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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.

Understanding Threads & Thread Mills

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

 

What is a thread?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Machinery’s Handbook 29th Edition

Types of Threads & Their Common Applications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thread Designations

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

Metric Thread Designations              

M12 x 1.75 – 4h – LH

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

UN Thread Designations

¾ 10 UNC 2A LH

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

ACME Thread Designations

A 1 025 20-X

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

How are threads measured?

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

Thread Milling Considerations

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

5 Tips for Successful Thread Milling Operations:

1.  Opt for a Quality Tooling Manufacturer

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

thread milling

Image Courtesy of  @Avantmfg

2. Select a Proper Cutter Diameter

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

3. Ensure You’re Comfortable with Your Tool Path

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

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

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

4. Assess Number of Radial Passes Needed

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

5. Review Chip Evacuation Strategy

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

In Summary

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

Experience the Benefits of Staggered Tooth Keyseats

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

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Three Key Benefits

Indexing

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

Increased Feed Rates

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

Better Part Finish

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

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Image courtesy of @edc_machining

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter Diverse Product Offering

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

Opt for a Smoother Operation

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

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

Selecting the Right Harvey Tool Miniature Drill

Among Harvey Tool’s expansive holemaking solutions product offering are several different types of miniature tooling options and their complements. Options range from Miniature Spotting Drills to Miniature High Performance Drills – Deep Hole – Coolant Through. But which tools are appropriate for the hole you aim to leave in your part? Which tool might your current carousel be missing, leaving efficiency and performance behind? Understanding how to properly fill your tool repertoire for your desired holemaking result is the first step toward achieving success.

Pre-Drilling Considerations

Miniature Spotting Drills

Depending on the depth of your desired machined hole and its tolerance mandates, as well as the surface of the machine you will be drilling, opting first for a Miniature Spotting Drill might be beneficial. This tool pinpoints the exact location of a hole to prevent common deep-hole drilling mishaps such as walking, or straying from a desired path. It can also help to promote accuracy in instances where there is an uneven part surface for first contact. Some machinists even use Spotting Drills to leave a chamfer on the top of a pre-drilled hole. For extremely irregular surfaces, however, such as the side of a cylinder or an inclined plane, a Flat Bottom Drill or Flat Bottom Counterbore may be needed to lessen these irregularities prior to the drilling process.

spotting drill

Tech Tip: When spotting a hole, the spot angle should be equal to or wider than the angle of your chosen miniature drill. Simply, the miniature drill tip should contact the part before its flute face does.

spotting drill correct angle

Selecting the Right Miniature Drill

Harvey Tool stocks several different types of miniature drills, but which option is right for you, and how does each drill differ in geometry?

Miniature Drills

Harvey Tool Miniature Drills are popular for machinists seeking flexibility and versatility with their holemaking operation. Because this line of tooling is offered uncoated in sizes as small as .002” in diameter, machinists no longer need to compromise on precision to reach very micro sizes. Also, this line of tooling is designed for use in several different materials where specificity is not required.

miniature drill

Miniature High Performance Drills – Deep Hole – Coolant Through

For situations in which chip evacuation may be difficult due to the drill depth, Harvey Tool’s Deep Hole – Coolant Through Miniature Drills might be your best option. The coolant delivery from the drill tip will help to flush chips from within a hole, and prevent heeling on the hole’s sides, even at depths up to 20 multiples of the drill diameter.

miniature drill coolant through

Miniature High Performance Drills – Flat Bottom

Choose Miniature High Performance Flat Bottom Drills when drilling on inclined and rounded surfaces, or when aiming to leave a flat bottom on your hole. Also, when drilling intersecting holes, half holes, shoulders, or thin plates, its flat bottom tool geometry helps to promote accuracy and a clean finish.

flat bottom drill

Miniature High Performance Drills – Aluminum Alloys

The line of High Performance Drills for Aluminum Alloys feature TiB2 coating, which has an extremely low affinity to Aluminum and thus will fend off built-up edge. Its special 3 flute design allows for maximum chip flow, hole accuracy, finish, and elevated speeds and feeds parameters in this easy-to-machine material.

drill for aluminum

 

Miniature High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels

Miniature High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels features a specialized flute shape for improved chip evacuation and maximum rigidity. Additionally, each drill is coated in AlTiN Nano coating for hardness, and heat resistance in materials 48 Rc to 68 Rc.

drill for hardened steel

Miniature High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels

As temperatures rise during machining, the AlTiN coating featured on Harvey Tool’s Miniature High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels creates an aluminum oxide layer which helps to reduce thermal conductivity of the tool and helps to promote heat transfer to the chip, as well as improve lubricity and heat resistance in ferrous materials.

drill for prehardened steel

Post-Drilling Considerations

Miniature Reamers

For many operations, drilling the actual hole is only the beginning of the job. Some parts may require an ultra-tight tolerance, for which a Miniature Reamer (tolerances of +.0000″/-.0002″ for uncoated and +.0002″/-.0000″ for AlTiN Coated) can be used to bring a hole to size. miniature reamer

Tech Tip: In order to maintain appropriate stock removal amounts based on the reamer size, a hole should be pre-drilled at a diameter that is 90-94 percent of the finished reamed hole diameter.

Flat Bottom Counterbores

Other operations may require a hole with a flat bottom to allow for a superior connection with another part. Flat Bottom Counterbores leave a flat profile and straighten misaligned holes. For more information on why to use a Flat Bottom Counterbore, read 10 Reasons to Use Flat Bottom Tools.

flat bottom counterbores

Key Next Steps

Now that you’re familiar with miniature drills and complementary holemaking tooling, you must now learn key ways to go about the job. Understanding the importance of pecking cycles, and using the correct approach, is vital for both the life of your tool and the end result on your part. Read this post’s complement “Choosing the Right Pecking Cycle Approach,” for more information on the approach that’s best for your application.

Choosing The Right Pecking Cycle Approach

Utilizing a proper pecking cycle strategy when drilling is important to both the life of your tool and its performance in your part. Recommended pecking cycles vary depending on the drill being used, the material you’re machining, and your desired final product.

What are Pecking Cycles?

Rather than drill to full drill depth in one single plunge, pecking cycles involve several passes – a little at a time. Pecking aids the chip evacuation process, helps support tool accuracy while minimizing walking, prevents chip packing and breakage, and results in a better all around final part.

Recommended Pecking Cycles / Steps

Miniature Drills

miniature drill pecking cycles

High Performance Drills – Flat Bottom

pecking cycles

High Performance Drills – Aluminum & Aluminum Alloys

aluminum pecking cycles

Note: For hole depths 12x or greater, a pilot hole of up to 1.5X Diameter is recommended.

High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels

hardened steels pecking cycles
High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels

prehardened steels pecking cycles

Key Pecking Cycle Takeaways

From the above tables, it’s easy to identify how recommended pecking cycles change based on the properties of the material being machined. Unsurprisingly, the harder the material is, the shorter the recommended pecking depths are. As always, miniature drills with a diameter of less than .010″ are extremely fragile and require special precautions to avoid immediate failure. For help with your specific job, contact the Harvey Tool Technical Team at 800-645-5609 or [email protected]

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.

8 Ways You’re Killing Your End Mill

1. Running It Too Fast or Too Slow

Determining the right speeds and feeds for your tool and operation can be a complicated process, but understanding the ideal speed (RPM) is necessary before you start running your machine. Running a tool too fast can cause suboptimal chip size or even catastrophic tool failure. Conversely, a low RPM can result in deflection, bad finish, or simply decreased metal removal rates. If you are unsure what the ideal RPM for your job is, contact the tool manufacturer.

2. Feeding It Too Little or Too Much

Another critical aspect of speeds and feeds, the best feed rate for a job varies considerably by tool type and workpiece material. If you run your tool with too slow of a feed rate, you run the risk of recutting chips and accelerating tool wear. If you run your tool with too fast of a feed rate, you can cause tool fracture. This is especially true with miniature tooling.

3. Using Traditional Roughing

high efficiency milling

While traditional roughing is occasionally necessary or optimal, it is generally inferior to High Efficiency Milling (HEM). HEM is a roughing technique that uses a lower Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a higher Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC). This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure. Besides dramatically increasing tool life, HEM can also produce a better finish and higher metal removal rate, making it an all-around efficiency boost for your shop.

4. Using Improper Tool Holding

tool holding

Proper running parameters have less of an impact in suboptimal tool holding situations. A poor machine-to-tool connection can cause tool runout, pullout, and scrapped parts. Generally speaking, the more points of contact a tool holder has with the tool’s shank, the more secure the connection. Hydraulic and shrink fit tool holders offer increased performance over mechanical tightening methods, as do certain shank modifications, like Helical’s ToughGRIP shanks and the Haimer Safe-Lock™.

5. Not Using Variable Helix/Pitch Geometry

variable helix

A feature on a variety of high performance end mills, variable helix, or variable pitch, geometry is a subtle alteration to standard end mill geometry. This geometrical feature ensures that the time intervals between cutting edge contact with the workpiece are varied, rather than simultaneous with each tool rotation. This variation minimizes chatter by reducing harmonics, which increases tool life and produces superior results.

6. Choosing the Wrong Coating

end mill coatings

Despite being marginally more expensive, a tool with a coating optimized for your workpiece material can make all the difference. Many coatings increase lubricity, slowing natural tool wear, while others increase hardness and abrasion resistance. However, not all coatings are suitable to all materials, and the difference is most apparent in ferrous and non-ferrous materials. For example, an Aluminum Titanium Nitride (AlTiN) coating increases hardness and temperature resistance in ferrous materials, but has a high affinity to aluminum, causing workpiece adhesion to the cutting tool. A Titanium Diboride (TiB2) coating, on the other hand, has an extremely low affinity to aluminum, and prevents cutting edge build-up and chip packing, and extends tool life.

7. Using a Long Length of Cut

optimal length of cut

While a long length of cut (LOC) is absolutely necessary for some jobs, especially in finishing operations, it reduces the rigidity and strength of the cutting tool. As a general rule, a tool’s LOC should be only as long as needed to ensure that the tool retains as much of its original substrate as possible. The longer a tool’s LOC the more susceptible to deflection it becomes, in turn decreasing its effective tool life and increasing the chance of fracture.

8. Choosing the Wrong Flute Count

flute count

As simple as it seems, a tool’s flute count has a direct and notable impact on its performance and running parameters. A tool with a low flute count (2 to 3) has larger flute valleys and a smaller core. As with LOC, the less substrate remaining on a cutting tool, the weaker and less rigid it is. A tool with a high flute count (5 or higher) naturally has a larger core. However, high flute counts are not always better. Lower flute counts are typically used in aluminum and non-ferrous materials, partly because the softness of these materials allows more flexibility for increased metal removal rates, but also because of the properties of their chips. Non-ferrous materials usually produce longer, stringier chips and a lower flute count helps reduce chip recutting. Higher flute count tools are usually necessary for harder ferrous materials, both for their increased strength and because chip recutting is less of a concern since these materials often produce much smaller chips.

The Anatomy of an End Mill

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

Flutes

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

end mill flutes

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

Profile

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

Square Profile

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

Corner Radius

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

Ball Profile

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

Cutter Diameter

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

cutter diameter

Shank Diameter

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

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

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

Overall Reach/Length Below Shank (LBS)

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

end mill neck

Helix Angle

The helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge. A higher helix angle used for finishing (45°, for example) wraps around the tool faster and makes for a more aggressive cut. A lower helix angle (35°) wraps slower and would have a stronger cutting edge, optimized for the toughest roughing applications.

helix angle

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

Pitch

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

variable pitch