How to Cut Acrylic Using a CNC Mill

One of the most common questions about acrylic is cut quality and of course how to improve it.

But did you know that cast acrylic and extruded acrylic are cut very differently? Or do tool selection and machine acceleration play a fundamental role in finished product quality?

If you know how to set up your machine, choose the right knives, and use the right cutting strategy, you’re ahead of the game.

Machine configuration and setup

Powerful machines are a key starting point for a successful project. When looking for high-quality finishes, there are four key factors to consider during the buying process:

1. A strong, sturdy base is crucial. Purchasing heavy-duty cutting equipment allows you to combine a sturdy base with a sturdy gantry. Rugged construction supports demanding processes, providing a strong and reliable unit while helping to minimize vibration
2. Smooth control and drive systems arguably play the most important role in producing high-quality results.
3. Both the rack system and the servo drive motor contribute to smooth movement. Therefore, vibrations are kept to a minimum. The machine itself can cut at higher speeds, producing higher yields without losing quality.
4. Finally, it is highly recommended to use a powerful vacuum fixing system. Vacuum hold down ensures the material remains in the correct position throughout the cutting process. Even the slightest material movement can throw the software program, spindle, and material out of sync, inevitably causing complete damage to the workpiece.

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Tool selection

The selection of CNC milling machine tools is vast and sometimes dizzying. There are single, double and triple grooves, straight grooves, compression grooves and spiral grooves. Special coatings can even be applied. This makes the task extremely difficult. However, choosing the right tool for the job can result in a cut that’s perfectly smooth and clean, or something that looks like it was chopped with a saw.

When machining plastics, a high-quality milling cutter is essential. An upward-spiraling single-groove geometry usually gives the best results on acrylics. The upward geometry provides a smooth, consistent finish and ensures optimal chip evacuation. For best cut quality, always choose a knife with the shortest groove length for cutting your material. This helps reduce tool deflection and chatter.

Cutting process

For best results, the recommended strategy is to divide the cutting process into two parts – roughing cut and finishing cut, with each part done using a different tool. This allows you to store your finishing tools longer, resulting in higher quality finishing.

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