Machinists use CNC machining tools made of a variety of different materials engineered to handle the forces and heat generated by machining processes. To remove chips from a workpiece, the cutting tool must be harder than the workpiece material and maintain a sharp cutting edge in high-friction, high-temperature conditions. As manufacturing materials have become more advanced with more exotic properties, tool materials have advanced as well—and some of these tool materials are quite valuable.
All CNC machining tools have a finite life, no matter how strong the material is. When cutting tools wear out or break, it’s worth checking whether they can be sold to a recycling center. Certain materials can be worth a considerable amount.
In this post, we’ll go through the most common CNC machining tool materials, their properties and applications, and which materials provide the best return from recycling.
Common CNC Machining Tool Materials
A wide variety of materials are used for CNC machining tools. Some of the most common are carbon steel, high-speed steel, cemented carbides, ceramics, diamond, and cubic boron nitride.
Carbon steel is the oldest and most inexpensive material used for CNC machining tools. While carbon steel tools are cost-effective and suitable for some operations, they don’t last as long as more advanced materials, and they lose their cutting ability at high temperatures. Carbon steel is typically used for low-speed operations in drills, forming tools, and lathe and milling cutters.
Carbon steel can be recycled, but its value is low in small quantities. This type of tooling should be recycled in bulk with other carbon steel scrap for cost efficiency.
High-speed steel (HSS) contains the alloying elements chromium, tungsten, and molybdenum for better hardness, toughness, and wear resistance than carbon steel. HSS tools are more expensive than carbon steel tools, but they last much longer and can be used at faster speeds with a wider range of materials.
HSS is recyclable and somewhat more valuable than regular carbon steel. Both HSS and carbon steel can be recycled with other steel scrap like turnings and machining chips, or they can be separated to ensure maximum value.
Cemented tungsten carbide tools are made of a combination of tungsten carbide and cobalt, which produces an extremely hard and dense cutting material that can withstand extremely high temperatures without deforming or losing its edge. CNC machining tools made of this composite material are usually referred to as tungsten carbide
Tungsten carbide is nearly as hard as diamond, making it an enormously popular material for cutting tools. It is more wear-resistant than HSS and prone to chipping instead of wearing out evenly over time. Often, tungsten carbide tools are coated with another material to further improve their performance and longevity.
Recycling tungsten carbide tooling is very cost-effective, even in small quantities. A small, flat-rate parcel can hold enough to more than offset the shipping cost. Tungsten carbide is always in demand, and it’s easy to find a metal recycler willing to pay good money for scrap carbide tools.
The main ceramic materials used for CNC machining tools are aluminum oxide and silicon nitride. Other elements are usually combined with one or both of these ceramic bases to produce composite materials with enhanced strength, toughness, or other properties.
Ceramic cutting tools are highly resistant to wear, heat, and corrosion, but they fracture easily, so they are mostly used for high-speed finishing operations on hardened materials. Ceramic tools can be recycled, but their value is relatively low, and it may be difficult to find a recycling center that will accept them.
Polycrystalline diamond is another extremely hard material used for the high-speed finishing of hard, abrasive, or wear-resistant materials. However, because diamond is a form of carbon, which reacts with iron, it is not suitable for cutting ferrous metals. As with ceramic tooling, it can be difficult to find a recycler that handles diamond.
Cubic Boron Nitride
Cubic boron nitride has similar properties to polycrystalline diamond, but it can be used to cut very hard ferrous materials like hardened alloy steels, sintered irons, hardened cast irons, and case-hardened materials. Like polycrystalline diamond, it is vulnerable to fracturing, so it is not suitable for low-speed, high-impact machining. It is recyclable but not commonly handled by scrap metal recyclers.
How to Recycle CNC Machining Tools
If you have broken or worn CNC machining tools that you’re not sure how to dispose of, contact a local metal recycler to see if they accept them. Some metal recyclers offer scrap pickup services, or you can ship the scrap to them yourself.
For machine shops that produce a large amount of scrap metal and tooling, a regular pickup service is probably the most cost-effective option. However, even with smaller quantities, the cost for shipping recyclable tooling is low enough to provide a significant return even when shipping it yourself. The small size of CNC machining tools makes them ideal for shipping in flat-rate boxes from USPS, which ship for a fraction of the value these tools can return.
Partner with a Local Metal Recycler for the Best Prices for CNC Machining Tools
Industrial Metal Service has been providing commercial waste metal recycling services to San Francisco Bay Area manufacturers, fabricators, and machine shops for over two decades. We recycle ferrous and non-ferrous metals, including aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, stainless steel, carbon steel, titanium, high-temperature alloys, precious metals, and tungsten carbide. We’re happy to accept metal and carbide tooling by mail for a fair price that can more than offset the cost of shipping.