DATRON Rocks Milling PVC Guitar Pickguard

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Frank Xydias works in the Department of Engineering running Advanced Manufacturing and Computer Aided Design at Milford High School’s Applied Technology Center in Milford, NH. In this educational setting, the group often accepts “live jobs” acting like a job shop within the community. That was the case when they agreed to do a one-off part in a material they thought would be acrylic. The part was a pick-guard for a Danelectro Wild Thing Baritone electric guitar. But when the material came in they found out that it was in fact, PVC. Ultimately, this would be a milling PVC application.

Milling PVC Electric Guitar Pickguard

Xydias and his team had intended to use a laser to cut the part, but since the material turned out to be PVC, this process posed safety issues. When they turned to their CNC router, it delivered poor results in the 3-ply PVC. Knowing that DATRON Dynamics, Inc., North American Distributor for DATRON high-speed milling machines was just down the road, he decided to consult the application technicians over there.

Kyle Newman used Autodesk Inventor to program a guitar pickguard that he made by milling PVC sheet material.
Autodesk Inventor was used to design the guitar pickguard made by milling PVC sheet material.

Application Technician, Kyle Newman, was assigned to the project and he was immediately confident that the job was a nice fit for DATRON technology. First, flat stock like this is ideally suited to the use of vacuum table workholding which is an option with DATRON machines. Secondly, a wide range of DATRON customers use their machines to mill and engrave engineered plastics including Delrin, Torlon, G10, FR4, Durastone, military-grade acrylic … you name it. So, milling PVC was not going to be an issue. As for the cuts required, there was nothing complex about the part – although Newman did have some concerns about potential delamination (due to the 3-ply construction of the supplied PVC stock) that might impact the edge finish.

CNC Programming and Tools for Milling PVC

Milling PVC pickguard for Danelectro guitar using a single flute end mill in a DATRON M8Cube high-speed machining center.
DATRON single flute end mill used for milling PVC pickguard.

The Mastercam file provided by the school didn’t include toolpaths or speeds. So, Newman brought it into Autodesk Inventor and used HSMWorks to create tool paths. A single tool change would be required with the contour cut being done with a standard DATRON 3mm single flute end mill and a smaller 1.5mm single flute would be used to make the mounting holes used to attach the pickguard to the guitar.

CNC Milling Machine Used for Milling PVC

DATRON M8Cube high-speed CNC machining center featuring a touchscreen control.
Application Technician, Kyle Newman, selected the DATRON M8Cube with integrated vacuum chuck to mill the PVC sheet material.

Newman decided to use DATRON’s flagship M8Cube high-speed milling machine featuring a 60,000 RPM 2kW spindle and an integrated vacuum table. This machine also has an integrated probe which was used to map the surface of the PVC sheet to detect any irregularities. Irregularities were automatically compensated for in the software before the milling began.

Toolpaths for milling PVC sheet material into a guitar pickguard were programmed in HSMWorks.
HSMWorks was used to program the toolpaths for milling the PVC pickguard.

Machining Strategies for Milling PVC Pickguard

Operation: Contour around profile of guitar, slot and larger through holes.
Tool p/n: 0068430E
Tool Type: 3mm dia. single flute
Width of Cut: 100% (3mm/0.11811″)
@ 25,000 RPM: 118.11 inch/min feed

Operation: Bore milling small mounting holes
Tool p/n: 0068015E
Tool Type: 1.5mm dia. single flute
Width of Cut: 100% (1.5mm/0.0590551″)
@ 25,000 RPM: 118.11 inch/min feed

Frank Xydias from Milford High School's ATC with pickguard milled from PVC on a DATRON M8Cube
Frank Xydias from Milford High School’s Applied Technology Center with PVC pickguard programmed and machined by DATRON Application Technician, Kyle Newman (right).

Results of Milling PVC Pickguard

Regardless of the concerns about the construction of the supplied 3-ply PVC, the end result was perfect including the edge finish on the contour cuts and no delamination occurred. Newman was able to present the part to Frank Xydias who in turn, presented it to a very happy end customer.

Milling PVC pickguard for Danelectro Wild Thing using DATRON Milling Machine.
A happy customer holds his Danelectro Wild Thing guitar featuring a new PVC pickguard.

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steve.carter@datron.com'

About the Author

Steve Carter is the Brand Manager at DATRON Dynamics and has been with the company for 14 years. His writing on high-speed machining has been published in trade magazines such as Aerospace Design & Manufacturing, Modern Applications News, Manufacturing Engineering and Tooling & Production.