How to Extend the Life of Your End Mill

Breaking and damaging an end mill is oftentimes an avoidable mistake that can be extremely costly for a machine shop. To save time, money, and your end mill it is important to learn some simple tips and tricks to extend your tool’s life.

Properly Prepare Before the Tool Selection Process

The first step of any machining job is selecting the correct end mill for your material and application. However, this doesn’t mean that there should not be an adequate amount of legwork done beforehand to ensure the right decision on a tool is being made. Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions have thousands of different tools for different operations – a vast selection which, if unprepared – can easily result in selecting a tool that’s not the best for your job. To start your preparation, answer the 5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill to help you quickly narrow down your selection and better understand the perfect tool you require.

Understand Your Tooling Requirements

It’s important to understand not only what your tool needs, but also general best practices to avoid common machining mishaps. For instance, it is important to use a tool with a length of cut only as long as needed, as the longer a tools length of cut is, the greater the chance of deflection or tool bending, which can decrease its effective life.

tool life

Another factor to consider is the coating composition on a tool. Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions offer many varieties of coatings for different materials. Some coatings increase lubricity, slowing tool wear, while others increase the hardness and abrasion resistance of the tool. Not all coatings increase your tool’s life in every material, however. Be wary of coatings that don’t perform well in your part’s material – such as the use of AlTiN coating in Aluminum (Both coating and material are aluminum-based and have a high affinity for each other, which can cause built-up edge and result in chip evacuation problems).

Consider Variable Helix & Pitch Geometry

A feature on many of our high performance end mills is variable helix or variable pitch geometry, which have differently-spaced flutes. As the tool cuts, there are different time intervals between the cutting edges contacting the workpiece, rather than simultaneously on each rotation. The varying time intervals minimizes chatter by reducing harmonics, increasing tool life and producing better results.

Ensure an Effective Tool Holding Strategy

Another factor in prolonging tool life is proper tool holding. A poor tool holding strategy can cause runout, pullout, and scrapped parts. Generally, the most secure connection has more points of contact between the tool holder and tool shank. Hydraulic and Shrink Fit Tool Holders provide increased performance over other tightening methods.

tool life

Helical also offers shank modifications to all stocked standards and special quotes, such as the ToughGRIP Shank, which provides added friction between the holder and the shank of the tool for a more secure grip; and the Haimer Safe-Lock™, which has grooves on the shank of the tool to help lock it into place in a tool holder.

tool life

Trust Your Running Parameters, and their Source

After selecting the correct end mill for your job, the next step is to run the tool at the proper speeds and feeds.

Run at the Correct Speed

Understanding the ideal speed to run your machine is key to prolonging tool life. If you run your tool too fast, it can cause suboptimal chip size, ineffective chip evacuation, or even total tool failure. Adversely, running your tool too slowly can result in deflection, bad finish, or decreased metal removal rates.

Push at the Best Feed Rate

Another critical parameter of speeds and feeds is finding the best possible feed rate for your job, for sake of both tool life and achieving maximum shop efficiency. Pushing your tool too aggressively can result in breakage, but being too conservative can lead to recutting chips and excess heat generation, accelerating tool wear.

Use Parameters from Your Tooling Manufacturer

A manufacturer’s speeds and feeds calculations take into account every tool dimension, even those not called out in a catalog and readily available to machinists. Because of this, it’s best to rely on running parameters from tooling manufacturers. Harvey Tool offers speeds and feeds charts for every one of its more than 21,000 tools featured in its catalog, helping machinists to confidently run their tool the first time.

Harvey Performance Company offers the Machining Advisor Pro application, a free, cutting-edge resource that generates custom running parameters for optimized machining with all of Helical’s products.

tool life

Opt for the Right Milling Strategy: Climb vs Conventional

There are two ways to cut material when milling: Climb Milling and Conventional Milling. In conventional milling, the cutter rotates against the feed. In this method, chips will start at theoretical zero and increase in size. Conventional milling is usually recommended for tools with higher toughness, or for breaking through case hardened materials.

In Climb Milling, the cutter rotates with the feed. Here, the chips start at maximum width and decrease, causing the heat generated to transfer into the chip instead of being left in the tool or work piece. Climb milling also produces a cleaner shear plane, causing less rubbing, decreasing heat, and improving tool life. When climb milling, chips will be removed behind the cutter, reducing your chances of recutting.

Utilize High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling (HEM), is a roughing technique that uses the theory of chip thinning by applying a smaller radial depth of cut (RDOC) and a larger axial depth of cut (ADOC). The parameters for HEM are similar to that of finishing, but with increased speeds and feeds, allowing for higher material removal rates (MRR). HEM utilizes the full length of cut instead of just a portion of the cutter, allowing heat to be distributed across the cutting edge, maximizing tool life and productivity. This reduces the possibility of accelerated tool wear and breakage.

Decide On Coolant Usage & Delivery

Coolant can be an extremely effective way to protect your tool from premature wear and possible tool breakage. There are many different types of coolant and methods of delivery to your tool. Coolant can come in the form of compressed air, water-based, straight oil-based, soluble oil-based, synthetic or semi-synthetic. It can be delivered as mist, flood, high pressure or minimum quantity lubricant.

Appropriate coolant type and delivery vary depending on your application and tool. For example, using a high pressure coolant with miniature tooling can lead to tool breakage due to the fragile nature of extremely small tools. In applications of materials that are soft and gummy, flood coolant washes away the long stringy chips to help avoid recutting and built-up edge, preventing extra tool wear.

Extend Your Tool’s Life

The ability to maximize tool life saves you time, money and headaches. To get the best possible outcome from your tool, you first need to be sure you’re using the best tool for your job. Once you find your tool, ensure that your speeds and feeds are accurate and are from your tooling manufacturer. Nobody knows the tools better than they do. Finally, think about how to run your tool: the rotation of your cutter, whether utilizing an HEM approach is best, and how to introduce coolant to your job.

 

Main Differences Between Engravers & Marking Cutters

While similar on the surface, Half-round Engraving Cutters and Marking Cutters are actually very different. Both tools are unique in the geometries they possess, the benefits they offer, and the specific purposes they’re used for. Below are the key differences between Engraving Cutters and Marking Cutters that all machinists must know, as the engraving on a part is often a critical step in the machining process.

Engravers & Marking Cutters Serve Different Purposes

All Marking Cutters are Engraving Cutters, but not all Engraving Cutters are Marking Cutters. This is because Marking Cutters are a “type” of engraving tool. By virtue of their sturdier geometry, Marking Cutters are suited for applications requiring repetition such as the engraving of serial numbers onto parts. Harvey Tool has been able to customize specific tool geometries for ferrous and non-ferrous applications, offering Marking Cutters for material specific purposes.

engraver

Engraving Cutters, on the other hand, are meant for finer detailed applications that require intricate designs such as engraving a wedding band or a complex brand design.

engraver

These Tools Have Unique Geometry Features

Historically, Engraving Cutters have been made as a half round style tool. This tool allows for a true point, which is better for fine detail, but can easily break if not run correctly. Because of this, Engraving Cutters have performed well in softer materials such as aluminum and wood, especially for jobs that require an artistic engraving with fine detail.

Marking cutters are not as widely seen throughout the industry, however. These tools hold up in harder-to-machine materials exceedingly well. Marking Cutters are a form of Engraving Cutter that contain 2 flutes and a web at the tip, meaning that the tool has a stronger tip and is less susceptible to breakage.

engraver

While these tools do not contain a true point (due to their web), they do feature shear flutes for better cutting action and the ability to evacuate chips easier when compared to a half-round engraver.

Harvey Tool Product Offering

Harvey Tool offers a wide variety of both Engraving Cutters and Marking Cutters. Choose from a selection of pointed, double-ended, tip radius, and tipped-off Engraving Cutter styles in 15 included angles ranging from 10° to 120°.

engraver

Marking Cutters are fully stocked in tip radius or tipped-off options, and are designed specifically for either ferrous or non-ferrous materials. Marking Cutters are offered in included angles from 20° to 120°.

While Engraving Cutters are offered uncoated or in AlTiN, AlTiN Nano, or Amorphous Diamond coatings, Marking Cutters are fully stocked in uncoated, AlTiN, or TiB2 coated styles.

Marking Cutters & Engravers Summarized

While both Engraving Cutters and Marking Cutters can accomplish similar tasks, each tool has its own advantages and purpose. Selecting the correct tool is based largely on preference and applicability to the job at hand. Factors that could impact your selection would be final Depth of Cut, Width of Cut, the angle needing to be achieved, and the desired detail of the engraving.

Effective Ways To Reduce Heat Generation

Any cutting tool application will generate heat, but knowing how to counteract it will improve the life of your tool. Heat can be good and doesn’t need to totally be avoided, but controlling heat will help prolong your tool life. Sometimes, an overheating tool or workpiece is easy to spot due to smoke or deformation. Other times, the signs are not as obvious. Taking every precaution possible to redirect heat will prolong your tool’s usable life, avoid scrapped parts, and will result in significant cost savings.

Reduce Heat Generation with HEM Tool Paths

High Efficiency Milling (HEM), is one way a machinist should explore to manage heat generation during machining. HEM is a roughing technique that uses the theory of chip thinning by applying a smaller radial depth of cut (RDOC) and a larger axial depth of cut (ADOC). HEM uses RDOC and ADOC similar to finishing operations but increases speeds and feeds, resulting in greater material removal rates (MRR). This technique is usually used for removing large amounts of material in roughing and pocketing applications. HEM utilizes the full length of cut and more effectively uses the full potential of the tool, optimizing tool life and productivity. You will need to take more radial passes on your workpiece, but using HEM will evenly spread heat across the whole cutting edge of your tool, instead of building heat along one small portion, reducing the possibility of tool failure and breakage.

heat generation

Chip Thinning Awareness

Chip thinning occurs when tool paths include varying radial depths of cut, and relates to chip thickness and feed per tooth. HEM is based off of the principal of chip thinning. However, if not properly executed, chip thinning can cause a lot of heat generation. When performing HEM, you effectively reduce your stepover and increase your speeds and feeds to run your machine at high rates. But if your machine isn’t capable of running high enough speeds and feeds, or you do not adjust accordingly to your reduced stepover, trouble will occur in the form of rubbing between the material and tool. Rubbing creates friction and mass amounts of heat which can cause your material to deform and your tool to overheat. Chip thinning can be good when used correctly in HEM, but if you fall below the line of reduced stepover without higher speeds and feeds, you will cause rubbing and tool failure. Because of this, it’s always important to be aware of your chips during machining.

heat generation

Consider Climb Milling

There are two ways to cut materials when milling: conventional milling and climb milling. The difference between the two is the relationship of the rotation of the cutter to the direction of feed. In climb milling, the cutter rotates with the feed, as opposed to conventional milling where the cutter rotates against the feed.

When conventional milling, chips start at theoretical zero and increase in size, causing rubbing and potentially work hardening. For this reason, it’s usually recommended for tools with higher toughness or for breaking through case hardened materials.

In climb milling, the chip starts at maximum width and decreases, causing the heat generated to transfer into the chip instead of the tool or workpiece. When going from max width to theoretical zero, heat will be transferred to the chip and pushed away from the workpiece, reducing the possibility of damage to the workpiece. Climb milling also produces a cleaner shear plane which will cause less tool rubbing, decreasing heat and improving tool life. When climb milling, chips are removed behind the cutter, reducing your chances of re-cutting. climb milling effectively reduces heat generated to the tool and workpiece by transferring heat into the chip, reducing rubbing and by reducing your chances of re-cutting chips.

 

heat generation

Utilize Proper Coolant Methods

If used properly, coolant can be an extremely effective way to keep your tool from overheating. There are many different types of coolant and different ways coolant can be delivered to your tool. Coolant can be compressed air, water-based, straight oil-based, soluble oil-based, synthetic or semi-synthetic. It can be delivered as mist, flood, high pressure or minimum quantity lubricant.

Different applications and tools require different types and delivery of coolant, as using the wrong delivery or type could lead to part or tool damage. For instance, using high pressure coolant with miniature tooling could lead to tool breakage. In materials where chip evacuation is a major pain point such as aluminum, coolant is often used to flush chips away from the workpiece, rather than for heat moderation. When cutting material that produces long, stringy chips without coolant, you run the risk of creating built-up edge from the chips evacuating improperly. Using coolant will allow those chips to slide out of your toolpath easily, avoiding the chance of re-cutting and causing tool failure. In materials like titanium that don’t transfer heat well, proper coolant usage can prevent the material from overheating. With certain materials, however, thermal shock becomes an issue. This is when coolant is delivered to a very hot material and decreases its temperature rapidly, impacting the material’s properties. Coolant can be expensive and wasteful if not necessary for the application, so it’s important to always make sure you know the proper ways to use coolant before starting a job.

Importance of Controlling Heat Generation

Heat can be a tool’s worst nightmare if you do not know how to control it. High efficiency milling will distribute heat throughout the whole tool instead of one small portion, making it less likely for your tool to overheat and fail. By keeping RDOC constant throughout your toolpath, you will decrease the chances of rubbing, a common cause of heat generation. Climb milling is the most effective way to transfer heat into the chip, as it will reduce rubbing and lessen the chance of re-chipping. This will effectively prolong tool life. Coolant is another method for keeping temperatures moderated, but should be used with caution as the type of coolant delivery and certain material properties can impact its effectiveness.

Workholding Styles & Considerations

Machinists have a number of variables to consider when setting up workholding devices for a machining operation. When it comes to workholding, there are some major differences between holding a loosely toleranced duplicate part with a 10-minute cycle time and holding a tightly toleranced specialized part with a 10-hour cycle time. Determining which method works best for your machining job is essential to maintaining an efficient operation.

Workholding Devices

Ideal workholding devices have easily repeatable setups. For this reason, some machines have standard workholding devices. Vises are generally used with milling machines while chucks or collets are used when running a lathe machine. Sometimes, a part may need a customized workholding setup in order to secure the piece properly during machining. Fixtures and jigs are examples of customized workholding devices.

Fixtures and Jigs

A jig is a work holding device that holds, supports and locates a workpiece and guides the cutting tool into a specific operation (usually through the use of one or more bushings). A fixture is essentially the same type of device, but the main difference is that it does not guide the cutting tool into a specified operation. Fixtures are typically used in milling operations while jigs are generally used in drilling, reaming, tapping and boring. Jigs and fixtures are more precise relative to standard workholding devices, which leads to tighter tolerances. They can also be indexable, allowing them to control the cutting tool movement as well as workpiece movement. Both jigs and fixtures are made up of the same basic components: fixture bodies, locators, supports, and clamps.

The 4 Fixture Bodies

There are 4 basic types of fixture bodies: faceplates, baseplates, angle plates, and tombstones.

Faceplates: Typically used in lathe operations, where components are secured to the faceplate and then mounted onto the spindle.

Baseplates: Common in milling and drilling operations and are mounted to the worktable.

Angle plates: Two plates perpendicular to each other but some are adjustable or customized to change the angle of the workpiece.

Tombstones: Large vertically oriented rectangular fixtures that orients a workpiece perpendicular to the worktable. Tombstones also have two sides to accommodate multiple parts.

workholding

Locators

Locators are characterized by four criteria: assembled, integral, fixed, and adjustable. Assembled locators, can be attached and removed from the fixture, which is contrary to integral locators that are built into the fixture. Fixed locators allow for no moving components, while adjustable locators permit movement through the use of threads and/or springs, and can adjust to a workpiece’s size. These can be combined to provide the appropriate rigidity-assembly convenience ratio. For example, a V-locator fixture is the combination of assembled and fixed locators. It can be secured to a fixture but has no moving components.

workholding

Supports

Supports do exactly what their name suggests, they support the workpiece during the machining process to avoid workpiece deformation. These components can double as locators and also come fixed, adjustable and integral, or assembled. Generally, supports are placed under the workpiece during manufacturing but this also depends on the geometry of the workpiece, the machine being operated and where the cutting tool will make contact. Supports can come in different shapes and sizes. For example, rest buttons are smaller support components used in series either from underneath the workpiece or from the sides. Concurrently, parallel supports are placed on either side of the part to provide general support.

workholding

Clamps

Clamps are devices used for strengthening or holding things together, and come in different shapes, sizes and strengths. Vises and chucks have movable jaws and are considered standard clamps. One atypical example is the toggle clamp, which has a pivot pin that acts as a fulcrum for a lever system. One of the more convenient types is a power clamping system. There are two type of power clamping methods: hydraulic and pneumatic.

workholding

Example of a standard fixture setup.

Hydraulic Systems

Hydraulic Systems create a gripping force by attaining power from compressing a liquid. This type of power clamp is generally used with larger workpieces as it usually takes up less space relative to pneumatic clamps.

Pneumatic clamps

Pneumatic clamps attain their gripping force from the power created by a compressed gas (usually air). These systems are generally bulkier and are used for smaller workpieces that require less room on the worktable. Power clamping offers a few advantages over conventional clamping. First, these systems can be activated and deactivated quickly to save on changeover time. Second, they place uniform pressure on the part, which help prevent errors and deformation. A significant disadvantage they pose is the cost of a system but this can be quickly offset by production time saved.

Key Guidelines to Follow

Lastly, there are a few guidelines to follow when choosing the appropriate fixture or jig setup.

Ensure Proper Tolerancing

The tolerances of the workholding device being used should be 20%-50% tighter than those of the workpiece.

Utilize Acceptable Locating & Supporting Pieces

Locating and supporting pieces should be made of a hardened material to prevent wear and allow for several uses without the workpieces they support falling out of tolerance. Supports and locators should also be standardized so that they can be easily replaced.

Place Clamps in Correct Locations

Clamps should be placed above the locations of supports to allow the force of the clamp to pass into the support without deforming the workpiece. Clamps, locators and supports should also be placed to distribute cutting forces as evenly as possible throughout the part. The setup should allow for easy clamping and not require much change over time

Maximize Machining Flexibility

The design of the fixture or jigs should maximize the amount of operations that can be performed in one orientation. During the machining operation, the setup should be rigid and stable.

Bottom Line

Workholding can be accomplished in a number of different ways and accomplish the same task of successfully gripping a part during a machining operation with the end result being in tolerance. The quality of this workholding may differ greatly as some setups will be more efficient than others. For example, there is no reason to create an elaborate jig for creating a small slot down the center of a rectangular brick of aluminum; a vise grip would work just fine. Maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of an operators’ workholding setup will boost productivity by saving on changeover, time as well as cost of scrapped, out of tolerance parts.

5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill

Few steps in the machining process are as important as selecting the best tooling option for your job. Complicating the process is the fact that each individual tool has its own unique geometries, each pivotal to the eventual outcome of your part. We recommend asking yourself 5 key questions before beginning the tool selection process. In doing so, you can ensure that you are doing your due diligence in selecting the best tool for your application. Taking the extra time to ensure that you’re selecting the optimal tool will reduce cycle time, increase tool life, and produce a higher quality product.

Question 1: What Material am I Cutting?

Knowing the material you are working with and its properties will help narrow down your end mill selection considerably. Each material has a distinct set of mechanical properties that give it unique characteristics when machining. For instance, plastic materials require a different machining strategy – and different tooling geometries – than steels do. Choosing a tool with geometries tailored towards those unique characteristics will help to improve tool performance and longevity.

Harvey Tool stocks a wide variety of High Performance Miniature End Mills. Its offering includes tooling optimized for hardened steels, exotic alloys, medium alloy steels, free machining steels, aluminum alloys, highly abrasive materials, plastics, and composites. If the tool you’re selecting will only be used in a single material type, opting for a material specific end mill is likely your best bet. These material specific tools provide tailored geometries and coatings best suited to your specific material’s characteristics. But if you’re aiming for machining flexibility across a wide array of materials, Harvey Tool’s miniature end mill section is a great place to start.

Helical Solutions also provides a diverse product offering tailored to specific materials, including Aluminum Alloys & Non-Ferrous Materials; and Steels, High-Temp Alloys, & Titanium. Each section includes a wide variety of flute counts – from 2 flute end mills to Multi-Flute Finishers, and with many different profiles, coating options, and geometries.

Question 2: Which Operations Will I Be Performing?

An application can require one or many operations. Common machining operations include:

  • Traditional Roughing
  • Slotting
  • Finishing
  • Contouring
  • Plunging
  • High Efficiency Milling

By understanding the operations(s) needed for a job, a machinist will have a better understanding of the tooling that will be needed. For instance, if the job includes traditional roughing and slotting, selecting a Helical Solutions Chipbreaker Rougher to hog out a greater deal of material would be a better choice than a Finisher with many flutes.

Question 3: How Many Flutes Do I Need?

One of the most significant considerations when selecting an end mill is determining proper flute count. Both the material and application play an important role in this decision.

Material:

When working in Non-Ferrous Materials, the most common options are the 2 or 3-flute tools. Traditionally, the 2-flute option has been the desired choice because it allows for excellent chip clearance. However, the 3-flute option has proven success in finishing and High Efficiency Milling applications, because the higher flute count will have more contact points with the material.

Ferrous Materials can be machined using anywhere from 3 to 14-flutes, depending on the operation being performed.

Application:

Traditional Roughing: When roughing, a large amount of material must pass through the tool’s flute valleys en route to being evacuated. Because of this, a low number of flutes – and larger flute valleys – are recommend. Tools with 3, 4, or 5 flutes are commonly used for traditional roughing.

Slotting: A 4-flute option is the best choice, as the lower flute count results in larger flute valleys and more efficient chip evacuation.

Finishing: When finishing in a ferrous material, a high flute count is recommended for best results. Finishing End Mills include anywhere from 5-to-14 flutes. The proper tool depends on how much material remains to be removed from a part.

High Efficiency Milling: HEM is a style of roughing that can be very effective and result in significant time savings for machine shops. When machining an HEM toolpath, opt for 5 to 7-flutes.

end mill selection

Question 4: What Specific Tool Dimensions are Needed?

After specifying the material you are working in, the operation(s) that are going to be performed, and the number of flutes required, the next step is making sure that your end mill selection has the correct dimensions for the job. Examples of key considerations include cutter diameter, length of cut, reach, and profile.

Cutter Diameter

The cutter diameter is the dimension that will define the width of a slot, formed by the cutting edges of the tool as it rotates. Selecting a cutter diameter that is the wrong size – either too large or small – can lead to the job not being completed successfully or a final part not being to specifications.  For example, smaller cutter diameters offer more clearance within tight pockets, while larger tools provide increased rigidity in high volume jobs.

Length of Cut & Reach

The length of cut needed for any end mill should be dictated by the longest contact length during an operation. This should be only as long as needed, and no longer. Selecting the shortest tool possible will result in minimized overhang, a more rigid setup, and reduced chatter. As a rule of thumb, if an application calls for cutting at a depth greater than 5x the tool diameter, it may be optimal to explore necked reach options as a substitute to a long length of cut.

Tool Profile

The most common profile styles for end mills are square, corner radius, and ball. The square profile on an end mill has flutes with sharp corners that are squared off at 90°. A corner radius profile replaces the fragile sharp corner with a radius, adding strength and helping to prevent chipping while prolonging tool life. Finally, a ball profile features flutes with no flat bottom, and is rounded off at the end creating a “ball nose” at the tip of the tool. This is the strongest end mill style.  A fully rounded cutting edge has no corner, removing the mostly likely failure point from the tool, contrary to a sharp edge on a square profile end mill. An end mill profile is often chosen by part requirements, such as square corners within a pocket, requiring a square end mill.  When possible, opt for a tool with the largest corner radius allowable by your part requirements. We recommend a corner radii whenever your application allows for it. If square corners are absolutely required, consider roughing with a corner radius tool and finishing with the square profile tool.

Question 5: Should I use a Coated Tool?

When used in the correct application, a coated tool will help to boost performance by providing the following benefits:

  • More Aggressive Running Parameters
  • Prolonged Tool life
  • Improved Chip Evacuation

Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions offer many different coatings, each with their own set of benefits. Coatings for ferrous materials, such as AlTiN Nano or TPlus, typically have a high max working temperature, making them suitable for materials with a low thermal conductivity. Coatings for non-ferrous applications, such as TiB2 or ZPlus, have a low coefficient of friction, allowing for easier machining operations. Other coatings, such as Amorphous Diamond or CVD Diamond Coatings, are best used in abrasive materials because of their high hardness rating.

Ready to Decide on an End Mill

There are many factors that should be considered while looking for the optimal tooling for the job, but asking the aforementioned five key question during the process will help you to make the right decision. As always, The Harvey Performance Company Technical Service Department is always available to provide recommendations and walk you through the tool selection process, if need be.

Harvey Tool Technical Support: 800-645-5609

Helical Solutions Technical Support: 866-543-5422

Understanding Threads & Thread Mills

Thread milling can present a machinist many challenges. While thread mills are capable of producing threads with relative ease, there are a lot of considerations that machinists must make prior to beginning the job in order to gain consistent results. To conceptualize these features and choose the right tool, machinists must first understand basic thread milling applications.

 

What is a thread?

The primary function of a thread is to form a coupling between two different mechanisms. Think of the cap on your water bottle. The cap couples with the top of the bottle in order to create a water tight seal. This coupling can transmit motion and help to obtain mechanical advantages.  Below are some important terms to know in order to understand threads.

Root – That surface of the thread which joins the flanks of adjacent thread forms and is immediately adjacent to the cylinder or cone from which the thread projects.

Flank – The flank of a thread is either surface connecting the crest with the root. The flank surface intersection with an axial plane is theoretically a straight line.

Crest – This is that surface of a thread which joins the flanks of the thread and is farthest from the cylinder or cone from which the thread projects.

Pitch – The pitch of a thread having uniform spacing is the distance measured parallelwith its axis between corresponding points on adjacent thread forms in the same axial plane and on the same side of the axis. Pitch is equal to the lead divided by the number of thread starts.

Major Diameter – On a straight thread the major diameter is that of the major cylinder.On a taper thread the major diameter at a given position on the thread axis is that of the major cone at that position.

Minor Diameter – On a straight thread the minor diameter is that of the minor cylinder. On a taper thread the minor diameter at a given position on the thread axis is that of the minor cone at that position.

Helix Angle – On a straight thread, the helix angle is the angle made by the helix of the thread and its relation to the thread axis. On a taper thread, the helix angle at a given axial position is the angle made by the conical spiral of the thread with the axis of the thread. The helix angle is the complement of the lead angle.

Depth of Thread Engagement – The depth (or height) of thread engagement between two coaxially assembled mating threads is the radial distance by which their thread forms overlap each other.

External Thread – A thread on a cylindrical or conical external surface.

Internal Thread – A thread on a cylindrical or conical internal surface.

Class of Thread – The class of a thread is an alphanumerical designation to indicate the standard grade of tolerance and allowance specified for a thread.

Source: Machinery’s Handbook 29th Edition

Types of Threads & Their Common Applications:

ISO Metric, American UN: This thread type is used for general purposes, including for screws. Features a 60° thread form.

British Standard, Whitworth: This thread form includes a 55° thread form and is often used when a water tight seal is needed.

NPT: Meaning National Pipe Tapered, this thread, like the Whitworth Thread Form, is also internal. See the above video for an example of an NPT thread.

UNJ, MJ: This type of thread is often used in the Aerospace industry and features a radius at the root of the thread.

ACME, Trapezoidal: ACME threads are screw thread profiles that feature a trapezoidal outline, and are most commonly used for power screws.

Buttress Threads: Designed for applications that involve particularly high stresses along the thread axis in one direction. The thread angle on these threads is 45° with a perpendicular flat on the front or “load resisting face.”         

Thread Designations

Threads must hold certain tolerances, known as thread designations, in order to join together properly. International standards have been developed for threads. Below are examples of Metric, UN, and Acme Thread Designations. It is important to note that not all designations will be uniform, as some tolerances will include diameter tolerances while others will include class of fit.

Metric Thread Designations              

M12 x 1.75 – 4h – LH

In this scenario, “M” designates a Metric Thread Designation, 12 refers to the Nominal Diameter, 1.75 is the pitch, 4h is the “Class of Fit,” and “LH” means “Left-Hand.”

UN Thread Designations

¾ 10 UNC 2A LH

For this UN Thread Designation, ¾ refers to the thread’s major diameter, where 10 references the number of threads per inch. UNC stands for the thread series; and 2A means the class of thread. The “A” is used to designate external threads, while “B” is for internal threads. For these style threads, there are 6 other classes of fit; 1B, 2B, and 3B for internal threads; and 1A, 2A, and 3A for external threads.

ACME Thread Designations

A 1 025 20-X

For this ACME Thread Designation, A refers to “Acme,” while 1 is the number of thread starts. The basic major diameter is called out by 025 (Meaning 1/4”) while 20 is the callout for number of threads per inch. X is a placeholder for a number designating the purpose of the thread. A number 1 means it’s for a screw, while 2 means it’s for a nut, and 3 refers to a flange.

How are threads measured?

Threads are measured using go and no-go gauges. These gauges are inspection tools used to ensure the that the thread is the right size and has the correct pitch. The go gauge ensures the pitch diameter falls below the maximum requirement, while the no-go gauge verifies that the pitch diameter is above the minimum requirement. These gauges must be used carefully to ensure that the threads are not damaged.

Thread Milling Considerations

Thread milling is the interpolation of a thread mill around or inside a workpiece to create a desired thread form on a workpiece. Multiple radial passes during milling offer good chip control. Remember, though, that thread milling needs to be performed on machines capable of moving on the X, Y, and Z axis simultaneously.

5 Tips for Successful Thread Milling Operations:

1.  Opt for a Quality Tooling Manufacturer

There is no substitute for adequate tooling. To avoid tool failure and machining mishaps, opt for a quality manufacturer for High Performance Drills for your starter holes, as well as for your thread milling solutions. Harvey Tool fully stocks several types of threadmills, including Single Form, Tri-Form, and Multi-Form Thread Milling Cutters. In addition, the 60° Double Angle Shank Cutter can be used for thread milling.

thread milling

Image Courtesy of  @Avantmfg

2. Select a Proper Cutter Diameter

Choose only a cutter diameter as large as you need. A smaller cutter diameter will help achieve higher quality threads.

3. Ensure You’re Comfortable with Your Tool Path

Your chosen tool path will determine left hand or right hand threads.

Right-hand internal thread milling is where cutters move counterclockwise in an upwards direction to ensure that climb milling is achieved.

Left-hand internal thread milling a left-hand thread follows in the opposite direction, from top to bottom, also in a counterclockwise path to ensure that climb milling is achieved.

4. Assess Number of Radial Passes Needed

In difficult applications, using more passes may be necessary to achieve desired quality. Separating the thread milling operation into several radial passes achieves a finer quality of thread and improves security against tool breakage in difficult materials. In addition, thread milling with several radial passes also improves thread tolerance due to reduced tool deflection. This gives greater security in long overhangs and unstable conditions.

5. Review Chip Evacuation Strategy

Are you taking the necessary steps to avoid chip recutting due to inefficient chip evacuation? If not, your thread may fall out of tolerance. Opt for a strategy that includes coolant, lubricant, and tool retractions.

In Summary

Just looking at a threading tool can be confusing – it is sometimes hard to conceptualize how these tools are able to get the job done. But with proper understanding of call, methods, and best practices, machinists can feel confident when beginning their operation.

Experience the Benefits of Staggered Tooth Keyseats

Keyseat Cutters, also known as Woodruff Cutters, Keyway Cutters, and T-Slot Cutters, are commonly used in machine shops. Many machinists opt to use this tool to put a slot on the side of a part in an efficient manner, rather than rotating the workpiece and using a traditional end mill. A Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter has alternating right-hand and left hand shear flutes and is right-hand cut, whereas a traditional keyseat cutter has all straight flutes and is right-hand cut. Simply, the unique geometry of a Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter gives the tool its own set of advantages including the ability to index within the slot, increase feed rates, and achieve better part finish.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Three Key Benefits

Indexing

The alternating right-and-left-hand flutes of a Harvey Tool Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters are relieved on both sides of its head, meaning that it allows for both end cutting and back cutting. This adds to the versatility of the staggered tooth keyseat cutter, where one singular tool can be indexed axially within a slot to expand the slot to a specific uncommon dimension. This can save space in a machinist’s magazine and reduce machine time by eliminating the need to swap to a new tool.

Increased Feed Rates

Due to the unique geometry of a Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter, chips evacuate efficiently and at a faster rate than that of a Straight Flute Keyseat Cutter. The unique flutes of Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters are a combination of right-and-left-hand shear flutes, but both types are right-hand cutting. This results in the tool’s teeth alternating between upcut and downcut. Chip packing and chip recutting is less of a concern with running this tool, and results in increased chip loads compared to that of a standard keyseat with the same number of flutes. Because of this, the tool can account for chiploads of about 10% higher than the norm, resulting in heightened feed rates and shorter cycle times overall.

Better Part Finish

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters have “teeth”, or flutes, that are ground at an angle creating a shear flute geometry. This geometry minimizes chip recutting, chip dragging and reduces the force needed to cut into the material. Chip recutting and dragging are minimized because chips are evacuated out of the top and bottom of the head on the side of the cutter that is not engaged in the material. Shear flutes also reduce vibrations that can lead to chatter and poor finish. By minimizing cutting forces, vibration, and chatter, a machinist can expect a better part finish.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Image courtesy of @edc_machining

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter Diverse Product Offering

On top of the higher performance one will experience when using the Stagger Tooth Keyseats, there are also multiple options available with various combinations to suit multiple machining needs. This style is offered in a square and corner radius profile which helps if a fillet or sharp corner is needed. There are also multiple cutter diameters ranging from 1/8” to 5/8”. The increased diameter comes with an increase of radial depth of cut, allowing deeper slots to be achievable. Within the most popular cutter diameters, ¼”, 3/8”, and ½” there are also deep slotting options with even greater radial depth of cuts for increased slot depths. On top of the diameters and radii, there are also multiple cutter widths to choose from to create different slots in one go. Finally, an uncoated and AlTiN coatings are available to further increase tool life and performance depending on the material that is being cut.

Opt for a Smoother Operation

A Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter adds versatility to a tool magazine. It can be indexed axially to expand slots to make multiple widths, allowing machinists to progress operations in a more efficient manner where tool changes are not required. Further, this tool will help to reduce harmonics and chatter, as well as minimize recutting. This works to create a smoother operation with less force on the cutter, resulting in a better finish compared to a Standard Keyseat Cutter.

For more information on Harvey Tool Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters and its applications, visit Harvey Tool’s Keyseat Cutter page.

How To Maximize High Balance End Mills

High speed machining is becoming increasingly widespread in machine shops all over the world due to the proven benefits of greater efficiency and productivity through increased spindle speeds and metal removal rates.  However, at such high spindle speeds, otherwise negligible errors and imperfections can cause negative effects such as reduced tool life, poor surface finish, and wear on the machine itself. Many of these negative effects stem from an increase in total centrifugal forces leading to vibration, commonly referred to in the industry as chatter. A key contributor to vibrations and one of the more controllable factors, is tool unbalance.

Why Balance is Critical to Machining

Unbalance is the extent to which the tool’s center of mass diverges from its axis of rotation.  Small levels of unbalance may be indistinguishable at lower RPMs, but as centrifugal force increases, small variations in the tool’s center of mass can cause substantial detrimental effects on its performance. High Balance End Mills are often used to help solve the problem of vibrations at the increased spindle speeds. Balancing is used to make compensation for the intrinsic unsymmetrical distribution of mass, which is typically completed by removing mass of a calculated amount and orientation.

Image Source: Haimer; Fundamentals of Balancing

Helical Solutions offers High Balance End Mills in both 2 and 3 flute options (see Figure 2), square and corner radius, along with coolant-through on the 3 fluted tools. These end mills are balanced at the industry standard of G2.5 at 33,000 RPM: G stands for the potential damage due to unbalance, which can be expressed as “Balancing Quality Grade” or G and 2.5 is the vibration velocity in MM per second. These tools are designed specifically to increase performance in highly balanced machining centers that are capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. With high balance tooling, improved surface finishes are also achieved due to reduced vibrations during the machining process. Additionally, these end mills have been designed around current high-end tool holding, and come in a variety of neck lengths at specific overall lengths. These dimensional combinations result in maximum rigidity and reduced excess stick out, allowing for optimal performance and the ability to push the tools to the limit.

High Balanced Tooling Cost Benefits

Machinists who choose to use High Balance End Mills will see certain benefits at the spindle, but also in their wallets. Cost benefits of opting to run this type of tool include:

Utilizing Tap Testers

What Tap Testers Do

Vibrations are your applications worst enemy, especially at elevated RPMs and feed rates. Using resources such as a Tap Tester can help decrease vibrations and allow you to get the most out of your High Balance End Mills by generating cutting performance predictions and chatter limits.

How Tap Testing Works

High balance

Image Source: Manufacturing Automation Laboratories Inc.

Tap Testing generates cutting performance predictions and chatter limits. In a tap test, the machine-tool structure is “excited,” or tested, by being hit with an impulse hammer. In milling, the machine-tool structure is usually flexible in all three directions: X, Y, and Z, but in milling applications where High Balance Tooling is used, the flexibility is commonly only considered in two planes – the X and Y directions. By hitting the X and Y directions with the impulse hammer, the impact will excite the structure over a certain frequency range that is dependent on the hammer’s size, the type of tool being used, and the structure itself. The frequencies generated from the initial hit will produce enough information that both the impact force measurement and the displacement/accelerometer measurement are available. Combining these two measurements will result in the Frequency Response Function, which is a plot of the dynamic stiffness of the structure in frequencies.

After the information from the Tap Test is gathered, it will then process the information into useful cutting parameters for all spindles speeds such as cut depths, speed rates, and feed rates. In knowing the optimum running parameters, vibrations can be minimized and the tool can be utilized to its full potential.

High Balanced Tooling Summarized

Keeping vibrations at bay during the machining process is extremely important to machining success. Because one cause of vibration is tool unbalance, utilizing a balanced tool will result in a smoother job, a cleaner final product, and a longer life of both the tool and spindle. Machinists who choose to use High Balance Tooling can utilize a Tap Tester, or a method for generating the perfect running parameters for your tool and machine setup to ensure that machining vibration is as minimal as possible.

Shank Tolerances, Collet Fits, & h6 Benefits

A cutting tool’s shank is one of the more vital parts of a tool, as it’s critical to the collet-tool connection. There are several types of shanks, each with their own tolerances and suitable tool holder methods. One of the most popular and effective tool holding styles is a shrink fit tool holder, which works with h6 shanks, but what does this mean and what are the benefits of it? How is this type of shank different from a shank with standard shank tolerances? To answer these questions, we must first explore the principals of tolerances.

The Principals of Tolerances

Defining Industry Standard Tolerances

There are two categories of shank tolerances that machinists and engineers operating a CNC machine should be familiar with: hole basis and shank (or shaft) basis. The hole basis system is where the minimum hole size is the starting point of the tolerance. If the hole tolerance starts with a capital “H,” then the hole has a positive tolerance with no negative tolerance. The shank basis system is where the maximum shank size is the starting point. This system is relatively the same idea as the hole basis system but instead, if the tolerance starts with a lowercase “h,” the shank has a negative tolerance and no positive tolerance.

Letter Designations

The limits of tolerance for a shank or hole are designated by the appropriate letter indicating the deviation. For instance, the letter “k” has the opposite minimum and maximum designations as “h”. Tolerances beginning with “k” are exclusively positive, while tolerances beginning with “h” are exclusively negative. The number following the given letter denotes the International Tolerance (IT) grade. For example, a tolerance with the number 6 will have a smaller tolerance range than the number 7, but larger than the number 5. This range is based on the size of the shank. A hole that has a 0.030” diameter will have an h6 tolerance of (+0.0000,-0.0002), while a 1.00” hole with have an h6 tolerance band of (+0.0000,-0.0005).

It is important to note that most sources list IT tolerances in millimeters, while the graph below has been translated to inches. Operations that require more precise manufacturing, such as reaming, will have lower IT grades. Operations that do not require manufacturing to be as precise will have higher IT grades.

shank tolerances

Preferred Collet Fits

Different types of combinations of hole basis and shank basis tolerances lead to different types of collet fits. The following table offers insight into a few different types of preferred fits and the shank tolerances that are required for each.

collet fits

Image: Machinery’s Handbook 29th Edition.

Shrink Fit Tool Holders

The shrink fit holder is one of the more popular styles of tool holders because of its ability to be more customizable, as evident in the chart above. In this method, a collet is heated to expand, then cooled to contract around the shank of a tool. At room temperature, a cutting tool should not be able to be inserted into a shrink fit holder – only when the holder has undergone thermal expansion due to the introduction of a significant amount of heat should the tool fit. As the holder cools, the tool is held tighter and tighter in place. Typically, a holder is heated through a ring of coils by an induction heater. It is important to heat the holder uniformly, paying mind to not overheat it. Doing so could cause the shank that is being held to expand within the holder and remain stuck.

 

Benefits of Shrink Fit Tool Holders

  1. Gripping power. The shank is held flush and uniform against the holder, resulting in a tighter connection.
  2. Low runout. A more secure connection will result in extended tool life, and a higher quality surface finish.
  3. Better balance for high RPM. With a tighter tool-to-holder connection, the opportunity exists for more aggressive running parameters.

Shank Tolerances Summarized

Understanding shank tolerances is an intricate part of the machining process as it impacts which tool holder is appropriate for your job. A secure holder connection is vital to the performance of the tool in your application. With an h6 shrink fit holder, the result is a secure connection with stronger gripping power. However, only certain shanks are able to be used with this type of holder. From the letter designation assigned to a shank, to whether that letter is upper or lowercase, each detail is vital to ensuring a proper fit between your tools shank and its corresponding shrink fit holder.

Best Practices of Tolerance Stacking

Tolerance stacking, also known as tolerance stack-up, refers to the combination of various part dimension tolerances. After a tolerance is identified on the dimension of a part, it is important to test whether that tolerance would work with the tool’s tolerances: either the upper end or lower end. A part or assembly can be subject to inaccuracies when its tolerances are stacked up incorrectly.

The Importance of Tolerances

Tolerances directly influence the cost and performance of a product. Tighter tolerances make a machined part more difficult to manufacture and therefore often more expensive. With this in mind, it is important to find a balance between manufacturability of the part, its functionality, and its cost.

Tips for Successful Tolerance Stacking

Avoid Using Tolerances that are Unnecessarily Small

As stated above, tighter tolerances lead to a higher manufacturing cost as the part is more difficult to make. This higher cost is often due to the increased amount of scrapped parts that can occur when dimensions are found to be out of tolerance. The cost of high quality tool holders and tooling with tighter tolerances can also be an added expense.

Additionally, unnecessarily small tolerances will lead to longer manufacturing times, as more work goes in to ensure that the part meets strict criteria during machining, and after machining in the inspection process.

Be Careful Not to Over Dimension a Part

When an upper and lower tolerance is labeled on every feature of a part, over-dimensioning can become a problem. For example, a corner radius end mill with a right and left corner radii might have a tolerance of +/- .001”, and the flat between them has a .002” tolerance. In this case, the tolerance window for the cutter diameter would be +/- .004”, but is oftentimes miscalculated during part dimensioning. Further, placing a tolerance on this callout would cause it to be over dimensioned, and thus the reference dimension “REF” must be left to take the tolerance’s place.

stacking tolerances

Figure 1: Shape of slot created by a corner radius end mill

Utilize Statistical Tolerance Analysis:

Statistical analysis looks at the likelihood that all three tolerances would be below or above the dimensioned slot width, based on a standard deviation. This probability is represented by a normal probability density function, which can be seen in figure 2 below. By combining all the probabilities of the different parts and dimensions in a design, we can determine the probability that a part will have a problem, or fail altogether, based on the dimensions and tolerance of the parts. Generally this method of analysis is only used for assemblies with four or more tolerances.

stacking tolerances

                                                               Figure 2: Tolerance Stacking: Normal distribution

Before starting a statistical tolerance analysis, you must calculate or choose a tolerance distribution factor. The standard distribution is 3 . This means that most of the data (or in this case tolerances) will be within 3 standard deviations of the mean. The standard deviations of all the tolerances must be divided by this tolerance distribution factor to normalize them from a distribution of 3  to a distribution of 1 . Once this has been done, the root sum squared can be taken to find the standard deviation of the assembly.

Think of it like a cup of coffee being made with 3 different sized beans. In order to make a delicious cup of joe, you must first grind down all of the beans to the same size so they can be added to the coffee filter. In this case, the beans are the standard deviations, the grinder is the tolerance distribution factor, and the coffee filter is the root sum squared equation. This is necessary because some tolerances may have different distribution factors based on the tightness of the tolerance range.

The statistical analysis method is used if there is a requirement that the slot must be .500” wide with a +/- .003” tolerance, but there is no need for the radii (.125”) and the flat (.250”) to be exact as long as they fit within the slot. In this example, we have 3 bilateral tolerances with their standard deviations already available. Since they are bilateral, the standard deviation from the mean would simply be whatever the + or – tolerance value is. For the outside radii, this would be .001” and for the middle flat region this would be .002”.

For this example, let’s find the standard deviation (σ) of each section using equation 1. In this equation represents the standard deviation.

standard deviation

The standard assumption is that a part tolerance represents a +/- 3  normal distribution. Therefore, the distribution factor will be 3. Using equation 1 on the left section of figure 1, we find that its corrected standard deviation equates to:

tolerance stacking

This is then repeated for the middle and right sections:

standard deviation

After arriving at these standard deviations, we input the results into equation 2 to find the standard deviation of the tolerance zone. Equation 2 is known as the root sum squared equation.

root sum

At this point, it means that 68% of the slots will be within a +/- .00122” tolerance. Multiplying this tolerance by 2 will result in a 95% confidence window, where multiplying it by 3 will result in a 99% confidence window.

68% of the slots will be within +/- .0008”

95% of the slots will be within +/- .0016”

99% of the slots will be within +/- .0024”

These confidence windows are standard for a normal distributed set of data points. A standard normal distribution can be seen in Figure 2 above.

Statistical tolerance analysis should only be used for assemblies with greater than 4 toleranced parts. A lot of factors were unaccounted for in this simple analysis. This example was for 3 bilateral dimensions whose tolerances were representative of their standard deviations from their means. In standard statistical tolerance analysis, other variables come into play such as angles, runout, and parallelism, which require correction factors.

Use Worst Case Analysis:

Worst case analysis is the practice of adding up all the tolerances of a part to find the total part tolerance. When performing this type of analysis, each tolerance is set to its largest or smallest limit in its respective range. This total tolerance can then be compared to the performance limits of the part to make sure the assembly is designed properly. This is typically used for only 1 dimension (Only 1 plane, therefore no angles involved) and for assemblies with a small number of parts.

Worst case analysis can also be used when choosing the appropriate cutting tool for your job, as the tool’s tolerance can be added to the parts tolerance for a worst case scenario. Once this scenario is identified, the machinist or engineer can make the appropriate adjustments to keep the part within the dimensions specified on the print. It should be noted that the worst case scenario rarely ever occurs in actual production. While these analyses can be expensive for manufacturing, it provides peace of mind to machinists by guaranteeing that all assemblies will function properly. Often this method requires tight tolerances because the total stack up at maximum conditions is the primary feature used in design. Tighter tolerances intensify manufacturing costs due to the increased amount of scraping, production time for inspection, and cost of tooling used on these parts.

Example of worst case scenario in context to Figure 1:

Find the lower specification limit.

For the left corner radius

.125” – .001” = .124”

For the flat section

.250” – .002” = .248”

For the right corner radius

.125” – .001” = .124”

Add all of these together to the lower specification limit:

.124” + .248” + .124” = .496”

Find the upper specification limit:

For the left corner radius

.125” + .001” = .126”

For the flat section

.250” + .002” = .252”

For the right corner radius

.125” + .001” = .126”

Add all of these together to the lower specification limit:

.126” + .252” + .126” = .504”

Subtract the two and divide this answer by two to get the worst case tolerance:

(Upper Limit – Lower Limit)/2 = .004”

Therefore the worst case scenario of this slot is .500” +/- .004”.