Multi-Functional Tools Every Shop Should Have

If there is one thing that all machinists and shop managers can agree on, it’s that time is money. CNC tooling and material costs, employee wages, and keeping the lights on all add up, but most would agree that saving time is one of the best ways to make a shop more efficient.

Tool changes mid-job quickly add up when it comes to cycle times (not to mention tool costs), so using a tool capable of multiple operations whenever possible is an excellent first step. The following multi-functional tools are designed to save time and money at the spindle.

Drill/End Mills

harvey tool combination drill end mill

One look at Drill/End Mills or “Drill Mills” and it’s obvious that these multi-functional tools are capable of more than a standard end mill. Two of the intended operations are right in the name (drilling and milling). Besides the obvious, though, drill mills are intended for grooving, spotting, and chamfering, bringing the total to five separate operations.

infographic showcasing 5 unique drill mill operations

Considering the amount of tools normally required to perform all of these common operations, keeping a few drill mills in your tool crib ensures you’re always ready to tackle them, not to mention the potential extra spots in your tool magazine.

Undercutting End Mills

harvey tool undercutting lollipop end mill

Undercutting End Mills, also known as lollipop cutters or spherical ball end mills are surprisingly “well-rounded” tools. Besides milling an undercut feature on a part, which is typically very difficult with a standard end mill, these tools are capable of a few other operations.

infographic of four unique uses for undercutting end mills

Using an undercutting end mill to deburr in your machine is an excellent way to save time and effort. Some slotting and contouring operations, especially when 5-axis milling, are made far easier with an undercutting end mill, and in some situations, clearance challenges make them necessary.

Double Angle Shank Cutters

harvey tool double angle shank cutter

Often referred to the “Swiss Army Knife of Machining” due to their versatility, Double Angle Shank Cutters are 6-in1 multi-functional tools worth keeping on hand in any machine shop. Since these tools cut on all sides of their head, they are useful in a variety of situations.

infographic showing 6 different uses of double angle shank cutters

With the ability to thread mill and countersink, Double Angle Shank cutters are perfect for holemaking operations. On top of that, their clearance advantage over standard end mills makes them extremely well suited to a variety of finishing operations in difficult to reach places.

Flat Bottom Tools

two stacked harvey tool cnc tools, top being a flat bottom drill and bottom a flat bottom counterbore

Flat Bottom Drills and Flat Bottom Counterbores are better suited to holemaking, but they are capable of a large variety of operations. They belong in a category together since their flat bottom geometry is what sets them apart from other cnc tooling in the same category. Flat bottom geometry keeps the tool from walking on irregular or angle surfaces and help to correct, straighten, or flatten features created by non-flat bottom tools.

Flat bottom drills are designed for the following operations:

infographic showing 5 uses of flat bottom cnc tools. thin plate, cross hole, irregular surface, angled, and half hole drilling

While similar in some aspects, flat bottom counterbores are particularly well-suited for these uses:

infographic showing the five unique uses for flat bottom counterbores

Adjustable Chamfer Cutters

harvey tool adjustable chamfer mill set to 45 degrees

As discussed in a previous post, chamfer mills are capable of more than just chamfering – they are also well-suited for beveling, deburring, spotting, and countersinking. However, these adjustable chamfer cutters aren’t limited to a single angle per side – with a quick adjustment to the carbide insert you can mill any angle from 10° to 80°.

adjustable chamfer cutter inserts and hardware

When you account for the replaceable insert and the range of angles, this tool has a very high potential for time and tool cost savings.

Tools that are capable of a variety of operations are useful to just about any machine shop. Keeping your cnc tooling crib stocked with some or all of these multi-functional tools greatly increases your shop’s flexibility and decreases the chances of being unprepared for a job.

Milling Machines vs. Lathe Machines

Most modern manufacturing centers have both milling machines and lathe machines. Each machine follows the same machining principle, known as subtractive machining, where you begin with a block of material and then shape that material into the desired specifications. How the part is actually shaped is the key difference between the two machines. Understanding the differences in more depth will help in putting the right part in the right machine to maximize their capabilities.

white and blue cnc lathe

An Example of a Lathe Machine

cnc milling machine

An Example of a Milling Machine

Operation

The major difference between a milling machine and a lathe machine is the relationship of the workpiece and the tool.

Lathe Machines

In a lathe, the workpiece that is being machined spins about it’s axis, while the cutting tool does not. This is referred to as “turning”, and is effective for creating cylindrical parts. Common operations done on a lathe include drilling, boring, threading, ID and OD grooving, and parting. When looking to create quick, repeatable, and symmetrical cylindrical parts, the lathe machine is the best choice.

adjustable boring bar turning a part in a cnc lathe

Milling Machines

The opposite is true for milling machines. The tool in a milling machine rotates about its axis, while the workpiece does not. This allows the tool to approach the workpiece in many different orientations that more intricate and complex parts demand. If you can program it, you can make it in a milling machine as long as you have the proper clearance and choose the proper tooling.

cnc multi axis machine machining a turbine part

Best Practice

The best reason to use a milling machine for an upcoming project is the versatility. The tooling options for a milling machine are endless, with hundreds of available specialty cutting tools and various styles of end mills which make sure you are covered from start to finish on each job. A mill can also cut more complex pieces than a lathe. For example, it would impossible to efficiently machine something like an intake manifold for an engine on a lathe. For intricate parts like that, a milling machine would be required for successful machining.

While lathe machines are more limited in use than a milling machine, they are superior for cylindrical parts. While a mill can make the same cuts that a lathe does, it may need multiple setups to create the same part. When continuous production of cylindrical parts is necessary, a lathe will outperform the mill and increase both performance and efficiency.

The Anatomy of an End Mill

An end mill features many different dimensions that can be listed in a tool description. It is important to understand how each dimension can impact tool selection, and how even small choices can make all the difference when the tool is in motion.

Flutes

Flutes are the easiest part of the end mill to recognize. These are the deep spiraled grooves in the tool that allow for chip formation and evacuation. Simply put, flutes are the part of the anatomy that allows the end mill to cut on its edge.

end mill flute patterns showing valley size

One consideration that must be made during tool selection is flute count, something we have previously covered in depth. Generally, the lower the flute count, the larger the flute valley – the empty space between cutting edges. This void affects tool strength, but also allows for larger chips with heavier depths of cut, ideal for soft or gummy materials like aluminum. When machining harder materials such as steel, tool strength becomes a larger factor, and higher flute counts are often utilized.

End Mill Profiles 

The profile refers to the shape of the cutting end of the tool. It is typically one of three options: square, corner radius, and ball.

Square Profile End Mills

Square profile tooling features flutes with sharp corners that are squared off at a 90° angle.

Corner Radius End Mills

This type of tooling breaks up a sharp corner with a radius form. This rounding helps distribute cutting forces more evenly across the corner, helping to prevent wear or chipping while prolonging functional tool life. A tool with larger radii can also be referred to as “bull nose.”

Ball Profile End Mills

This type of tooling features flutes with no flat bottom, rounded off at the end creating a “ball nose” at the tip of the tool.

Cutter Diameter

The cutter diameter is often the first thing machinists look for when choosing a tool for their job. This dimension refers to the diameter of the theoretical circle formed by the cutting edges as the tool rotates.

end mill with arrows showcasing cutter diameter and tool face

Shank Diameter

The shank diameter is the width of the shank – the non-cutting end of the tool that is held by the tool holder. This measurement is important to note when choosing a tool to ensure that the shank is the correct size for the holder being used. Shank diameters require tight tolerances and concentricity in order to fit properly into any holder.

Overall Length (OAL) & Length of Cut (LOC)

Overall length is easy to decipher, as it is simply the measurement between the two axial ends of the tool. This differs from the length of cut (LOC), which is a measurement of the functional cutting depth in the axial direction and does not include other parts of the tool, such as its shank.

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Overall Reach/Length Below Shank (LBS)

The overall reach of an end mill, or length below shank (LBS), is a dimension that describes the necked length of reached tools. It is measured from the start of the necked portion to the bottom of the cutting end of the tool.  The neck relief allows space for chip evacuation and prevents the shank from rubbing in deep-pocket milling applications. This is illustrated in the photo below of a tool with a reduced neck.

end mill neck comparison and strength with standard and reduced neck

End Mill 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 used for finishing (45°, for example) wraps around the tool faster and makes for a more aggressive cut. A lower helix angle (35°) wraps slower and would have a stronger cutting edge, optimized for the toughest roughing applications.

showcase of end mill helix angle compared to core

A moderate helix angle of 40° would result in a tool able to perform basic roughing, slotting, and finishing operations with good results. Implementing a helix angle that varies slightly between flutes is a technique used to combat chatter in some high-performance tooling. A variable helix creates irregular timing between cuts, and can dampen reverberations that could otherwise lead to chatter.

Pitch

Pitch is the degree of radial separation between the cutting edges at a given point along the length of cut, most visible on the end of the end mill. Using a 4-flute tool with an even pitch as an example, each flute would be separated by 90°. Similar to a variable helix, variable pitch tools have non-constant flute spacing, which helps to break up harmonics and reduce chatter. The spacing can be minor but still able to achieve the desired effect. Using a 4-flute tool with variable pitch as an example, the flutes could be spaced at 90.5 degrees, 88.2 degrees, 90.3 degrees, and 91 degrees (totaling 360°).

infographic of variable pitch end mill face

Speeds and Feeds 101

Understanding Speeds and Feed Rates

NOTE: This article covers speeds and feed rates for milling tools, as opposed to turning tools.

Before using a cutting tool, it is necessary to understand tool cutting speeds and feed rates, more often referred to as “speeds and feeds.” Speeds and feeds are the cutting variables used in every milling operation and vary for each tool based on cutter diameter, operation, material, etc. Understanding the right speeds and feeds for your tool and operation before you start machining is critical. These are to be used to set baselines for a particular tool, ensuring proper performance without compromising part finish and tool life.

Understanding SFM Calculations

It is first necessary to define each of these factors. Cutting speed, also referred to as surface speed, is the difference in speed between the tool and the workpiece, expressed in units of distance over time known as SFM (surface feet per minute). For set-ups with stationary workpieces, SFM is the speed at which a tool moves across the part in the cut. The speed difference must be calculated in set ups where the part and tool are both moving in multi-axis machining set-ups.

SFM is based on the various properties of the given material. Speed, referred to as Rotations Per Minute (RPM) is based off of the SFM and the cutting tool’s diameter. As SFM is tied to the properties of a material, it does not change based upon the operation being performed and remains constant despite changes in chip load calculation. The SFM calculation utilizes the industry standard of 3.82. Here, the cutter diameter of the chosen tool is multiplied by the speed or RPM. This figure is then divided by 3.82 to generate the SFM or Surface Feet per Minute.

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Feed Rate and Chip Load Calculations

While speeds and feeds are common terms used in the programming of the cutter, the ideal running parameters are also influenced by a myriad of other variables. As speeds and feeds must be well-matched to be effective, the speed of the cutter is used in the calculation of the cutter’s feed rate, measured in Inches Per Minute (IPM). The other part of the equation is the chip load, or material being removed per revolution. It is important to note that chip load per tooth and chip load per tool are different:

  • Chip load per tooth is the appropriate amount of material that one cutting edge of the tool should remove in a single revolution. This is measured in Inches Per Tooth (IPT).
  • Chip load per tool is the appropriate amount of material removed by all cutting edges on a tool in a single revolution. This is measured in Inches Per Revolution (IPR).
speeds and feeds formula in both sfm and rpm

A chip load that is too large can pack up chips in the cutter, causing poor chip evacuation and eventual breakage. A chip load that is too small can cause rubbing, chatter, tool deflection, and a poor overall cutting action. Finding the correct balance will not only allow for the most efficient cut possible, but also ensures the most efficiency in regard to tool wear. When calculating chip load per tool or IPR, the per tooth chip load is aptly multiplied by the number of flutes on the tool itself.

chip load and ipm calculations

Material Removal Rate

Material Removal Rate (MRR), while not part of the cutting tool’s program, is a helpful way to calculate a tool’s efficiency. MRR takes into account two very important running parameters: Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC), or the distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline, and Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC), or the distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece. The MRR calculation (seen below) relies on the calculated feed rate. The feed rate (IPM) is multiplied by the radial and axial depths of cut to produce the rate of removal.

The tool’s depth of cuts and the rate at which it is cutting can be used to calculate how many cubic inches per minute (in3/min) are being removed from a workpiece. This equation is extremely useful for comparing cutting tools and examining how cycle times can be improved. Decreased cycle times leads to higher productivity within a shop, which is what all machinists aim for during production.

Adjusting depths of cut can decrease time in cut and overall production time, freeing up machines for additional manufacturing. An example of depth of cut adjustment is seen in High Efficiency Milling, where RDOC is decreased and ADOC is increased. In this method, MRR is increased while also reducing tool wear, leading to higher productivity and more parts per tool.

mrr calculation and illustration of adoc and rdoc

Speeds and Feeds In Practice

While many of the cutting parameters are set by the tool and workpiece material, the depths of cut taken also affect the feed rate of the tool. The depths of cuts are dictated by the operation being performed – this is often broken down into slotting, roughing, and finishing, though there are many other more specific types of operations.

These unique operations utilize much different depths of cut, with industry standardized terms as description. Slotting can be described as utilizing 180° of the diameter of the tool engaged in the cut. Roughing on the other hand will typically disperse both ADOC and RDOC relatively evenly. Finally, finishing operations will use substantially more axial depths of cut in relation to radial, leaving the best finish possible on the workpiece.

Many tooling manufacturers provide useful speeds and feeds charts calculated specifically for their products. For example, Harvey Tool provides the following chart for a 1/8” diameter end mill, tool #50308. A customer can find the SFM for the material on the left, in this case 304 stainless steel (highlighted in yellow). The chip load (per tooth) can be found by intersecting the tool diameter on the top (blue heading) with the material and operations (based on axial and radial depth of cut), highlighted in the image below.

carbon and stainless steels hardness chart with corresponding cnc running parameters

The following table calculates the speeds and feeds for this tool (#50308) and material (304 Stainless) for each operation, based on the chart above:

speeds and feeds calculation chart

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Other Important Considerations

Each operation recommends a unique chip load per the depths of cut depending on the operation, thus resulting in different feed rates for the desired application. Since the SFM is based on the material, it will always remain constant for each of the three defined operations.

Spindle Speed Cap

As shown above, the cutter speed (RPM) is defined by the SFM (based on material) and the cutter diameter. With miniature tooling and/or certain materials the speed calculation sometimes yields an unrealistic spindle speed. For example, a .047” cutter in 6061 aluminum (SFM 1,000) would return a speed of ~81,000 RPM. Since this speed is only attainable with high speed air spindles, the full SFM of 1,000 may not be achievable. In a case like this, it is recommended that the tool is run at the machine’s max speed (that the machinist is comfortable with) and that the appropriate chip load for the diameter is maintained. This produces optimal parameters based on the machine’s top speed. All machines are unique and provide different max speed, therefore these calculations will vary from machine to machine.

Effective Cutter Diameter

On angled tools the cutter diameter changes along the LOC. For example, Helical tool #07001, a flat-ended chamfer cutter with helical flutes, has a tip diameter of .060” and a major/shank diameter of .250”. In a scenario where it was being used to create a 60° edge break, the actual cutting action would happen somewhere between the tip and major/shank diameters. To compensate, the equation below can be used to find the average diameter along the chamfer.

effective cutter diameter calculation

Using this calculation, the effective cutter diameter is .155”, which would be used for all Speeds and Feeds calculations.

Non-linear Path

Feed rates assume a linear motion. However, there are cases in which the path takes an arc, such as in a pocket corner or a circular interpolation. Just as increasing the DOC increases the angle of engagement on a tool, so does taking a nonlinear path. For an internal corner, more of the tool is engaged and, for an external corner, less is engaged. The feed rate must be appropriately compensated for the added or lessened engagement on the tool to provide the most effective and desired IPM for the chosen application.

In the below graphic, Figure A is showcasing a linear path on a part, with a standard engagement. Figure’s B and C demonstrate the increase and decrease of engagement in non-linear, circular toolpaths. Utilizing identical feed rates between the three paths would generate three wildly different IPMs despite similar setups.

infographic showcasing the differences between linear and non-linear machine paths

This adjustment is even more important for circular interpolation. Take, for example, a threading application involving a cutter making a circular motion about a pre-drilled hole or boss. For internal adjustment, the feed rate must be lowered to account for the additional engagement. For external adjustment, the feed rate must be increased due to less tool engagement.

An adjustment in internal feed subtracts the differences in cutter diameters from the differences in outer diameters before dividing by the outer dia. difference. On the other hand, adjusting for external feed adds the differences between cutter diameters to the differences in inner diameters before dividing by the inner dia. difference.

adjusted internal and external feed calculation

Take this example, in which a Harvey Tool threadmill #70094, with a .370” cutter diameter, is machining a 9/16-18 internal thread in 17-4 stainless steel. The calculated speed is 2,064 RPM and the linear feed is 8.3 IPM. The thread diameter of a 9/16 thread is .562”, which is used for the inner and outer diameter in both adjustments. After plugging these values into the equations below, the adjusted internal feed becomes 2.8 IMP, while the external feed becomes 13.8 IPM.

adjusted internal and external feed calculations with examples

Conclusion

These calculations are useful guidelines for running a cutting tool optimally in various applications and materials. However, the tool manufacturer’s recommended parameters are the best place to start for initial numbers and to set a baseline for the best tool performance. After that, it is up to the machinist’s eyes, ears, and experience to help determine the best running parameters, which will vary by set-up, tool, machine, and chosen material. No operation is exactly the same, and nothing occurs in a vacuum. Experience and continued learning will always aid machinists in ensuring the most efficient performance possible in the cut.

The following links have the most up to date information on running parameters for Harvey Tool, Helical, Titan USA, and CoreHog CNC products.

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


High Efficiency Milling (HEM) is a strategy that is rapidly gaining popularity in the metalworking industry. Most CAM packages now offer modules to generate HEM toolpaths, each with their own proprietary name. In these packages, HEM can also be known as Dynamic Milling or High Efficiency Machining, among others. HEM can result in profound shop efficiency, extended tool life, greater performance, and cost savings. High performance end mills designed to achieve higher speeds and feeds will help machinists to reap the full benefits of this popular machining method.

High Efficiency Milling Defined

HEM is a milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a higher Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC). This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure.

This strategy differs from traditional or conventional milling, which typically calls for a higher RDOC and lower ADOC. Traditional milling causes heat concentrations in one small portion of the cutting tool, expediting the tool wear process. Further, while Traditional Milling call for more axial passes, HEM toolpaths use more passes radially.

For more information on optimizing Depth of Cut in relation to HEM, see Diving into Depth of Cut: Peripheral, Slotting & HEM Approaches.

infographic examining depth of cut differences between HEM and traditional milling

Built-In CAM Applications

Machining technology has been advancing with the development of faster, more powerful machines. In order to keep up, many CAM applications have developed built-in features for HEM toolpaths, including Trochoidal Milling, a method of machining used to create a slot wider than the cutting tool’s cutting diameter.

HEM is largely based on the theory surrounding Radial Chip Thinning, or the phenomenon that occurs with varying RDOC, and relates to the chip thickness and feed per tooth. HEM adjusts parameters to maintain a constant load on the tool through the entire roughing operation, resulting in more aggressive material removal rates (MRR). In this way, HEM differs from other high performance toolpaths, which involve different methods for achieving significant MRR.

Click Here to learn More About The Efficiency-Boosting Power of High Efficiency Milling

Virtually any CNC machine can perform HEM – the key is a fast CNC controller. When converting from a regular program to HEM, about 20 lines of HEM code will be written for every line of regular code. A fast processor is needed to look ahead for the code, and keep up with the operation. In addition, advanced CAM software that intelligently manages tool load by adjusting the IPT and RDOC is also needed.

High Efficiency Milling Case Studies

The following example shows the result a machinist had when using a Helical Solutions HEV-5 tool to perform an HEM operation in 17-4PH stainless steel. While performing HEM, this ½” diameter, 5-flute end mill engaged the part just 12% radially, but 100% axially. This machinist was able to reduce tool wear and was able to complete 40 parts with a single tool, versus only 15 with a traditional roughing toolpath.

traditional roughing vs HEM comparison chart

The effect of HEM on a roughing application can also be seen in the case study below. While machining 6061 aluminum with Helical’s H45AL-C-3, a 1/2″, 3-flute rougher, this machinist was able to finish a part in 3 minutes, versus 11 minutes with a traditional roughing toolpath. One tool was able to make 900 parts with HEM, a boost of more than 150% over the traditional method.

traditional roughing vs HEM comparison chart

Importance of Tooling to HEM

Generally speaking, HEM is a matter of running the tool – not the tool itself. Virtually every tool can perform HEM, but using tooling built to withstand the rigors of HEM will result in greater success. While you can run a marathon in any type of shoes, you’d likely get the best results and performance from running shoes.

HEM is often regarded as a machining method for larger diameter tooling because of the aggressive MRR of the operation and the fragility of tooling under 1/8” in size. However, miniature tooling can be used to achieve HEM, too.

Using miniature tooling for HEM can create additional challenges that must be understood prior to beginning your operation.

Best Tools for HEM:

  • High flute count for increased MRR.
  • Large core diameter for added strength.
  • Tool coating optimized for the workpiece material for increased lubricity.
  • Variable Pitch/Variable Helix design for reduced harmonics.

Key Takeaways

HEM is a machining operation which continues to grow in popularity in shops worldwide. A milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower RDOC and higher ADOC than traditional milling, HEM distributes wear evenly across the cutting edge of a tool, reducing heat concentrations and slowing the rate of tool wear. This is especially true in tooling best suited to promote the benefits of HEM.

Tackling Titanium: A Guide to Machining Titanium and Its Alloys

In today’s manufacturing industry, titanium and its alloys have become staples in aerospace, medical, automotive, and firearm applications. This popular metal is resistant to rust and chemicals, is recyclable, and is extremely strong for its weight. However, there are several challenges that must be considered when machining titanium and selecting the appropriate tools and parameters for the job.

Titanium Varieties

Titanium is available in many varieties, including nearly 40 ASTM grades, as well as several additional alloys. Grades 1 through 4 are considered commercially pure titanium with varying requirements on ultimate tensile strength. Grade 5 (Ti6Al4V or Ti 6-4) is the most common combination, alloyed with 6 percent aluminum and 4 percent vanadium. Although titanium and its alloys are often grouped together, there are some key differences between them that must be noted before determining the ideal machining approach.

Titanium 6AL4V chips with helical hvti end mill

Helical Solutions’ HVTI End Mill is a great choice for high efficiency toolpaths in Titanium.

Titanium Concerns

Workholding

Although titanium may have more desirable material properties than your average steel, it also behaves more flexibly, and is often not as rigid as other metals. This requires a secure grip on titanium workpieces, and as rigid a machine setup as is possible. Other considerations include avoiding interrupted cuts, and keeping the tool in motion at all times of contact with the workpiece. Dwelling in a drilled hole or stopping a tool next to a profiled wall will cause the tool to rub – creating excess heat, work-hardening the material, and causing premature tool wear.

Heat Generation

Heat is a formidable enemy, and heat generation must be considered when selecting speeds and feeds. While commercially pure grades of titanium are softer and gummier than most of its alloys, the addition of alloying elements typically raises the hardness of titanium. This increases concerns regarding generated heat and tool wear. Maintaining a larger chipload and avoiding unnecessary rubbing aids with tool performance in the harder titanium alloys, and will minimize the amount of work hardening produced. Choosing a lower RPM, paired with a larger chipload, can provide a significant reduction in temperature when compared to higher speed options. Due to its low conduction properties, keeping temperatures to a minimum will put less stress on the tool and reduce wear. Using high-pressure coolant is also an effective method to reduce heat generation when machining titanium.

mitsubishi evo camshaft cutters machine from titanium with helical solutions end mill

These camshaft covers were custom made in titanium for Mitsubishi Evos.
Photo courtesy of @RebootEng (Instagram)

Galling and Built-Up Edge

The next hurdle to consider is that titanium has a strong tendency to adhere to a cutting tool, creating built up edge. This is a tricky issue which can be reduced by using copious amounts of high pressure coolant aimed directly at the cutting surface. The goal is to remove chips as soon as possible to prevent chip re-cutting, and keep the flutes clean and clear of debris. Galling is a big concern in the commercially pure grades of titanium due to their “gummy” nature. This can be addressed using the strategies mentioned previously, such as continuing feed at all times of workpiece contact, and using plenty of high-pressure coolant.

Titanium Solutions

While the primary concerns when machining titanium and its alloys may shift, the methods for mitigating them remain somewhat constant. The main ideas are to avoid galling, heat generation, work hardening, and workpiece or tool deflection. Use a lot of coolant at high pressure, keep speeds down and feeds up, keep the tool in motion when in contact with the workpiece, and use as rigid of a setup as possible.

In addition, selecting a proper tool coating can help make your job a successful one. With the high heat being generated during titanium machining operations, having a coating that can adequately deal with the temperature is key to maintaining performance through an operation. The proper coating will also help to avoid galling and evacuate chips effectively. Coatings such as Harvey Tool’s Aluminum Titanium Nitride (AlTiN Nano) produce an oxide layer at high temperatures, and will increase lubricity of the tool.

Tooling Solutions

Helical Solutions offers the HVTI-6 line of tooling optimized for High Efficiency Milling (HEM) in Titanium and its alloys. Helical’s HVTI-6 features its Aplus coating which offers added lubricity and high temperature resistance for improved tool life and faster speeds and feeds.

As titanium and its many alloys continue to grow in use across various industries, more machinists will be tasked with cutting this difficult material. However, heat management and appropriate chip evacuation, when paired with the correct coating, will enable a successful run.

machining titanium

Most Common Methods of Tool Entry

Tool entry is pivotal to machining success, as it’s one of the most punishing operations for a cutter. Entering a part in a way that’s not ideal for the tool or operation could lead to a damaged part or exhausted shop resources. Below, we’ll explore the most common part entry methods, as well as tips for how to perform them successfully.


Pre-Drilled Hole

Pre-drilling a hole to full pocket depth (and 5-10% larger than the end mill diameter) is the safest practice of dropping your end mill into a pocket. This method ensures the least amount of end work abuse and premature tool wear. It also facilitates smoother chip evacuation, reducing the risk of chip buildup and potential tool breakage. Machinists often use this technique when working with materials prone to chip welding or built-up edge formation, ensuring consistent machining performance.

tool entry predrill


Helical Interpolation

Helical Interpolation is a very common and safe practice of tool entry with ferrous materials. Employing corner radius end mills during this operation will decrease tool wear and lessen corner breakdown. With this method, use a programmed helix diameter of greater than 110-120% of the cutter diameter. Moreover, helical interpolation offers advantages in achieving precise surface finishes, making it a preferred choice for applications requiring high precision and surface quality, such as aerospace and medical device manufacturing.

helical interpolation


Ramping-In

This type of operation can be very successful, but institutes many different torsional forces the cutter must withstand. A strong core is key for this method, as is room for proper chip evacuation. Using tools with a corner radius, which strengthen its cutting portion, will help. Additionally, ramping-in allows for efficient material removal with reduced axial forces, minimizing workpiece distortion and enhancing dimensional accuracy. Machinists often employ this technique in contouring and pocketing operations, where maintaining part integrity is crucial.

ramping

Suggested Starting Ramp Angles:

Hard/Ferrous Materials: 1°-3°

Soft/Non-Ferrous Materials: 3°-10°

For more information on this popular tool entry method, see Ramping to Success.


Arcing

This method of tool entry is similar to ramping in both method and benefit. However, while ramping enters the part from the top, arcing does so from the side. The end mill follows a curved tool path, or arc, when milling, this gradually increasing the load on the tool as it enters the part. Additionally, the load put on the tool decreases as it exits the part, helping to avoid shock loading and tool breakage. Machinists often utilize this technique in mold making, die sinking, and 3D contouring operations, enhancing productivity and surface finish quality.

arching with end mill


Straight Plunge

This is a common, yet often problematic method of entering a part. A straight plunge into a part can easily lead to tool breakage. If opting for this machining method, however, certain criteria must be met for best chances of machining success. The tool must be center cutting, as end milling incorporates a flat entry point making chip evacuation extremely difficult. Drill bits are intended for straight plunging, however, and should be used for this type of operation.

tool entry


Straight Tool Entry

Straight entry into the part takes a toll on the cutter, as does a straight plunge. Until the cutter is fully engaged, the feed rate upon entry is recommended to be reduced by at least 50% during this operation. Machinists often resort to straight tool entry in simple machining operations with limited tool access or where other entry methods are impractical. However, it’s crucial to monitor tool wear and chip evacuation carefully to prevent chip buildup and potential tool breakage. Adjusting cutting parameters based on material properties and part geometry can further enhance machining efficiency and tool life.

tool entry


Roll-In Tool Entry

Rolling into the cut ensures a cutter to work its way to full engagement and naturally acquire proper chip thickness. The feed rate in this scenario should be reduced by 50%. Roll-in tool entry is particularly advantageous in slotting and profiling operations, where maintaining consistent chip thickness is critical for surface finish quality and dimensional accuracy. Machinists often utilize this technique in high-speed machining applications, maximizing material removal rates while minimizing tool wear and heat generation.

tool entry

Mastering various tool entry techniques is essential for machining success. By understanding and implementing these methods effectively, machinists can optimize performance while prolonging the lifespan of their tools. Continual evaluation of cutting conditions and adaptation of entry strategies based on material properties and part geometry are key to achieving superior machining results.

How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


What Is Tool Wear?

Tool wear is the breakdown and gradual failure of a cutting tool due to regular operation. Every tool will experience tool wear at some point in its life. Excessive wear will show inconsistencies and have unwanted effects on your workpiece, so it is important to avoid tool wear in order to achieve optimal end mill performance. Tool wear can also lead to failure, which in turn can lead to serious damage, rework, and scrapped parts.

two close up images comparing an end mill with no tool wear and another with excessive tool wear
An example of a tool with no wear
end mill with excessive tool wear on cutting edge
An example of a tool with excessive wear

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To prolong tool life, identifying and mitigating the various signs of cutting tool wear is key. Both thermal and mechanical stresses cause tool wear, with heat and abrasion being the major culprits. Learning how to identify the most common types of tool wear and what causes them can help machinists remedy issues quickly and extend tool longevity.

Types of Tool Wear And Their Solutions

Abrasive Wear

The wear land is a pattern of uniform abrasion on the cutting edge of the tool, caused by mechanical abrasion from the workpiece. This dulls the cutting edge of a tool, and can even alter dimensions such as the tool diameter. At higher speeds, excessive heat becomes more of an issue, causing more damage to the cutting edge, especially when an appropriate tool coating is not used.

Utilizing Proper Tool Coatings

Using a tool coating with a high microhardness rating is crucial to avoiding abrasive wear. Microhardness ratings help determine a cutting tool’s level of wear resistance. For example, bare tungsten carbide has a Vickers Hardness (HV) ranging from 760 HV to 1740 HV while coatings such as TiN have an HV of 2213 or more. Despite facing maximum forces during cutting operations, the addition of coating on a tool significantly improves its ease of material removal due to higher hardness. When hardness in a coating is elevated wear is mitigated due to the stack up.

end mill with abrasive wear on cutting edge

Coolant Usage

If the wear land becomes excessive or causes premature tool failure, reducing the cutting speed and optimizing coolant usage can help. Coolant is directed towards the cutting action of a tool during CNC operations. It prevents tool failure by countering high temperatures. Generally machinists opt for either Flood or High Pressure coolant methods. Flooding allows for low pressure chip flushing by providing lubricity. High Pressure coolant provides almost instant cooling of a part and works to evacuate chips at a faster rate. Both methods improve part finish and minimize chip recutting, which can damage a cutting tool.

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling (HEM) toolpaths can help reduce wear by spreading the work done by the tool over its entire length of cut. This prevents localized wear and will prolong tool life by using the entire cutting edge available. The image referenced below compares traditional (standard) milling and the newer HEM method. HEM evenly disperses heat across the cutting edge by employing a lower radial depth of cut (RDOC) and a higher axial depth of cut (ADOC). This reduces the likelihood of tool failure and lengthens the tool wear process.

infographic with two end mills comparing the difference between standard milling and high efficiency milling at the workpiece

Chipping

Chipping can be easily identified by a nicked or flaked edge on the cutting tool, or by examining the surface finish of a part. A poor surface finish can often indicate that a tool has experienced some sort of chipping, which can lead to eventual catastrophic tool failure if it is not caught. \When a chipped tool engages with a workpiece the cutting edges are not even leading to high and low spots within the surface finish.

end mill with chipping tool wear

Chipping is typically caused by excessive loads and shock-loading during operation, but it can also be caused by thermal cracking, another type of tool wear which is explored in further detail below.

Reduce Chatter

To counter chipping, ensure the milling operation is completely free of vibration and chatter. Chatter occurs because cutting tools experience high forces during CNC machining operations. While machinists cannot entirely avoid chatter, minimizing it prevents vibration marks and excess wear from appearing along the surface of a tool or part. Taking a look at the speeds and feeds can also help. Interrupted cuts and repeated part entry can also have a negative impact on a tool. Reducing feed rates for these situations can mitigate the risk of chipping.


Thermal Cracking

Thermal cracking is often identified by cracks in the tool perpendicular to the cutting edge. Cracks form slowly, but they can lead to both chipping and premature tool failure.

end mill thermal cracking

Thermal cracking, as its name suggests, is caused by extreme temperature fluctuations during milling. Adding a proper coating to an end mill is beneficial in providing heat resistance and reduced abrasion on a tool.

HEM Toolpaths

HEM toolpaths provide excellent protection against thermal cracking. As previously mentioned, these toolpaths spread the heat across the cutting edge of the tool, reducing the overall temperature and preventing serious fluctuations in heat.


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Fracture

Fracture is the complete loss of tool usage due to sudden breakage, often as a result of improper speeds and feeds, an incorrect coating, or an inappropriate depth of cut.

Optimal Tool Holding

Tool holder issues or loose work holding can also cause a fracture, as can inconsistencies in workpiece material properties. Establishing a secure connection between the tool and machine reduces the risk of tool runout and scrapped parts. Machinists generally experience improved performance in hydraulic and shrink fit tool holders compared to more mechanical tightening methods.

broken end mill in two pieces from excessive tool wear
Photo courtesy of @cubanana___ on Instagram

Appropriate Depth of Cut

Adjusting the speeds, feeds, and depth of cut and checking the setup for rigidity will help to reduce fracturing. The tool’s axial engagement with a part must be appropriate in order to prevent tool deflection, especially during slotting operations. As pictured below, with increasing slot lengths comes the necessity for longer lengths of cut. Above all, you should choose a tool that offers the highest productivity and least amount of deflection.

drawing of three end mills and their axial depth of cut during cnc slotting operations

Optimizing coolant usage can also be helpful to avoid hot spots in materials which can dull a cutting edge and cause a fracture. HEM toolpaths prevent fracture by offering a more consistent load on a tool. Shock loading is reduced, causing less stress on a tool, which lessens the likelihood of breakage and increases tool life.


It is important to monitor tools and keep them in good, working condition to avoid downtime and save money. Wear is caused by both thermal and mechanical forces, which can be mitigated by running with appropriate running parameters and HEM toolpaths to spread wear over the entire length of cut. While every tool will eventually experience some sort of tool wear, the effects can be delayed by paying close attention to speeds and feeds and depth of cut. Preemptive action should be taken to correct issues before they cause complete tool failure.  

Ball Nose Milling Strategy Guide

Ball Nose Milling Without a Tilt Angle

Ball nose end mills are ideal for machining 3-dimensional contour shapes typically found in the mold and die industry, the manufacturing of turbine blades, and fulfilling general part radius requirements. To properly employ a ball nose end mill (with no tilt angle) and gain the optimal tool life and part finish, follow the 2-step process below (see Figure 1).

infographic of ball nose milling parameters without tilt angle

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Step One: Calculate Your Effective Cutting Diameter

A ball nose end mill’s Effective Cutting Diameter (Deff) differs from its actual cutting diameter when utilizing an Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) that is less than the full radius of the ball. Calculating the effective cutting diameter can be done using the chart below that represents some common tool diameters and ADOC combinations or by using the traditional calculation (see Figure 2).

ball nose effective cutting diameter chart
ball nose cutting diameter calculation

Step Two: Calculate Your Compensated Speed

Given the new effective cutting diameter a “Compensated Speed” will need to be calculated. If you are using less than the cutter diameter, then its likely your RPM’s will need to be adjusted upward (see Figure 3).

ball nose compensated speed calculation

KEY
ADOC = Axial Depth of Cut
D = Cutting Diameter
Deff = Effective Cutting Diameter
R = Tool Radius (Dia./2)
RDOC = Radial Depth of Cut
SFM = Surface Feet per Minute
Sc = Compensated Speed


Ball Nose Milling With a Tilt Angle

If possible, it is highly recommended to use ball nose end mills on an incline (ß) to avoid a “0” SFM condition at the center of the tool, thus increasing tool life and part finish (Figure 4). For ball nose optimization (and in addition to tilting the tool), it is highly recommended to feed the tool in the direction of the incline and utilize a climb milling technique.

ball nose milling infographic of adoc with tilt angle

To properly employ a ball nose end mill with a tool angle and gain the most optimal tool life and part finish, follow the 2-step process below.

Step One: Calculate Your Effective Cutting Diameter

The chart below that represents some common effective cutting diameters and ADOCs at a 15º tilt angle. Otherwise, the traditional calculation below may be used (see Figure 5).

ball nose effective cutting diameter chart
ball nose cutting diameter calculation

Step Two: Calculate Your Compensated Speed

Given the new effective cutting diameter a compensated speed will need to be calculated. If you are using less than the cutter diameter, then its likely your RPM’s will need to be adjusted upward (see Figure 6).

ball nose compensated speed calculation

KEY
Deff = Effective Cutting Diameter
SFM = Mfg Recommended Surface Feet per Minute
Sc = Compensated Speed

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