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Expert Guide To CNC Machining Surface Finishes Tips And Practices for Success

Views: 50     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2024-05-16      Origin: Site


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Surface finish plays a crucial role in CNC machining, as many applications demand both aesthetic appeal and functional design. With access to advanced tools and quality checks, modern industrial designers strive to ensure the functionality of their designs. Therefore, CNC machining surface finishes offer an opportunity for their products to distinguish themselves in the market.

Surface Finishes-2

The following section will delve into the fundamentals of CNC machining surface finishes and provide insights into selecting the appropriate type for any given project.

Pre-Surface Finish Processes for CNC Parts

Before delving into the primary finishing methods for CNC machining, it's essential to first examine the predominant pre-finishing processes commonly employed in the industry. Let's explore these foundational steps.


During the machining process, the workpiece is exposed to various contaminants such as oils, coolants, and lubricants, which serve to reduce heat and friction. The degreasing process effectively eliminates these contaminants using different solvents or ultrasonic cleaning methods. In simpler scenarios, a thorough washing of the part may suffice. However, determining the appropriate process hinges on the material properties and overall finishing specifications of the project.


This procedure effectively eliminates all sharp edges and protrusions from the workpiece, a critical step as burrs can adversely affect the part's performance and pose safety risks.

3 – Grinding

Grinding employs an abrasive wheel to cleanse the surface and eliminate any excess material, playing a pivotal role in achieving a uniform and smoother finish, particularly beneficial for materials prone to accumulating contaminants.


Upon completion, the final step involves inspecting the part for any defects and addressing any existing issues as necessary.

Types of CNC Machining Surface Finishes

When deciding among various types of surface finishes, the industry typically gravitates towards three main categories.

The first option is "as machined," wherein the CNC machine completes the final finishing of the part. The second option involves chemical finishes, whereby different chemical processes are employed to create a protective and aesthetic layer on the surface. Lastly, the mechanical finish entails utilizing physical processes and materials to enhance the quality and texture of a particular surface.

Now, let's briefly explore each of these categories.

As Machined Finishing

As-machined finishing refers to the surface finish achieved directly after dismounting from the machine, requiring no additional processing. Its primary characteristics include visible tool marks and a rough texture. The key determinant of finishing quality is surface roughness (Ra), which measures the average deviation of the machined profile from the ideal surface.

Typically, the industry assesses the quality of machined finishes based on specific Ra values, which may vary depending on the application but generally fall within a certain range. It's crucial to consider factors beyond Ra, such as surface integrity, waviness, and flatness, when evaluating overall finish quality. Commonly relied upon Ra values include 3.2 μm Ra, 1.6 μm Ra, 0.8 μm Ra, and 0.4 μm Ra.

One of the primary advantages of opting for as-machined finishing is its dimensional tolerances. Smaller surface roughness leads to higher dimensional tolerance for the part. Additionally, this finish does not incur any additional costs, making it ideal for projects with budget constraints.

However, it's worth noting that as-machined finishes leave visible tool marks on the workpiece, which may not be suitable for high-value projects where aesthetics are paramount.

Chemical Finishing

Another prevalent method involves employing various chemical processes to coat the surface, providing an additional layer of protection. These coatings enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of the part with their color, shine, and other similar attributes. Below are the primary types of chemical-based CNC surface finishes:


Anodizing involves immersing a part in an electrolyte solution to form a protective oxide layer on the surface. There are two types: type II, a decorative layer, and type III, a hard coat for high-performance applications. Both types use a sulfuric acid bath and electrolysis to create a uniform oxide layer.


Type II anodizing results in a relatively thin layer (up to 25 microns), suitable for various applications but vulnerable to abrasions and corrosion over time. Conversely, type III anodizing requires a higher voltage current and lower temperature, yielding a thicker oxide layer (25 to 150 microns) for better corrosion and abrasion resistance.

However, type III anodizing may not be suitable for all applications due to the risk of brittleness, potentially leading to cracks or chips under severe stress. Consider the application carefully when choosing between type II and III anodizing.

Anodizing provides corrosion protection and wear resistance, often serving as the sole surface treatment, especially for aluminum parts. It offers a wide range of color options, enhancing aesthetic appeal. Nonetheless, anodizing is costly and adds an extra layer to the part, which may not be ideal for high-precision applications.

Alodine Coating

Alodine coating, also known as chromate conversion, is frequently used on aluminum and other non-ferrous metals. This process applies a thin chromate coating to the surface, boosting corrosion resistance and adhesion. Typically, parts with Alodine coating receive an additional paint coat for prolonged durability. Nonetheless, there are notable drawbacks to Alodine coating. Firstly, it poses environmental hazards and safety risks for workers. Additionally, the process is intricate and demands precise execution, potentially leading to increased costs.

Black Oxide Coating

Black oxide coating is effective for materials like steel and copper, forming a robust oxide layer that shields against contaminants and physical harm. This finish offers corrosion and wear resistance, along with high lubricity, making it advantageous for friction-sensitive applications. Yet, it has drawbacks. Susceptibility to abrasion limits its use in high-stress environments, and its corrosion resistance may falter under constant harsh conditions. While suitable for standard applications, black oxide coating may not withstand severe environments with elevated levels of contaminants, temperature, and mechanical stresses.



Electroplating is among the most popular surface finishing methods for CNC parts due to its versatility and advantages. It involves depositing a thin metallic layer on the workpiece, providing protection against corrosion and contaminants. Beyond its functional benefits, electroplating is prized for its ability to enhance aesthetics. With options like decorative and satin finishes, it's considered one of the most visually appealing choices in the industry, making it ideal for applications where aesthetics matter. However, electroplating is a complex and precise process requiring technical expertise and experience. It utilizes hazardous chemicals and consumes significant energy, raising environmental concerns. Moreover, it's limited to conductive materials, restricting its application in certain industries, necessitating alternative surface finishing techniques for non-conductive materials.


Passivation serves as a common post-processing technique in CNC machining aimed at enhancing the surface quality and longevity of parts. Following the machining process, parts may exhibit micro-roughness or surface impurities that could compromise their performance over time. Passivation effectively addresses these concerns.

Primarily employed on stainless steel parts in CNC machining, the passivation procedure involves thorough cleaning of the parts to eliminate residual oils, coolants, or metal debris. Subsequently, the parts are immersed in a passivation solution, typically comprising nitric acid, citric acid, or a blend of both.

During passivation, the acidic solution undergoes a chemical reaction with the part's surface, eliminating surface impurities and fostering the formation of a uniform oxide layer. This layer acts as a shield against corrosion and environmental factors, ensuring prolonged durability. The duration of the passivation process varies, contingent upon the size and intricacy of the part.

Mechanical Finishes

Another classification of surface finishing entails mechanical procedures to achieve the desired outcome. This approach involves subjecting the workpiece to various stresses and abrasions until the finished product is attained. Typically, mechanical finishes do not necessitate additional post-processing. However, options such as paint or other coatings may be applied to enhance the longevity and durability of the part.

Here are several prevalent types of mechanical finishes utilized for CNC parts:

Bead Blasting

Bead blasting is a technique that involves projecting spherical beads of glass or ceramic onto the surface of the part. This method yields a textured, matte finish, effectively concealing surface imperfections and achieving a uniform appearance. Moreover, it effectively eliminates contaminants due to the high-pressure air, ensuring overall cleanliness, which is crucial for subsequent processes like painting and electroplating. However, while bead blasting is generally safe, errors during the process can potentially cause significant surface damage to the part. Additionally, it may impact the dimensional accuracy and functionality of the part and is associated with high costs. Therefore, it is typically reserved for luxury items or expensive parts.

Bead Blasting

Powder Coating

Powder coating stands out as a prevalent surface finish for metallic parts due to its remarkable durability and versatile performance. It effectively resists scratches and chips while maintaining color vibrancy over time. Furthermore, the extensive range of available colors provides designers with greater creative freedom and enhances overall aesthetics. Another notable advantage is its eco-friendliness, making it suitable for various applications.

However, despite its numerous benefits, powder coating has its drawbacks to consider. The initial investment in equipment and materials is relatively high, making it a less cost-effective option for smaller production runs or individual parts. Additionally, the curing process necessitates high temperatures, which may limit its applicability to certain materials and applications.


Brushing serves primarily as a surface treatment method rather than a finishing process, typically employed to prepare the workpiece for subsequent finishing steps. In this process, a metal-wire brush or abrasive pad is used to physically cleanse the surface, removing any contaminants or particles. Its main advantage lies in its simplicity, as it requires no specialized skills or machinery.


However, brushing carries the risk of surface damage if not executed carefully. Moreover, its manual nature limits its applicability to simple parts and consumes considerable time.


Polishing involves the abrasion-based smoothing of surfaces, typically starting with coarse abrasives and progressing to finer ones until a smooth, visually appealing finish is achieved. Additionally, polishing can enhance material durability by mitigating the risk of cracking or chipping. However, these benefits come with significant drawbacks. The process is exceedingly time-consuming and costly, particularly for complex geometries, which demand specialized skills and equipment to achieve flawless results.


Metal paints serve as a protective CNC surface finish by effectively shielding the entire surface against corrosion. Typically employing lacquer and polyurethane, they provide enduring protection against water and contaminants. However, exposure to harsh chemicals and abrasions can cause the paint to peel, exposing the underlying surface.


Painting offers versatility in color and finish, making it appealing for various CNC machining applications. While the process is generally straightforward, it may have environmental implications and require ample drying time for optimal adhesion.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a CNC Machining Surface Finish

Selecting the appropriate surface finish for a CNC machined part is crucial to ensure it meets both functional and aesthetic requirements. Key considerations include functionality, material, aesthetics, cost, lead time, environmental impact, and part geometry.

Functionality: Choose a surface finish based on the part's functional needs. For instance, parts requiring high wear or corrosion resistance may benefit from robust finishes like anodizing or electroplating, while aesthetically pleasing parts may require finishes with diverse color and texture options.

Material: Certain surface finishes are better suited for specific materials. For example, anodizing is commonly used for aluminum parts, whereas electroplating is ideal for conductive metal parts.

Aesthetics: Consider the desired appearance of the part. Different finishes can yield various visual effects, such as glossy or matte finishes.

Cost: Balance factors like function, time, and cost to select the most cost-effective finish. Powder coating, for instance, may be pricier than standard paint.

Lead time: Evaluate the time required for different finishing methods. If time is limited, opt for quicker methods like polishing, whereas projects with more time may benefit from precise finishes like anodizing.

Environmental impact: Prioritize eco-friendly finishing options whenever feasible to minimize environmental impact.

Part geometry: Part design influences the choice of surface finish. Parts with tight tolerances may require different finishes than those with more forgiving designs.

Choose the Right Surface Finish with Zonze

In CNC machining, the appearance and aesthetics of the final product are just as crucial as its functionality. The appropriate surface finish not only shields the material from environmental hazards but also elevates its visual appeal.

While these processes may seem straightforward, precision is paramount, given that finishing often marks the final step in production. Entrusting this task to seasoned professionals ensures flawless execution.

At Zonze, we boast a track record of delivering exceptional products promptly and affordably. Our adept team offers a range of finishing options tailored to your specific application and requirements. With just a few clicks on our website, you can access our services from the comfort of your home or office. Simply provide your project details, and await our prompt response with a quote.

Get An Online Quote And Design Analysis Today

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