Ideal Tooling for Machining Composites

Composite Materials

A material is classified as a composite if it is made up of at least two unique constituents that when combined yield beneficial physical and mechanical properties for a number of different applications. A binding agent that is the matrix material is filled with either particles or fibers of a second material that act as reinforcements. The combination of strength, weight, and rigidity make composites extremely useful for the automotive, aerospace, and power generation industry. Often the matrix material of particulate-reinforced composites is some form of plastic, and the reinforcement material is either glass or carbon particles. These are sometimes called “filled plastics,” and are typically very abrasive materials. Many composites are layered with varying fiber orientations, which increase the strength of the material and are called fiber-reinforced composites.

Common Problems When Machining Composites

  1. Delamination of composite layers
  2. Uncut Fibers
  3. Fiber tear-out
  4. Uneven tool wear
  5. Poor surface finish due to “competing” materials

These problems are all caused by unique conditions created by composite materials, and can be very tricky to correct.  The simple fact of cutting a combination of multiple materials at the same time introduces many factors that make it difficult to strike the right balance of the proper tool for the job and appropriate running parameters.  The following tool styles provide solutions for a wide array of composite concerns.  Composite Drilling Applications can face the same issues, and proper drill choice can help as well.

Straight Flute End Mill

Straight Flute Composite Cutters are designed to prevent delamination of layered materials by applying all cutting forces radially, eliminating axial forces from a typical helical cutting edge. Cutting action is improved with a high positive rake angle for shearing fibers and eccentric relief for improved edge life. Shallow ramping operations can be performed with this tool, but the largest benefits are seen in peripheral milling applications.

straight flute end mill

Compression Cutters

The Compression Cutter consists of an up cut and down cut helix. The top portion of the length of cut has right-hand cutting teeth with a left-hand spiral. The lower portion of the length of cut has right-hand cutting teeth with a right-hand spiral. This creates opposing cutting forces to stabilize the material removal process when cutting layered composites to prevent delamination, fiber pullout, and burs along the surface. Compression of the top and bottom of the workpiece keeps the layered bonded together.

compression cutter end mill

Chipbreaker Cutter

The Chipbreaker Cutter is ideally suited for roughing and profiling composites with a high percentage of fiber fill. The notch-like chipbreakers shear fibers and shorten chips for improved material evacuation. This specialized geometry is great for keeping chips small and avoiding “nesting” of stringy fibrous chips around the cutter.

chipbreaker for composite materials

Diamond Cut End Mill

Diamond Cut Composite Cutters come in two different geometries: End Mill Style and Drill Mill Style. Although the end mill style tool is center cutting, the drill mill style has a 140° point angle, making it more suitable for plunge cutting. This is great for clearing out pockets in the middle of composite sheets.

diamond cut end mill for composites

End Mills for Composites – Diamond Cut – End Mill Style


diamond cut drill mill for composites

End Mills for Composites – Diamond Cut – Drill Mill Style

Both the end mill and drill mill style share the same downcut geometry on the outside diameter. This diamond cut tool receives its name from the combination of left-hand and right-hand teeth. The tool is predominantly a downcut style – a geometry that allows for these tools to effectively rough and profile high fiber reinforced or filled composites, breaking up chips and shearing through fibers.

Diamond Cut vs. Chipbreaker Style

The diamond cut tools have a higher flute count, which some may intuitively think would lead to a better finish, but this is not the case as this line of tools contains right-hand and left-hand teeth. There is a trade-off between an increased ability to shear fibers and leaving a poorer finish. The chipbreaker style tool, although not as effective as shearing fibers, is ultimately designed for the same purpose but leaves a better finish as all of the flutes are facing the same direction.

Composite Finisher

The Composite Finisher has optimized geometry for finishing in composite. A slow helix and high flute count for more contact points ultimately renders a smooth finish by minimizing fraying of fiber-reinforced and layered materials.

finishing end mill for composites

Coating or No Coating?

Composite materials, especially those with glass or carbon fiber, can be particularly abrasive and have a tendency to wear down the cutting edge of carbide tools. If one is looking to achieve the best tool life and maintain a sharp cutting edge, then choosing an Amorphous Diamond coated tool is the best option. This thin coating improves lubricity and wear resistance over its uncoated counterpart. Using a tool with CVD diamond coating can be very beneficial in extreme cases, when fiber fill percentage is very large. This is a true diamond coating, and offers the best abrasion resistance, but a slightly less sharp cutting edge as it is a thicker coating. PCD diamond tooling offers the best tool life. If it a solid diamond wafer brazed to a carbide shank, and can maintain the sharpest edge of any diamond tooling. However, PCD is limited to straight flutes, and can come at a higher price.

Composite materials are being increasingly utilized in today’s manufacturing world for their impressive strength to weight ratio. This growth has stimulated innovative techniques of cutting composites seen in the tool choices above. Harvey Tool’s variety of geometries helps any machine shop tackle composite cutting applications and will continue to offer groundbreaking solutions to these types of manufacturing problems.

The Advances of Multiaxis Machining

CNC Machine Growth

As the manufacturing industry has developed, so too have the capabilities of machining centers. CNC Machines are constantly being improved and optimized to better handle the requirements of new applications. Perhaps the most important way these machines have improved over time is in the multiple axes of direction they can move, as well as orientation. For instance, a traditional 3-axis machine allows for movement and cutting in three directions, while a 2.5-axis machine can move in three directions but only cut in two. The possible number of axes for a multiaxis machine varies from 4 to 9, depending on the situation. This is assuming that no additional sub-systems are installed to the setup that would provide additional movement. The configuration of a multiaxis machine is dependent on the customer’s operation and the machine manufacturer.

Multiaxis Machining

With this continuous innovation has come the popularity of multiaxis machines – or CNC machines that can perform more than three axes of movement (greater than just the three linear axes X, Y, and Z). Additional axes usually include three rotary axes, as well as movement abilities of the table holding the part or spindle in place. Machines today can move up to 9 axes of direction.

Multiaxis machines provide several major improvements over CNC machines that only support 3 axes of movement. These benefits include:

  • Increasing part accuracy/consistency by decreasing the number of manual adjustments that need to be made.
  • Reducing the amount of human labor needed as there are fewer manual operations to perform.
  • Improving surface finish as the tool can be moved tangentially across the part surface.
  • Allowing for highly complex parts to be made in a single setup, saving time and cost.

9-Axis Machine Centers

The basic 9-axis naming convention consists of three sets of three axes.

Set One

The first set is the X, Y, and Z linear axes, where the Z axis is in line with the machine’s spindle, and the X and Y axes are parallel to the surface of the table. This is based on a vertical machining center. For a horizontal machining center, the Z axis would be aligned with the spindle.

Set Two

The second set of axes is the A, B, and C rotary axes, which rotate around the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. These axes allow for the spindle to be oriented at different angles and in different positions, which enables tools to create more features, thereby decreasing the number of tool changes and maximizing efficiency.

Set Three

The third set of axes is the U, V, and W axes, which are secondary linear axes that are parallel to the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. While these axes are parallel to the X, Y, and Z axes, they are managed by separate commands. The U axis is common in a lathe machine. This axis allows the cutting tool to move perpendicular to the machine’s spindle, enabling the machined diameter to be adjusted during the machining process.

A Growing Industry

In summary, as the manufacturing industry has grown, so too have the abilities of CNC Machines. Today, tooling can move across nine different axes, allowing for the machining of more intricate, precise, and delicate parts. Additionally, this development has worked to improve shop efficiency by minimizing manual labor and creating a more perfect final product.

3 Steps to Shutting Up Tool Chatter

Cutting tools undergo a great deal of force during the machining process, which cause vibrations – also known as chatter or harmonics. Avoiding these vibrations entirely is not possible, though minimizing them is pivotal for machining success. Vibrations become damaging when proper machining steps are not followed. This leads to strong, part-ruining chatter. In these situations, parts have what is known as “chatter marks,” or clear vibration marks along the surface of a part. Tools can experience an increased rate of wear due to excess vibration.

Tool Chatter can be kept at bay by following three simple, yet often overlooked steps:

1. Select the Right Tool for Your Job

It seems elementary, but selecting the best tool for your application can be confusing. With so many different geometric styles for tooling – overall length, length of cut, reach, number of flutes – it can sometimes be difficult to narrow down one specific tool for your job. Oftentimes, machinists opt for general purpose tooling that can perform a variety of operations, overlooking the option that’s optimized for one material and job.

Opting for Material Specific Tooling is helpful, as each material has different needs. For example, steels are machined differently than aluminum materials. Everything from the chip size, to chip evacuation, is different. Variable Helix or Variable Pitch designs help to minimize chatter by reducing harmonics, which are caused by the cutting edge having repeated contact with the workpiece. In order to reduce harmonics, the time intervals between flute contact with the workpiece are varied.

Overall length is another important factor to consider when deciding on a tool for your job. The more overhang, or length the tool hangs from the spindle, the less secure the spindle-to-tool connection is, and the more vibration. Ensuring that your tool is only as long as needed for your operation is important to minimizing chatter and harmonics. If machining deep within a part, opt for reached tooling or an extended reach tool holder to help solidify the connection.

2. Ensure a Secure Connection

When it comes to secure tool holding approaches, both the tool shank and the collet are important. A loose tool, unsurprisingly, has more ability to move, or vibrate, during machining. With this in mind, Helical offers Shank Configurations to help the connection including the ToughGRIP Shank, which replaces a smooth, mirror-like surface with a rougher, coarser one for increased friction. Helical is also a licensee of the HAIMER Safe-Lock™, added grooves on the shank of a tool that work opposite of the spindle rotation, securely fastening the tool in place.

Machinists must also know the different types of collets available to them to identify if a better solution might be necessary. For example, Hydraulic Tool Holders or Shrink Fit Tool Holders promote a stronger connection than a Mechanical Spindle Tightening method.

For more information, see Key Tool Holding Considerations

3. Choose a Chatter Minimizing Strategy

How a tool is run can mean the difference between stellar job results and a ruined part. This includes both the parameters a tool is run at, as well as the direction by which it rotates – either a Conventional Milling or a Climb Milling technique.

Conventional Milling

In this method, the chip width starts from zero and increases gradually, causing more heat to diffuse into the workpiece. This can lead to work hardening, creating more headaches for a machinist.

tool chatter

Climb Milling

Most modern machine shops will use a climb milling technique, or when the chip width starts at its maximum and decreases during the cut. Climb Milling will offer a more consistent cut than traditional methods, and puts less stress on the tool. Think of it like weight lifting – doing the heavy lifting will be easiest at the beginning of your workout. Similarly, a cut in which the thickest chip is removed first helps the tool maintain its strength. Because the chip cutting process is more swift, vibrations are minimized.

decrease tool chatter

For more information, see Climb Milling Vs. Conventional Milling

In Conclusion

Vibrations are unavoidable during the machining process, but minimizing them can mean the difference between successful machining and scrapped parts. Following three simple rules can help to keep your chatter and harmonics under control, including: Selecting the right tool, ensuring a secure machine-tool connection, and using it in a climb milling strategy. Both Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions have tools that can help, including shank modifications and Variable Helix or Variable Pitch end mills.

Speeds and Feeds 101

Understanding Speeds and Feed Rates

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

Before using a cutting tool, it is necessary to understand tool cutting speeds and feed rates, more often referred to as “speeds and feeds.” Speeds and feeds are the cutting variables used in every milling operation and vary for each tool based on cutter diameter, operation, material, etc. Understanding the right speeds and feeds for your tool and operation before you start machining is critical.

It is first necessary to define each of these factors. Cutting speed, also referred to as surface speed, is the difference in speed between the tool and the workpiece, expressed in units of distance over time known as SFM (surface feet per minute). SFM is based on the various properties of the given material. Speed, referred to as Rotations Per Minute (RPM) is based off of the SFM and the cutting tool’s diameter.

While speeds and feeds are common terms used in the programming of the cutter, the ideal running parameters are also influenced by other variables. The speed of the cutter is used in the calculation of the cutter’s feed rate, measured in Inches Per Minute (IPM). The other part of the equation is the chip load. It is important to note that chip load per tooth and chip load per tool are different:

speeds and feeds formula


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

A chip load that is too large can pack up chips in the cutter, causing poor chip evacuation and eventual breakage. A chip load that is too small can cause rubbing, chatter, deflection, and a poor overall cutting action.

Material Removal Rate

Material Removal Rate (MRR), while not part of the cutting tool’s program, is a helpful way to calculate a tool’s efficiency. MRR takes into account two very important running parameters: Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC), or the distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline, and Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC), or the distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece.

The tool’s depth of cuts and the rate at which it is cutting can be used to calculate how many cubic inches per minute (in3/min) are being removed from a workpiece. This equation is extremely useful for comparing cutting tools and examining how cycle times can be improved.

speeds and feeds

Speeds and Feeds In Practice

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

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

The following table calculates the speeds and feeds for this tool and material for each operation, based on the chart above:

speeds and feeds

Other Important Considerations

Each operation recommends a unique chip load per the depths of cut. This results in various feed rates depending on the operation. Since the SFM is based on the material, it remains constant for each operation.

Spindle Speed Cap

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

Effective Cutter Diameter

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

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

Non-linear Path

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

non-linear path

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

adjusted internal feed

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

adjusted external feed

Click here for the full example.


These calculations are useful guidelines for running a cutting tool optimally in various applications and materials. However, the tool manufacturer’s recommended parameters are the best place to start for initial numbers. After that, it is up to the machinist’s eyes, ears, and experience to help determine the best running parameters, which will vary by set-up, tool, machine, and material.

Click the following links for more information about running parameters for Harvey Tool and Helical products.