Introduction: Radius Cutting on the Lathe - Quick Way
Attention to details is very important ... those little things are the things that make a project stand out or keep customers coming back.
I have been in the children's science museum world for years now designing and building world class exhibits.
Number 1 priority is no one gets hurt which means no sharp edged and the finish work is complete to safe levels.
Number 2 is learning and having fun ( maybe that's 2 things but I can't decided whats better)
Various sized radius edges on parts is very important for safety - heres a quick look at how its done and to blueprint
I come from a background of 10+ years as a certified aerospace welder and prototype fabricator and these tips and tricks I share are some of the lessons I have learned from the pros.
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Step 1: Different Types of Radius Tooling
starting from left to right
tool #1 Carbide radius tool designed for the lathe - designed for cutting harder to cut metals such as Stainless but works well for softer as well - these are some of the best tools for life span but expensive and not always in the radius you need to keep a part to spec. If you need a special radius or profile, the carbide requires a special grinding wheel which makes it an extra step not easily accessible to small shop users. Often you buy them with preset radius.
Custom ground High Speed Steel cutters - both the #2 and #3 cutters are different styles of cutters I have ground to do jobs on the lathe. These are great but you spend time and need radius gauges to check your grind and make sure you have the right profile - The plus side of these tools is that it can be shaped on a basic pedestal grinder with a normal grinding wheel to get the exact shape and the steel blank cutters are cheap or can be found by the boxes at garage sales or swap meets due to professional shops moving to carbide for everything and like carbide tooling listed above these tools are designed for a good amount of work load.
Tool #4 and #5 are High Speed Steel cutters designed for milling machines with a bigger shank and multiple cutting surfaces. They have a preset radius already and is written on the side of the tool making it easy to do cutting to blueprints.
TIP - the coolest part of having a mill cutter with 4 cutter surfaces is you can grind in theory 4 different profiles if you need ( this will make it useless as a milling machine cutter ) but then you will have a custom tool with 4 different radiuses you can keep by the lathe for various jobs.
Tool #5 and #6 are carbide cutters used for a router - they are very easy to source and as you know when your working on a project late on a Saturday night... theres nothing worse then not having tools until Monday... so to the big box store you go, which most likely has a large assortment of router bits with all kinds of wild profiles and radius.
Remember that using router bits for lathe work needs to be noted that the shank is 1/4 inch so extreme cutting and tough materials can cause breakage, the router bits shouldn't be run on big radius with heavy cutting.
USING Radius cutters of any size or shape needs to be done safely!
It is important to understand that your speeds and feeds of the lathe need to be correct, along with tool hights, this is important because of the cutter engagement - You are making a full face contact with a tool so having the tool too low can cause it to grab the more engagement you have, either causing the tool to chatter, wrecking your part, tool breakage or risking safety.
Step 2: Cutting With a Milling Radius Tool
as you can see it works well.... its my favorite because I have a bunch of different sizes, they are ridged and have 4 cutting surfaces as they wear out and the most important thing is that I can use them on the mill and lathe so I can save money and not buy so much tooling!
Because of the full radius engagement it is always recommended to keep the speeds lower and heights correct, running at the wrong height could cause chatter, tool breakage, parts becoming scrap or your own safety.
Step 3: Router Bits... Quick and Dirty....
Not always recommended because of their strength of the smaller shank, the router bit is a quick way to get some radius needed and because all the hardware stores carry them in almost every shape and size its a great thing to use on lighter materials such as plastics and aluminum and when you don't have time to wait for a supplier to ship you a radius tool.
Here I used a weird profile shape on some aluminum to create something that might turn in to a cool art project. Just neat to try some of the shapes and see what it looks like when you put some cool edges to your round parts.
Try it and have fun... Remember SAFETY is so important when working on the lathe and in the shop !!
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