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Dodging Dovetail Headaches: 7 Common Dovetail Mistakes

Cutting With Dovetails

While they are specialty tools, dovetail style cutters have a broad range of applications. Dovetails are typically used to cut O-ring grooves in fluid and pressure devices, industrial slides and detailed undercutting work. Dovetail cutters have a trapezoidal shape—like the shape of a dove’s tail. General purpose dovetails are used to undercut or deburr features in a workpiece. O-ring dovetail cutters are held to specific standards to cut a groove that is wider at the bottom than the top. This trapezoidal groove shape is designed to hold the O-ring and keep it from being displaced.

Avoiding Tool Failure

The dovetail cutter’s design makes it fragile, finicky, and highly susceptible to failure. In calculating job specifications, machinists frequently treat dovetail cutters as larger than they really are because of their design, leading to unnecessary tool breakage. They mistake the tool’s larger end diameter as the critical dimension when in fact the smaller neck diameter is more important in making machining calculations.

As the tools are downsized for micro-applications, their unique shape requires special considerations. When machinists understand the true size of the tool, however, they can minimize breakage and optimize cycle time.

Miniature Matters – Micro Dovetailing

As the trend towards miniaturization continues, more dovetailing applications arise along with the need for applying the proper technique when dovetailing microscale parts and features. However, there are several common misunderstandings about the proper use of dovetails, which can lead to increased tool breakage and less-than-optimal cycle times.

There are seven common mistakes made when dovetailing and several strategies for avoiding them:

1. Not Taking Advantage of Drop Holes

Many O-ring applications allow for a drop hole to insert the cutter into the groove. Take advantage of a drop hole if the part design allows it, as it will permit usage of the largest, most rigid tool possible, minimizing the chance of breakage (Figure 1).

dovetail cutters
Figure 1. These pictured tools are designed to mill a groove for a Parker Hannifin O-ring groove No. AS568A-102 (left). These O-rings have cross sections of 0.103″. There is a large variation in the tools’ neck diameters. The tool at right, with a neck diameter of 0.024″, is for applications without a drop hole, while the other tool, with a neck diameter of 0.088″, is for drop-hole applications. The drop-hole allowance allows application of the more rigid tool.

2. Misunderstanding a Dovetail’s True Neck Diameter.

The dovetail’s profile includes a small neck diameter behind a larger end-cutting diameter. In addition, the flute runs through the neck, further reducing the tool’s core diameter. (In the example shown in Figure 2, this factor produces a core diameter of just 0.014″.) The net result is that an otherwise larger tool becomes more of a microtool. The torque generated by the larger diameter is, in effect, multiplied as it moves to the narrower neck diameter. You must remember that excess stress may be placed on the tool, leading to breakage. Furthermore, as the included angle of a dovetail increases, the neck diameter and core diameter are further reduced. O-ring dovetail cutters have an included angle of 48°. Another common included angle for general purpose dovetails is 90°. Figure 3 illustrates how two 0.100″-dia. dovetail tools have different neck diameters of 0.070″ vs. 0.034″ and different included angles of 48° vs. 90°.

nondrop-hole dovetail cutters
Figure 2. The dovetail tool pictured is the nondrop-hole example from Figure 1. The cross section illustrates the relationship between the end diameter of the tool (0.083″) and the significantly smaller core diameter (0.014″). Understanding this relationship and the effect of torque on a small core diameter is critical to developing appropriate dovetailing operating parameters.
dovetail cutters with different neck diameters
Figure 3: These dovetail tools have the same end diameter but different neck diameters (0.070″ vs. 0.034″) and different included angles (48° vs. 90°).

3. Calculating Speeds and Feeds from the Wrong Diameter.

Machinists frequently use the wrong tool diameter to calculate feed rates for dovetail cutters, increasing breakage. In micromachining applications where the margin for error is significantly reduced, calculating the feed on the wrong diameter can cause instantaneous tool failure. Due to the angular slope of a dovetail cutter’s profile, the tool has a variable diameter. While the larger end diameter is used for speed calculations, the smaller neck diameter should be used for feed calculations. This yields a smaller chip load per tooth. For example, a 0.083″-dia. tool cutting aluminum might have a chip load of approximately 0.00065 IPT, while a 0.024″-dia. mill cutting the same material might have a 0.0002-ipt chip load. This means the smaller tool has a chip load three times smaller than the larger tool, which requires a significantly different feed calculation.

4. Errors in Considering Depth of Cut.

In micromachining applications, machinists must choose a depth of cut (DOC) that does not exceed the limits of the fragile tool. Typically, a square end mill roughs a slot and the dovetail cutter then removes the remaining triangular-shaped portion. As the dovetail is stepped over with each subsequent radial cut, the cutter’s engagement increases with each pass. A standard end mill allows for multiple passes by varying the axial DOC. However, a dovetail cutter has a fixed axial DOC, which allows changes to be made only to the radial DOC. Therefore, the size of each successive step-over must decrease to maintain a more consistent tool load and avoid tool breakage (Figure 4).

microdovetailing with dovetail cutter
Figure 4: In microdovetailing operations, increased contact requires diminishing stepover to maintain constant tool load.

5. Failing to Climb Mill.

Although conventional milling has the benefit of gradually loading the tool, in low-chip load applications (as dictated by a dovetail cutter’s small neck diameter) the tool has a tendency to rub or push the workpiece as it enters the cut, creating chatter, deflection and premature cutting edge failure. The dovetail has a long cutting surface and tooth pressure becomes increasingly critical with each pass. Due to the low chip loads encountered in micromachining, this approach is even more critical to avoid rubbing. Although climb milling loads the tool faster than conventional milling, it allows the tool to cut more freely, providing less deflection, finer finish and longer cutting-edge life. As a result, climb milling is recommended when dovetailing.

6. Improper Chip Flushing.

Because dovetail cuts are typically made in a semi-enclosed profile, it is critical to flush chips from the cavity. In micro-dovetailing applications, chip packing and recutting due to poorly evacuated chips from a semi-enclosed profile will dull the cutter and lead to premature tool failure. In addition to cooling and lubricating, a high-pressure coolant effectively evacuates chips. However, excessive coolant pressure placed directly on the tool can cause tool vibration and deflection and even break a microtool before it touches the workpiece. Take care to provide adequate pressure to remove chips without putting undue pressure on the tool itself. Specific coolant pressure settings will depend upon the size of the groove, the tool size and the workpiece material. Also, a coolant nozzle on either side of the cutter cleans out the groove ahead of and behind the cutter. An air blast or vacuum hose could also effectively remove chips.

7. Giving the Job Away.

As discussed in item number 3, lower chip loads result in significantly lower material-removal rates, which ultimately increase cycle time. In the previous example, the chip load was three times smaller, which would increase cycle time by the same amount. Cycle time must be factored into your quote to ensure a profitable margin on the job. In addition to the important micro-dovetailing considerations discussed here, don’t forget to apply the basics critical to all tools. These include keeping runout low, using tools with application-specific coatings and ensuring setups are rigid. All of these considerations become more important in micro-applications because as tools get smaller, they become increasingly fragile, decreasing the margin of error. Understanding a dovetail cutter’s profile and calculating job specifications accordingly is critical to a successful operation. Doing so will help you reach your ultimate goal: bidding the job properly and optimizing cycle time without unnecessary breakage.

This article was written by Peter P. Jenkins of Harvey Tool Company, and it originally appeared in MicroManufacturing Magazine.

Circular Interpolation: Machining Circular Tool Paths

When machining, proper speeds and feeds are very important to avoid breakage and maximize performance. Traditional end milling formulas use Surface Footage (SFM) and Chip Load (IPT) to calculate Speed (RPM) and Feed (IPM) rates. These formulas dictate the correct machining parameters for use in a linear path in which the end mill’s centerline is travelling in a straight line. Since not all parts are made of flat surfaces, end mills will invariably need to move in a non-linear path. In the case of machining circular tool paths, the path of the end mill’s centerline is circular. Not surprisingly, this is referred to as Circular Interpolation.

Cutting Circular Tool Paths

All rotating end mills have their own angular velocity at the outside diameter. But when the tool path is circular, there is an additional component that is introduced, resulting in a compound angular velocity. Basically, this means the velocity of the outside diameter is travelling at a substantially different velocity than originally expected. The cause of the compound angular velocity is seen in the disparity between the tool path lengths.

Internal Circular Tool Paths

Figure A shows the cross section of a cutting tool on a linear path, with the teeth having angular velocity due to tool rotation, and the center of the tool having a linear feed. Note that the tool path length will always be equal to the length of the machined edge. Figure B shows the same cutting tool on an internal circular path, as done when machining a hole. In this case, the angular velocity of the teeth is changed as a result of an additional component from the circular path of the tool’s center. The diameter of the tool path is smaller than that of the major diameter being cut. Or, in other words, the tool path length is shorter than the machined edge length, increasing the angular velocity of the teeth. To prevent overfeeding and the possibility of tool breakage, the increased angular velocity of the teeth must be made the same as in the linear case in Figure A. The formula below can be used to properly lower the feed rate for internal machining:

Internal Adjusted Feed = (Major Diameter-Cutter Diameter) / (Major Diameter) × Linear Feed

Circular Tool Paths

External Circular Tool Paths

Figure C shows the same cutting tool on an external circular path, as done when machining a post. In this case, the diameter of the tool path is larger than the major diameter being cut. This means that the tool path length is longer than the machined edge length, resulting in a decreased angular velocity. To prevent premature dulling and poor tool life due to over-speeding, use the formula below to properly raise the feed rate for external machining. In this way, the decreased angular velocity of the teeth is made the same as in the linear case in Figure A.

External Adjusted Feed = (Major Diameter+Cutter Diameter) / (Major Diameter) × Linear Feed

Optimize Your Performance

By adjusting the feed in the manner provided, internal applications can avoid tool breakage and costly down time. Further, external applications can enjoy optimized performance and shorter cycle times. It should also be noted that this approach can be applied to parts with radiused corners, elliptical features and when helical interpolation is required.

Selecting the Right Plastic Cutting End Mill

Many challenges can arise when machining different types of plastics. In the ever changing plastics industry, considerations for workholding, the melting point of your material, and any burrs that may potentially be created on the piece need to be examined prior to selecting a tool. Choosing the correct tool for your job and material is pivotal to avoid wasting time and money. Harvey Tool offers One, Two, and Three Flute Plastic Cutting End Mills with Upcut and Downcut Geometries. The following guide is intended to aid in the tool selection process to avoid common plastic cutting mistakes.

Choose Workholding Method

When it comes to workholding, not all plastic parts can be secured by clamps or vices. Depending on the material’s properties, these workholding options may damage or deform the part. To circumnavigate this, vacuum tables or other weaker holding forces, such as double sided tape, are frequently used. Since these workholdings do not secure the part as tightly, lifting can become a problem if the wrong tool is used.

Downcut Plastic Cutting End Mills — tools with a left hand spiral, right hand cut — have downward axial forces that push chips down, preventing lifting and delamination. If an Upcut Plastic Cutting End Mill is required, then a tool with minimal upward forces should be chosen. The slower the cutter’s helix, the less upward forces it will generate on the workpiece.

plastic cutter selection

Determine Heat Tolerance

The amount of heat generated should always be considered prior to any machining processes, but this is especially the case while working in plastics. While machining plastics, heat must be removed from the contact area between the tool and the workpiece quickly and efficiently to avoid melting and chip welding.

If your plastic has a low melting point, a Single Flute Plastic Cutting End Mill is a good option. This tool has a larger flute valley than its two flute counterpart which allows for bigger chips. With a larger chip, more heat can be transferred away from the material without it melting.

For plastics with a higher heat tolerance, a Two or Three Flute Plastic Cutting End Mill can be utilized. Because it has more cutting edges and allows for higher removal rates, its tool life is extended.

plastic cutter selection

Consider Finish Quality & Deburring

The polymer arrangement in plastics can cause many burrs if the proper tool is not selected. Parts that require hand-deburring offline after the machining process can drain shop resources. A sharp cutting edge is needed to ensure that the plastic is sheared cleanly, reducing the occurrence of burrs. Three Flute Plastic Cutting End Mills can reduce or eliminate the need to hand-deburr a part. These tools employ an improved cutting action and rigidity due to the higher flute count. Their specialized end geometry reduces the circular end marks that are left behind from traditional metal cutting end mills, leaving a cleaner finish with minimal burrs.

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Flute Count Case Study

2 FLUTE PLASTIC CUTTER: A facing operation was performed in acrylic with a standard 2 Flute Plastic Cutting End Mill. The high rake, high relief design of the 2 flute tool increased chip removal rate, but also left distinct swirling patterns on the top of the workpiece.

3 FLUTE PLASTIC FINISHER: A facing operation was performed on a separate acrylic piece with a specialized 3 Flute Plastic Finisher End Mill. The specialized cutting end left minimal swirling marks and resulted in a smoother finish.

plastic cutter selection

Identifying the potential problems of cutting a specific plastic is an important first step when choosing an appropriate plastic cutter. Deciding on the right tool can mean the difference between an excellent final product and a scrapped job. Harvey Tool’s team of technical engineers is available to help answer any questions you might have about selecting the appropriate Plastic Cutting End Mill.

plastic cutter selection

Your Guide to Thin Wall Milling

Milling part features with thin wall characteristics, while also maintaining dimensional accuracy and straightness, can be difficult at best. Although multiple factors contribute, some key components are discussed below and can help to increase your thin wall milling accuracy.

Use Proper Tooling

Long length tooling with a long length of cut can spell trouble in thin wall milling situations due to deflection, chatter and breakage. It is essential to keep your tool as strong as possible while maintaining the ability to reach to the desired depth. Necked-down tooling provides added tool strength while also helping you to reach greater than 3x Diameter depths.

Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC)

To support the walls during thin wall milling, keep a wide-cross section behind it. We recommend utilizing a “stepped down” approach, which divides the total wall height to manageable depths while working each side of the wall. The Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) dimension will vary depending on the material (and its hardness) being cut.

ADOC in thin wall milling

Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC)

A progressive Radial Depth Of Cut (RDOC) strategy is also important as the thin wall height is increasing. Reducing tool pressure while support stock is disappearing is equally important to keep the thin wall stable.

  • Detail A represents a 5-step progressive radial approach. The number of passes will depend upon your particular application, material hardness and final wall dimensions.
  • This approach helps to keep the pressure off the wall as you make your way towards it. Additionally, it is recommended to alternate sides when using this RDOC strategy.
  • The final RDOC passes should be very light to keep wall vibration to a minimum while maximizing your part finish.

RDOC in thin wall milling

Additional Thin Wall Milling Accuracy Tips:

  • Climb milling will help to keep tool pressure to a minimum.
  • Manual vibration dampening and wall stabilization can be achieved by using thermoplastic compounds, or wax, which can be thermally removed.
  • The use of ultra-high performance tool paths can optimize tool performance.

How to Tackle Deep Cavity Milling the Right Way

Deep cavity milling is a common yet demanding milling operation. In this style, the tool has a large amount of overhang – or how far a cutting tool is sticking out from its tool holder. The most common challenges of deep cavity milling include tool deflection, chip evacuation, and tool reach.

Avoid Tool Deflection

Excess overhang is the leading cause of tool deflection, due to a lack of rigidity. Besides immediate tool breakage and potential part scrapping, excessive overhang can compromise dimensional accuracy and prevent a desirable finish.

Tool deflection causes wall taper to occur (Figure 1), resulting in unintended dimensions and, most likely, an unusable part. By using the largest possible diameter, necked tooling, and progressively stepping down with lighter Axial Depths Of Cut (ADOC), wall taper is greatly reduced (Figure 2).

tool deflection

progressive step drilling

Achieve Optimal Finish

Although increasing your step-downs and decreasing your ADOC are ideal for roughing in deep cavities, this process oftentimes leaves witness marks at each step down. In order to achieve a quality finish, Long Reach, Long Flute Finishing End Mills (coupled with a light Radial Depth of Cut) are required (Figure 3).

Deep Cavity Milling

Mill to the Required Depth

Avoiding tool deflection and achieving an acceptable finish are challenges that need to be acknowledged, but what if you can’t even reach your required depth? Inability to reach the required depth can be a result of the wrong tool holder or simply a problem of not having access to long enough tooling.

Fortunately, your tool holder’s effective reach can be easily increased with Harvey Tool’s Extended Reach Tool Holder, which allows you to reach up to 6 inches deeper.

Evacuate Chips Effectively

Many machining operations are challenged by chip evacuation, but none more so than Deep Cavity Milling. With a deep cavity, chips face more obstruction, making it more difficult to evacuate them. This frequently results in greater tool wear from chip cutting and halted production from clogged flute valleys.

High pressure coolant, especially through the spindle, aids in the chip evacuation process. However, air coolant is a better option if heat and lubricity are not concerns, since coolant-chip mixtures can form a “slurry” at the bottom of deep cavities (Figure 4). When machining hardened alloys, where smaller, powder-like chips are created, slurry’s are a commonality
that must be avoided.

Deep Cavity Milling

How to Combat Chip Thinning

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

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


Defining Chip Thinning

Chip Thinning is a phenomenon that occurs with varying Radial Depths Of Cut (RDOC), and relates to chip thickness and feed per tooth. While these two values are often mistaken as the same, they are separate variables that have a direct impact on each other. Feed per tooth translates directly to your tool feed rate, and is commonly referred to as Inches Per Tooth (IPT) or chip load.

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Chip Thickness

Chip thickness is often overlooked. It refers to the actual thickness of each chip cut by a tool, measured at its largest cross-section. Users should be careful not to confuse chip thickness and feed per tooth, as these are each directly related to the ideal cutting conditions.

How Chip Thinning Occurs

When using a 50% step over (left side of Figure 1), the chip thickness and feed per tooth are equal to each other. Each tooth will engage the workpiece at a right angle, allowing for the most effective cutting action, and avoiding rubbing as much as possible. Once the RDOC falls below 50% of the cutter diameter (right side of Figure 1), the maximum chip thickness decreases, in turn changing the ideal cutting conditions of the application. This can lead to poor part finish, inefficient cycle times, and premature tool wear. Properly adjusting the running parameters can greatly help reduce these issues.

radial chip thinning

The aim is to achieve a constant chip thickness by adjusting the feed rate when cutting at different RDOC. This can be done with the following equation using the Tool Diameter (D), RDOC, Chip Thickness (CT), and Feed Rate (IPT). For chip thickness, use the recommended value of IPT at 50% step over. Finding an adjusted feed rate is as simple as plugging in the desired values and solving for IPT. This keeps the chip thickness constant at different depths of cut. The adjustment is illustrated in Figure 2.

Inches Per Tooth (Chip Thinning Adjustment)

IPT chip thinning formula
radial chip thinning

Lasting Benefits

In summary, the purpose of these chip thinning adjustments is to get the most out of your tool. Keeping the chip thickness constant ensures that a tool is doing as much work as it can within any given cut. Other benefits include: reduced rubbing, increased material removal rates, and improved tool life.

Spot Drilling: the First Step to Precision Drilling

Drilling an ultra-precise hole can be tough. Material behavior, surface irregularities, and drill point geometry can all be factors leading to inaccurate holes. A Spot Drill, if used properly, will eliminate the chance of drill walking and will help to ensure a more accurate final product.

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Choosing a Spot Drill

Ideally, the center of a carbide drill should always be the first point to contact your part. Therefore, a spotting drill should have a slightly larger point angle than that of your drill. If a spotting drill with a smaller point angle than your drill is used, your drill may be damaged due to shock loading when the outer portion of its cutting surface contacts the workpiece before the center. Using a drill angle equal to the drill angle is also an acceptable situation. Figure 1 illustrates the desired effect. On the left, a drill is entering a previously drilled spot with a slightly larger angle than its point. On the right, a drill is approaching an area with an angle that is far too small for its point.

Proper Spot Angle Diagram

Marking Your Spot

A Spotting Drill’s purpose is to create a small divot to correctly locate the center of a drill when initiating a plunge. However, some machinists choose to use these tools for a different reason – using it to chamfer the top of drilled holes. By leaving a chamfer, screw heads sit flush with the part once inserted.

Spot Drill

What Happens if I Use a Spot Drill with an Improper Angle?

Using a larger angle drill will allow the drill to find the correct location by guiding the tip of the drill to the center. If the outer diameter of a carbide drill were to contact the workpiece first, the tool could chip. This would damage the workpiece and result in a defective tool. If the two flutes of the drill were slightly different from one another, one could come into contact before the other. This could lead to an inaccurate hole, and even counteract the purpose of spot drilling in the first place.

spotting drill ad

When Won’t a Spot Drill Work for My Application?

When drilling into an extremely irregular surface, such as the side of a cylinder or an inclined plane, this tool may not be sufficient to keep holes in the correct position. For these applications, flat bottom versions or Flat Bottom Counterbores may be needed to creating accurate features.