Multi-Axis Finisher Q&A

What is a Multi-Axis Finisher?

A tool that uses an extremely large radius to increase finishing performance in two different ways, depending on the needs of the machinist. Either the Multi-Axis Finisher will provide a better surface finish than a traditional Ball End Mill in the same amount of time, or will provide the same surface finish in far less time than a traditional Ball End Mill. A middle ground with improved surface finish and reduced cycle time is also easily achievable.

What Are Other Names for Multi-Axis Finishers?

Multi-Axis Finishers are oftentimes referred to as Barrel Cutters or Conical Barrel Mills or Circle Segment Cutters, among many others.

What Are the Different Forms of Multi-Axis Finishers, and How Do They Differ?

There are several different forms of Multi-Axis Finishers, including Lens, Taper, Oval, and Barrel. With a Lens Form, there’s a large radius on the end of the tool that’s in line with the tool axis. Taper Form, in contrast, has three tangential radii and a large radius defined at a specific angle relative to the tool axis. An Oval Form has two tangential radii, offering additional angle flexibility, while a Barrel Form has a large radius on the OD of the tool.

The most significant benefit is oftentimes observed utilizing a Taper Form Multi-Axis Finisher, as the radius of this tool can become vastly large on this form, while the others are more limited. However, this great benefit also comes with the least amount of flexibility in terms of approach to a workpiece.

What Are the Benefits of a Multi-Axis Finisher?

There are two clear benefits to using a Multi-Axis Finisher, compared to a Ball End Mill: Increased surface finish, and reduced cycle time (Or most likely both, concurrently).

What is a Benefit Multiple?

Helical Solutions is the industry’s premier manufacturer of Multi-Axis Finishers, and the Benefit Multiple is a significant reason why. Helical specifies the theoretical benefit that can be seen with its Multi-Axis Finishers, providing machinists direct insight into the gains that can be realized with these tools.

Benefit Multiple refers to the Cusp Height, correlated directly with the theoretically-achievable surface finish. Assuming the same cusp height from a Ball End Mill to a Multi-Axis Finisher, the Benefit Multiple relates to the time savings that could be seen in a machinists’ toolpath. For example, a Benefit Multiple of 4 would result in a toolpath ¼ as long as for a Ball End Mill of the same diameter. The stepover pass-to-pass would be 400% as much as a Ball End Mill to keep the same cusp.

When Should I Not Use a Multi-Axis Finisher?

Multi-Axis Finishers are best applied to wide-open surface areas; or large, smooth contours rather than small features or tight areas. Application of these tools will always be on a case-by-case basis. For help with your specific application, contact Helical Solutions Technical Support at 866-543-5422.

How Can I Get the Most Out of My Multi-Axis Finisher?

Multi-Axis finishers are best utilized when working further towards the OD of the tool. Tapered Form Multi-Axis Finishers are the most obvious choice for this, as its nose radius is small and has the least amount of efficiency. Similarly to a ball end mill, working near the center will have limited cutting ability, while the OD of the tool will see the full surface footage of the programmed RPM.

Taper Form Multi-Axis Finishers should be used when tilted at the specified taper angle. Oval Form Multi-Axis Finishers should be used towards the OD. Lens Form Multi-Axis Finishers should be tilted to avoid working on-center.

Lens Form Multi-Axis Finishers Look Like a High Feed End Mill. Can I Use it That Way?


Yes. However, there are differences in the form, and while a Lens Form Multi-Axis Finisher could theoretically be used as a High Feed End Mill, the two tools are not interchangeable.  A High Feed End Mill would not be the best choice for Multi-Axis Finishing, nor would a Lens Form Multi-Axis Finisher be our first recommendation for feed milling.

Do I need special software to program Multi-Axis Finishers?

Yes. A number of years ago, there were only a few CAM software packages that supported the programming of these specific forms. Nowadays, most CAM software providers have some degree of support for this method. Two of the first CAM software offerings to support this were MasterCAM and Hypermill, though many additional options exist today.

Why haven’t I heard of Multi-Axis Finishers Until Now?

In the grand scheme of things, Multi-Axis Finishers provide a very new approach to finishing, having been developed within the last handful of years.  Similar to High Efficiency Milling, these tools offer a new technique to approach your workpiece, offering increased efficiency and reduced cycle times.  Compared to the history of milling, modern tool manufacturing and CAM software have only just become able to program these unique forms.  Multi-axis finishers are positioned to revolutionize the world of finishing.

For more information on Multi-Axis Finishers, visit Multi-Axis Finishers: The Key to Amazing Surface Finish.

10 CNC Drill Geometries Every Machinist Must Know

A CNC drill has many different features and geometries that directly impact the tool’s performance, productivity, and tool life in the specific material it’s machining. It is important to understand the different geometries of a drill to ensure you’re not only recognizing how they affect an application, but also which geometries you should be looking for when selecting your next drill.

1.    Point Angle

This drill geometry refers to the angle of the cutting edge of the drill. As the point angle increases on a drill, the radial forces decrease, making the angle size a huge factor in what type of material the drill is optimized for and what types of applications should be run. The smaller the point angle, the better it will perform in through hole applications. This is because the smaller angle reduces the axial forces, allowing less of the chip to be pushed out and more cutting to occur.

118° & 120° Point Angle

Many machinists opt for this angle when machining soft gummy materials.

135° Point Angle

This point angle size is an excellent choice for machining aluminum and stainless steels.

140° Point Angle

This larger point angle size is great for machining steels.

150° Point Angle

Large angles are often used for spot drilling applications, but the optimal spot drill angle is determined by the size of the angle of the final drill being used. Selecting the proper spot drill is essential to eliminating the chance of drill walking and ensuring a more accurate final product. Learn which spot angle should be used for your next drilling job in this in-depth guide.

2.    Chisel and Cutting Edges


Although the chisel edge of a CNC drill does not provide any cutting action, it is responsible for the centering of the drill, as it extrudes the material towards the cutting edges. The cutting edges are then able to start the process of producing chips, which then travel up the flutes of the drill.

3.    Flutes

The most recognizable part of a drill is its flutes. They are the deep grooves that allow for chip evacuation to occur. When one thinks of a drill, they are likely imagining a spiral flute drill. These spiral flutes complement the point angle, chisel edge, and the cutting edges. They work like an elevator system to lift the chips out of the hole, allowing them to provide excellent chip evacuation. They work great in most material types and provide good hole quality.

4.    Helix Angle

The helix angle is the angle formed by the leading edge of the land with a plane containing the axis of the drill. The main function of the helix angle is to transfer the chips out of the hole and a specific angle is relevant to the type of material that is being machined in and the particular application being run.

Low Helix

A low helix of 12° – 22° is recommended for materials like cast iron, brass, and hardened steels. In these “short chipping” materials, the chips move more freely, and the coolant provides enough assistance to properly evacuate the chips out of the hole.

Medium Helix

The most widely used helix angles are medium as they provide optimal chip evacuation and strength to the drill. Medium helix angles range from 28° – 32° and are recommended for any general purpose drilling applications.

High Helix

A high helix angle of 34° – 38° is recommended for long chipping material such as softer non-ferrous materials like brass, aluminum, and plastics. Drills with a high helix are also beneficial in deep hole applications as the chips can evacuate more easily.

5.    Web Thickness (Core)

The web is the core section of the drill body, which connects the two flutes. The thickness of the web determines the torsional strength of a drill. A drill with a larger web diameter will have more torsional strength than a drill with a smaller web diameter.

The proper web thickness is determined by the material type to be machined. Long chipping materials will require a drill with a smaller web thickness to provide adequate clearance for chip removal. When drilling short chipping materials such as cast iron, the drill web can be increased for additional strength.

6.    Corner Chamfer


A corner chamfer or radius is often added to eliminate the sharp edge at the intersection of the flutes and the outside diameter of a drill. This helps to eliminate material breakout when exiting a hole, while also helping to reduce the size of the entrance and exit burrs. This feature is also widely known to significantly extend tool life.

7.    Drill Margin

Margin(s) are the surfaces along the outer diameter of the drill which provide stability to the hole as they support the radial forces that are directed radially by the drill point.

Size of Drill Margin

The size of the margin will determine the overall quality of the hole. Wide marginswill stabilize the drill better, hold a tighter hole diameter tolerance, and improve the circularity of the hole. Narrow margins reduce friction and heat, eliminate work hardening, mitigate built-up edge, and provide better tool life.

Number of Drill Margins

The number of margins on a drill is usually determined by the type of hole being machined. Single margin drills are very common in non-interrupted holes. Double or triple margin drills are common in interrupted or intersecting holes. The more margins there are, the better the guidance is to help the drill stay straight through interrupted cuts, cross holes, and irregular or angled surfaces on exit. While adding margins does provide these benefits for irregular style cuts, they also increase friction, which causes the drill to produce more heat. This causes wear to be accelerated, reducing the life of the tool.

8.    Land of a Drill

The land is the outer portion of the body of the drill between two adjacent flutes. Land width will determine how much torsional force a drill can withstand before catastrophic failure. The smaller the land is, the more chip space there is, producing less torsional strength. The larger the land is, the less chip space there is, providing more torsional strength.

9.    Coolant-Through Channels


Not only do coolant-through channels offer any drilling application a multitude of benefits, but they are also highly recommended for hole depths that exceed 4XD (4 times diameter). Coolant-Through Drills allow for higher speed and feed rate capabilities, increased lubricity, better chip control, improved surface finish, and enhanced tool life.

10.  Shank

The shank is a very important yet overlooked drill geometry as it is the drive mechanism and is what is mounted into a Tool Holder. It is essential that the shank is held to proper diameter tolerance and considerations are being made depending on the holder being used. For example, a shank with an h6 tolerance is essential when a shrink fit style tool holder is being used.

Learning the different geometries of a CNC drill can greatly assist you in ensuring you are selecting the right drill for your next job, while understanding the functions of these features will allow you to trouble shoot any potential machining hiccups you may encounter in your future CNC drilling applications.

3 Tips for Avoiding Misaligned Holes


One of the most common issues machinists face during a drilling operation is hole misalignment. Hole alignment is an essential step in any assembly or while mating cylindrical parts. When holes are properly aligned, the mating parts fit easily in each other. When one of the pieces to the puzzle is inaccurate, however, machinists run into issues and parts can be scrapped. The two types of common misalignment woes are Angular Misalignment and Offset Misalignment.

Angular Misalignment

Angular misalignment is the difference in slope of the centerlines of the holes. When the centerlines are not parallel, a shaft will not be able to fit through the hole properly.

Offset Misalignment

Offset misalignment is the distance between the centerlines of the hole. This is the position of the hole from its true position or mating part. Many CAD software programs will help to identify if holes are misaligned, but proper technique is still paramount to creating perfect holes.

1.    Utilize a Spotting Drill

Using a spotting drill is a common way to eliminate the chance of the drill walking when it makes contact with the material. A spotting drill is designed to mark a precise location for a drill to follow, minimizing the drill’s ability to walk from a specific area.

valor holemaking high performance spotting drill

Valor Holemaking High Performance Spotting Drill

Although using a spotting drill would require an additional tool change during a job, the time spent in a tool change is far less than the time required to redo a project due to a misaligned hole. A misaligned hole can result in scrapping the entire part, costing time and money.

Do you know how to choose the perfect spot drill angle? Learn how in this in-depth guide so you can eliminate the chance of drill walking and ensure a more accurate final product.

2.    Be Mindful of Web Thickness

A machinist should also consider the web thickness of the drill when experiencing hole misalignment. A drill’s web is the first part of the drill to make contact with the workpiece material.

Essentially, the web thickness is the same as the core diameter of an end mill. A larger core will provide a more rigid drill and a larger web. A larger web, however, can increase the risk of walking, and may contribute to hole misalignment. To overcome this machining dilemma, machinists will oftentimes choose to use a drill that has a thinned web.

Web Thinning

Also known as a split point drill, web thinning is a drill with a thinned web at the point, which helps to decrease thrust force and increase point accuracy. There are many different thinning methods, but the result allows a drill to have a thinner web at the point while having the benefit of a standard web through­out the rest of the drill body.

A thinner web will:

  1. Be less susceptible to walking
  2. Need less cutting resistance
  3. Create less cutting force

3.    Select a Material Specific Drill

Choosing a material specific drill is one of the easiest ways to avoid hole misalignment. A material specific drill design has geometries that will mitigate the specific challenges that each unique material presents. Further, material specific drills fea­ture tool coatings that are proven to succeed in the specific material a machinist is working in.

Valor Holemaking High Performance Drills for Steels and High Performance Drills for Aluminum

Understanding Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) 2.0

Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) was first introduced to the CNC Machining Industry in 2018 as a tool to quickly, seamlessly, and accurately deliver recommended running parameters to machinists using Helical Solutions end mills. then, thousands of users have utilized this cutting-edge resource, every day. In August 2022, a new and improved version of MAP was launched, optimized for Harvey Tool’s 27,000+ miniature and specialty cutting tools.

The following article is intended to introduce MAP 2.0 features. For more in depth information about MAP, including how to get started using it, please visit the original “In the Loupe,” post Get to Know Machining Advisor Pro.

New Map 2.0 Features

Addition of all Harvey Tool Products

With the release of MAP 2.0, users now have access to expertly tailored speeds and feeds parameters and recommendations to meet the exact demands of cutting tool and machine setup for all Harvey Tool products. This means that more than 27,000 Harvey Tool products are available in MAP and users can find their Specialty Profile Cutting Tools, Miniature End Mills, and Holemaking and Threading products to confidently use MAP generated speeds and feeds. With the addition of new products, there is now a new variety of operations to choose from, specific to the product selected.

New Strategy Option for Operations

Before the MAP 2.0 update, there were only two drop down menus for operation: type and toolpath. With the new update, there is an additional third operation drop down menu titled “strategy.” This option allows for users to further refine their machining operation, but only for certain tools that require it. For example, when using a Double Angle Shank Cutter on MAP, users can choose from a list of toolpaths including deburring, chamfer, or v-groove.

Once selected, users will choose a strategy for the toolpath – single side or double side engagement. The use of this feature gives the user more flexibility in their operations and saves time by automating their operation calculations. This feature is available for a variety of different toolpaths within the application.

MAP Offline Mode

With the release of MAP 2.0, and the addition of over 27,000 Harvey tools, users now can work offline. The work offline feature is only available for the new Harvey Tools. To access this feature, users can select the “User Account” button in the top right and start the process to allow MAP to work offline. Activating the work offline mode will cache the Harvey Tool data and takes around 15-20 minutes to complete before allowing the user to work offline.

Having the ability to use MAP offline can be useful when users are unable to connect to the internet as you will still be able to access MAP on a desktop or mobile app, whenever and wherever you need it.

Achieving Success in CNC Woodworking

Developing a Successful Cutting Direction Strategy

There are a number of factors that can affect the machining practices of wood in woodworking. One that comes up a lot for certain hardwoods is the cutting direction, specifically in relation to the grain pattern of the wood. Wood is an anisotropic material. This means that different material properties are exhibited in different cutting directions. In terms of lumber, there are different structural grades of wood related to grain orientation. If the average direction of the cellulose fibers are parallel to the sides of the piece of lumber, then the grains are said to be straight. Any deviation from this parallel line and the board is considered to be “cross-grain”. Figure 1 below depicts a mostly straight grain board with arrows indicating the different axes. Each of these axes exhibits different sets of mechanical properties. Because of these differences, one must be conscious of the tool path in woodworking and minimize the amount of cutting forces placed on the cutter in order to maximize its tool life.

straight grain wood board with woodworking axes
Figure 1: Mostly straight grain board with arrows indicating different axes

Cutting perpendicular to the grain is known as cutting “across the grain” in woodworking. In Figure 1 above, this would be considered cutting in the radial or tangential direction. Cutting parallel to the grain is known as cutting “along the grain” (longitudinally in terms of Figure 1). The closer you are to cutting at 90° to the grain of the wood in any direction, the larger the cutting force will be. For example, a tool with its center axis parallel to the tangential direction and a tool path along the longitudinal direction would have less wear than a tool with the same center axis but moving in the radial direction. The second type of tool orientation is cutting across more grain boundaries and therefore yields greater cutting forces. However, you must be careful when cutting along the grain as this can cause tear-outs and lead to a poor surface finish.

The Proper Formation of Wood Chips With CNC Woodworking

When cutting wood parallel to the grain, there are three basic types of chips that are formed. When cutting perpendicular to the grain, the chip types generally fall into these same 3 categories, but with much more variability due to the wide range in wood properties with respect to the grain direction.

Type 1 Chips

Type 1 chips are formed when wood splits ahead of the cutting edge through cleavage until failure in bending occurs as a cantilever beam. A large force perpendicular to the shear plane is produced, causing the wood ahead of the cutting edge to split, forming this tiny cantilever beam. When the upward force finally exceeds the strength of this tiny beam, it breaks off.  These types of chips cause comparatively little wear compared to types 2 and 3, as the material is splitting before coming in contact with the pointed edge. End mills with either extremely high rake or very low rake angles often produce type 1 chips. This is especially true when machining against grain slopes that are greater than 25°. Woods with moisture content less than 8%form discontinuous chips and are at a higher risk of tear-out.

Type 2 Chips

Type 2 chips are the most desirable of the three types in terms of surface finish. They are a result of material failure along a diagonal shear plane, extending from the cutting edge to the workpiece surface. Type 2 chips form when there is a proper balance between the properties of the wood, cutting parameters, and cutter geometry. Woods with a moisture content between 8% and 20%have a much higher chance of forming continuous type 2 chips while leaving a good surface finish.

Type 3 Chips

The last type of chip forms when the rake angle of a cutter is much too low. In this scenario, the cutting force is almost parallel to the direction of travel. This causes a soft material, such as wood, to be crushed rather than sheared away, leaving a poor surface finish. Generally, the surface left behind looks like tiny bundles of wood elements, a surface defect commonly known as “fuzzy grain.” This type of chip occurs more frequently in softwoods as the crushing situation is compounded in low-density woods.

types of wood chips in woodworking
Figure 2: Different types of wooden chips

Extending Tool Life When Woodworking

Speeds & Feeds Rules of Thumb

There are several different categories of tool wear that occur when cnc woodworking. General rules of machining still apply as RPM has the greatest influence on wear rate. Over-feeding can increase tool wear exponentially and also cause tool breakage. As with most machining operations, a balance between these two is essential. If you are looking to increase your productivity by increasing your speed, you must increase your feed proportionally in order to maintain a balance that keeps the tool properly engaged in the material.

Proper Management of Heat

When cutting tools are exposed to high heat, they begin to wear even faster, due to corrosion. The cobalt binder within most carbide tools on the market begins to oxidize and break free of the cutting edge. This sets off a chain reaction, as when the binder is removed, the tungsten carbide breaks away, too. Different species of wood and types of engineered wood have different corrosive behaviors at high temperatures. This is the most consistent type of wear that is observed when machining MDF or particleboard. The wear is due to the chlorine and sulfate salts found in adhesives as this accelerates high-temperature corrosion.  As with aluminum, when the silica content of a wood increases, so too does its corrosiveness.

Generally, increased tool wear is observed in wood with high moisture content. This trait is due to the increased electro-chemical wear caused by the extractives in wood., Moisture content in wood includes substances such as resins, sugars, oils, starches, alkaloids, and tannins in the presence of water. These molecules react with the metallic constitutes of the cutting tool and can dull the cutting edge. Carbide is more resistant to this type of wear compared to high-speed steel.

Best Coatings for Extended Tool Life in Wood

If you want a longer-lasting tool that will maintain its sharp cutting edge (and who doesn’t), you may want to consider an Amorphous Diamond coating. This is an extremely abrasive resistant coating meant for non-ferrous operations in which the temperature of the cutting zone does not exceed 750 °F. This coating type is one of Harvey Tool’s thinnest coatings, therefore minimizing the risk of any edge rounding and maximizing this edge’s durability.

Avoiding Common Woodworking Mishaps

Tear Out

Tear out, sometimes called chipped grain or splintering, is when a chunk of the wood material being machined tears away from the main workpiece and leaves an unappealing defect where it used to be. This is one of the most common defects when machining wood products. There are many different reasons that tear out occurs. Material characteristics are something to be considered. Tear out is more likely to occur if the grain orientation is less than 20°relative to the tool path, the moisture content of the wood is too low, or the density of the wood is too low. Figure 4 shows the grain orientation angle relative to the tool path. In terms of machining parameters, it can also occur if either the chip load, depth of cut, or rake angle is too high.

woodworking grain in relation to tool path
Figure 4: Example of grain orientation angle relative to the tool path

Fuzzy Grain Finish

Fuzzy grain looks like small clumps of wood attached to the newly machined face and occurs when the wood fibers are not severed properly. Low rake or dull cutting tools indent fibers until they tear out from their natural pattern inside, causing type 3 chips to form, resulting in a poor finish. This can be exacerbated by a low feed or depth of cut as the tool is not properly engaged and is plowing material rather than shearing it properly. Softer woods with smaller and lesser amounts of grains are more susceptible to this type of defect. Juvenile wood is known to be particularly liable for fuzzy grain because of its high moisture content.

fuzzy grain wood finish
Figure 5: Example of a fuzzy grain finish

Burn Marks

Burn Marks are a defect that is particularly significant in the case of machining wood, as it is not generally a concern when machining other materials. Dwelling in a spot for too long, not engaging enough of the end mill in a cut, or using dull tools creates an excessive amount of heat through friction, which leaves burn marks. Some woods (such as maple or cherry) are more susceptible to burn marks, therefore tool paths for these types should be programmed sensibly. If you are having a lot of trouble with burn marks in a particular operation, you may want to try spraying the end mill with a commercial lubricant or paste wax. Be careful not to use too much as the excess moisture can cause warping. Increasing your tool engagement or decreasing RPM may also combat burn marks.

burn marks from wood cutter
Figure 6: Example of burn marks

Chip Marks

Chip marks are shallow compressions in the surface of the wood that have been sprayed or pressed into the surface. These defects can swell with an increase in moisture content, worsening the finish even more. This type of blemish is generally caused by poor chip evacuation and can usually be fixed by applying air blast coolant to the cutting region during the operation.

Raised Grain

Raised grain, another common defect of woods, is when one or more portions of the workpiece are slightly lower than the rest. This blemish is particularly a problem when machining softer woods with dull tools as the fibers will tear and deform rather than be cleanly sheared away. This effect is intensified when machining with slow feeds and the wood has a high moisture content. Variations in swelling and shrinking between damaged and undamaged sections of wood exacerbate this flaw. It’s for this reason that raised grain is a common sight on weather-beaten woods. Work holding devices that are set too tight also have a chance of causing raised grain.

Differentiating Harvey Tool Wood Cutting & Plastic Cutting End Mills

Woodworking Upcut End Mill
Harvey Tool Upcut End Mill For Wood

https://www.harveytool.com/products/material-specific-end-mills/woodMachinists oftentimes use Plastic Cutting End Mills for woodworking, as this tool has very similar internal geometries to that of an End Mill for Wood. Both tools have large flute valleys and sharp cutting edges, advantageous for the machining of both plastic and wood. The main difference between the Harvey Tool plastic cutters and the woodcutters is the wedge angle (a combination of the primary relief and rake angle). The woodcutter line has a lower rake but still has a high relief angle to maintain the sharpness of the cutting edge. The lower rake is designed to not be as “grabby” as the plastic cutters can be when woodworking. It was meant to shear wood and leave a quality surface finish by not causing tear-out.

Harvey Tool’s offering of End Mills for Wood includes both upcut and downcut options. The upcut option is designed for milling natural and engineered woods, featuring a 2-flute style and a wedge angle engineered for shearing wood fiber materials without causing tear out or leaving a fuzzy grain finish. The downcut offering is optimized for milling natural and engineered woods and helps prevent lifting on vacuum tables.

For more help on achieving a successful machining operation, or more information on Harvey Tool’s offering of End Mills for Wood, please contact Harvey Tool’s team of engineers at 800-645-5609.

How to Optimize Results While Machining With Miniature End Mills

 The machining industry generally considers micromachining and miniature end mills to be any end mill with a diameter under 1/8 of an inch. This is also often the point where tolerances must be held to a tighter window. Because the diameter of a tool is directly related to the strength of a tool, miniature end mills are considerably weaker than their larger counterparts, and therefore, lack of strength must be accounted for when micromachining. If you are using these tools in a repetitive application, then optimization of this process is key.

Size comparison chart with square miniature end mill, ant leg, human hair, and grains of salt
Size Comparison for Harvey Tool’s #13901 Square Miniature End Mill

Key Cutting Differences Between Conventional and Miniature End Mills

Runout

Runout during an operation has a much greater effect on miniature tools, as even a very small amount can have a large impact on the tool engagement and cutting forces. Runout causes the cutting forces to increase due to the uneven engagement of the flutes, prompting some flutes to wear faster than others in conventional tools, and breakage in miniature tools. Tool vibration also impacts the tool life, as the intermittent impacts can cause the tool to chip or, in the case of miniature tools, break. It is extremely important to check the runout of a setup before starting an operation. The example below demonstrates how much of a difference .001” of runout is between a .500” diameter tool and a .031” diameter tool.

chart comparing tool diameter for runout in micromachining with miniature end mills
The runout of an operation should not exceed 2% of the tool diameter. Excess runout will lead to a poor surface finish.

Chip Thickness

The ratio between the chip thickness and the edge radius (the edge prep) is much smaller for miniature tools. This phenomena is sometimes called “the size effect” and often leads to an error in the prediction of cutting forces. When the chip thickness-to-edge radius ratio is smaller, the cutter will be more or less ploughing the material rather than shearing it. This ploughing effect is essentially due to the negative rake angle created by the edge radius when cutting a chip with a small thickness.

If this thickness is less than a certain value (this value depends of the tool being used), the material will squeeze underneath the tool. Once the tool passes and there is no chip formation, part of the plowed material recovers elastically. This elastic recovery causes there to be higher cutting forces and friction due to the increased contact area between the tool and the workpiece. These two factors ultimately lead to a greater amount of tool wear and surface roughness.

chart of edge radius in relation to chip thickness for micromachining
Figure 1: (A) Miniature tool operation where the edge radius is greater than the chip thickness (B) Conventional operation where the edge radius is small than the chip thickness

Tool Deflection in Conventional vs. Micromachining Applications

Tool deflection has a much greater impact on the formation of chips and accuracy of the operation in micromachining operations, when compared to conventional operations. Cutting forces concentrated on the side of the tool cause it to bend in the direction opposite the feed. The magnitude of this deflection depends upon the rigidity of the tool and its distance extended from the spindle. Small diameter tools are inherently less stiff compared to larger diameter tools because they have much less material holding them in place during the operation. In theory, doubling the length sticking out of the holder will result in 8 times more deflection. Doubling the diameter of an end mill it will result in 16 times less deflection. If a miniature cutting tool breaks on the first pass, it is most likely due to the deflection force overcoming the strength of the carbide. Here are some ways you can minimize tool deflection.

Workpiece Homogeny

Workpiece homogeny becomes a questionable factor with decreasing tool diameter. This means that a material may not have uniform properties at an exceptionally small scale due to a number of factors, such as container surfaces, insoluble impurities, grain boundaries, and dislocations. This assumption is generally saved for tools that have a cutter diameter below .020”, as the cutting system needs to be extremely small in order for the homogeny of the microstructure of the material to be called into question.

Surface Finish

Micromachining may result in an increased amount of burrs and surface roughness when compared to conventional machining. In milling, burring increases as feed increases, and decreases as speed increases. During a machining operation, chips are created by the compression and shearing of the workpiece material along the primary shear zone. This shear zone can be seen in Figure 2 below. As stated before, the chip thickness-to-edge radius ratio is much higher in miniature applications. Therefore, plastic and elastic deformation zones are created during cutting and are located adjacent to the primary shear zone (Figure 2a). Consequently, when the cutting edge is close to the border of the workpiece, the elastic zone also reaches this border (Figure 2b). Plastic deformation spreads into this area as the cutting edge advances, and more plastic deformation forms at the border due to the connecting elastic deformation zones (Figure 2c). A permanent burr begins to form when the plastic deformation zones connect (Figure 2d) and are expanded once a chip cracks along the slip line (Figure 2e). When the chips finally break off from the edge of the workpiece, a burr is left behind (Figure 2f).

burr formation mechanism using a miniature end mill
Figure 2: Burr formation mechanism using a miniature end mill 

Tool Path Best Practices for Miniature End Mills

Because of the fragility of miniature tools, the tool path must be programmed in such a way as to avoid a sudden amount of cutting force, as well as permit the distribution of cutting forces along multiple axes. For these reasons, the following practices should be considered when writing a program for a miniature tool path:

Ramping Into a Part

Circular ramping is the best practice for moving down axially into a part, as it evenly distributes cutting forces along the x, y, and z planes. If you have to move into a part radially at a certain depth of cut, consider an arching tool path as this gradually loads cutting forces onto the tool instead of all at once.

Micromachining in Circular Paths

You should not use the same speeds and feed for a circular path as you would for a linear path. This is because of an effect called compounded angular velocity. Each tooth on a cutting tool has its own angular velocity when it is active in the spindle. When a circular tool path is used, another angular velocity component is added to the system and, therefore, the teeth on the outer portion of tool path are traveling at a substantially different speed than expected. The feed of the tool must be adjusted depending on whether it is an internal or external circular operation. To find out how to adjust your feed, check out this article on running in circles.

Slotting with a Miniature End Mill

Do not approach a miniature slot the same way as you would a larger slot. With a miniature slot, you want as many flutes on the tool as possible, as this increases the rigidity of the tool through a larger core. This decreases the possibility of the tool breaking due to deflection. Because there is less room for chips to evacuate with a higher number of flutes, the axial engagement must be decreased. With larger diameter tools you may be stepping down 50% – 100% of the tool diameter. But when using miniature end mills with a higher flute count, only step down between 5% – 15%, depending on the size of the diameter and risk of deflection. The feed rate should be increased to compensate for the decreased axial engagement. The feed can be increased even high when using a ball nose end mill as chip thinning occurs at these light depths of cut and begins to act like a high feed mill.

Slowing Down Your Feed Around Corners

Corners of a part create an additional amount of cutting forces as more of the tool becomes engaged with the part. For this reason it is beneficial to slow down your feed when machining around corners to gradually introduce the tool to these forces.

Climb Milling vs. Conventional Milling in Micromachining Applications

This is somewhat of a tricky question to answer when it comes to micromachining. Climb milling should be utilized whenever a quality surface finish is called for on the part print. This type of tool path ultimately leads to more predictable/lower cutting forces and therefore higher quality surface finish. In climb milling, the cutter engages the maximum chip thickness at the beginning of the cut, giving it a tendency to push away from the workpiece. This can potentially cause chatter issues if the setup does not have enough rigidity.  In conventional milling, as the cutter rotates back into the cut it pulls itself into the material and increases cutting forces. Conventional milling should be utilized for parts with long thin walls as well as delicate operations.

Combined Roughing and Finishing Operations

These operations should be considered when micromachining tall thin walled parts as in some cases there is not sufficient support for the part for a finishing pass.

Helpful Tips for Achieving Successful Micromachining Operations With Miniature End Mills

Try to minimize runout and deflection as much as possible when micromachining with miniature end mills. This can be achieved by using a shrink-fit or press-fit tool holder. Maximize the amount of shank contact with the collet while minimizing the amount of stick-out during an operation. Double check your print and make sure that you have the largest possible end mill because bigger tools mean less deflection.

  • Choose an appropriate depth of cut so that the chip thickness to edge radius ratio is not too small as this will cause a ploughing effect.
  • If possible, test the hardness of the workpiece before machining to confirm the mechanical properties of the material advertised by the vender. This gives the operator an idea of the quality of the material.
  • Use a coated tool if possible when working in ferrous materials due to the excess amount of heat that is generated when machining these types of metals. Tool coatings can increase tool life between 30%-200% and allows for higher speeds, which is key in micro-machining.
  • Consider using a support material to control the advent of burrs during a micromachining application. The support material is deposited on the workpiece surface to provide auxiliary support force as well as increase the stiffness of the original edge of the workpiece. During the operation, the support material burrs and is plastically deformed rather than the workpiece.
  • Use flood coolant to lower cutting forces and a greater surface finish.
  • Scrutinize the tool path that is to be applied as a few adjustments can go a long way in extending the life of a miniature tool.
  • Double-check tool geometry to make sure it is appropriate for the material you are machining. When available, use variable pitch and variable helix tools as this will reduce harmonics at the exceptionally high RPMs that miniature tools are typically run at.
side-by-side view of two end mills comparing variable pitch versus non-variable pitch
Figure 3: Variable pitch tool (yellow) vs. a non-variable pitch tool (black)

Simplify Your Cutting Tool Orders

With the launch of the new Helical Solutions website, Harvey Performance Company is proud to introduce a new way to order Helical cutting tools. Now, users of our new website are able to send a “shopping cart” of Helical tools they’re interested in directly to their distributor to place an order, or share it with a colleague. Let’s dive into the details about this functionality and learn how you can take advantage of the time savings associated with sending a “shopping cart” to your distributor for simplified ordering.

Get Started with a HelicalTool.com Account

First, you must create an account on HelicalTool.com. Having an account on the Helical website allows you to save and edit “shopping carts,” which can be sent to a distributor to place an order; choose a preferred distributor; auto-fill your information in any important forms; and to manage your shipping information.

Create Helical Account for Helical Shopping Cart

Now that you have an account, it is time to start creating your first “shopping cart.”

Creating a “Shopping Cart”

To begin creating a new shopping cart, simply click on the “My Carts” text in the top right menu. This will take you to the management portal, where you can add a new “shopping cart” by selecting “Create New Shopping Cart.”

Helical Solutions Order

Once complete, you can name your “shopping cart” anything you would like. One example might be creating a collection of tools for each of your jobs, or for different machines in the shop. In this case, we will name it “Aluminum Roughing Job.” You can create as many different “shopping carts” as you would like; they’ll never be removed from your account unless you choose to delete them, allowing you to go back to past tooling orders whenever you’d like.

Helical Solutions Website

Now that you have a “shopping cart” created, it is time to start adding tools to it!

Adding Tools to Your Helical “Shopping Cart”

There are multiple ways to add tooling to your “shopping cart,” but the easiest method is by heading to a product table. In this example, we will be adding tooling from our 3 Flute, Corner Radius – 35° Helix product line. We want to add a quantity of 5 of EDP #59033 to our “shopping cart.” To do this, simply click on the “Add To Cart” icon located in the table row next to pricing and tool descriptions. This will open up a small window where we can manage our selection. The first step will be to choose which “shopping cart” we want to add this tool to, so we will select our “Aluminum Roughing Job” collection.

Helical Online Ordering

Since this tool is offered uncoated and Zplus coated, we need to select which option we would like from the drop down menu. For this example, we will select the Zplus coated tool. Now, we simply need to update our quantity to “5”, and click “Add To Cart.” That tool will now appear in your “shopping cart” in the quantity selected.

If you need more information on a tool, you can click on an EDP number to be brought to the tool details page, where you can also add that EDP to your collection.

If you know the EDP number you need and want to check stock levels, use our Check Stock feature to check quantities on hand, and then add the tools to your “shopping cart” right from the Check Stock page.

Helical Shopping Cart checking stock

Now, it is time to send the “shopping cart” to place an order with your distributor!

Placing An Order With Your Distributor

Once you have completed adding tools to your Helical “shopping cart,” navigate back to the My Carts page to review it. From here, you can update quantities, see list pricing, and access valuable resources.

On the right side of the My Cart screen, you will see an option to “Send to Distributor.” Click on the text to expand the drop down. If you have previously added a preferred distributor from your account page and they are participating in our Shopping Cart Program, you will see their information in this area.

If you have not yet selected a preferred distributor, select “Update My Distributor.” This will bring you to a new page where you can select your state and see all participating distributors in your area. Select one distributor as your preferred distributor, and then head back to the My Cart page.

Now that you have a distributor selected, you can do a final review of the “shopping cart,” and then simply click “Send Cart.” This will send an email order directly to your distributor with all of your shipping information, your list of tools and requested quantities, and your contact information. You will also receive a copy of this email for your records.

Helical Shopping Cart Distributor

Within 1 business day, the distributor will follow up with you to confirm the order, process payment, and get the tools shipped out and on the way to your shop. No more phone calls or emails – just a single click, and your order is in the hands of our distributor partners.

To get started with this exciting new way to shop for Helical cutting tools, click here to begin creating an account on HelicalTool.com!

How to Select a Spindle

When trying to develop efficient processes, many machinists and programmers turn to tool selection first. It is true that tooling can often make a big difference in machining time, and speeds and feeds, but did you know that your machine’s spindle can have an equally impactful effect? The legs of any CNC machine, spindles are comprised of a motor, a taper for holding tools, and a shaft that will hold all of the components together. Often powered by electricity, spindles rotate on an axis which receives its input from the machine’s CNC controller.

Why is Choosing the Right Spindle Important?

Choosing the right spindle to machine your workpiece with is of very high importance to a successful production run. As tooling options continue to grow, it is important to know what tooling your spindle can utilize. Large diameter tools such as large end mills or face mills typically require slower spindle speeds and take deeper cuts to remove vast amounts of material. These applications require supreme machine rigidity and require a spindle with high torque.

Contrastingly, smaller diameter tools will need a higher-speed spindle. Faster speeds and feeds deliver better surface finishes and are used in a variety of applications. A good rule of thumb is that an end mill that is a half inch or smaller will run well with lower torque.

Types of CNC Spindles

After finding out what you should look for in a spindle, it is time to learn about your different options. Spindles typically vary by the type, style of the taper, or its size. The taper is the conical portion of the tool holder that fits inside of the opening of the spindle. Every spindle is designed to mate with a certain taper style and size.

properly selecting a spindle

CAT and BT Holders

This is the most widely utilized holder for milling in the United States. Referred to as “V-flange holders,” both of these styles need a retention knob or pull stud to be secured within the machine spindle. The BT (metric style) is popular overseas.

HSK Holders

This type of holder is a German standard known as “hollow shank taper.” The tapered portion of the holder is much shorter than its counterparts. It also engages the spindle in a different way and does not require a pull stud or retention knob. The HSK holder is utilized to create repeatability and longer tool life – particularly in High Efficiency Milling (HEM) applications.

All of these holders have benefits and limitations including price, accuracy, and availability. The proper selection will depend largely on your application requirements.

Torque vs. Horsepower

Torque is defined as force perpendicular to the axis of rotation across a distance. It is important to have high torque capabilities when using an end mill larger than ½ inch, or when machining a difficult material such as Inconel. Torque will help put power behind the cutting action of the tool.

Horsepower refers to the amount of work being done. Horsepower is important for smaller diameter end mills and easy-to-machine materials like aluminum.

You can think of torque as a tractor: It can’t go very fast, but there is a lot of power behind it. Think of horsepower as a racecar: It can go very fast but cannot pull or push.

Torque-Horsepower Chart

Every machine and spindle should come with a torque horsepower chart. These charts will help you understand how to maximize your spindle for torque or horsepower, depending on what you need:

Haas spindle horsepower and torque chart
Image Source: HAAS Machine Manual

Proper Spindle Size

The size of the spindle and shank taper corresponds to the weight and length of the tools being used, as well as the material you are planning to machine. CAT40 is the most commonly used spindle in the United States. These spindles are great for utilizing tools that have a ½ inch diameter end mill or smaller in any material. If you are considering using a 1 inch end mill in a material like Inconel or Titanium, a CAT50 would be a more appropriate choice. The higher the taper angle is, the more torque the spindle is capable of.

While choosing the correct tool for your application is important, choosing a tool your spindle can utilize is paramount to machining success. Knowing the amount of torque required will help machinists save a lot of headaches.

Green Manufacturing: Lasting Environment & Shop Benefits

“Green Manufacturing” has become a common phrase used by many in America’s largest industry. It is defined by Goodwin College as “the renewal of production processes and the establishment of environmentally friendly operations within the manufacturing field.” Taking the time to rethink dated processes can save you time, money, and help build your reputation as a state-of-the-art business. The establishment of environmentally friendly machining processes is a huge leap in the right direction of creating an eco-friendly business.

green field with shrubs

Green Manufacturing is the next logical step forward for the industry.

How to Get Started With Green Manufacturing

The first step you should take on your march toward a more sustainable machine shop, and green manufacturing, is an evaluation of your facilities environmental impact. The most common method for environmental impact assessment of the manufacturing process is Life Cycle Assessment or LCA. ISO 14040 defines LCA as the compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs, and the potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself:

  1. Goal Definition and Scoping – What am I trying to achieve in this investigation?
  2. Inventory Analysis – What are the quantified inputs (energy, water, materials, etc.) and outputs (air emission, wastewater)?
  3. Impact Assessment – How do these things affect the environment?
  4. Interpretation – What can I change to make my processes more efficient and eco-friendly?

There are databases available to help with the inventory analysis. These databases collect information such as feed rate, cutting speed, tool diameter, cutting time, coolant properties, and then calculate all the material, and energy inputs and outputs.

Understanding the Impact of Cutting Fluids

Cutting fluids are most likely the number one pollutant in your machine shop, and are getting in your way of achieving green manufacturing. According to Modern Manufacturing Processes, North American manufacturers consumed more than 2 billion gallons in 2002, and the metal working fluid market has only grown since then. Cutting fluids have a number of benefits to the machining process, mostly involving cooling of the cutting region, lubrication, and chip evacuation.

Contaminants

Getting the most out of your coolant is a key factor of cost efficiency in any machine shop. Therefore, one of the largest problems you are likely to face, or are currently facing, is the deterioration of cutting fluid performance due to contaminants. The most common types of contaminants include:

  1. Free oils (tramp or sump oil) – Liquid that lubricates the gears and equipment of CNC machine seeping into the cutting fluid
  2. Coarse Particulates – Relatively larger solid waste, chips, and swarf
  3. Fine Particulates – Extremely small pieces of the workpiece or cutting tool that usually consist of heavy metals such as cobalt, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and lead
  4. Microorganisms – Bacteria and fungi that grow inside the walls and pipes of the CNC machine

Coarse particulates such as chips and swarf are generally easily extracted using an H-Chain, chain and flight, push bar, or a flume system. Fine particulates are more difficult as they require either separation or filtration in the form of setting tanks, foam separators, centrifugal separation, or magnetic separators. Free oil can also be removed through filtration but can also be taken care of quickly and easily with a skimmer.

green manufacturing contaminants

The right filtration system can both save machine shops money and help the environment.

Microorganisms are the most difficult to remove as they can be a tenth of the size of fine particulates. “Monday morning stink” is a common side effect of anaerobic bacteria excreting hydrogen sulfide during their metabolic processes. These organisms are one of the main reasons coolant has to be drained and changed from a machine every few months. Advancements in technology over the past few decades have made it possible for membrane microfiltration systems to separate biomass, as well as oil from coolant fluids. With these types of systems, operators will no longer have to use problematic biocides as these have troublesome health effects for both the environment and employees. However, it is important to note that most of the microorganisms aren’t growing in the cutting fluid but on the walls/pipes of the machine or buried in the residue of chips at the bottom of the tank.

Some ways of reducing microorganism build-up in your shop include:

  • Keeping machines clean – sludge, swarf, and chips can be a breeding ground for bacteria
  • Reduce organic contamination – spit, sweat, tobacco juice, and organic matter are all a food source for microorganisms
  • Reduce the amount of tramp oil – This can also be a food source

green manufacturing

A dirty pile of chips where bacteria will grow and stink up your machine.

Types of Cutting Fluids

A good cutting fluid should have a high flash point, good adhesiveness, high thermal stability, and high oxidative stability. A high flash point is necessary as the fluid should not catch fire at high temperatures (gasoline has a low flash point). Good adhesiveness allows fluid to stick to the surface of the workpiece. This creates a layer between the cutting tool and the workpiece, helping to separate them and thus, reducing friction. Greater amounts of friction leads to higher cutting force, which leads to higher cutting temperatures.

High cutting temperatures are problematic, as this causes the cutting tool to wear faster and can also cause your workpiece to workharden. High thermal stability means that at high temperatures, the fluid should have a low viscosity (an example of a fluid with high viscosity would be honey at room temperature). A lower viscosity in the cutting region allows for a lower amount of friction, and therefore lower amounts of heat and cutting force. A cutting fluids oxidative stability ultimately decides how long that cutting fluid can be used. After a while, oil begin to oxidize, which then causes its viscosity and amount of deposits of sludge to rise.

green manufacturing

Excessive amounts of coolants can mean an excessive amount of waste.

For the purpose of this article, cutting fluids will be placed into two broad categories: biodegradable and non-biodegradable.

Non-Biodegradable Coolants

Non-biodegradable coolants are petroleum-based. They have high human and ecological toxicity, which results in occupational health risks. They also have a complicated disposal processes.

Biodegradable Coolants

Biodegradable coolants are plant-based. These are usually manufactured from vegetables such as soy, coconut and canola, or non-edible plants such as neem, karanja, and jatropha. This factor makes them a renewable resource and less toxic to humans, as well as the environment.

In recent years, some modified vegetable-based oils have surpassed petroleum based oils in performance in regards to surface finish, heat suppression and lubrication. One study, published in Science Direct, centered on turning in 304 stainless steel revealed that coconut oil with a boric acid additive was significantly better at combating tool flank wear and surface roughness when compared to two other cutting fluids. This was due to the vegetable-based solutions high thermal stability.

Another study, published in IOP Science, found that a combination of neem and karanja oil was superior to SAE 20W40 (petroleum based oil) in regards to lubrication when drilling mild steel. The results showed that the vegetable-based oil solution reduced the cutting force of the operation due to its higher viscosity and adhesiveness. This ultimately led to a better surface finish on the part.

Summary of Cost Efficient Coolant Changes You Can Make

  • Reduce microorganism build up in your machines by keeping the machines clean and reducing amount of outside contamination
  • Install a membrane microfiltration system
  • Switch to a more efficient and biodegradable cutting fluid

The Positive Green Machining Impact of Dry Machining

Dry machining should be utilized whenever the opportunity presents itself, as the costs and environmental issues associated with cutting fluid obtainment, management, and disposal are eliminated. Another benefit to dry machining is the absence of thermal shock. When the cutter exits the cut but coolant is still blasting, the large temperature fluctuation (thermal shock) will cause the cutting edge to break down quicker than if it were to run hot full time. Dry machining is most prevalent in machining operations with interrupted cuts or when cutting hardened steels. It is especially popular in milling operations with high speeds and feeds. Cutting with high running parameters allows for most of the heat to be dispersed into the chips rather than into the workpiece. This is also the case when machining hardened steels.

Ideal Tooling for Dry Machining

The ideal cutting tool should be more heat resistant, and less heat generative. Carbide is a good substrate as it is extremely hard and strong. Coated tools are the best option for dry machining as they have improved thermal insulation as well as improved self-lubrication.

The Positive Affect of Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL)

  • Significantly reduced fluid consumption
  • Safer cutting fluids and lubricants
  • Reduced health hazards for employees
  • Cleaner shop environment
  • Reduced maintenance

Because such a small quantity of fluid is used in MQL, this make it a perfect application to use slightly pricier vegetable-based oils. MQL has been found to be most effective in sawing and drilling operations.

The Benefits of Green Manufacturing

Taking a second look at your current machining operations through and environmentalist lens can save you time, money, and create a less hazardous work place for your employees. Using the techniques above, one can approximate shop efficiency and make appropriate changes for the benefit of current and future generations.

How to Advance Your Machining Career: 8 Tips From Machining Pros

Since we began shining a light on Harvey Performance Company brand customers via “In the Loupe’s,” Featured Customer posts, more than 20 machinists have been asked to share insight relevant to how they’ve achieved success in advancing their machining career. Each Featured Customer post includes interesting and useful information on a variety of machining-related subjects, including prototyping ideas, expanding a business, getting into machining, advantages and disadvantages of utilizing different milling machine types, and more. This post compiles 8 useful tips from our Featured Customers on ways to advance your machining career.

Tip 1: Be Persistent – Getting Your Foot in the Door is Half the Battle

With machining technology advancing at the amazing rate that it is, there is no better time to become a machinist. It is a trade that is constantly improving, and offers so many opportunities for young people. Eddie Casanueva of Nueva Precision first got into machining when he was in college, taking a job at an on-campus research center for manufacturing systems to support himself.

“The research center had all the workings of a machine shop,” Eddie said. “There were CNC mills, lathes, injection molding machines, and more. It just looked awesome. I managed to get hired for a job at minimum wage sweeping the shop floor and helping out where I could.

As a curious student, I would ask a million questions… John – an expert machinist – took me under his wing and taught me lots of stuff about machining. I started buying tools and building out my toolbox with him for a while, absorbing everything that I could.”

One of the best things about becoming a machinist is that there is a fairly low entry barrier. Many machinists start working right out of high school, with 12-18 months of on-the-job training or a one to two year apprenticeship. Nearly 70% of the machinist workforce is over the age of 45. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting a 10% increase in the machinist workforce with opportunities for 29,000 additional skilled machinists by 2024, so it is certainly a great time to get your foot in the door.

Tip 2: Keep an Open Mind – If You Can Think of It, You Can Machine It

Being open-minded is crucial to becoming the best machinist you can be. By keeping an open mind, Oklahoma City-based company Okluma’s owner Jeff Sapp has quickly earned a reputation for his product as one of the best built and most reliable flashlights on the market today. Jeff’s idea for Okluma came to him while riding his motorcycle across the country.

“I had purchased what I thought was a nice flashlight for $50 to carry with me on the trip. However, two days in to the trip the flashlight broke. Of course, it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere trying to work on my bike. I’m happy to pay for good tools, but that wasn’t what happened. Not only was there no warranty for replacement, there was no way to fix it. It was just made to be thrown away. That whole attitude makes me angry. When I got home, I decided I was going to put my new skills to work and design and build my own flashlight, with the goal of never running into an issue like I had on my trip ever again. I started by making one for myself, then four, then twenty. That was four years ago. Now I have my own business with one employee and two dogs, and we stay very busy.”

An awesome side benefit to working as a machinist is that you have all the resources to create anything you can dream of, like Jeff did with Okluma.

machining career

Image courtesy of Okluma.

Tip 3: Be Patient – Take Time to Ensure Your Job is Setup Correctly before Beginning

The setup process is a huge part of machining, but is often overlooked. Alex Madsen, co- owner of M5 Micro in Minnesota, has been working in manufacturing for more than 11 years. Alex is also a part owner of World Fabrication, and owns his own job shop called Madsen Machine and Design. Alex has spent countless hours perfecting his setup to improve his part times.

“It is certainly challenging to use little tools, but the key is to not get discouraged. You should plan on lots of trial and error; breaking tools is just a part of the game. You may buy ten end mills and break six, but once you dial one in it will last the rest of the job.

You should also make sure to put extra time and effort into understanding your machine when working on micromachining jobs. You need to know where there is any backlash or issues with the machine because with a tiny tool, even an extra .0003” cut can mean the end of your tool. When a difference of one tenth can make or break your job, you need to take your time and be extra careful with your machine, tool inspection, and programming before you hit run.”

Tip 4: Effort Pays Off In Your Machining Career – Long Hours Result in Shop Growth

Success isn’t earned overnight. That is especially true in the machining world. Becoming a good machinist takes a great deal of sacrifice, says Josh from Fleet Machine Co. in Gloucester, MA.

“Opening your own shop involves more than learning how to program and machine. You also need to be willing to sacrifice some of your free time by working long hours to build your business from the ground up. Being a great machinist is important, but you also need to understand the basics of business, and you need to be able to sell your service and maintain a certain level of quality to keep your customers coming back.”

Working hard is a common theme we hear from our featured customers. Brothers Geordan and Nace Roberts of Master Machine Manufacturing have similar advice.

“We often need to work odd hours of the day to maintain the business, but we do it in a way that makes sure we have our family time. There are many times where we will go home, have dinner and hang out with the family, and wait until they are all sleeping to go back to work until two or three a.m. We will get back home later that morning to sleep a little and have breakfast with the family and send them on their way before heading back into the shop.” Starting and growing a business takes time. Every machinist starts from the beginning and through hard work and determination, grows their business.

Liberty Machine cnc mill

Image courtesy of Liberty Machine Inc.

Tip 5: Utilize Tooling from Quality Manufacturers – All Tooling Isn’t Created Equal

When it comes down to it, tooling is singlehandedly the biggest choice you will make in your machining career. Grant Hughson, manufacturing engineer at Weiss Watch Company who works as a manufacturing instructor in his spare time, reflected on the importance of tooling.

“Tool to tool accuracy and performance is vital in this business, especially with our extremely tight tolerances. High quality tools make sure that we get the same performance time after time without needing to scrap parts. This saves us valuable time and money.”

While opting for cheaper tooling can appear to be beneficial when just starting out, before long, machinists are losing time and money because of unpredictability. Jonathan from TL Technologies echoed this point, saying:

“We feel that if we invested so much in these high-end machining centers, it would be criminal to put insufficient tooling and holders into them. We found that by selecting the proper tool with the appropriate sciences behind it we have been able to create products with a cost per cut that is not only competitive, but required to stay current. By keeping the quality as high as possible on the part making side of things, we’ve insured as much ease and reliability into our downstream process as we could. Quality tooling also provides predictability and added safety into the workflow. High-quality carbide tooling is the lifeblood of the business.”

Additional Thoughts Regarding Boosting Your Machining Career With Tooling:

Don’t Cheap Out

  • “The additional cost is always worth the payoff in the end knowing that you have a tool that will produce quality parts and shave valuable minutes off your cycle times. The slightly higher cost of the Harvey/Helical product is small change compared to the long term cost savings associated with their performance” – Seth, Liberty Machine

Consistency is Key

  • “We know the performance we are going to get from the tools is consistent, and we can always rely on getting immaculate finishes. While using the Harvey Tool and Helical product, we can confidently walk away from the machine and come back to a quality finished part every time.” – Bennett, RIT Baja SAE

Superior Specialty Tools

  • “One of the greatest things that I’ve experienced over the past year and a half is flexibility. We’ve asked for some specific tools to be made typically, the lead times that we found were beyond what we needed. We went through the Helical specials division and had them built within a couple of weeks. That was a game changer for us.” – Tom, John Force Racing

“Having high quality tooling like Helical is essential. Helical tools help us maintain a much higher machining efficiency because of the outstanding tool life, while also achieving more aggressive run times. In addition, we are able to consistently keep high tolerances, resulting in a better final product.” – Cameron, Koenig Knives

Tip 6: Get With the Times – Join the Social Media Community

Social media is a valuable tool for machinists. With ever-increasing popularity in networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, there will always be an audience to showcase new and unique products to. We asked a few of our featured customers how they incorporated social media into their machining career and the benefits that come along with it.

“A lot of our sales come through Instagram or Facebook, so I would recommend those platforms to anyone who is trying to start a business,” Jeff from Okluma said. “We have also had a lot of success collaborating with others in the community. Typically it is something we couldn’t do ourselves, or they couldn’t do themselves, so we share the labor and collaborate on some really cool items.”

Tip 7: Value Your Customers – Always Put Them First

“In the Loupe’s” featured customers repeatedly emphasized the importance of putting customers first. It’s a simple concept to master, and pays off immensely as you advance in your machining career. Repeat customers tell you that you are doing something right, said Brian Ross, owner of Form Factory.

“We have kept our customers happy and consistently deliver parts on time, so we get a lot of repeat business. Word definitely gets around on how you treat people so we try to treat everyone with respect and honesty which is key to running a good business.” Jeff from Okluma takes great pride in his customer service, saying “we only sell direct to consumers through our website so we can control our lifetime warranty. It has worked really well for us so far, so we have no plans to change that right now. I care more about our customers than any retailer is able to.”

man examining machined part for machining career

Image courtesy of MedTorque.

Tip 8: Never Stop Learning – Ask Questions Whenever You Can as Your Machining Career Advances

Hopefully some of these tips from our featured customers stuck with you in exploring a machining career. To leave you with a quote from of Seth Madore, owner of Liberty Machine, “Don’t stop learning. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut,” “That old guy in the shop has likely forgotten more than you will ever learn. The amount of tools in your Kennedy box doesn’t mean you’re a good machinist. Some of the best toolmakers I knew had small boxes with only the common tools. Learn how to excel with limited resources. Ask questions, and own up to your mistakes.”