Cutting carbon fiber can be a difficult task without the right equipment. This post will help you cut your carbon fiber parts with low cost tools (some that you may already have in your garage), and do it without messing up the carbon fiber sheet you just bought.
Saftey First – Use Protection
Carbon fiber dust is an irritant and can cause itching if gets on your skin or difficulty breathing if you inhale it. Proper safety equipment will help prevent this. The following PPE is recommended.
- Long sleeves or a Tyvek paint suit
- Gloves, nitrile is ok, but leather or mechanic gloves are better when cutting or using power tools
- Dust mask or respirator
- Good ventilation, rigging a shop vac or using a downdraft table to collect the dust is better
- Eye protection, especially when using power tools
Spending a little time up front for good preparation is an important part of producing quality parts, and it will save time and frustration later. These following tips will help.
- Tape Measure, remember to measure twice and cut once!
- Masking or painter’s tape, good for outlining where to cut, or allowing you to make more precise marks
- Marking tool, a metallic silver Sharpie works great directly on the carbon fiber, or you can use a pen or pencil on top of the masking tape
- Backing material helps get nice parts and reduce backside blow-out and splintering. You can use wood or rigid foam insulation to clamp your carbon fiber sheet to.
Method #1 - Hand Saws
Most of you already have a hacksaw and/or coping saw in the garage. A metal cutting blade on one of these saws will work well for cutting straight lines in carbon fiber. Even though the blade will dull quickly they are low cost and get the job done. You want to select a blade with a higher TPI (teeth per inch) this will give you a better cut. A thinner blade will help make sharper corners and get more detail. For interior features a hole can be pre-drilled that allows the blade to pass through the part on the inside. (See our other post on drilling carbon fiber.)
Method #2 - Rotary Tool
If you have a rotary cutting tool such as a Dremel, this is a great starting point for cutting carbon fiber. A standard abrasive metal cutting wheel works, but it will degrade quickly. If you are doing a lot of cutting you will be better off getting a diamond coated cutting wheel that is used for cutting tile. They are more expensive, but they will hold up much longer.
For cleaning up interior features or hand milling more complex shapes you can use the aluminum oxide grinding bit or a rotary sanding bit included in your Dremel took kit for the detail work.
Method #3 - Angle Grinder
A step up from the rotary cutting tool is an angle grinder. If you work a lot with metal or do welding, you are very familiar with what an angle grinder can do. It can make easy work of cutting straight lines in carbon fiber as well. A standard metal cutting abrasive wheel is the tool of choice for this type of cutting. As always, be careful, an angle grinder is a powerful tool and should be used with caution and the appropriate protective gear. A face shield would be a recommended upgrade over safety glasses.
Method #4 - Jig Saw
A jigsaw works well for cutting straight lines and getting into tight corners. A standard metal cutting blade will work OK but it will burn out after about 3-4 feet of cutting. Bosch makes a carbon fiber jigsaw blade that works incredibly well, you should be able to cut over 10 times more using one of these blades than a typical metal blade. You will want to use a backing material underneath the carbon fiber to get a cleaner cut. We like jig saws that you can attach a vacuum to, which helps control the dust.
Good luck on your project and let us know if you have any other questions in the comments below.
If you have other tips or tricks that work well for you we would love to hear them.