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

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


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

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

Effects of Built-Up Edge in Turning Application

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

built up cutting edge on turning tools
Image Source: Carbide inserts Wear Failure modes. | machining4.eu, 2020

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

Causes of Built-Up Edge in Turning Applications

Improper Tooling Choice

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

various turning tools

Using Aged Tooling

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

Eliminate BUE With Micro 100 Speeds and Feeds Charts

Insufficient Heat Generation

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

4 Simple Ways to Mitigate BUE in Turning Applications

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

Understanding Wood Properties for CNC Woodworking Projects

Machinists oftentimes confuse wood for being an “easy to machine material” during CNC Woodworking because of how much softer the material is than metal. In some sense this is true, as you can program wood cutting parameters in CNC Woodworking with much higher feed rates compared to that of most metals. On the other hand, however, wood has many unique properties that need to be accounted for in order to optimize the cutting process for maximum efficiency.

Get the Most Out of Your CNC Woodworking Projects With Harvey Tool’s Speeds and Feeds

Types of Wood for CNC Woodworking

There are 3 main categories of wood for woodworking: hardwood, softwood and engineered wood.

Hardwood

The textbook definition of a hardwood tree is an angiosperm, more commonly referred to as a broadleaf tree. A few examples would be oak, birch, and maple trees. These types of trees are often used for making high quality furniture, decks, flooring, and construction components.

Softwood

A softwood is a coniferous tree, sometimes known as a gymnosperm. These are typically less dense than hardwoods and are therefore associated with being easier to machine. Do not let the name fool you: some soft woods are harder than some hardwoods. Harvey Tool’s Speeds and Feeds Charts for its offering of Material Specific End Mills for Wood are categorized by Janka hardness for this exact reason. Janka hardness is a modified hardness scale with a test specifically designed for classifying types of wood.

Softwood is used to make furniture, but can also be used for doors, window panes, and paper products. A couple of examples are pine and cedar trees. Table 1 lists 20 common woods with their Janka hardness.

Common Name:Janka Imperial Hardness:
Balsa90
Buckeye, Yellow350
Willow, Black360
Pine, Sugar380
Cottonwood, Eastern430
Chesnut, American540
Pine, Red560
Douglas-Fir, Interior North600
Birch, Gray760
Ash, Black850
Cedar, Eastern Red900
Cherry, American Black950
Walnut, Black1010
Beech, American1300
Oak, White1360
Maple, Sugar1450
Apple1730
Cherry, Brazilian2350
Olive2700
Rosewood, Indian3170
Table 1: Janka Hardness of Common Woods

Engineered Woods

Engineered wood, or composite wood, is any type of wood fiber, particle, or strand material held together with an adhesive or binding agent. Although some of these materials are easier to machine than solid woods, the adhesive holding the material together can be extremely abrasive. This can cause premature tool wear and create difficulties when cnc woodworking. It’s important to note that some types of engineered woods are more difficult to machine than others, specifically those with a higher amount of binding material. These types should be programmed with less aggressive speeds and feeds. For example, medium density fiberboard (MDF) if more difficult to machine than plywood, but much easier to machine than phenolic.

stack of medium density fiberboard pieces for cnc woodworking
Figure 1: Example of Medium Density Fiberboard

Properties of Wood

Grain Size

Technically speaking, wood can be considered a natural composite material as it consists of strong and flexible cellulose fibers held together by a stiffer glue-like matrix composed of lignin and hemicellulose. If you think in terms of construction, the cellulose fibers would be the steel rebar, and the concrete would be the lignin and hemicellulose. Wood with large cellulose fibers are considered to be coarse-grained (oak and ash). Woods that have smaller and fewer fibers are considered fine-grained (pine and maple). Softwoods tend to be fine-grained and are therefore stereotyped as being easier to machine since they do not have as many strong fibers to shear. It’s important to note that not all hardwood trees are coarse grained and not all softwood trees are fine-grained.

diagram of natural wood fibers for cnc woodworking
Figure 2: Simplified diagram of fibers that constitute natural wood. The cellulose fibers run vertically in this depiction.

Moisture Content (MC)

Moisture content (MC) is one of the most important variables to consider when machining wood. An extremely common problem with building anything with wood is its tendency to warp. Moisture variability in the air inevitably affects the moisture content within the wood. Any change in moisture content (whether an increase or a decrease) will disturb the shape of the workpiece. This is why one must take into account what type of moisture a product will be exposed to in its final resting place.

Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC)

Equilibrium moisture content (EMC) occurs when wood has reached a balance point in its moisture content. Interior EMC values across the United States average at about 8%, with exterior values averaging around 12%. These values vary around the country due to the differences in temperature and humidity. For example, the southeastern United States have an average interior EMC of 11% while the southwest averages about 6% (excluding the coastal region). It’s important to consider what region and application the final product is going to encounter so that the wood with the correct moisture content can be selected before machining. Most species of flat-grain wood will change size 1% for every 4% change in MC. The direction of warping depends on the grain orientation.

United States map showing average regional indoor EMC
Figure 4: Average regional indoor EMC

Generally, power requirements for an operation rise with increasing moisture content, mainly because of the surge in density. Density of wood increases with rising MC. The additional power may be necessary to push a heavier chip out of the cutting zone during CNC Woodworking. It’s worth noting that, like synthetic polymers, wood is a viscoelastic material that absorbs energy as it becomes wetter. The proportional limit of its mechanical properties intensifies as MC increases.

When machining some types of wood, cutting region temperature will surge with increasing MC, but in other species it will decline. Be safe and avoid rapid tool wear by decreasing SFM when machining a wood with a moisture content above 10%. Harvey Tool Speeds and Feeds Charts suggest a decrease of 30 per MC percentage point. As always, though, it depends on the type of wood being machined and the type of operation being performed.

Temperature change is not the only reason higher moisture content is associated with rapid tool wear. Moisture within wood isn’t just associated with water, but also with resins, sugars, oils, starches, alkaloids, and tannin present within the water. These substances react particularly well with high speed steel, and to a lesser degree with carbide.

Knots and Their Effect on CNC Woodworking

A knot is a portion of a branch or limb that has become incorporated in the trunk of a tree. The influence of knots on the mechanical properties of wood is due to the interruption of continuity and change in direction of wood fibers associated with it. These properties are lower in this portion of the wood because the fibers around the knot are distorted and lead to stress concentrations. “Checking” (cracking due to shrinking) often occurs around knots during drying. Hardness and strength perpendicular to the grain are exceptions to generally lower mechanical properties. Because of these last two exceptions, woodworking machining parameters should be reduced when encountering a knotted portion of the workpiece to avoid shock loading.

typical natural wood knot in hardwood
Figure 5: Photo of a typical knot

Hardenability of Steel

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

Steel At Microscopic Scale:

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

depiction of BBC and FCC crystal structures in steel
Figure 1: Example of a BCC crystal structure (left) and FCC crystal structure (right)

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

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

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

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

Hardening at Microscopic Scale:

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

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

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

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

1. The size and shape of the specimen

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

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

2.  The composition of the steel

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

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

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

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

chart of hardenability for 4140, 1040, and 4340 steel
Figure 4: Hardenability charts for 4140, 1040 and 4340 steels

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The method of quenching

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

metalworker quenching casts in an oil bath
Figure 6: Metalworker quenching casts in an oil bath

Machining Hardened Steels

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

Shop Harvey Tool’s Offering of Fully Stocked End Mills for Hardened Steels

Hardened Steel, Summarized

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

Grappling With Graphite: A Machining Guide

Despite being a softer material, graphite is actually one of the most difficult materials to machine. There are many considerations machinists need to make in terms of tooling, coolant use, and personal safety when it comes to machining these parts. This “In The Loupe” post will examine the material properties, key machining techniques to consider, and tips for properly selecting cutting tools to achieve success in this tricky material.

What is Graphite?

While graphite is an allotrope of carbon, the two terms are not simply interchangeable. Carbon is an element that can form into several different allotropes including graphite, diamond, and fullerite. Graphite happens to be the most stable form of carbon, and is the most common, as carbon naturally occurs as graphite under standard conditions.

Graphite is most recognized for its superior conductivity and resistance to high heat and corrosion. This makes it a common material in high heat, high-pressure situations in the aerospace, electrode, nuclear, energy, and military industries.

graphite cnc material

Even though graphite can handle intense high-pressure situations with ease, it is actually a very soft, abrasive, and brittle material. This can cause serious challenges when machining, as graphite can eat up cutting tools, and severely minimize a tool’s usable life. However, with the proper tooling and techniques, there are ways to optimize graphite machining to be more cost-effective than the competition.

Graphite Machining Techniques

Since graphite is such a soft and brittle material, special consideration needs to be made when machining to avoid chipping it. To get a good cut, it is recommended that you take light chip loads and use lower feed rates in graphite. If you were to take a heavy cut at a fast feed rate, you would start chipping the graphite and could cause it to fracture completely. To give a comparison point, chip loads for graphite are similar to those for Aluminum materials, but with less than half the feed rate.

To give you an idea of speeds and feeds for graphite, here is an example using a 1/4″ Harvey Tool CVD Diamond Coated, 4 flute Square End Mill. If that tool was running at a standard RPM of 12,000 at 780 SFM, the recommended chip load would be .00292 for a feed rate of 140 IPM.

electrode machining

In terms of machine setup, the one major tip to remember is to always avoid using coolant. Graphite is a fairly porous material, and so it can absorb coolant and act as a “coolant sponge,” which will cause problems with finished parts. Inside the machine and on the tooling, the coolant can actually react with the graphite dust and create an abrasive slurry, which will cause problems while machining. A vacuum system is recommended for clearing material while machining graphite. Otherwise, coated tools should be able to run dry.

Another thing to note when machining graphite is that because graphite does not produce chips, but rather a cloud of very abrasive dust, it can be harmful to operators and machines without proper care. Operators should be wearing a protective mask to avoid inhaling the graphite dust. Proper ventilation and maintaining air quality in the shop is also key for the protection of machinists when working in graphite.

Since the graphite dust is also extremely conductive, it can easily damage non-protective circuits inside your CNC machine, which can cause major electrical issues. While coolant is not recommended, a vacuum system can help to remove the dust, keeping it from accumulating too much inside the machine and preventing serious problems.

Increase Your Graphite Machining Efficiency – Tap Into Harvey Tool’s Speeds and Feeds Charts Today

Cutting Tools for Graphite Machining

As previously mentioned, graphite is a notorious cutting tool-killer due to its extremely abrasive nature. Even the highest quality carbide end mills, if left uncoated, will wear quickly on most jobs. This extreme wear may force a tool change during an operation, which could lead to an imperfection in the part when trying to restart the operation where the worn tool left off.

graphite cutting tools

When selecting a cutting tool for graphite machining, the coating and cutting edge is the most important consideration. Flute count, helix angles, and other key features of the tool geometry ultimately come second to the coating when purchasing tooling.

For graphite machining, a CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) diamond coating is recommended whenever possible to maximize tool life and tool performance. These coatings are grown directly into the carbide end mill, improving the hardness and leaving the tool with a coating layer that is 5 times thicker than a PVD Diamond Coating. While not the sharpest edge, the CVD diamond coating provides much longer tool life than other diamond coatings due to the thicker diamond layer.

Even though initial tooling costs may be higher with CVD coated tools versus uncoated tools, since CVD coated tools see considerably longer tool life than uncoated tools, this makes the cost per part shrink significantly. In difficult, abrasive materials like graphite, the uncoated carbide tool will last a short time before the abrasiveness of the graphite completely wears down the cutting edge. Having a CVD coated tool will give you a leg up over the competition, keep your machine running with less downtime for tool changes, and ultimately deliver substantial cost savings.

end mills for graphite
CVD Diamond Coated End Mill from Harvey Tool

Overall, graphite can be a difficult material to machine, but with the right cutting tools and proper speeds and feeds you will be making quality parts in no time. Harvey Tool offers a wide selection of CVD coated end mills in various diameters, reaches, and lengths of cut to ensure you have what you need for any job that comes your way.

Benefits & Drawbacks of High and Low Helix Angles

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

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

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

Helix Angles Rule of Thumb

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

Slow Helix Tool <40°

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

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

High Helix Tool >40°

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

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

Helix Angle: An Important Decision

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

When to and Not to Use Drop Hole Allowance

Dovetail Cutters are cutting tools that create a trapezoidal-type shape, or a dovetail groove, in a part. Due to the form of these tools, special considerations need to be made in order to achieve long tool life and superior results. This is particularly true when machining O-ring grooves, as this operation requires the tool to drop into the part to begin cutting. Using an appropriate tool entry method, specifically understanding when drop hole allowance is (and is not) needed, is important to keep common dovetail mishaps from occurring.

What is a Drop-Hole?

When designing parts featuring O-ring grooves, the consideration of drop-hole allowance is a pivotal first step. A drop-hole is an off-center hole milled during the roughing/slotting operation. This feature allows for a significantly larger, more rigid tool to be used. This is because the cutter no longer has to fit into the slot, but into a hole with a diameter larger than its cutter diameter.

drop hole allowance

Why consider adding a Drop-Hole?

When compared to tools without drop-hole allowance, tools with drop-hole allowance have a much larger neck diameter-to-cutter diameter ratio. This makes the drop-hole tools far stronger, permitting the tool to take heavy radial depths of cut and fewer step-overs. Using a drop-hole will allow the use of the stronger tool, which will increase production rate and improve tool life.

Machining Operation with Drop-Hole Allowance

drop hole allowance

A maximum of 4 radial passes per side are needed.

When Not to Drop Hole

Drop-holes are sometimes not permitted in a design due to the added stress concentration point it leaves. Common examples for where a drop-hole would not be allowed include:

  • In high pressure applications
  • In seals requiring a high reliability
  • Where dangerous or hazardous fluids are being used

The issue with drop-hole allowance is that the additional clearance used for tool entry can create a weak spot in the seal, which can then become compromised under certain conditions. Ultimately, drop-hole allowance requires approval from the customer to ensure the application allows for it.

Machining Operation Without Drop-Hole Allowance

drop hole allowance

A maximum of 20 radial passes per side are needed.

Drop-Hole Placement

When adding a drop-hole to your part, it is important to ensure that the feature is placed correctly to maximize seal integrity. Per the below figure, the drop-hole should be placed off center of the groove, ensuring that only one side of the groove is affected.

drop hole allowance

It is also necessary to ensure that drop-hole features are put on the correct side of the groove. Since O-rings are used as a seal between pressures, it is important to have the drop-hole bordering the high pressure zone. As pressure moves from high to low, the O-ring will be forced into the fully supported side, allowing for a proper seal (See image below).

drop hole allowance

Workholding Styles & Considerations

Machinists have a number of variables to consider when setting up devices for a machining operation. When it comes to cnc 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.

CNC 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 cnc workholding setup in order to secure the piece properly during machining. Fixtures and jigs are examples of customized 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 cnc 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.

fixture body

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.

cnc material support

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 Workholding 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 CNC workholding 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 Workholding 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’ cnc workholding setup will boost productivity by saving on changeover, time as well as cost of scrapped, out of tolerance parts.

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.

shrink fit tool holder

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.

Explore More About Tool Holders With Our Cutting Tools Explained Webinar

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.

Slaying Stainless Steel: Machining Guide

Stainless steel can be as common as Aluminum in many shops, especially when manufacturing parts for the aerospace and automotive industries. It is a fairly versatile material with many different alloys and grades which can accommodate a wide variety of applications. However, milling steel can also be immensely difficult. Stainless steels are notorious end mill assassins, so dialing in your speeds and feeds and selecting the proper tool is essential for machining success.

Material Properties

Stainless steels are high-alloy steels with superior corrosion resistance to carbon and low-alloy steels. This is largely due to their high chromium content, with most grades of stainless steel alloys containing at least 10% of the element.

Stainless steel can be broken out into one of five categories: Austenitic, Ferritic, Martensitic, Precipitation Hardened (PH), and Duplex. In each category, there is one basic, general purpose alloy. From there, small changes in composition are made to the base in order to create specific properties for various applications.

For reference, here are the properties of each of these groupings, as well as a few examples of the popular grades and their common uses.

CategoryPropertiesPopular GradesCommon Uses
AusteniticNon-magnetic, outstanding corrosion and heat resistance.304, 316Food processing equipment, gutters, bolts, nuts, and other fasteners.
FerriticMagnetic, lower corrosion and heat resistance than Austenitic.430, 446Automotive parts and kitchen appliances.
MartensiticMagnetic, moderate corrosion resistance – not for severe corrosion.416, 420, 440Knives, firearms, surgical instruments, and hand tools.
Precipitation Hardened (PH)Strongest grade, heat treatable, severe corrosion resistance.17-4 PH, 15-5 PHAerospace components.
DuplexStronger mixture of both Austenitic and Ferritic.244, 2304, 2507Water treatment plants, pressure vessels.

Tool Selection

Choosing the correct tooling for your application is crucial when machining stainless steel. Roughing, finishing, slotting, and high efficiency milling toolpaths can all be optimized for stainless steel by choosing the correct style of end mill.

Traditional Roughing

For traditional roughing, a 4 or 5 flute end mill is recommended. 5 flute end mills will allow for higher feed rates than their 4 flute counterparts, but either style would work well for roughing applications. Below is an excellent example of traditional roughing in 17-4 Stainless Steel.

Slotting

For slotting in stainless steel, chip evacuation is going to be key. For this reason, 4 flute tools are the best choice because the lower flute count allows for more efficient chip evacuation. Tools with chipbreaker geometry also make for effective slotting in stainless steel, as the smaller chips are easier to evacuate from the cut.

stainless steel machining

Finishing

When finishing stainless steel parts, a high flute count and/or high helix is required for the best results. Finishing end mills for stainless steel will have a helix angle over 40 degrees, and a flute count of 5 or more. For more aggressive finishing toolpaths, flute count can range from 7 flutes to as high as 14. Below is a great example of a finishing run in 17-4 Stainless Steel.

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling can be a very effective machining technique in stainless steels if the correct tools are selected. Chipbreaker roughers would make an excellent choice, in either 5 or 7 flute styles, while standard 5-7 flute, variable pitch end mills can also perform well in HEM toolpaths.

stainless steel

HEV-5

Helical Solutions offers the HEV-5 end mill, which is an extremely versatile tool for a variety of applications. The HEV-5 excels in finishing and HEM toolpaths, and also performs well above average in slotting and traditional roughing. Available in square, corner radius, and long reach styles, this well-rounded tool is an excellent choice to kickstart your tool crib and optimize it for stainless steel machining.

stainless steel machining

Running Parameters

While tool selection is a critical step to more effective machining, dialing in the proper running parameters is equally important. There are many factors that go into determining the running parameters for stainless steel machining, but there are some general guidelines to follow as a starting point.

Generally speaking, when machining stainless steels a SFM of between 100-350 is recommended, with a chip load ranging between .0005” for a 1/8” end mill up to .006” for a 1” end mill. A full breakdown of these general guidelines is available here.

Machining Advisor Pro

Machining Advisor Pro is a cutting edge resource designed to precisely calculate running parameters for high performance Helical Solutions end mills in materials like stainless steel, aluminum, and much more. Simply input your tool, your exact material grade, and machine setup and Machining Advisor Pro will generate fully customizable running parameters. This free resource allows you to push your tools harder, faster, and smarter to truly dominate the competition.

Dial In Your Stainless Steel Machining Application With Helical Solutions’ Machining Advisor Pro

In Conclusion

Stainless steel machining doesn’t have to be hard. By identifying the proper material grade for each part, selecting the perfect cutting tool, and optimizing running parameters, headaches from milling steel can become a thing of the past.

Tips for Machining Gummy Materials

Machinists face many problems and challenges when manufacturing gummy materials. These types of materials include low carbon steels, stainless steels, nickel alloys, titanium, copper, and metals with high chromium content. Gummy materials have a tendency to produce long, stringy chips, and are prone to creating built-up edge. These common problems can impact surface finish, tool life, and part tolerances.

Continuous Chip With a Built-Up Edge

Continuous chips are long, ribbon-like chips that are formed when the tool cuts through a material, separating chips along the shear plane created by the tool’s cutting edge. These chips slide up the tool face at a constant flow to create a long and stringy chip. The high temperatures, pressures, and friction produced when cutting are all factors that lead to the sticky chips that adhere to the cutting edge. When this built up edge becomes large enough, it can break off leaving behind some excess material on the workpiece, or gouge the workpiece leaving a poor surface finish.

Coolant

Using large amounts of coolant can help with temperature control and chip evacuation while machining gummy materials. Temperature is a big driving force behind built-up edge. The higher the temperature gets, the easier and faster a built-up edge can form. Coolant will keep local temperatures lower and can prevent the material from work hardening and galling. Long, stringy chips have the potential to “nest” around the tool and cause tool failure. Coolant will help break these chips into smaller pieces and move them away from the cutting action by flash cooling them, resulting in fracturing of the chip into smaller pieces. Coolant should be applied directly to the contact area of the tool and workpiece to have the maximum effect.

Tool Engagement

Running Parameters

The tool should be constantly fed into the workpiece. Allowing the tool to dwell can cause work hardening and increase the chance of galling and built up edge. A combination of higher feed rates and lower speeds should also be used to keep material removal rates at a reasonable level. An increase in feed rates will raise the temperature less than an increase in speed. This relates to chip thinning and the ability of a tool to cut the material rather than rub against it.

Climb Milling

Climb milling is the preferred method as it directs more heat into the chip than the tool. Using climb milling, the largest chip cross section is created first, allowing the tool to cut through the material much easier. The heat generated from friction when the tool penetrates the workpiece is transferred to the chip rather than the tool because the thickest part of the chip is able to hold more heat than the thinnest.

climb milling

Initial Workpiece Engagement

Sudden, large changes in force, like when a tool initially engages a workpiece, have a negative impact on tool life. Using an arc-in tool path to initially engage the material allows for increased stability with a gradual increase in cutting forces and heat. A gradual tool entry such as this is always the preferred method over an abrupt straight entry.

Tool Selection

A tool with a sharp and robust cutting edge should be selected to machine gummy materials. Helical has tooling specifically designed for Titanium and Stainless Steel to make your tool selection process easy.

Additionally, choosing a tool with the correct coating for the material you are machining will help to protect the cutting edge and result in a far lower chance of built up edge or galling than an uncoated tool. A tool with a higher flute count can spread tool wear out over multiple cutting edges, extending tool life. Tool wear is not always linear in gummy materials; as soon as a little bit of wear appears, tool failure will happen relatively quickly. Changing the tool at the first sign of wear may be necessary to ensure that parts are not scrapped.

7 flute end mill for gummy materials

Gummy Materials Summarized

Every material machines somewhat differently, but understanding what is happening when the tool cuts the workpiece and how this affects tool life and finish will go a long way to successfully completing any job.  Built-up edge and excess heat can be minimized by selecting the correct tool and coating for the material, and following the tips and techniques mentioned above. Finally, be sure to check your machine’s runout and ensure maximum rigidity prior to beginning your machining operation.