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Best Cutting Tools for Carbon Fiber

03.16.22 | Industry News

At Protech Composites, we make carbon fiber sheets that can be cut with a wide range of standard tools and don’t necessarily need specialized tools for cutting, shaping, and working.

Other carbon fiber manufacturing companies might offer differing advice on what you can use to cut carbon fiber sheets or panels (given thickness, weave, the type of epoxy resin used, and more). However, some tools are better than others for the purposes of cutting carbon fiber. They can be broadly classified into hand tools and power tools.

Manual Tools: Bladed Tools (Scissors, Shears, Razor Blades)
Thin carbon fiber sheets can be cut with basic bladed cutting tools like scissors, razor blades, and even shears. We recommend using the sharpest possible tools because these will make the cleanest cuts. Avoid heavy tin snips and shears with ridges or “teeth.” These leave clean cuts in sheet metal but can cause cracks and leave stress risers in the epoxy resin of carbon fiber panels.

Power Tools: Abrasive Cutting Wheels (Angle Grinders)
Angle grinders equipped with metal cutting wheels can be highly effective tools for cutting through carbon fiber quickly and efficiently. Power tools like these can be highly effective at cutting carbon fiber because they oscillate much more quickly than hand tools and produce a clean, accurate cut.

Power Tools: Rotary Tools
Even high-quality rotary tools such as dremel tools are not as powerful or as large as angle grinders, but because of their smaller size and easier maneuverability, they can be used for making very precise cuts and alterations to carbon fiber panels. We recommend solid rim cut-off disks.

These are probably the most versatile tools overall for cutting carbon fiber products. Use metal cutting discs to make clean cuts in the carbon fiber, on the highest speed setting safe for use with the disc. These tools are also useful because most rotary tools operate at such high RPM that imperfections in the edge or on the surface of carbon fiber panels or sheets can be rectified with very fine sanding or buffing bits.

Why High-Speed Is a Good Thing
We suggest using either a rotary tool or an angle grinder for making cuts to carbon fiber because these operate at high RPM and with precise handling, can be used to make very clean cuts without ripping, cracking, or stressing carbon fiber.

However, it is important to note a few things. One is that carbon fiber is highly abrasive to cutting edges. Whether you use a craft utility blade, or metal cutoff disc to make cuts, you’ll need to replace it frequently because the cutting edges will probably wear quickly.

The other is that you should also wear personal protective equipment when cutting carbon fiber, regardless of whether you use hand tools or power tools. Always wear safety glasses and gloves to adequately protect your hands. Remove all jewelry. We recommend wearing long-sleeved clothing and long pants made from natural fibers, like cotton or wool. If you’re cutting with power tools, use hearing protection as well. Wear close-toed shoes or work boots.

Another common question is whether or not carbon fiber is dangerous, which merits its own brief investigation.

Is Carbon Fiber Dust Dangerous? (And a Primer on PPE)
While carbon fiber dust is not toxic, the fibers can be abrasive and the edges of cut panels can be sharp, producing mild irritation to the skin of sensitive individuals. This is why we recommend adequate protection for your hands as well as long sleeves and pants. We recommend wearing a dust mask to prevent accidental inhalation as well. It’s not toxic, but it can be a mild irritant, so you don’t want it on your skin or in your eyes or lungs.

However, carbon fiber is a conductive material, and therefore you should take care to protect sensitive electronics from exposure to its dust. Always use a good vacuum system or shop vac when cutting or sanding. Choose a well-ventilated area away from electronic devices, as exposure to carbon fiber dust can cause a short in an electrical circuit.

Trust the Quality of a Premier Carbon Fiber Manufacturing Company
High-strength, high-performance carbon fiber composite raw materials are vital to the manufacturing processes in many industries, such as automotive, aerospace, defense, sporting goods, in the medical field, and elsewhere.

So are the right cutting tools and techniques. Protech Composites is a carbon fiber manufacturing company that produces high-quality composite materials that will benefit from proper handling, cutting, and shaping. If you have any questions about our carbon fiber products or what tools or techniques would be best used to cut them given your precise application, please reach out to our customer service team at 360-573-7800.