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The Anatomy of an End Mill

An end mill features 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 flute patterns

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.

End Mill Profiles 

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 End Mills

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

Corner Radius End Mills

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 End Mills

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.

end mill 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.

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Overall Reach/Length Below Shank (LBS)

The overall reach of an end mill, 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

End Mill 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

Undercutting End Mills: Well-Rounded Tools That Offer Maximum Versatility

Undercutting end mills, also known as lollipop cutters or spherical ball end mills, are a common choice for machining undercuts. An undercut is a common part feature characterized by one part of a workpiece “hanging” over another. Undercuts are typically difficult, or even impossible, to machine with a standard tool, especially on 3-axis machines. In many cases, a specialty tool is needed to tackle this feature. Although they are frequently associated with a singular use, undercutters are actually very versatile tools that are worth keeping on hand for a variety of operations.

Undercutting

undercutting end mill machinings

Unsurprisingly, these tools are very well suited to undercutting operations. Creating an undercut on a part can be tricky and time consuming, especially when forced to rotate the workpiece. Fortunately, this can be greatly simplified with an undercutter.

Exactly what tool to use depends on the geometry of the feature and the part. These tools are available with a range of wrap angles like 220°, 270°, and 300°. Greater wrap angles are the result of a thinner neck and create a more spherical cutting end. This style offers more clearance at the cost of rigidity. Likewise, undercutting end mills with lower wrap angles sacrifice clearance for greater rigidity.

Deburring & Edgebreaking

deburring with undercutting end mills

Since undercuts have a wrap angle that is greater than 180°, they are very well-suited to deburring or edgebreaking anywhere on your workpiece, including the underside. Deburring your parts by hand can be inefficient for your shop – using an undercutting end mill instead will save you time and money. Edgebreaking operations are often a critical final step to create a part that looks and feels like a finished product and that is safe to handle.

All undercutting end mills can be used to deburr and edgebreak, which makes them a useful tool to have on hand in any shop. Some manufacturers also offer specialized deburring tools that are designed with a right and left hand flute orientation, giving them “teeth” that make them particularly useful for deburring complex shapes. Using a deburring tool in a 5-axis machine often makes it possible to deburr or edgebreak an entire workpiece in one shot.

Slotting

slotting

Most machinists might not think of undercutting end mills for slotting, but they are fully capable of this operation. An equivalent slot can be machined with a regular ball end mill, but doing so might not be feasible due to clearance issues – an undercutter has a reduced neck, unlike a standard ball end mill. Additionally, using an undercutter to slot can save time switching to an equivalent ball end mill.

Since only 180° of the cutting end can be used to slot, undercutting end mills with lower wrap angles and thicker necks are best suited to slotting. However, high helix undercutting tools may be ideal if improved finish and increased chip removal are important to the operation.

Contouring & Profiling

contouring

With their wrap angle and increased clearance, undercutting end mills are very useful for both simple and complicated contouring and profiling operations. Their versatility means that it is sometimes possible to accomplish the entire operation with a single tool, rather than several, especially when 5-axis milling.

Reduced shank tools offer the most versatility in complex contouring and profiling operations. The ability to chuck these tools at any depth means that they are capable of maximum clearance.

Choosing An Undercutting End Mill

While most undercutting end mills are conceptually similar, there are a few key differences that must be considered when picking the right tool for your job. Harvey Tool offers the following styles as stock standard tools.

undercutting end mills