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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

Multi-Start Thread Reference Guide

A multi-start thread consists of two or more intertwined threads running parallel to one another. Intertwining threads allow the lead distance of a thread to be increased without changing its pitch. A double start thread will have a lead distance double that of a single start thread of the same pitch, a triple start thread will have a lead distance three times longer than a single start thread of the same pitch, and so on.

By maintaining a constant pitch, the depth of the thread, measured from crest to root, will also remain constant. This allows multi-start threads to maintain a shallow thread depth relative to their longer lead distance. Another design advantage of a multi-start thread is that more contact surface is engaged in a single thread rotation. A common example is a cap on a plastic water bottle. The cap will screw on in one quick turn but because a multi start thread was used there are multiple threads fully engaged to securely hold the cap in place.

multi-start thread

Figure 1 displays a triple start thread with each thread represented in a different shade. The left side of the image represents a triple start thread with just one of the three threads completed. This unfinished view shows how each individual thread is milled at a specific lead distance before the part is indexed and the remaining threads are milled. The right side of the image displays the completed triple start thread with the front view showing how the start of each thread is evenly spaced. The starting points of a double start thread begin 180° apart and the starting points of a triple start thread begin 120° apart.

multi-start thread

Figure 2 displays the triangle that can be formed using the relationship between the lead distance and the circumference of a thread. It is this relationship that determines the lead angle of a thread. The lead angle is the helix angle of the thread based on the lead distance. A single start thread has a lead distance equal to its pitch and in turn has a relatively small lead angle. Multi-start threads have a longer lead distance and therefore a larger lead angle. The graphic depicted on the right is a view of the lead triangle if it were to be unwound to better visualize this lead angle. The dashed lines represent the lead angle of a single start thread and double start thread of the same pitch and circumference for comparison. The colors represent each of the three intertwined threads of the triple start thread depicted in Figure 1.

Lead Angle Formula

multi-start thread

The charts below display the information for all common UN/Metric threads as well as the lead and lead angle for double and triple start versions of each thread. The lead angle represented in the chart is a function of a thread’s lead and major diameter as seen in the equation above. It is important to be aware of this lead angle when manufacturing a multi-start thread. The cutting tool used to mill the thread must have a relief angle greater than the lead angle of the thread for clearance purposes. All Harvey Tool Single Form Thread Milling Cutters can mill a single, double, and triple start thread without interference.

Machining a Multi-Start Thread

  1. Use the table or equation to determine the pitch, lead, and lead angle of the multi-start thread.
  2. Use a single form thread mill to helically interpolate the first thread at the correct lead. *The thread mill used must have a relief angle greater than that of the multi-start thread’s lead angle in order to machine the thread.
  3. Index to the next starting location and mill the remaining parallel thread/threads.

Click here for the full chart – starting on Page 2.

multi-start thread