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  • Writer's pictureCalvin Wu

A Guide to CNC Machining Copper: Material Properties and Techniques


Copper is a versatile and highly sought-after material in CNC machining due to its excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, corrosion resistance, and machinability. This guide explores the material properties of copper that make it ideal for various applications and shares effective techniques for machining copper using CNC technology.

CNC machine milling  a copper component
CNC machine milling a copper component

Material Properties of Copper

CNC millng copper parts
CNC millng copper parts

  1. High Thermal Conductivity: Copper is widely used in applications requiring efficient heat dissipation, such as heat exchangers and radiator components.

  2. Excellent Electrical Conductivity: One of the highest among metals, making it indispensable in electrical components like electrical wires, motor windings, and inductors.

  3. Corrosion Resistance: Copper naturally resists many corrosive environments, which is beneficial for plumbing, outdoor, and marine applications.

  4. Ductility: Copper is highly ductile, which means it can be stretched into thin wires without breaking. This property also allows it to be formed into complex shapes with minimal risk of cracking.

  5. Machinability: Copper is relatively easy to machine due to its softness, but it can be sticky, posing challenges in terms of tool wear and material adhesion.

CNC Machining Techniques for Copper

  • Tool Selection: Use sharp, carbide-tipped tools to reduce the sticking of copper to the tool edges. Tools must be kept sharp to prevent work hardening and to ensure clean cuts.

  • Optimal Speeds and Feeds: High cutting speeds can lead to excessive heat and tool wear. It's important to find a balance that allows efficient machining without compromising tool life. The feeds should be adjusted to avoid work hardening.

  • Cooling and Lubrication: Effective cooling is crucial when machining copper. Using appropriate coolants can help prevent the copper from sticking to the tool and can also extend the tool's life by reducing thermal stresses.

  • Clearance Angles: Larger clearance angles on the tools can help in reducing the material adherence to the cutting edges.

  • Avoiding Work Hardening: Since copper is prone to work hardening, it’s essential to use cutting techniques that minimize the strain hardening of the material. This includes using a single pass to make a cut rather than multiple shallow passes.

Applications of CNC Machined Copper

Copper’s unique properties make it suitable for a wide range of applications. Some common uses include:

  • Electrical industry: Busbars, contacts, connectors, and electromagnets.

  • Automotive industry: Radiators, cooling systems, and hydraulic systems.

  • Telecommunications: Antennas and coaxial cables.

  • Architecture: Roofing, plumbing, and decorative elements.

Challenges in Machining Copper

While copper is advantageous to work with, it poses certain challenges:

  • Sticky Nature: Copper's softness can lead to material build-up on cutting tools, known as "built-up edge," which can affect the precision and finish of the part.

  • Thermal Expansion: Being sensitive to temperature changes, copper can expand during machining, affecting precision.


CNC machining of copper requires understanding its unique material properties and mastering the techniques that allow for precise and efficient fabrication. By selecting the right tools, optimizing machining parameters, and using effective cooling methods, manufacturers can overcome the challenges associated with this valuable metal.

Understanding these properties and techniques helps in optimizing the machining process to produce high-quality parts efficiently. For manufacturers looking to leverage copper’s properties in their products, CNC machining offers the precision and scalability needed for modern production demands.

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