One CNC Router Bit Set to Rule them All

Three Router Bit Sets for CNC hobbyists under a tin shed sky,
Seven for the 2D and 3D carvers to own,
Nine for signwriters destined to buy,
One for the Shed Dweller on his dark throne
In the Land of Stu’s Shed where the router bits lie.
One router bit set to rule them all, One router bit set to find them,
One router bit set to tempt them all and with the CNC mill bind them
In the Land of Stu’s Shed where the router bits lie.

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This is the ultimate CNC router bit collection that I’ve found in the latest router bit catalogue from Toolstoday.com and Amana Tool

58 CNC router bits in its own display cabinet, for CNC routing timber, MDF, laminate, plastic, aluminium, steel, foam, and composites.

That is a set and a half!

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Drool!

A matter of scale

In Episode 107, I had a look at the Amana Tool miniature inverted copy router bits from Toolstoday.com.

Although you get an idea of the size from the video, I thought I’d give you a closer look, and compare them in size to a Australian 5c, and the USA cent and quarter.

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What I really wanted to show however, is the size of the bearing that is used on the smaller trim bit.  It makes for a smooth copying operation, and so the router bit doesn’t burn at the rub point.  Now when I say it is small, I mean small.  It is in that first photo – have a look at the 1c piece.  However, to make it clearer, here is a real closeup!

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Time to don those 3D glasses

We are moving into a new dimension.

CNC machines are not restricted to 2D patterns and simply cutting in to produce a raised (or recessed) pattern.  Nor are they restricted to 2.5D, which is how patterns that are cut in 2D then built up to produce a 3D image are classified.

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True 3D means the cutter is moving through all 3 dimensions as it is cutting.  This can still produce something like a bas relief image, but irrespective of how complicated, or simple the result, the motion of the cutter throughout the cut is the defining parameter.

Finding 3D patterns to send to the CNC machine are not as easy to find as I expected.  The 3D printing community openly creates and exchanges their creations, including the required files, and open source development programs, whereas the 3D CNC community charges significant fees for each and every pattern, and the software to develop your own costs $thousands.

I did download a sample file from VectorArt3D.com who also provide the code generator program (for free, but it only works with their files) called Vector Art 3D Machinist.  Bit of an experiment-was not sure if it would work on the CNC Shark, but it was fine.

va3dm-1-largeThe program produces the required G-Code for the CNC machine control program, but has an interesting additional output, that of a roughing out pass.

Given how much material the can be removed to create a 3D object, it is good being able to first run a heavier cutter to take a few quick passes to remove the bulk of material before the fine, final cutter moves in to refine the design.

Rather than just use any router bit to attempt to machine a design, I turned to the precision Amana Tool bits that are specifically developed for 3D CNC routing.  These come from Toolstoday.com, and are Zirconium Nitride (ZrN) coated router bits.  I know it says coated, (which to the layman suggests painted or dipped) but I suspect they may be produced using one of the physical vapour deposition techniques.  This is an important distinction.  A coating can rub off over time.  A vapour deposition has characteristics somewhat akin to welding, where the coated layer fully penetrates into the surface of the base material, effectively creating an alloy at the surface.  Localised, controllable, surface alloying is a particularly effective modern technique for producing exceptional products.

6225_7_The bits are all up-spiral, pulling material up and out of the cut, while the cut itself is not a chipping action, but a slicing one.  They are particularly sharp, and smooth.

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The first pass was a roughing pass, using the largest bit seen to the left here.  It quickly scallops away the bulk of material, leaving the finer router bits to produce the detail, without having to push through tonnes of material.

Photo 8-02-2014 16 45 58Once that pass was done (4 minutes), the bit was swapped over for the one making the final passes for detail.

Photo 8-02-2014 17 00 10The final result looks a bit rough – more refinement by me I think.  It is definitely not the router bit – the ZrN bits performed superbly.

Photo 8-02-2014 17 24 24Final pass, which was about 16 minutes for this size pattern.

The additional benefit of these router bits, is their ability to handle other materials, such as aluminum, brass, copper, graphite, phenolic composites, plastic, sign board, & wood.  The ZrN surface is particularly useful in preventing buildup of the material being cut, such as plastic and other gummy materials.

The benefit of having a set of bits is having the right ones available when you need them (and less costly than purchasing individually).

The set of 4 covers a good range.  If you are heavily into 3D CNC woodworking (and as a business), consider the 8 piece set.

The router bit set of envy

Come into my workshop, and along with my standard range of router bits I have and use, there is a new display.  A set of specialty router bits designed to provide any CNC mill owner some stunning bits to complement their CNC machine, from Toolstoday.com

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Every CNC-centric router bit you could hope for, all in one display.  And they are not just any router bits either.  This is not like the set of router bits you can head down to the local hardware shop and buy a set of 20 for $20.  If the bits in this set are not carbide tipped, then they are machined from solid carbide, which ensures they are strong (given carbide is naturally brittle), and much finer than any carbide tipped bit can be.

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There are two versions of the set – either with a 1/4″ shaft, or 1/2″.  I have the 1/4″ set to complement the CNC Shark, as I can always fit them in a 1/2″ router, but of course I couldn’t do that the other way!

The set comprises of the following:

 Example image  Router bit description  Purpose
 51402  Solid Carbide Aluminum Spiral ‘O’ Flute 1/4″ Dia. x 2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank “Mirror-Finish” Up-Cut Router Bit  Aluminium
51402  Solid Carbide Aluminum Spiral ‘O’ Flute 1/8″ Dia. x 2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank “Mirror-Finish” Up-Cut Router Bit  Aluminium
51411  Solid Carbide Plastic Spiral ‘O’ Flute 1/4″ Dia. x 2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank “Mirror-Finish” Up-Cut Router Bit  Plastic
51411  Solid Carbide Plastic Spiral ‘O’ Flute 1/8″ Dia. x 2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank “Mirror-Finish” Up-Cut Router Bit  Plastic
6225_6a  Solid Carbide ZrN Coated Ball Nose 5.4° Tapered Angle 1/16″ Dia. x 3″ Long x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  2D & 3D Carving
5183_3_  Solid Carbide Carving / Engraving 7.5º x 3/16″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Fine line engraving
5891_2_  Solid Carbide Carving Liner 9º x 1/4″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Extra fine engraving
5807_2_  Solid Carbide Up-Cut Ball Nose Spiral 1/4″ Dia. x 2-1/2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Ballnose carving
5638_4_  Solid Carbide Mini Compression Spiral 1/4″ Dia. x 2-1/2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Melamine, MDF & Laminates
6208_3_  Solid Carbide Beadboard 1/8″ Radius x 1/4″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Fluting & fine roundover
4926_2_  V-Groove 90º x 1-1/4″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  V Grooves
4926_2_  V-Groove 120º x 1-1/4″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  V Grooves
4926_2_  V-Groove 60º x 1/2″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  V Grooves
5645_2_  Solid Carbide Up-Cut Plunge Spiral 1/4″ Dia. x 2-1/2″ Long x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Clean production routing
6015  InTech™ Insert V-Groove 90° x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  V Groove replaceable tip
6016  InTech™ Insert Core Box 1/4″ Radius x 1/2″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit  Coving replaceable tip
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 Mini Surfacing Insert Spoilboard Bit 1-1/2″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit
 Surfacing
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 In-Groove™ Insert Engraving System 1/4″ Shank Tool Body, with
 30° In-Groove™ V-Tip Engraving Insert Knife
 Extra fine engraving 29 different tips avail

Interchangeable

It is a pretty impressive lineup, making it very likely to have just the right router bit for the job at hand, no matter what the material (within reason!)  Wood (fortunately!), MDF, ply, Melamine, aluminium, copper, brass, plastic.

Solid carbide upcut for the finest finish, replaceable carbide tip bits for bulk jobs, or to ensure a fresh sharp edge and tip for a new job.

Although the router bit set I am referring to is sold as a CNC set, this is by no means the limit of what you can use the bits for.  After all, they are just router bits, and if you want to use them for freehand routing, or signwriting, or pattern following with a template, they are perfectly suited for these applications as well.

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The Hydra and the Router

The hydra is a mythical beast, with multiple heads, and when one is lost, another grows in its place.  I’ve never imagined I’d speak of the creature, the hydra, and router bits in the same sentence, but there you go.

In the past, router bits are a solid unit, with the sharp edge (tungsten carbide commonly these days) brazed to the body of the router bit.  The science behind the brazing can be quite profound, allowing the brittle tungsten carbide survive significant abuse.  These router bits can be resharpened, but you need to get them done professionally to achieve the best result.  Tungsten carbide on cheap bits is dull, often even painted to disguise the (lack of) quality.  I have also been told in the past that tungsten carbide is tungsten carbide, so cheap bits are the equal of the “overpriced other ones”  Bullsh*t! Sorry, but I have been told that on more than one occasion, and I really wish those who don’t know (or don’t care) wouldn’t continue to spout such crap.  It is like saying all diamonds are the same, and we know that is not true either.

Oh – bit of an aside – you may well ask, if carbide is so wonderful, why are there not diamond router bits?  Might surprise you, but there are!  There is diamond embedded in steel router bits, used to rout glass – such as putting a chamfer on glass.  Even more recently, in the Amana Tool catalogue, there are polycrystalline diamond router bits, with an edge that lasts up to 200 times longer than tungsten carbide.  Not sure why, but for CNC machines only.  The Amana Tool catalogue is scary – sooooo many awesome router bits.  Drool.

Ok, so we have established that some router bits (the most common) are all machined and brazed together.  The cost of replacing the edge requires the replacement of the entire bit.

The next approach has been detachable carbide, held onto the bit with one or two (hex) bolts.  Larger pieces of carbide is often used, thicker, and they can also use harder (and more brittle) pieces due to the thicker section, giving longer edge life.  If something goes wrong, and the carbide breaks (or dulls from use), it is a very cheap replacement.

A few of my bits have replaceable tips, such as my surfacing bits.  The two that have replaceable tips can be rotated to present 4 edges in total, providing significant life expectancy, and the tips are cheap even when they all do wear out.

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Now the point of all this is there is another option. Replace the head!  Its the hydra model for router bits!

It is a fascinating model, and there are some distinct advantages.  I’d never heard of them before, but the guys at Toolstoday.com recommended them, and they haven’t steered me wrong yet 🙂

The tungsten carbide is brazed to the head, so the body of the head does not need to be as ‘chunky’ to support a threaded section to hold the tips on.  The head can be machined so each tip is accurate, and the whole assembly becomes rather cost effective when you start running through the consumables.  Not sure how much it matters, but exchanging the consumables is faster than replaceable carbides, as you don’t have to do each tip individually. They are called the EZ-Change Replacement Head router bits, and you can change the head while it is still attached, and set up in the router.  This is particularly useful if running large jobs and you don’t want to have to recalibrate the setup because you’ve had to change router bits to get a sharp edge again.

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There are two types here – whether you require the bearing to be below or above the cutters.  The spare packs come with 3 replacement heads.  The cost won’t kill a budget either – $US18 for the router bit (including a head), and a 3 pack of heads is $27 – less than $10/head.

What will they think of next?!

Honey, I shrunk the kids!

Stu's Shed Pictures

Stu’s Shed Pictures

Bigger is normally regarded as better, and often that is quite a justifiable position.  Larger router bits can handle higher loads, have more chunky carbides, can handle higher feed rates.  But they cannot do everything.

Something I have been struggling with for a while, and especially when working with smaller designs is that the large router bits are, well, too large.  When pattern copying a fine design for example, the large bearing rounds off a lot of the detail.  So it is with definite interest I discovered the miniature router bits from Toolstoday.com.

The bearings are 3/16″ (4.76mm), so it is capable of really getting into tight spaces.  Some other small router bits use a non-bearing pin to achieve this, but this leaves the guide pin rubbing against the workpiece at 20000RPM, the friction of which quickly leads to heat buildup, and burning of the edge.

There are a number of different profiles in the range, so it isn’t just a matter of being able to copy more intricate patterns with a straight bit, but also being able to apply edge treatments in tight spaces. The router bits are 1/4″, so able to fit in standard routers either directly, or with a 1/2″ – 1/4″ collet.

Amana Miniature Router Bits

Flush Trim bit

The flush trim bit is always an integral one for a set – it is particularly potent when used to duplicate a template.  You may choose to use this miniature version in combination with its bigger brother.  The larger one can cut the majority of the outline around the template, then follow up with the miniature one to push right into the detail areas.  Might as well not force the bit to do any more work than necessary!

Rabbet bit

The rabbet bit would be useful in making small boxes, and very small picture frames.

Chamfer bit

The first of the edge treatment bits, the chamfer bit can be used for edging, and producing a miter joint.  The one pictured above produces a 45o chamfer. There is a second one in the range that produces a subtle 7o chamfer.

Round over bit

A couple of different radius round over bits are available.  These are particularly useful in toy making, used to soften edges of toys.

And  the classic profile, the Roman Ogee.

Roman Ogee bit

The profiles may be no different to the other common ones in your router bit set, but the size will make a big difference in what you can achieve, in situations where you would have had to find an alternate (and often with a compromised finish) option.

I know tools are not meant to be ‘cute’, but these miniature bits are, at least as far as any router bit can be!  So if you want to shrink your router bits, you can either get an electromagnetic shrink ray from the ’80s, or get these from Toolstoday.com

Amana Tool Miniature Router Bits

Storing Router Bits

Decided to keep tackling the router bit storage issue, and altugh it is rough and ready, the functionality is already showing that I’m on the right path.

Firstly I ran some lengths of Tassie Oak through the thicknesser to get each of the pieces a uniform thickness, then through the tablesaw to get each piece sized to match the existing holders that were part of the original Triton display cabinet (these used to be displayed in various retail outlets). (A slot was also cut along each length using the tablesaw which will engage the lip of each shelf in tha cabinet).

Next a 13mm hole was drilled at one end (partial thickness), using the drillpress fence and flip-stops to get consistent hole placement.  I took a countersink to take the edge off the hole, then started mixing and matching the router bits to get similar types together.  The original ideal of one bit per holder quickly went out the window as there would be no possible way of fitting all the bits in otherwise.  Still plan (at some stage) to tidy the holders up, but it will likely be one of those things that fall in the “functional is good enough” brackets.  I am definitely happy that the CMT router bit storage is getting retired.  It was very frustrating because the bits were way too hard to get in and out.  Either the holder would pop out with the router bit, or you ran the danger of slipping when pulling the bit up and having it slide the length of a finger.  I didn’t sustain any serious cuts over the time I had it, but only because I was particularly wary of it.  It was said to be a 100 bit storage tray, but that only counts if every bit is a simple straight cutter.

Router Bit Cabinet

This isn’t my full collection of router bits, but what I have left out are specific sets of bits – Whiteside Dovetail Set for Incra, Hingecrafter set, a Rabbeting bit w bearing set, and some spare Triton bits.

Sum total: 118 bits (to date).  88 bits in the cabinet (I think) – a couple are slightly hidden, and after finishing, I found one more still mounted in the router! Doh!

The original cabinet could only fit 55, so grouping bits together made a lot of sense.

The lowest 2 rows are the original Triton display blocks – the yellow labels described the bit specifications.  They may get retired as the cabinet capacity continues to need increasing.

Irrespective of the nostalgic reasons behind this cabinet, I’m also finding it to be quite an interesting way to store/display router bits.  The original perspex front isn’t practical as it was designed (given the original cabinet is storage only, not for ready-access), so that will be one of the things I will investigate next – using the front as a shield for the bits, without loosing the access.  Not sure if some of the bits in the cabinet are not too high either (being somewhat bigger than anything Triton originally had on offer!)

It is one of my fundamental concepts for the shed, and many have heard it before.  The real tool is the router bit – the router is only there to turn the bit/present the bit to the timber.  When looking at investing in the router as a tool, the amount of money spent on the router will, over time, be significantly outweighed by the amount spent on router bits, so investing in a decent router is only a small part of the cost.  At the end of the day, a router bit is only a high-speed chisel/plane blade after all.

Of course, you can get cheap bits, but cheap bits give a cheap result, and don’t last to boot.  I do have some somewhere – didn’t even remember to count them in my earlier tally (not that they count anyway!)  They get used occasionally – when I want to rout aluminium.  Can’t be bothered wasting a good bit on that job.

In the collection above are bits from Carbatec (1), Triton (these two are probably the cheapest bits I now have – comparatively), Linbide, Carb-i-tool, CMT, Whiteside.  Most are Tungsten Carbide tipped (TCT), a few are solid carbide.  The cheapest bit is around $35, the most expensive over $500. You can buy an entire set of router bits for $35.  You get what you pay for.

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