Working With Aluminum Laminate

Aluminum laminate can be very difficult to rout, trim, and file. Here's a story of lessons learned by one fabricator. August 14, 2007

We are working with Wilsonart's brushed aluminum. It is the kind that is all metal. It seems to be painfully slow, and using a bearing bit, the shavings keep bunching up on the bearing and need to be cleaned off constantly, otherwise it scratches. Any suggestions on a router bit for this material? We have a lot of it to do in a short timetable.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor V:
What are you trying to do, cut it or profile it?

From contributor L:
We always blue mask tape the crap and spray it with lubricant - we use a no bearing bit and clean it constantly. We always set the bevel bit to the mask tape and then file, then remove the mask. We leave the peel coat to protect the sheet.

From the original questioner:
We are having the trouble with just routing it off flush. The aluminum gathers around the bearing and creates a problem with scratching if you don't clean it every time you rout just a little ways. I thought maybe there would be a better router bit to use, i.e. a down or up spiral bit, but haven't tried that yet. Any other suggestions would be helpful as we have a lot to do with little time.

From contributor M:
I have done a little of this work in the past, and I know what you mean about the aluminum sticking. I was meaning to try next time a speed control on the router, to slow down the cutter some. I was wondering if it is spinning too fast, and creating too much heat, which maybe could cause the sticking. I don't know if this would help, but it is simple enough to try if you have either a router with speed control built in, or one of those plug-in speed controllers.

Also, try calling a sharpening shop. They may have some good advice, or maybe they sell router bits and would be able to recommend a particular bit that could help.

From the original questioner:
We just tried something new this morning and it helped immensely. We used a large diameter bit with a top mounted bearing. We made a pattern out of particleboard that was slightly larger than our finish piece. By laying the pattern on the top of the finish piece we are able to rout without lying on the top of the aluminum and it takes it down to about 1/16" overhang. At that point we lay a piece of laminate on top of the surface and finish off the edge with a 1/8" roundover bit. A light touch with a file and it is done. Works better than anything I have tried thus far. Any other suggestions are still needed.

From contributor O:
Metal sucks, but I would try to create as little overhang as possible, maybe just 1/8" if your guys can lay it up that close. I found that small PVC works good for stuff to put between the pieces so the glue doesn't touch until you're ready; it even comes in 1/2". Anyway, make sure glue is off edge that bearing is going to ride, then have a guy with air blower blow right in front of the router bit as close as possible to blow shavings away before they have a chance to get caught between bearing and material. Just a suggestion.

From contributor T:
Try a base bearing laminate trimmer. Rigid has a decent one. Makita has a good one also. You can never have too many routers.

From contributor U:
I've used our trim router with a flush cut bottom bearing to trim metals. The material had a plastic cover sheet on it and I left it there to protect the finish of the metal until after trimming. The bit was as long as possible to still ride on the substrate, and don't go too slow.

From the original questioner:
We got the job done and here is what we ended up with. We used the top mounted large diameter bit and a guide on top of the material to take off the worst of the overhang. This was good because there was no gumming up of the bit and since we were riding on top of a guide, no chance of scratching the surface. Then we used a bottom mounted bearing bit on a laminate trimmer to finish the cut and finally a Beaver no file air router for the final trim. This seemed to give us the least trouble for final finish and at the end things were going very smoothly. The end product looked better than I thought it would and the customer was delighted... so all is well that ends well. Thanks for all your tips.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have done quite a bit of this work myself, though not in the volume you describe but more on the order of one off custom pieces. What you ended up doing sounds good. One last thing to add that worked for me is to try climb cutting the aluminum laminate. The exact sequence I use is using sheet metal shears. Then I trim the solid aluminum laminate to about 1/4" from the substrate it is glued to, then using a normal bottom bearing router I climb cut the remainder off. Then you need to do a little bit of filing and you’re done.