Just Finishing Up: Final Touches for Your Laser-cut Parts

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Michelangelo making the final brush strokes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, wondering if the last four years of work would finally get Pope Julius II off his case. Dr. Daniel Williams tying up the last stitch after the first open-heart surgery, wondering if he might have left a hemostat inside. The neighbor kid mowing the last few feet of green along your sidewalk, wondering whether you’ll give him a decent tip this time.

Each of us finishes things from time to time, but in the manufacturing world, finishing takes on a much different meaning. Here, it might mean converting a scratched surface into one that’s smooth and uniform, or imparting a colorful luster to a workpiece that would otherwise remain a dull, metallic gray. To give you some ideas on ways to prettify your next batch of laser-cut parts, here are a few of the more common finishing options we can help you with at SendCutSend:

Tumbling

Toss your parts into a steel can, pour in some smooth rocks, water, and a little soap, seal it tightly, and then roll it down the street for a few hours. This is the essence of tumbling. Also known as vibratory finishing and sometimes harperizing, it imparts a smooth surface finish while also removing burrs and sharp edges.

Brushing

If you’ve ever refinished the kitchen table or built a birdhouse, you probably rubbed the heck out of those surfaces with some fine sandpaper. Brushing is a similar process and offers comparable results, although without the sore arms.

Straightlining

Similar to brushing, which leaves a swirly appearance, straightlining is just as its name implies—a series of fine lines running up and down a part surface. For signs and other decorative objects requiring a modern look, straightlining is a great way to go.

Blasting

Frequently (and incorrectly) referred to as sandblasting, blasting employs a variety of media including glass beads, abrasive grit, walnut shells, and even dry ice. The appearance is much like that obtained by tumbling, but unless you have a can the size of an oil drum, blasting can accommodate larger parts and surfaces.

blasted laser-cut metal part from SendCutSend

Painting

Parts made of stainless steel, copper, brass, titanium, and other non-ferrous metals require nothing in the way of protective finishes, but steel parts do, and one of the most popular coatings in this case is paint. Tractors get painted, as do toasters, tricycles, and toolboxes. Some surface prep is usually needed—blasting is one option—but paint remains an old standby.

Painted metal sign from SendCutSend

Powder coating

Provided the part is electrically-conductive, there’s a more modern and durable alternative to paint. It’s called powder coating. It works on all of the materials just listed and then some. It’s harder than paint, releases none of paint’s nasty VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and because leftover powder and overspray can be recycled, is less wasteful.

Anodizing

Bare aluminum produces its own corrosion-resistant layer, but sometimes a more durable or decorative surface finish is called for. Here again, paint or powder coat can be used, although anodizing is often a better choice. Various types are available, but Type II is the one most commonly used for decorative purposes.

Anodized metal parts from SendCutSend

This is only the tip of the finishing iceberg. There are also dozens of different plating processes, as well as blackening, chemical etching, dip coating…it’s a long list. These brief descriptions also pay short shrift to the technology behind each of the processes described here, never mind all the brand-specific variants within each one. We offer many of these services, although depending on the process, there is a minimum charge and it will extend the part’s lead-time. But if you, like Pope Julius, need a better look for your latest project, give us a call. We’ll help you shine things up in no time.

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