The solid surface industry, like most, is constantly changing and adapting. In the January issue of Surface Fabrication, “A Diamond Investment” explored those material and application differences, such as particulates like mica, which have popped up in solid surface materials, as well as trends in 3-cm solid surface sheets. Along with the introduction of new colors and thicknesses, there have been changes in the make-up of the material as well. There are 100-percent acrylic materials as well as an entire host of other blends. With all of these constant changes in the solid surface market, it can be a daunting task to keep up with the necessary tooling requirements needed to keep production moving.
For the small shops out there, any investment into tools or tooling needs to be seriously considered. We are always looking for ways to cut our overhead cost and stream line our production to be faster and more accurate. Diamond tooling is one way to help you achieve this. For shops that are not running CNCs in a production line, diamond tooling is often not even considered — but it should be.
There are tools in your shop that could benefit from diamond tooling. Let’s start with the tools that use blades for rough-cutting sheets of solid surface. Most shops utilize a rail saw, panel saw, table saw or all of the above. In our shop, we have all three. We have a Festool rail saw for field work and Striebig panel saw as well as a Striebig table saw. If I told you putting a diamond blade in either your table or panel saw would mean not having to change your blade for anywhere from six months to a year, would that make it worth the investment?
Take a look at what’s involved when using carbide tooling. You have to change your blade, in many cases, once a week, keeping several blades on hand in order to be able to save on shop efficiency by switching blades out as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, the life of each blade is much more limited. By not having to stop and change your blade constantly, your shop will flow uninterrupted by tooling changes — no matter how quickly you work — for months. It is also safe to say that even if you introduce a CNC into your production line, you will still be using your table and panel saws.
You don’t have to stop with your saw blades. Just because you are not running a CNC machine does not mean you won’t find benefits in equipping your hand-held routers with diamond bits. Changing all of your bits over may be a little overkill, but you can start by identifying your most used bits. In most cases, these would be your rough shaping bits, like your spiral and flush pattern bits. Some people use a single- or double-fluted bit instead of a spiral bit. You may also consider your most popular profile bit as well.
If you decide to switch some of your bits to diamond, you would want to dedicate a router to each one of the new bits. By doing this you can ensure you don’t have to constantly change-out of the bit. You can set the router up once with the new diamond bit, and it should last 15 to 20 times longer than your standard carbide bit. I would also recommend using a larger, more powerful router. By using the larger router you will get a smoother, more effortless cut and it will also help to extend the life of the bit. Making an investment into this tooling would not be lost if, along the way, you decided to add a CNC. The diamond bits that you are using in your hand routers can also be used in a CNC as well.
Diamond tooling is definitely an investment, but a smart one. By making the move to diamond tooling, several things can happen for you. You can cut down on the amount of downtime needed to constantly change dull tooling — as well as cut down on the amount of time needed to keep inventory of the tooling you do have. You won’t need to worry about tracking what bits and blades are worn and need to be replaced, as well as needing to order and track the amount of tooling you have or need. It will cut down on the expense of having your bits sharpened on a regular basis. By doing this, you will be free to focus on more important things.
With all of the advancements and changes that constantly occur in the solid surface industry, like the more frequent use of mica, diamond is a solid investment in tooling that will stand up to changes in the materials. These material changes will have less of an effect on your diamond tooling than it has on your carbide tooling. We are always looking for ways to cut our costs. Diamond tooling is an excellent way to do this with a smart, yet minimal investment.
About the author: Eli Polite has worked in the countertop industry since 1995. Much of his experience comes from helping to grow a two-man shop operation into a shop with 50 employees. Now, Polite works out of his own shop, Counterparts LLC, in Delaware, fabricating granite, engineered stone, solid surface, green products and laminate. He can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.