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"It starts with knowledge..." is more than a motto to us- it's how we do business. Our first goal is to share some of what we have learned about our trade with you.
CNC routers can seem like futuristic 'automated' processing, but it's important to remember that no machine can remove the human element from your build process. Taking care during the set-up is vital to getting a great result, just like every other machine type.
You probably know that router bits are held by a collet; and that the the collet is held by the tool holder, or chuck, which connects to the machine spindle. An improper fit at any of these interlocks is a safety hazard which puts you at risk. Even without a major failure, a poor 'fit' increases the wear and tear on each component, and lessens the quality of your pieces.
Even when used properly, collets have a limited use life. Vibrations will eventually loosen the grip your collet has on the router bit. How often collets should be replaced depends on your volume, but if you're using your CNC regularly, it's a good practice to replace your collets at least once a year. For a production shop, it's an easy habit to swap in new collets twice a year- once when Daylight Savings Time starts, and once when it ends.
Preparing Your Collets
Before you start to fit the bit into your collet, spend a minute doing some quick prep- this could save you hours and thousands of dollars in maintenance or damage costs down the line!
First, verify the collet type you're about to use is the correct type and compatible with your equipment. ER32 and ER40 are the most common collet types for wood applications in CNC routing.
After you're sure the collet type is correct, make sure the inside of the collet is clean and free of any chips or dust that could have got inside while being used. Use a specialized brush, and twirl it around inside the collet for about 30 seconds.
Debris inside the collet can cause the bit to rotate slightly elliptically, instead of in place- this can increase vibrations, which could weaken the collet and impact the finish of your cut.
Seating Your Router Bits
An undercolleted bit is dangerous. The bit is not seated securely, which leads to extra vibration and potential slippage. Undercolleting causes wear on the mouth of the collet, and can even deform the top of the collet where there is nothing for it to grip onto.
An overcolleted bit has its own hazards. When the flute of the bit is inside the collet, the collet is unable to get a snug 'grip' on the whole of the shank. The end result is vibration and potential slippage.
To be correctly seated, the bit should take up about 80% of the collet depth, and none of the flute should be inside of the collet mouth.
Using Collet Plugs
If you're working with a bit which is too short to seat far back without some of the flute entering the collet, use a collet plug. This will keep the collet straight and prevent it from deforming at the top.