Mar 10 2016

Cardboard Cutting with CNC machine

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Cardboard Cutting with CNC machine

At a glance you would not think that cutting cardboard would be a very challenging task. Cardboard is not a hard material like metal so how difficult can cutting it be, right? While cardboard is not the hardest material out there it is rigid and can be just as sturdy as any other man-made material. These days there are even companies that make furniture out of it. Now you could use a pair of scissors or a utility knife to cut the material but who wants to do manual work like that when there is a CNC machine option available. There are two major options for cutting it with a CNC machine, using a drag knife or a laser cutter.

CNC machine cardboard cutting

Cutting cardboard with cnc machine

Cardboard cuts differently from most other materials that you can work with on a CNC machine so average tools like bits do not get the job done. This is where the drag knife comes into play, being about to make the smooth cuts required to work with cardboard without wrecking the material. Before you do anything else, turn off the power to your spindle. You do not want your drag knife to spin; the knife must remain in a stationary position while it is making cuts (it is called a “drag” knife, not “spinning” knife, for a reason). Because the knife does not spin at all you will have to turn it yourself to realign the cutting edge when you want the cutter to move in a new direction. If you are used to working with bits or similar tools that can turn on their own be sure to remind yourself about the drag knifes limitations when you are programming your code. You are also going to need a way to hold the cardboard down very tightly but do not use a vacuum system. If a vacuum is used air will be pulled through the cardboard and the pressure will make cutting more difficult. Not every user will be adapting a CNC machine they already have for cutting cardboard, in which case you could purchase and use a paper cutter for this type of project. Most paper cutters are inexpensive but they tend to limit the size of cardboard you can work with and are often ineffective at cutting thicker cardboard.

CNC machine cardboard

Cutting Cardboard with cnc machine

Laser cutters are easier to cut cardboard with and are more effective than drag knives. Adjusting the cutting power on a laser is simple; all you have to do is change the power settings to alter the intensity of the laser whereas with drag knives you would have to buy multiple knives of various sizes or fine tune your machine to make small cuts very carefully. Laser cutters also leave a nice, crisp edge along the cuts they make. Additionally, since lasers do not put any physical pressure on your material you do not need the keep the material held down as tightly as you do when using a drag knife. While lasers perform much better the big downside is their cost. Be prepared for a hefty price tag; if you do not need a laser cutter long term or if you want to test one out to make sure you like the results try renting one before you commit to buying a pricey CNC machine.
There are other methods to cutting cardboard with CNC machine besides using a drag knife or laser cutter but many of the other methods do not work as well, are only suited for thin cardboard and are less common than using either of these techniques. While your budget may limit what method you can use for the job you should still be able to get your task accomplished as long as you know what you are doing and have a little creativity.