper with your cnc router
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If you’ve never worked with copper before you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to create beautiful objects with excellent finishes on your I2R CNC router. Much softer than steel, and highly affordable, copper is an excellent introduction to machining in metals.

For all CNC projects, the first step is to select the material and then the right bit for what we are going to be machining. While the set up sequence for placing and cutting on your i2R CNC machine is the same, it is important to know that the bits and the speeds for the cut to be used are different. Programming and cutting your design will change depending on the material used.

Know Your Material

Copper is one of the softest non-ferrous metals and is both inexpensive and readily available. It conducts electricity and heat very well, which is why it’s commonly used in consumer electronics and automotive products. It also has an attractive colour and can be polished to a mirror finish, making it popular for art projects and jewellery.

  • Attractive colour & finishes
  • Easy to machine on a CNC router
  • Anti-bacterial and anti-viral
  • Excellent electrical conduction
  • Good thermal conduction

Copper is toxic to most microorganisms, including viruses, which is why it is also used in the healthcare sector. It’s a much cheaper alternative to silver, which is also very effective at protecting against infection.

Using copper for surfaces, handles and tools can help prevent the spread of a wide range of infectious diseases, including the coronavirus. With the recent covid pandemic, copper became a popular material of choice for a range of everyday items.

Copper is also more corrosion resistant than ferrous metals and is much easier to machine on your CNC router. Copper is only 20% as hard as soft steel, and has half the hardness of brass. A range of attractive finishes can be achieved by weathering copper to get a greenish tint from natural oxides or you can keep it polished and bright.

Choose the Right Bit

The bit we will use for this CNC cutting project is an ⅛” O flute. O flutes are very good at  rapidly removing the cut material away from the working area, which is good for cooling and getting a very smooth finish.

Don’t Mix Up Plastic & Copper O Flutes!

It’s important to know that O flutes for metals and plastic look similar, and you mustn’t get them mixed up. Trying to CNC machine copper with an O flute designed for plastic is likely to damage the bit and result in very poor quality cuts.

Check your tool number against the manufacturer’s reference list and specifications to make sure that you are using the correct type of O flute for the correct material. For this job we will be using an Amana O flute that is designed to cut copper.

Securing Your Material

It is important to secure your material so that it’s as flush with the bed of your CNC router as possible. The aluminum T-slots that are standard on our i2R routers make hold down clamps a simple and effective way for securing your copper sheet. It’s important to avoid flex with thin sheets if you want to get the best finish possible.

Job Setup

Using VCarve, we can easily set up our job by inputting the correct parameters in the fields. The measurements for the size of the project are 3.9”x 1.9” by .12”. The overall length of the key is 3.5”x1.37”. The main hole will have a circumference of 1.0094 inch. This will be big enough to fit your finger through.

Designing and Creating the Toolpath

For the cut we use a simple profile toolpath to cut the shape of the key. Remember we are using an O flute, which is great for ejecting cut material away, keeping the working area clear and reducing heat build up.

Using our Amana O flute we will be cutting the part out in 24 passes. The depth of cut is .005” per pass for this copper project. More passes at a shallow depth will give us a better result than deeper cuts that put more strain on the bit and the copper surface. Your i2R CNC router is so precise that every cut will follow the same path.

Preview the Toolpath & Start Machining!

After previewing and double checking the toolpaths, it’s easy to upload the design directly into the UCCNC program that was packaged with your i2R CNC Router. After setting our zero positions we can start machining our key.

Perfect Results

Document Your Project

A general tip for all your CNC router projects. Record everything you do and learn to keep notes on the settings that worked best for each scenario and project. Many projects have similar setups, especially if you have a stock of a particular material that you use frequently. Next time you’re working with copper you’ll be glad you kept a good record in your journal!

Enjoy & Share Your Experience

Every project is a potential learning experience, good or bad. Your expert knowledge of your project can be very helpful to other people. Get onto our online forum to discuss your ideas and projects. Look out for other people you can share your knowledge with, and enjoy the experience!

I2R CNC Forum

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