The M2 CAN Cut Aluminum Sheet!

Hey folks.  

I picked up the M2 in July this year with the hope that I could push it to its limits and still get reliable cuts.  I'll skip all the "first time" and boring lead-up and confirm that the M2 does in fact cut Aluminum sheet metal with respectable results.  I've had a hell of a time trying to find documentation on other makers doing the same thing whether it be for products or personal hobbies and decided it's time someone finally spoke up about their findings!

1. You WILL have some teething issues getting the right feed and speed for your bit, material and design.  Be patient, log your failures and incrementally move forward. Change ONE THING AT A TIME: Feed rate, plunge rate, and cut depth are all variables you can play with to get the end result you want, just like with wood!

2. DO NOT use the normal debris shield (clear plexiglass insert for the sled) for aluminum cuts unless you have a good vacuum system.  I do not have one setup yet and had chunking issues when using the shield both with and without lubricant.  My guess-timation is the debris bounces away from the cut into the shield, then back into the cut. Mileage may vary, but cut without it unless you have vacuum.

3. Lubricate, lubricate, lubricate.  I chose a simple WD-40 straw spray can from a FLAPS but feel free to use something else. Spraying the bit every few seconds helps remove debris and "cool" the bit.  NOTE: Using a lubricant WILL soak into your backer board over time, pre-maturely requiring a replacement over standard wood use. Be prepared! Anyone got a lead on some small form-factor auto sprayers that just have a single on off and pulse control?

3. Anchoring subject material is a bit more complex.  Depending on your material thickness, you may be able to anchor directly through the aluminum like wood.  I cut both .090" and .063" 3003 sheet and needed to sink the screws OUTSIDE the material so that the head was on plane with the cutting surface "pinching" the material from all sides.  You can assist this pinch with 3M automotive masking tape for cheap insurance and use FLAT top screws.

4. Remember to add additional identical thickness sled supports outside your subject material if your sled ventures outside your subject bounds or the sled will "tip" as the chains pull it across the edge.

5. Setup your design so that drop-out trash parts do not move!  In the Easel suite of software this is called tabbing.  As we're naturally all using all sorts of software to run these projects, see if your software alots for the same technique. This allows the router to move through the cut, stop, retract, move a small distance, and then plunge to cut again over various parts of your cut to ensure that trash pieces don't fall into the bit or even worse, BEHIND your subject material.... If you'd rather control the "tabbing" process manually, you can design your cut so that it's linework has gaps exactly where you want them.

6. Bit selection is key!  I cut my material using the straight flute bit from the M2 kit as it provides the most deburring while cutting and doesn't move the subject material in to or away from the baker board.  We want to prevent the subject material from moving at all, which we're already pushing the limits on anyway.

7. Remember that Makerverse has a Pause button! During my first few test pieces the bit wouldn't "drill" as well as I hoped, or my plunge rate was too high causing the sled to lift off the subject surface. If you find yourself in a fixable-pickle, smash that pause button. I won't suggest lifting the M2 away from your subject area and hitting all your panic buttons, but you get the idea...

8. Clean your sled between project cuts. This one might be a no-brainer for most, but with the added lubricant and rather fine aluminum shards all over quite-literally everything... the M2 is going to get messy.  I use a 2" wide paint brush for most of the Z axis and sled cleaning and a 7" hand shop brush for the bottom of the sled and the backer board/subject material.  I'd recommend you have two sets, one for wood and one for aluminum.

9. There's definitely other things I'm forgetting. The fact that I was able to get better than expected results has me aloof at the moment, but I'm sure I'll come back to this at some point with refinement.

In the end, results may vary as will your purpose for pushing this machine to its limits as I have.  I can definitely see where productivity and accuracy begin to fall off over the weekend I've been testing this, but I can at least commend the M2 for slagging through the process. While most of my projects will still be wood focused (bucks and templates for FRP and CFRP automotive products, aluminum sheet CAN be cut with reliable success. I did not get science-y with this and do hard measurements between duplicate parts, but the fact that they came out with sub-millimeter variances is rather impressive.

I'm hoping you guys can learn from my mistakes and push the limits even further. Maybe we can even get into 0.25" or higher plate without having to make a billion passes. After all, you shouldn't leave your machine un-attended and at some point that spray finger's ganna get tired.

Next up, carbon fiber plate.... :)


Later,

-Craig

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  • Thanks for info!!!

  • Just in general, these are excellent practices to follow. Awesome job on cutting metal.

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