The Secret Mechanics of High Feed End Mills

A High Feed End Mill is a type of High-Efficiency Milling (HEM) tool with a specialized end profile that allows the tool to utilize chip thinning to have dramatically increased feed rates. These tools are meant to operate with an extremely low axial depth so that the cutting action takes place along the curved edge of the bottom profile. This allows for a few different phenomena to occur:

  • The low lead angle causes most of the cutting force to be transferred axially back into the spindle. This amounts to less deflection, as there is much less radial force pushing the cutter off its center axis.
  • The extended curved profile of the bottom edge causes a chip thinning effect that allows for aggressive feed rates.

Low Lead Angle

As seen in Figure 1 below, when a High Feed End Mill is properly engaged in a workpiece, the low lead angle, combined with a low axial depth of cut, transfers the majority of the cutting force upward along the center axis of the tool. A low amount of radial force allows for longer reaches to be employed without the adverse effects of chatter, which will lead to tool failure. This is beneficial for applications that require a low amount of radial force, such as machining thin walls or contouring deep pockets.

Figure 1: Isometric view of a feed mill engaged in a straight roughing pass (left), A snapshot front-facing view of this cut (right)

Aggressive Feed Rates

Figure 1 also depicts an instantaneous snapshot of the chip being formed when engaged in a proper roughing tool path. Notice how the chip (marked by diagonal lines) thins as it approaches the center axis of the tool. This is due to the curved geometry of the bottom edge. Because of this chip thinning phenomenon, the feed of the tool must be increased so that the tool is actively engaged in cutting and does not rub against the workpiece. Rubbing will increase friction, which in turn raises the level of heat around the cutting zone and causes premature tool wear. Because this tool requires an increased chip load to maintain a viable cutting edge, the tool has been given the name “High Feed Mill.”

Other Phenomena Due to Curved Geometry of Bottom Edge

The curved geometry of the bottom edge also sanctions for the following actions to occur:

  • A programmable radius being added to a CAM tool path
  • Scallops forming during facing operations
  • Different-shaped chips created during slotting applications, compared to HEM roughing

Programmable Radius

Helical Solutions’ High Feed End Mills has a double radius bottom edge design. Because of this, the exact profile cannot be easily programmed by some CAM software. Therefore, a theoretical radius is used to allow for easy integration.  Simply program a bullnose tool path and use the theoretical radius (seen below in Figure 2) from the dimensions table as the corner radius.

Figure 2: Programmable radius of a double radius profile tool

Managing Scallops:

A scallop is a cusp of material left behind by cutting tools with curved profiles. Three major factors that determine the height and width of scallops are:

  1. Axial Depth of Cut
  2. Radial Depth of Cut
  3. Curvature of Bottom Edge or Lead Angle

Figure 3 below is a depiction of the scallop profile of a typical roughing cut with a 65% radial step over and 4% axial depth of cut. The shaded region represents the scallop that is left behind after 2 roughing passes and runs parallel to the tool path.

Figure 3: Back view of roughing cut with a 65% radial step over

Figures 4 and 5 show the effects of radial and axial depth of cuts on the height and width of scallops. These figures should be viewed in the context of Figure 3. Percentage by diameter is used rather than standard units of measurement to show that this effect can be predicted at any tool size. Figure 4 shows that a scallop begins to form when the tool is programmed to have a radial step over between 35% and 40%. The height increases exponentially until it is maximized at the axial depth of cut. Figure 5 shows that there is a linear relationship between the radial step over and scallop width. No relationship is seen between scallop width and axial depth of cut as long as ADOC and the radius of curvature of the bottom cutting edge remains consistent.

Figure 4: Graph of Scallop Height vs. Depth of Cut
Figure 5: Scallop Width vs. Depth of Cut

From the graphs in Figures 4 and 5 we get the following equations for scallop dimensions.

Notes regarding these equations:

  • These equations are only applicable for Helical Solutions High Feed End Mills
  • These equations are approximations
  • Scallop height equation is inaccurate after the axial depth of cut is reached
  • RDOC is in terms of diameter percentage (.55 x Diameter, .65 x Diameter, etc…)

Curvature of Bottom Edge

The smaller the radius of curvature, the larger the height of the scallop. For example, the large partial radius of the Helical Solutions High Feed End Mill bottom cutting edge will leave a smaller scallop when compared to a ball end mill programmed with the same tool path. Figure 6 shows a side by side comparison of a ball end mill and high feed mill with the same radial and axial depth of cut. The scallop width and height are noticeably greater for the ball end mill because it has a smaller radius of curvature.

Figure 6: Scallop diagram of High Feed Mill and Ball End Mill with the same workpiece engagement

Full Slotting

When slotting, the feed rate should be greatly reduced relative to roughing as a greater portion of the bottom cutting edge is engaged. As shown in Figure 7, the axial step down does not equate to the axial engagement. Once engaged in a full slot, the chip becomes a complex shape. When viewing the chip from the side, you can see that the tool is not cutting the entirety of the axial engagement at one point in time. The chip follows the contour on the slot cut in the form of the bottom edge of the tool. Because of this phenomenon, the chip dips down to the lowest point of the slot and then back up to the highest point of axial engagement along the side. This creates a long thin chip that can clog up the small flute valleys of the tool, leading to premature tool failure. This can be solved by decreasing the feed rate and increasing the amount of coolant used in the operation.

Figure 7: Formation of a chip when a feed mill is engaged in a full slotting operation.

In summary, the curved profile of the bottom edge of the tool allows for higher feed rates when high feed milling, because of the chipping thinning effect it creates with its low lead angle. This low lead angle also distributes cutting forces axially rather than radially, reducing the amount of chatter that a normal end mill might experience under the same conditions. Machinists must be careful though as the curved bottom edge also allows for the formation of scallops, requires a programmable radius when using some CAM packages, and make slotting not nearly as productive as roughing operations.

Causes & Effects of Built-Up Edge (BUE) in Turning Applications

In turning operations, the tool is stationary while the workpiece is rotating in a clamped chuck or a collet holder. Many operations are performed in a lathe, such as facing, drilling, grooving, threading, and cut-off applications. it is imperative to use the proper tool geometry and cutting parameters for the material type that is being machined. If these parameters are not applied correctly in your turning operations, built-up edge (BUE), or many other failure modes, may occur. These failure modes adversely affect the performance of the cutting tool and may lead to an overall scrapped part.

When inspecting a cutting tool under a microscope or eye loupe, there are several different types of turning tool failure modes that can be apparent. Some of the most common modes are:

  • Normal Flank Wear: The only acceptable form of tool wear, caused by the normal aging of a used cutting tool and found on the cutting edges.
    • This abrasive wear, caused by hard constituents in the workpiece material, is the only preferred method of tool wear, as it’s predictable and will continue to provide stable tool life, allowing for further optimization and increased productivity.
  • Cratering: Deformations found on the cutting face of a tool.
    • This tool mode is a chemical and heat failure, localized on the rake face area of the turning tool, or insert. This failure results from the chemical reaction between the workpiece material and the cutting tool and is amplified by cutting speed. Excessive Crater Wear weakens a turning tool’s cutting edge and may lead to cutting edge failure.
  • Chipping: Breaking of the turning tool along its cutting face, resulting in an inaccurate, rough cutting edge.
    • This is a mechanical failure, common in interrupted cutting or non-rigid machining setups. Many culprits can be to blame for chipping, including machine mishaps and tool holder security.
  • Thermal Mechanical Failure (Thermal Cracking): The cracking of a cutting tool due to significant swings in machining temperature.
    • When turning, heat management is key. Too little or too much heat can create issues, as can significant, fast swings in temperature (repeated heating and cooling on the cutting edge). Thermal Mechanical Failure usually shows in the form of evenly spaced cracks, perpendicular to the cutting edge of the turning tool.
  • Built-Up Edge (BUE): When chips adhere to the cutting tool due to high heat, pressure, and friction.

Effects of Built-Up Edge in Turning Application

A built-up edge is perhaps the easiest mode of tool wear to identify, as it may be visible without the need for a microscope or an eye loupe. The term built-up edge means that the material that you’re machining is being pressure welded to the cutting tool. When inspecting your tool, evidence of a BUE problem is material on the rake face or flank face of the cutting tool.

Image Source: Carbide inserts Wear Failure modes. |, 2020

This condition can create a lot of problems with your machining operations, such as poor tool life, subpar surface finish, size variations, and many other quality issues. The reason for these issues is that the centerline distance and the tool geometry of the cutting edge are being altered by the material that’s been welded to the rake or flank face of the tool. As the BUE condition worsens, you may experience other types of failures or even catastrophic failure.                     

Causes of Built-Up Edge in Turning Applications

Improper Tooling Choice

Built-Up Edge is oftentimes caused by using a turning tool that does not have the correct geometry for the material being machined. Most notably, when machining a gummy material such as aluminum or titanium, your best bet is to use tooling with extremely sharp cutting edges, free cutting geometry, and a polished flank and rake face. This will not only help you to cut the material swiftly but also to keep it from sticking to the cutting tool.

Using Aged Tooling

Even when using a turning tool with correct geometry, you may still experience BUE. As the tool starts to wear and its edge starts to degrade, the material will start building up on the surface of the tool. For this reason, it is very important to inspect the cutting edge of a tool after you have machined a few parts, and then randomly throughout the set tool life. This will help you identify the root cause of any of the failure modes by identifying them early on.

Insufficient Heat Generation

Built-up edge can be caused from running a tool at incorrect cutting parameters. Usually, when BUE is an issue, it’s due to the speed or feed rates being too low. Heat generation is key during any machining application – while too much heat can impact a part material, too little can cause the tool to be less effective at efficiently removing chips.

4 Simple Ways to Mitigate BUE in Turning Applications

  1. When selecting a tool, opt for free cutting, up sharp geometries with highly polished surfaces. Selecting a tool with chipbreaker geometry will also help to divide chips, which will help to remove it from the part and the cutting surface.
  2. Be confident in your application approach and your running parameters. It’s always important to double-check that your running parameters are appropriate for your turning application.
  3. Make sure the coolant is focused on the cutting edge and increase the coolant concentration amount.
  4. Opt for a coated Insert, as coatings are specifically engineered for a given set of part materials, and are designed to prevent common machining woes.

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. 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 and minimize the amount of cutting forces placed on the cutter in order to maximize its tool life.

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

Cutting perpendicular to the grain is known as cutting “across the grain”. 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

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.

Figure 2: Different types of wooden chips

Extending Tool Life When Machining Wood

Speeds & Feeds Rules of Thumb

There are several different categories of tool wear that occur when machining wood. 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 Wood Machining 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.

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.

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.

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

Machinists oftentimes use Plastic Cutting End Mills to machine wood, 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 machining in wood. 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.

Successful Slotting With Miniature Cutting Tools

Whether your tool is a 1” diameter powerhouse rougher or a .032” precision end mill, slotting is one of the hardest operations on the tool. During slotting operations, a lot of force and pressure is placed on the entire cutting edge of the tool. This results in slower speeds and feeds and increased tool wear, making it one of the nastier processes even for the best cutting tools.

With miniature tooling (for the purposes of this blog, under 1/8” diameter) the game changes. The way we approach miniature tooling is completely different as it relates to slotting. In these instances, it is vitally important to select the correct tool for these operations. A few of the suggestions may surprise you if you are used to working with larger tooling, but rest assured, these are tried and tested recommendations which will dramatically increase your success rate in miniature slotting applications.

Use as Many Flutes as Possible

When running traditional slotting toolpaths, the biggest concern with the cutting tool is getting the best chip evacuation by using the proper flute count. Traditionally speaking, you want to use the fewest amount of flutes possible. In Aluminum/Non-Ferrous jobs, this is typically no more than 2/3 flutes, and in Steel/Ferrous applications, 4 flutes is recommended. The lower flute count leaves room for the chips to evacuate so you are not re-cutting chips and clogging the flutes on your tool in deep slots.

When slotting with miniature tools, the biggest concerns are with tool rigidity, deflection, and core strength. With micro-slotting we are not “slotting”, but rather we are “making a slot”. In traditional slotting, we may drive a ½” tool down 2xD into the part to make a full slot, and the tool can handle it! But this technique simply isn’t possible with a smaller tool.

For example, let’s take a .015” end mill. If we are making a slot that is .015” deep with that tool, we are likely going to take a .001” to .002” axial depth per pass. In this case, chips are no longer your problem since it is not a traditional slotting toolpath. Rigidity and core strength are now key, which means we need to add as many flutes as possible! Even in materials like Aluminum, 4 or 5 flutes will be a much better option at smaller diameters than traditional 2/3 flute tools. By choosing a tool with a higher flute count, some end users have seen their tool life increase upwards of 50 to 100 times over tools with lower flute counts and less rigidity and strength.

Use the Strongest Corner Possible

Outside of making sure you have a strong core on your miniature tools while making a slot, you also need to take a hard look at your corner strength. Putting a corner radius on your tooling is a great step and does improve the corner strength of the tool considerably over a square profile tool. However, if we want the strongest tip geometry, using a ball nose end mill should also be considered.

A ball nose end mill will give you the strongest possible tip of the three most common profiles. The end geometry on the ball nose can almost work as a high feed end mill, allowing for faster feed rates on the light axial passes that are required for micro-slotting. The lead angle on the ball nose also allows for axial chip thinning, which will give you better tool life and allow you to decrease your cycle times.

A .078″ ball nose end mill was used for this miniature slotting operation

Finding the Right Tool for Miniature Slotting Operations

Precision and accuracy are paramount when it comes to miniature tooling, regardless of whether you are slotting, roughing, or even simply looking to make a hole in a part. With the guidelines above, it is also important to have a variety of tooling options available to cater to your specific slotting needs.

Harvey Tool offers 5 flute end mills down to .015” in diameter, which are a great option for a stronger tool with a high flute count for slotting operations. If you need even smaller tooling, there are 4 flute options available down to .005” in diameter.

Harvey Tool offers many miniature end mill options, like the .010″ long reach end mill above.

If you are looking to upgrade your corner strength, Harvey Tool also offers a wide selection of miniature end mills in corner radius and ball nose profiles, with dozens of reach, length of cut, and flute count options. Speeds and feeds information for all of these tools is also available, making your programming of these difficult toolpaths just a little bit easier.


To wrap things up, there are three major items to focus on when it comes to miniature slotting: flute count, corner strength, and the depth of your axial passes.

It is vital to ensure you are using a corner radius or ball nose tool and putting as many flutes as you can on your tool when possible. This keeps the tool rigid and avoids deflection while providing superior core strength.

For your axial passes, take light passes with multiple stepdowns. Working your tool almost as a high feed end mill will make for a successful slotting operation, even at the most minuscule diameters.

Chipbreaker Tooling: Not Just for Roughing

When many people think about solid carbide tools with chip breakers, they are usually tooling up for a roughing application. While the chip breaker tool is a great choice for such applications, it can be utilized in a number of other areas too. In this post, we’ll examine many other benefits of the chip breaker style of tooling.

High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

High Efficiency Milling (HEM) uses CAM software to program advanced toolpaths that reduce cutting forces. These tool paths employ smaller end mills with a higher number of flutes (for a stronger core) running at higher speeds and feeds. This strategy includes a light radial depth of cut (RDOC), high axial depth of cut (ADOC), and a controlled angle of engagement.

Helical’s chipbreaking tools include serrated indents along the edge of flute for the entire length of cut. Because HEM utilizes heavy axial depths of cuts, these tools are able to break long chips into smaller ones. In addition to improving chip control and reducing cutting resistance, chipbreaker tools also help in decreasing heat load within the chips. This delays tool wear along the cutting edge and improves cutting performance. 

Check out this testimony from a Helical Solutions customer:

“We were able to get going with the 7 flute tools with the chipbreaker. I have to say the difference was INCREDIBLE! We can now rough the entire part with one tool. Also, the operator doesn’t have to open the door to clear chips hardly at all. We were able to rough and finish a 4.15 dia. bore 2 inches deep through the part without having to clear chips at all. Before we had to clear the chips out at least 15-20 times. Many thanks for your support.”


When slotting, a major concern is chip control. A large buildup of chips can cause the recutting of chips, which adds a lot of heat back into the tool. Chip buildup can also cause a heavy amount of chattering. Both of these conditions are detrimental to tool life. A chip breaking tool can help reduce chip build-up when slotting which will extend tool life. Remember when slotting that 4 flute tools should be utilized in steel. For aluminum and other non- ferrous materials, a 3 flute tool is best.

Trochoidal Slotting

Trochoidal slotting is a form of slotting that uses HEM techniques to form a slot. Trochoidal milling implements a series of circular cuts to create a slot wider than the cutting tool’s cutting diameter. Using the logic listed in the earlier paragraphs of this article, a chipbreaker should be used when performing this operation.

Advantages of Trochoidal Slotting:

Decreased cutting forces

Reduced heat

Greater machining accuracy

Improved tool life

Faster cycle times

One tool for multiple slot sizes


A little known fact about Helical’s chipbreaker style tool is that the chip breakers are offset flute to flute, which allows for a quality finish on the walls of the part. When utilizing light depths of cuts, high-quality finishes can be achieved.

Hardenability of Steel

Many types of steel have a beneficial response to a method of heat treatment known as quenching. One of the most important criteria in the selection process of a workpiece material is hardenability. Hardenability describes how deep a metal can be hardened upon quenching from high temperature, and can also be referred to as the depth of hardening.

Steel At Microscopic Scale:

The first level of classification of steels at a microscopic level is their crystal structure, the way in which atoms are arranged in space. Body-Centered Cubic (BCC) and Face Centered Cubic (FCC) configurations are examples of metallic crystal structures. Examples of BCC and FCC crystal structures can be seen below in Figure 1. Keep in mind that the images in Figure 1 are meant to display atomic position and that the distance between the atoms is exaggerated.

Figure 1: Example of a BCC crystal structure (left) and FCC crystal structure (right)

The next level of classification is a phase. A phase is a uniform portion of a material that has the same physical and chemical properties. Steel has 3 different phases:

  1. Austenite: Face-Centered cubic iron; also iron and steel alloys that have the FCC crystal structure.
  2. Ferrite: Body-centered cubic iron and steel alloys that have a BCC crystal structure.
  3. Cementite: Iron carbide (Fe3C)

The final level of classification discussed in this article is the microstructure. The three phases seen above can be combined to form different microstructures of steel. Examples of these microstructures and their general mechanical properties are shown below:

  • Martensite: the hardest and strongest microstructure, yet the most brittle
  • Pearlite: Hard, strong, and ductile but not particularly tough
  • Bainite: has desirable strength-ductility combination, harder than pearlite but not as hard as martensite

Hardening at Microscopic Scale:

The hardenability of steel is a function of the carbon content of the material, other alloying elements, and the grain size of the austenite. Austenite is a gamma phase iron and at high temperatures its atomic structure undergoes a transition from a BCC configuration to an FCC configuration.

High hardenability refers to the ability of the alloy to produce a high martensite percentage throughout the body of the material upon quenching. Hardened steels are created by rapidly quenching the material from a high temperature. This involves a rapid transition from a state of 100% austenite to a high percentage of martensite. If the steel is more than 0.15% carbon, the martensite becomes a highly strained body-centered cubic form and is supersaturated with carbon. The carbon effectively shuts down most slip planes within the microstructure, creating a very hard and brittle material. If the quenching rate is not fast enough, carbon will diffuse out of the austenitic phase. The steel then becomes pearlite, bainite, or if kept hot long enough, ferrite. None of the microstructures just stated have the same strength as martensite after tempering and are generally seen as unfavorable for most applications.

The successful heat treatment of a steel depends on three factors:

  1. The size and shape of the specimen
  2. The composition of the steel
  3. The method of quenching

1. The size and shape of the specimen

During the quenching process, heat must be transferred to the surface of the specimen before it can be dissipated into the quenching medium. Consequently, the rate at which the interior of the specimen cools is dependent on its surface area to volume ratio. The larger the ratio, the more rapid the specimen will cool and therefore the deeper the hardening effect. For example, a 3-inch cylindrical bar with a 1-inch diameter will have a higher hardenability than a 3-inch bar with a 1.5-inch diameter. Because of this effect, parts with more corners and edges are more amendable to hardening by quenching than regular and rounded shapes. Figure 2 is a sample time-temperature transformation (TTT) diagram of the cooling curves of an oil-quenched 95 mm bar. The surface will transform into 100% martensite while the core will contain some bainite and thus have a lower hardness.

Figure 2: Sample time temperature transformation (TTT) diagram also known as an isothermal transformation diagram

2.  The composition of the steel

It’s important to remember that different alloys of steel contain different elemental compositions. The ratio of these elements relative to the amount of iron within the steel yield a wide variety of mechanical properties. Increasing the carbon content makes steel harder and stronger but less ductile. The predominant alloying element of stainless steels in chromium, which gives the metal its strong resistance to corrosion. Since humans have been tinkering with the composition of steel for over a millennium, the number of combinations is endless.

Because there are so many combinations that yield so many different mechanical properties, standardized tests are used to help categorize different types of steel. A common test for hardenability is the Jominy Test, shown in Figure 3 below. During this test a standard block of material is heated until it is 100% austenite. The block is then quickly moved to an apparatus where it is water quenched. The surface, or the area in contact with the water, is immediately cooled and the rate of cooling drops as a function of distance from the surface. A flat is then ground onto the block along the length of the sample. The hardness at various points is measured along this flat. This data is then plotted in a hardenability chart with hardness as the y-axis and distance as the x-axis.

Figure 3: Diagram of a Jominy end quench specimen mounted during quenching (left) and post hardness testing (right)

Hardenability curves are constructed from the results of Jominy Tests. Examples of a few steel alloy curves are shown in Figure 4. With a diminishing cooling rate (steeper drop in hardness over a short distance), more time is allowed for carbon diffusion and the formation of a greater proportion of softer pearlite. This means less martensite and a lower hardenability. A material that retains higher hardness values over relatively long distances is considered highly hardenable. Also, the greater the difference in hardness between the two ends, the lower the hardenability. It is typical of hardenability curves that as the distance from the quenched end increases, the cooling rate decreases. 1040 steel initially has the same hardness as both 4140 and 4340 but cools extremely quickly over the length of the sample. 4140 and 4340 steel cool at a more gradual rate and therefore have a higher hardenability. 4340 has a less extreme rate of coolness relative to 4140 and thus has the highest hardenability of the trio.

Figure 4: Hardenability charts for 4140, 1040 and 4340 steels

Hardenability curves are dependent on carbon content. A greater percentage of carbon present in steel will increase its hardness. It should be noted that all three alloys in Figure 4 contain the same amount of carbon (0.40% C).  Carbon is not the only alloying element that can have an effect on hardenability. The disparity in hardenability behavior between these three steels can be explained in terms of their alloying elements. Table 1 below shows a comparison of the alloying content in each of the steels. 1040 is a plain carbon steel and therefore has the lowest hardenability as there are no other elements besides iron to block the carbon atoms from escaping the matrix. The nickel added to 4340 allows for a slightly greater amount of martensite to form compared to 4140, giving it the highest hardenability of these three alloys. Most metallic alloying elements slow down the formation of pearlite, ferrite and bainite, therefore they increase a steel’s hardenability.

Table 1: Shows the alloying contents of 4340, 4140, and 1040 steel

Type of Steel: Nickel (wt %): Molybdenum (wt %): Chromium (wt %):
4340 1.85% 0.25% 0.80%
4140 0.00% 0.20% 1.00%
1040 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

There can be a variation in hardenability within one material group. During the industrial production of steel, there are always slight unavoidable variations in the elemental composition and average grain size from one batch to another. Most of the time a material’s hardenability is represented by maximum and minimum curves set as limits.

Hardenability also increases with increasing austenitic grain size. A grain is an individual crystal in a polycrystalline metal. Think of a stained glass window (like the one seen below), the colored glass would be the grains while the soldering material holding it altogether would be the grain boundaries. Austenite, ferrite, and cementite are all different types of grains that make up the different microstructures of steel. It is at the grain boundaries that the pearlite and bainite will form. This is detrimental to the hardening process as martensite is the desired microstructure, the other types get in the way of its growth. Martensite forms from the rapid cooling of austenite grains and its transformation process is still not well understood. With increasing grain size, there are more austenite grains and fewer grain boundaries. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for microstructures like pearlite and bainite to form and more opportunities for martensite to form.

Figure 5: The colorful glass pieces represent grains of austenite which transforms into the desirable martensite upon quenching. The black portions in between the color portions represent grain boundaries. Sites where pearlite or bainite will form upon quenching.

3. The method of quenching

As previously stated, the type of quench affects the cooling rate. Using oil, water, aqueous polymer quenchants, or air will yield a different hardness through the interior of the workpiece. This also shifts the hardenability curves. Water produces the most severe quench followed by oil and then air. Aqueous polymer quenchants provide quenching rates between those of water and oil and can be tailored to specific applications by changing the polymer concentration and temperature. The degree of agitation also affects the rate of heat removal. The faster the quenching medium moves across the specimen, the greater the quenching effectiveness. Oil quenches are generally used when a water quench may be too severe for a type of steel as it may crack or warp upon treatment.

Figure 6: Metalworker quenching casts in an oil bath

Machining Hardened Steels:

The type of cutter that should be chosen for processing tools chosen for machining a workpiece after hardening depends on a few different variables. Not counting the geometric requirements specific to the application, two of the most important variables are the material hardness and its hardenability. Some relatively high-stress applications require a minimum of 80% martensite to be produced throughout the interior of the workpiece. Usually, moderately stressed parts only require about 50% martensite throughout the workpiece. When machining a quenched metal with very low hardenability a standard coated solid carbide tool may work without a problem. This is because the hardest portion of the workpiece is limited to its surface. When machining a steel with a high hardenability it is recommended that you use a cutter with specialized geometry that is for that specific application. High hardenability will result in a workpiece that is hard throughout its entire volume. Harvey Tool has a number of different cutters for hardened steel throughout the catalog, including drills, end mills, keyseat cutters, and engravers.


Hardenability is a measure of the depth to which a ferrous alloy may be hardened by the formation of martensite throughout its entire volume, surface to core. It is an important material property you must consider when choosing a steel as well as cutting tools for a particular application. The hardening of any steel depends on the size and shape of the part, the molecular composition of the steel, and the type of quenching method used.

5 Things to Know About Helical’s High Feed End Mills

Helical Solutions‘ High Feed End Mills provide many opportunities for machinists, and feature a special end profile to increase machining efficiencies. A High Feed End Mill is a High Efficiency Milling (HEM) style tool with specialized end geometry that utilizes chip thinning, allowing for drastically increased feed rates in certain applications. While standard end mills have square, corner radius, or ball profiles, this Helical tool has a specialized, very specific design that takes advantage of chip thinning, resulting in a tool that can be pushed harder than a traditional end mill.

Below are 5 things that all machinists should know about this exciting Helical Solutions product offering.

1. They excel in applications with light axial depths of cut

A High Feed End Mill is designed to take a large radial depth of cut (65% to 100% of the cutter diameter) with a small axial depth of cut (2.5% to 5% diameter) depending on the application. This makes High Feed End Mills perfect for face milling, roughing, slotting, deep pocketing, and 3D milling. Where HEM toolpaths involve light radial depths of cut and heavy axial depths of cut, High Feed End Mills utilize high radial depths of cut and smaller axial depths of cut.

2. This tool reduces radial cutting forces

The end profile of a High Feed End Mill is designed to direct cutting forces upward along the axis of the tool and into the spindle. This reduces radial cutting forces which cause deflection, allowing for longer reach tools while reducing chatter and other issues that may otherwise lead to tool failure. The reduction of radial cutting forces makes this tool excellent for use in machines with lower horsepower, and in thin wall machining applications.

3. High Feed End Mills are rigid tools

The design and short length of cut of High Feed End Mills work in tandem with the end geometry to produce a tool with a strong core, further limiting deflection and allowing for tools with greater reach lengths.

4. They can reduce cycle times

In high RDOC, low ADOC applications, High Feed End Mills can be pushed significantly faster than traditional end mills, saving time and money over the life of the tool.

5. High Feed End Mills are well suited for hard materials

The rigidity and strength of High Feed End Mills make them excellent in challenging to machine materials. Helical’s High Feed End Mills come coated with Tplus coating, which offers high hardness and extended tool life in high temp alloys and ferrous materials up to 45Rc.

In summary, High Feed End Mill tools with specialized end geometry that utilizes chip thinning and light axial depths of cut to allow for significantly increased feed rates in face milling, slotting, roughing, deep pocket milling, and 3D milling applications. The end profile of a High Feed End Mill applies cutting forces back up into the spindle, reducing radial forces that lead to deflection in long reach applications. Combining this end geometry with a stubby length of cut results in a tool that is incredibly rigid and well suited for harder, difficult to machine materials.

Benefits & Drawbacks of High and Low Helix Angles

While many factors impact the outcome of a machining operation, one often overlooked factor is the cutting tool’s helix angle. The Helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge.

A higher helix angle, usually 40° or more, will wrap around the tool “faster,” while a “slower” helix angle is usually less than 40°.

When choosing a tool for a machining operation, machinists often consider the material, the tooling dimensions and the flute count. The helix angle must also be considered to contribute to efficient chip evacuation, better part finish, prolonged tool life, and reduced cycle times.

Helix Angles Rule of Thumb

One general rule of thumb is that as the helix angle increases, the length of engagement along the cutting edge will decrease. That said,
there are many benefits and drawbacks to slow and high helix angles that can impact any machining operation.

Slow Helix Tool <40°


  • Enhanced Strength – A larger core creates a strong tool that can resist deflection, or the force that will bend a tool under pressure.
  • Reduced Lifting – A slow helix will decrease a part from lifting off of the worktable in settings that are less secure.
  • Larger Chip Evacuation – The slow helix allows the tool to create a large chip, great for hogging out material.


  • Rough Finish – A slow helix end mill takes a large chip, but can sometimes struggle to evacuate the chip. This inefficiency can result in a sub-par part finish.
  • Slower Feed Rate – The increased radial force of a slow helix end mill requires running the end mill at a slower feed rate.

High Helix Tool >40°


  • Lower Radial Force – The tool will run quieter and smoother due to better shearing action, and allow for less deflection and more stability in thin wall applications.
  • Efficient Chip Evacuation – As the helix angle increases, the length of cutting edge engagement will decrease, and the axial force will increase. This lifts chips out and away, resulting in efficient chip evacuation.
  • Improved Part Finish – With lower radial forces, high helix tools are able to cut through material much more easily with a better shearing action, leaving an improved surface finish.


  • Weaker Cutting Teeth – With a higher helix, the teeth of a tool will be thinner, and therefore thinner.
  • Deflection Risk – The smaller teeth of the high helix tool will increase the risk of deflection, or the force that will bend a tool under pressure. This limits how fast you can push high helix tools.
  • Increased Risk of Tool Failure – If deflection isn’t properly managed, this can result in a poor finish quality and tool failure.

Helix Angle: An Important Decision

In summary, a machinist must consider many factors when choosing tools for each application. Among the material, the finish requirements, and acceptable run times, a machinist must also consider the helix angle of each tool being used. A slow helix end mill will allow for larger chip formation, increased tool strength and reduce lifting forces. However, it may not leave an excellent finish. A high helix end mill will allow for efficient chip evacuation and excellent part finish, but may be subject to increased deflection, which can lead to tool breakage if not properly managed.

Selecting the Right Chamfer Cutter Tip Geometry

A chamfer cutter, or a chamfer mill, can be found at any machine shop, assembly floor, or hobbyist’s garage. These cutters are simple tools that are used for chamfering or beveling any part in a wide variety of materials. There are many reasons to chamfer a part, ranging from fluid flow and safety, to part aesthetics.

Due to the diversity of needs, tooling manufacturers offer many different angles and sizes of chamfer cutters, and as well as different types of chamfer cutter tip geometries. Harvey Tool, for instance, offers 21 different angles per side, ranging from 15° to 80°, flute counts of 2 to 6, and shank diameters starting at 1/8” up to 1 inch.

After finding a tool with the exact angle they’re looking for, a customer may have to choose a certain chamfer cutter tip that would best suit their operation. Common types of chamfer cutter tips include pointed, flat end, and end cutting. The following three types of chamfer cutter tip styles, offered by Harvey Tool, each serve a unique purpose.

Three Types of Harvey Tool Chamfer Cutters

Type I: Pointed

This style of chamfer cutter is the only Harvey Tool option that comes to a sharp point. The pointed tip allows the cutter to perform in smaller grooves, slots, and holes, relative to the other two types. This style also allows for easier programming and touch-offs, since the point can be easily located. It’s due to its tip that this version of the cutter has the longest length of cut (with the tool coming to a finished point), compared to the flat end of the other types of chamfer cutters. With only a 2 flute option, this is the most straightforward version of a chamfer cutter offered by Harvey Tool.

Type II: Flat End, Non-End Cutting

Type II chamfer cutters are very similar to the type I style, but feature an end that’s ground down to a flat, non-cutting tip. This flat “tip” removes the pointed part of the chamfer, which is the weakest part of the tool. Due to this change in tool geometry, this tool is given an additional measurement for how much longer the tool would be if it came to a point. This measurement is known as “distance to theoretical sharp corner,” which helps with the programming of the tool. The advantage of the flat end of the cutter now allows for multiple flutes to exist on the tapered profile of the chamfer cutter. With more flutes, this chamfer has improved tool life and finish. The flat, non-end cutting tip flat does limit its use in narrow slots, but another advantage is a lower profile angle with better angular velocity at the tip.

Type III: Flat End, End Cutting

Type III chamfer cutters are an improved and more advanced version of the type II style. The type III boasts a flat end tip with 2 flutes meeting at the center, creating a center cutting-capable version of the type II cutter. The center cutting geometry of this cutter makes it possible to cut with its flat tip. This cutting allows the chamfer cutter to lightly cut into the top of a part to the bottom of it, rather than leave material behind when cutting a chamfer. There are many situations where blending of a tapered wall and floor is needed, and this is where these chamfer cutters shine. The tip diameter is also held to a tight tolerance, which significantly helps with programing it.

In conclusion, there could be many suitable cutters for a single job, and there are many questions you must ask prior to picking your ideal tool. Choosing the right angle comes down to making sure that the angle on the chamfer cutter matches the angle on the part. One needs to be cautious of how the angles are called out, as well. Is the angle an “included angle” or “angle per side?” Is the angle called off of the vertical or horizontal? Next, the larger the shank diameter, the stronger the chamfer and the longer the length of cut, but now, interference with walls or fixtures need to be considered. Flute count comes down to material and finish. Softer materials tend to want less flutes for better chip evacuation, while more flutes will help with finish. After addressing each of these considerations, the correct style of chamfer for your job should be abundantly clear.

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.

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:

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.