How to Optimize Results While Machining with Miniature End Mills

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

Key Cutting Differences between Conventional and Miniature End Mills


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

The runout of an operation should not exceed 2% of the tool diameter. Excess runout will lead to a poor surface finish.

Chip Thickness

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

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

Figure 1: (A) Miniature tool operation where the edge radius is greater than the chip thickness (B) Conventional operation where the edge radius is small than the chip thickness

Tool Deflection

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

Workpiece Homogeny

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

Surface Finish

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

Tool Path Best Practices for Miniature End Mills

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

Ramping Into a Part

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

Machining in Circular Paths

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

Slotting with a Miniature Tool

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

Slowing Down Your Feed Around Corners

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

Climb Milling vs. Conventional Milling

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

Combined Roughing and Finishing Operations

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

Helpful Tips for Achieving Successful Micromachining Operations

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

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

Benefits & Drawbacks of High and Low Helix Angles

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

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

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

Helix Angles Rule of Thumb

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

Slow Helix Tool <40°


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


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

High Helix Tool >40°


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


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

Helix Angle: An Important Decision

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

Selecting the Right Chamfer Cutter Tip Geometry

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

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

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

Three Types of Harvey Tool Chamfer Cutters

Type I: Pointed

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

Type II: Flat End, Non-End Cutting

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

Type III: Flat End, End Cutting

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

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

How to Select a Spindle

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

Why is Choosing the Right Spindle Important?

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

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

Types of CNC Spindles

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

CAT and BT Holders

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

HSK Holders

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

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

Torque vs. Horsepower

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

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

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

Torque-Horsepower Chart

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

Image Source: HAAS Machine Manual

Proper Spindle Size

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

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

How Boring Bar Geometries Impact Cutting Operations

Boring is a turning operation that allows a machinist to make a pre-existing hole bigger through multiple iterations of internal boring. It has a number of advantages over traditional drilling methods:

  • The ability to cost-effectively produce a hole outside standard drill sizes
  • The creation of more precise holes, and therefore tighter tolerances
  • A greater finish quality
  • The opportunity to create multiple dimensions within the bore itself


Solid carbide boring bars, such as those offered by Micro 100,  have a few standard dimensions that give the tool basic functionality in removing material from an internal bore. These include:

Minimum Bore Diameter (D1): The minimum diameter of a hole for the cutting end of the tool to completely fit inside without making contact at opposing sides

Maximum Bore Depth (L2): Maximum depth that the tool can reach inside a hole without contact from the shank portion

Shank Diameter (D2): Diameter of the portion of the tool in contact with the tool holder

Overall Length (L1): Total length of the tool

Centerline Offset (F): The distance between a tool’s tip and the shank’s centerline axis

Tool Selection

In order to minimize tool deflection and therefore risk of tool failure, it is important to choose a tool with a max bore depth that is only slightly larger than the length it is intended to cut. It is also beneficial to maximize the boring bar and shank diameter as this will increase the rigidity of the tool. This must be balanced with leaving enough room for chips to evacuate. This balance ultimately comes down to the material being bored. A harder material with a lower feed rate and depths of cut may not need as much space for chips to evacuate, but may require a larger and more rigid tool. Conversely, a softer material with more aggressive running parameters will need more room for chip evacuation, but may not require as rigid of a tool.


In addition, they have a number of different geometric features in order to adequately handle the three types of forces acting upon the tool during this machining process. During a standard boring operation, the greatest of these forces is tangential, followed by feed (sometimes called axial), and finally radial. Tangential force acts perpendicular to the rake surface and pushes the tool away from the centerline. Feed force does not cause deflection, but pushes back on the tool and acts parallel to the centerline. Radial force pushes the tool towards the center of the bore.


Defining the Geometric Features of Boring Bars:

Nose Radius: the roundness of a tool’s cutting point

Side Clearance (Radial Clearance): The angle measuring the tilt of the nose relative to the axis parallel to the centerline of the tool

End Clearance (Axial Clearance): The angle measuring the tilt of the end face relative to the axis running perpendicular to the centerline of the tool

Side Rake Angle: The angle measuring the sideways tilt of the side face of the tool

Back Rake Angle: The angle measuring the degree to which the back face is tilted in relation to the centerline of the workpiece

Side Relief Angle: The angle measuring how far the bottom face is tilted away from the workpiece

End Relief Angle: The angle measuring the tilt of the end face relative to the line running perpendicular to the center axis of the tool

Effects of Geometric Features on Cutting Operations:

Nose Radius: A large nose radius makes more contact with the workpiece, extending the life of the tool and the cutting edge as well as leaving a better finish. However, too large of a radius will lead to chatter as the tool is more exposed to tangential and radial cutting forces.

Another way this feature affects the cutting action is in determining how much of the cutting edge is struck by tangential force. The magnitude of this effect is largely dependent on the feed and depth of cut. Different combinations of depth of cuts and nose angles will result in either shorter or longer lengths of the cutting edge being exposed to the tangential force. The overall effect being the degree of edge wear. If only a small portion of the cutting edge is exposed to a large force it would be worn down faster than if a longer portion of the edge is succumb to the same force. This phenomenon also occurs with the increase and decrease of the end cutting edge angle.

End Cutting Edge Angle: The main purpose of the end cutting angle is for clearance when cutting in the positive Z direction (moving into the hole). This clearance allows the nose radius to be the main point of contact between the tool and the workpiece. Increasing the end cutting edge angle in the positive direction decreases the strength of the tip, but also decreases feed force. This is another situation where balance of tip strength and cutting force reduction must be found. It is also important to note that the angle may need to be changed depending on the type of boring one is performing.

Side Rake Angle: The nose angle is one geometric dimension that determines how much of the cutting edge is hit by tangential force but the side rake angle determines how much that force is redistributed into radial force. A positive rake angle means a lower tangential cutting force as allows for a greater amount of shearing action. However, this angle cannot be too great as it compromises cutting edge integrity by leaving less material for the nose angle and side relief angle.

Back Rake Angle: Sometimes called the top rake angle, the back rake angle for solid carbide boring bars is ground to help control the flow of chips cut on the end portion of the tool. This feature cannot have too sharp of a positive angle as it decreases the tools strength.

Side and End Relief Angles: Like the end cutting edge angle, the main purpose of the side and end relief angles are to provide clearance so that the tools non-cutting portion doesn’t rub against the workpiece. If the angles are too small then there is a risk of abrasion between the tool and the workpiece. This friction leads to increased tool wear, vibration and poor surface finish. The angle measurements will generally be between 0° and 20°.

Boring Bar Geometries Summarized

Boring bars have a few overall dimensions that allow for the boring of a hole without running the tool holder into the workpiece, or breaking the tool instantly upon contact. Solid carbide boring bars have a variety of angles that are combined differently to distribute the 3 types of cutting forces in order to take full advantage of the tool. Maximizing tool performance requires the combination of choosing the right tool along with the appropriate feed rate, depth of cut and RPM. These factors are dependent on the size of the hole, amount of material that needs to be removed, and mechanical properties of the workpiece.


The Geometries and Purposes of a Slitting Saw

When a machinist needs to cut material significantly deeper than wide, a Slitting Saw is an ideal choice to get the job done. A Slitting Saw is unique due to its composition and rigidity, which allows it to hold up in a variety of both straightforward and tricky to machine materials.

What is a Slitting Saw?

A Slitting Saw is a flat (with or without a dish), circular-shaped saw that has a hole in the middle and teeth on the outer diameter. Used in conjunction with an arbor, a Slitting Saw is intended for machining purposes that require a large amount of material to be removed within a small diameter, such as slotting or cutoff applications.

Other names for Slitting Saws include (but are not limited to) Slitting Cutters, Slotting Cutters, Jewelers Saws, and Slitting Knives. Both Jewelers Saws and Slitting Knives are particular types of Slitting Saws. Jewelers Saws have a high tooth count enabling them to cut tiny, precise features, and Slitting Knives are Slitting Saws with no teeth at all. On Jewelers Saws, the tooth counts are generally much higher than other types of saws in order to make the cuts as accurate as possible.

Key Terminology

Why Use a Slitting Saw?

These saws are designed for cutting into both ferrous and non-ferrous materials, and by utilizing their unique shape and geometries, they can cut thin slot type features on parts more efficiently than any other machining tool.

Common Applications:

  1. Separating Two Pieces of Material
    1. If an application calls for cutting a piece of material, such as a rod, in half, then a slitting saw will work well to cut the pieces apart while increasing efficiency.
  2. Undercutting Applications
    1. Saws can perform undercutting applications if mounted correctly, which can eliminate the need to remount the workpiece completely.
  3. Slotting into Material
    1. Capable of creating thin slots with a significant depth of cut, Slitting Saws can be just the right tool for the job!

When Not to Use a Slitting Saw

While it may look similar to a stainless steel circular saw blade from a hardware store, a Slitting Saw should never be used with construction tools such as a table or circular saw.  Brittle saw blades such as slitting saws will shatter when used on manual machines, and can cause injury when not used on the proper set up.

In Conclusion

Slitting Saws can be beneficial to a wide variety of machining processes, and it is vital to understand their geometries and purpose before attempting to utilize them in the shop. They are a great tool to have in the shop and can assist with getting jobs done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

What To Know About Helical Solution’s Zplus Coating

Non-ferrous and non-metallic materials are not usually considered difficult to machine, and therefore, machinists often overlook the use of tool coatings. But while these materials may not present the same machining difficulties as hardened steels and other ferrous materials, a coating can still vastly improve performance in non-ferrous applications. For instance, materials such as aluminum and graphite can cause machinists headaches because of the difficulty they often create from abrasion. To alleviate these issues in non-ferrous machining applications, a popular coating choice is Helical Solution’s Zplus coating.

zplus coating

What is Helical Solutions’ Zplus Coating?

Helical’s Zplus is a Zirconium Nitride-based coating, applied by a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) process. This method of coating takes place in a vacuum and forms layers only microns thick onto the properly prepared tool. Zirconium Nitride does not chemically react to a variety of non-ferrous metals, increasing the lubricity of the tool and aiding in chip evacuation.

zplus coating

When Should a Machinist Use Helical Solution’s Zplus?

Working with Abrasive Materials

While Zplus was created initially for working in aluminum, its hardness level and maximum working temperature of 1,110°F enables it to work well in abrasive forms of other non-ferrous materials, as well. This coating decreases the coefficient of friction between the tool and the part, allowing it to move easier through more abrasive materials. This abrasion resistance decreases the rate of tool wear, prolonging tool life.

Concerns with Efficient Chip Evacuation

One of the primary functions of this coating is to increase the smoothness of the flutes of the tool, which allows for more efficient chip removal. By decreasing the amount of friction between the tool and the material, chips will not stick to the tool, helping to prevent chip packing. The increased lubricity and smoothness provided by the coating allows for a higher level of performance from the cutting tool. Zplus is also recommended for use in softer, gummy alloys, as the smooth surface encourages maximum lubricity within the material – this decreases the likelihood of those gummier chips sticking to the tool while machining.

Large Production Runs

Uncoated tools can work well in many forms of non-ferrous applications. However, to get a genuinely cost-effective tool for your job, the proper coating is highly recommended. Large production runs are known for putting a lot of wear and tear on tools due to their increased use, and by utilizing an appropriate coating, there can be a significant improvement in the tools working life.

When is Zplus Coating Not Beneficial to My Application?

Finishing Applications

When your parts finish is vital to its final application, a machinist may want to consider going with an uncoated tool. As with any coating, ZrN will leave a very minor rounded edge on the tip of the cutting edge. The best finish often requires an extremely sharp tool, and an uncoated tool will have a sharper cutting edge than its coated version.


Effective Ways To Reduce Heat Generation

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

Reduce Heat Generation with HEM Tool Paths

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

heat generation

Chip Thinning Awareness

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

heat generation

Consider Climb Milling

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

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

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


heat generation

Utilize Proper Coolant Methods

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

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

Importance of Controlling Heat Generation

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

5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill

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

Question 1: What Material am I Cutting?

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

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

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

Question 2: Which Operations Will I Be Performing?

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

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

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

Question 3: How Many Flutes Do I Need?

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

end mill selection

Question 4: What Specific Tool Dimensions are Needed?

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

Cutter Diameter

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

Length of Cut & Reach

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

Tool Profile

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

Question 5: Should I use a Coated Tool?

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

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

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

Ready to Decide on an End Mill

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

Harvey Tool Technical Support: 800-645-5609

Helical Solutions Technical Support: 866-543-5422

Understanding Threads & Thread Mills

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


What is a thread?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Machinery’s Handbook 29th Edition

Types of Threads & Their Common Applications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thread Designations

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

Metric Thread Designations              

M12 x 1.75 – 4h – LH

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

UN Thread Designations

¾ 10 UNC 2A LH

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

ACME Thread Designations

A 1 025 20-X

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

How are threads measured?

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

Thread Milling Considerations

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

5 Tips for Successful Thread Milling Operations:

1.  Opt for a Quality Tooling Manufacturer

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

thread milling

Image Courtesy of  @Avantmfg

2. Select a Proper Cutter Diameter

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

3. Ensure You’re Comfortable with Your Tool Path

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

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

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

4. Assess Number of Radial Passes Needed

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

5. Review Chip Evacuation Strategy

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

In Summary

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