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What Knifemakers Need to Know about our Cutting Machines

As a custom machine shop, we specialize in shape cutting and secondary operations for a wide variety of purposes. Each customer requires a unique combination of work to achieve their end product.

We want to give you exactly the end product that you need, so please use this article as a guide for questions about the differences between our cutting machines, edge finishes, and what materials they are able to cut.

In this article, we want to inform our customers of our shape cutting capabilities with our shape cutting machines: the Fiber Laser, the Wire EDM, and the Waterjet.


Fiber Laser

  • Materials: The fiber laser is the ideal cutting tool for most metals, including mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and exotic alloys.

  • What it cuts: It is best for small to medium sized parts. This is typically the ideal machine for quickly and accurately shape cutting knife blanks, and it is the same machine used by companies like Benchmade, ProTech, Squid Industries, and Spyderco.

  • Allowances: Cleanup by hand (~.005-.010") Cleanup by mill (~.020")

  • Edge finishes: There is a common assumption that laser cut edges are rough and oxidized. At Leading Edge, we use a fiber laser with high pressure nitrogen assist gas, meaning that during the cutting process there is no oxygen present that could create oxidation. This results in a clean cut edge that is smoother than a typical waterjet cut.

  • Heat Affected Zone: Edge hardness is not an issue with the fiber laser because of how small the HAZ is (~.005"). Measuring about the thickness of a human hair, it is easily removed during profile grinding, machining, and hole reaming. The integrity of the raw material is not affected.

Examples of laser cut edges.

fiber laser cut knife blanks

Wire EDM

  • Materials: The Wire EDM is capable of cutting any electrically conductive material because it uses electricity to remove extremely tiny particles to shape the part without burrs or distortion. The wire never touches the part, so raw materials can be hard or fragile. It is great for specialty materials such as timascus, moku-ti, mokume, damascus, and damasteel.

  • What it cuts: The Wire EDM is optimal for folder knives that require repeatable precision in the locking mechanism (avoiding lock rock and lock stick) or any other tight tolerance features.

  • Allowances: Very little cleanup if any.

  • Edge finishes: You have two options when it comes to edge finishes from the Wire EDM: rough cut or two additional cleanup passes. For tighter tolerance areas we recommend adding two additional clean up passes. The cheaper option is the rough cut that still produces an edge that is slightly higher quality than the fiber laser.

  • Heat Affected Zone: The HAZ is even smaller than with the fiber laser, so hardened edges are not an issue when cutting with the Wire EDM either. Any HAZ is easily removed during finishing and does not affect the integrity of the raw material.

wire edm cut knife blanks and off cut

Gimping and locking mechanisms are ideal for Wire EDM.

wire edm cut gimping on knife blank

Waterjet

  • Materials: The waterjet is also able to cut a wide variety of materials including reactive and refractory metals, heat treatable materials, all types of stainless steel, waterjet machinable ceramics, and titanium.

  • What it cuts: The waterjet is ideal for cutting thicker materials. It is also an appropriate option if you have a large sheet of material, as the table can accommodate a cutting area of Y-axis = 6.5ft X-axis=13ft Z-axis=6in.

  • Allowances: Cleanup by hand (~.005-.010") Cleanup by mill (!.020")

  • Edge finishes/quality: Waterjet edge finishes are customizable to the needs of your project. They can be smooth or simply rough separation cuts. This varies depending on cutting speed, so let us know what your project requires before the quote. Typically 40-60% speed gives excellent results for edge quality (see examples below).

  • Heat Affected Zone: None.

  • What makes it 'Dynamic:' With a standard fixed head waterjet, there is a taper angle on the cut edges due to the loss of energy as the stream passes through the material. This requires extra work to square up the edges. To solve this problem, we use a Dynamic 5-Axis Waterjet that is designed to compensate for taper and stream lag so it cuts square edges. It is also capable of cutting angles and small details accurately.


square edge of dynamic waterjet cut knife

We cut square edges.

square edge of waterjet cut knife with gimping


We offer various levels of precision that you can specify in your order depending on what your project needs, but you can count on efficient material utilization, repeatability, quick turnaround times, expertise, and quality machining no matter what shape cutting machine is used.



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