What is a Carbide Cutter?

Lori Kilchermann

A carbide cutter is a tool used to cut and deburr steel. Often used in air-powered and electric high-speed grinding tools, a carbide cutter is typically used at high speed to trim steel, create smooth transitions and enlarge passages in cast iron and aluminum products, such as automotive engine cylinder heads. Jewelers often use a very small carbide cutter when creating new designs. Often powered by a rotary-type tool, the small carbide cutter makes short work of manipulating soft metals such as gold and silver. It is important to move slowly when using a carbide cutter on soft metals because the teeth in the cutter can become plugged with the pliable material, drastically reducing the cutter's effectiveness.

Special carbide cutters are used in jewelry making.
Special carbide cutters are used in jewelry making.

Many homeowners use a carbide cutter-equipped sharpening tool to keep lawnmower blades in top-notch cutting condition. Also used in small electric rotary-type tools, a carbide cutter may be used in making home crafts. Not intended for wood use, these very hard cutters produce many very small chips when powering through steel. It is for this reason that eye protection, such as safety glasses or goggles, should be worn whenever the cutter is in use.

Pneumatic carbide cutters may be used in automotive repair.
Pneumatic carbide cutters may be used in automotive repair.

In automotive or high-performance applications, the carbide cutters are used to remove old welds as well as weld splatter prior to painting. The single most common use, however, is in the porting of cylinder heads for racing vehicles. Increasing the size of the intake and exhaust ports in a cylinder head can drastically increase the horsepower production of any vehicle engine. Using the carbide cutter to smooth out the transition between the port and the runners in a cylinder head helps. Matching the port opening in the cylinder head and the intake manifold with the opening in the gasket also gains horsepower.

Some professional race teams have a team of employees dedicated to the preparation and porting of the race car's cylinder heads. As many as 100 or more hours can be spent with a carbide cutter on a single cylinder head. The cutters come in many shapes and sizes to allow the worker to reach into tight spaces and to contour small areas. The teeth of the cutters range in size from coarse to very fine. Some cutters, such as those used in jewelry making and metal engraving, have heads so small that to the naked eye they resemble the end of a sewing needle.

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