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What should be used to cut and machine paper and fabric based phenolics?

Phenolic machines without difficulty. As a rule, it is machined more readily than metals on standard tools such as those used for wood or metal fabrication

For most machining operations, ordinary high-speed steel tools are satisfactory. However, where production quantity, speed, or finish are important factors, carbide-tipped tools often prove more economical. Cutting tools must be extremely sharp to achieve accuracy and a fine finish.

Phenolic is machined dry; cutting compounds and lubricants is unnecessary. Cooling by air is preferable to using liquid coolants, which are difficult to remove from finished parts. Machine operators should be cautioned to keep the temperature of the work below 150° C since temperatures above 150° C may distort the material. Cuttings are readily removed by suction.

Circular Sawing

Circular saws may be used for straight or angular sawing. When smooth edges are required or close tolerances are important, a hollow-ground circular saw without a set should be used. For rough cutting saw with the set is satisfactory. The best results are obtained when the saw blade projects a minimum distance above the saw table.

12" saws are recommended for phenolic up to 1" thick, and 16" saws should be used for thicknesses up to 2-1/2" thick. All teeth must be square, of the same height, and free of burrs. The cutting edge should run directly toward or just the back of the center hole. In both circular and band sawing, the work should be fed as rapidly as possible without forcing.

Band Sawing

The standard band saw is satisfactory where close tolerances or smooth edges are unimportant. It is most effective in sawing blanks from plate stock.

Saw blades should have between 4 and 7 teeth per inch with some set, the number of teeth depending on the thickness of the material being sawed. For heavy material, 3" thick and over, a blade with three teeth per inch is recommended. Operating speeds should be approximately 3000 feet per minute, and blades should be tempered to permit frequent sharpening.

Width of the blade will vary depending on the radius to be cut. For circular cuts, the widths should be narrow. For straight cuts, the blade may be up to 1" in width.


Standard shears suitable for sheet metal are recommended in shearing phenolic. The knife blade should be kept sharp, and the material held rigid with a hold-down bar. Most paper laminates up to 1/16" and canvas laminates up to 1/8 may be sheared at room temperature (70°F min).


Ordinary high-speed tool steel can be used in finishing operations for all phenolic grades. However, carbide-tipped tools may prove more economical and hold sizes more accurately from piece to piece. About .010 stock should be left for finishing. Laminated phenolic can be turned at 400 surface feet per minute with high-speed tools and about twice that with carbides. Tools should be kept sharp, ground with an angle of 80-100 degrees, and with a 10–16 degree side clearance. Cutting should be done dry.


Standard high-speed drill with lips backing off to provide plenty of clearance is satisfactory for all phenolic grades. However, carbide-tipped drills give the best performance for long production runs and deep holes.

Drills should be lifted from the work frequently to prevent binding and excessive heating. The feed should be light and uniform, and the speed of the drill should be considerably more than that used for soft steel. With tungsten-carbide tips, speeds may be as high as 16,000 rpm. Where possible, the material being drilled should be backed up with scrap phenolic or other soft material to prevent shipping out.

In drilling phenolic parallel to the laminations, extra care must be taken to prevent splitting. The material should be clamped in a vise or between plates, and the drill should be lifted more frequently to remove chips.

Holes ¾" and over may be drilled in a conventional manner using radial drill presses or the counterbore method in which a pilot hole is drilled first.

Drill size – because of the nature of plastic material, the diameter of holes drilled in laminates is usually 0.002" under the drill size. Therefore, the drill selected should be at least 0.002" larger than the specified diameter of the hole. If the drill being used is dull, the hole size may be an additional 0.002" undersized or a total of 0.004" less than the diameter of the drill.

The recommendations for drilling also apply to tapping; Taps used for metal are also suitable for phenolic. Tapping heads or tapping machines may be used, and for production work, collapsible taps are available in sizes over 1-1/4".

Tap Size

In tapping phenolic, high-speed taps 0.002" oversize should be used. The tap drill should be changed to 0.002" oversized to counter the tendency of the drill to cut undersize. If the thread is to be used frequently, metal inserts should be used.

For threaded holes over 1/2", it is often more desirable to chase the thread on a lathe using a motor-driven cutter mounted on the tool post.


When cutting a 60° thread, it is always advisable to swing the compound reset on the lathe to a 30° angle. The tool is ground to cut on one side only.

For all other threads, standard methods are used with satisfactory results: the speed and feeds are similar to threading soft steel.


Standard polishing rouge on a rag wheel gives satisfactory results for phenolic requiring a polished surface.

Grinding and sanding may be done by belt, disc, or centerless methods. No lubrication is necessary.

Stamping and Engraving

Phenolic surfaces to be stamped should be smooth. Sanding may be necessary to obtain satisfactory results. Compression presses employing heated dies give the best results.

Engraving can be done with any standard engraving machine. Tools should be sharp to produce clean-cut edges.

Title: What should be used to cut and machine paper and fabric based phenolics?
Description: Machining information for paper and fabric grade phenolics.
Published: 3/21/2008
Last Edited: 1/16/2023
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