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What You Need to Know About Coolant for CNC Machining

Coolant in purpose is widely understood – it’s used to temper high temperatures common during machining, and aid in chip evacuation. However, there are several types and styles, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Knowing which coolant – or if any – is appropriate for your job can help to boost your shop’s profitability, capability, and overall machining performance.

Coolant or Lubricant Purpose

Coolant and lubricant are terms used interchangeably, though not all coolants are lubricants. Compressed air, for example, has no lubricating purpose but works only as a cooling option. Direct coolants – those which make physical contact with a part – can be compressed air, water, oil, synthetics, or semi-synthetics. When directed to the cutting action of a tool, these can help to fend off high temperatures that could lead to melting, warping, discoloration, or tool failure. Additionally, coolant can help evacuate chips from a part, preventing chip recutting and aiding in part finish.

Coolant can be expensive, however, and wasteful if not necessary. Understanding the amount of coolant needed for your job can help your shop’s efficiency.

Types of Coolant Delivery

Coolant is delivered in several different forms – both in properties and pressure. The most common forms include air, mist, flood coolant, high pressure, and Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL). Choosing the wrong pressure can lead to part or tool damage, whereas choosing the wrong amount can lead to exhausted shop resources.

Air: Cools and clears chips, but has no lubricity purpose. Air coolant does not cool as efficiently as water or oil-based coolants. For more sensitive materials, air coolant is often preferred over types that come in direct contact with the part. This is true with many plastics, where thermal shock – or rapid expansion and contraction of a part – can occur if direct coolant is applied.

Mist: This type of low pressure coolant is sufficient for instances where chip evacuation and heat are not major concerns. Because the pressure applied is not great in a mist, the part and tool do not undergo additional stresses.

Flood: This low pressure method creates lubricity and flushes chips from a part to avoid chip recutting, a common and tool damaging occurrence.

High Pressure: Similar to flood coolant, but delivered in greater than 1,000 psi. This is a great option for chip removal and evacuation, as it blasts the chips away from the part. While this method will effectively cool a part immediately, the pressure can be high enough to break miniature diameter tooling. This method is used often in deep pocket or drilling operations, and can be delivered via coolant through tooling, or coolant grooves built into the tool itself. Harvey Tool offers Coolant Through Drills and Coolant Through Threadmills.

Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL): Every machine shop focuses on how to gain a competitive advantage – to spend less, make more, and boost shop efficiency. That’s why many shops are opting for MQL, along with its obvious environmental benefits. Using only the necessary amount of coolant will dramatically reduce costs and wasted material. This type of lubricant is applied as an aerosol, or an extremely fine mist, to provide just enough coolant to perform a given operation effectively.

To see all of these coolant styles in action, check out the video below from our partners at CimQuest.

In Conclusion

Coolant is all-too-often overlooked as a major component of a machining operation. The type of coolant or lubricant, and the pressure at which it’s applied, is vital to both machining success and optimum shop efficiency. Coolant can be applied as compressed air, mist, in a flooding property, or as high pressure. Certain machines also are MQL able, meaning they can effectively restrict the amount of coolant being applied to the very amount necessary to avoid being wasteful.

4 Important Keyseat Cutter Considerations

Keyseat cutters, also called woodruff cutters, keyway cutters, and T-slot cutters, are a type of cutting tool used frequently by many machinists – some operations are impractical or even impossible without one. If you need one of these tools for your job, it pays to know when and how to pick the right one and how to use it correctly.

1. Keyseat Cutter Geometry

Selecting and utilizing the right tool is often more complicated than identifying the right diameter and dialing in the speeds and feeds. A keyseat cutter’s strength should be considered carefully, especially in tricky applications and difficult materials.

As with any tool, a longer reach will make a keyseat cutter more prone to deflection and breakage. A tool with the shortest allowable reach should be used to ensure the strongest tool possible.

A keyseat cutter’s neck diameter greatly affects its performance. A thinner neck allows for a comparatively larger radial depth of cut (RDOC) and more clearance, but makes for a weaker tool. A thicker neck reduces the keyseat cutter’s RDOC, but greatly strengthens the tool overall. When clearances allow, a keyseat cutter with a thicker neck and larger cutter diameter should be chosen over one with a thinner neck and smaller cutter diameter (Figure 1).

keyseat cutter geometry

Cutter width has an effect on tool strength as well. The greater a keyseat cutter’s cutter width, the more prone to deflection and breakage it is. This is due to the increased forces on the tool – a greater cutter width equates to an increased length of engagement. You should be particularly careful to use the strongest tool possible and a light RDOC when machining with a keyseat cutter with a thick cutter width.

2. Radial Depth of Cut

Understanding a keyseat cutter’s RDOC is critical to choosing the correct tool, but understanding how it affects your tool path is necessary for optimal results. While it may be tempting to make a cut using a keyseat cutter’s maximum RDOC, this will result in increased stress on the tool, a worse finish, and potential catastrophic tool failure. It is almost always better to use a lighter depth of cut and make multiple passes (Figure 2).

keyseat cutter RDOC
When in doubt about what RDOC is correct for your tool and application, consider consulting the tool manufacturer’s speeds and feeds. Harvey Tool’s keyseat cutter speeds and feeds take into account your tool dimensions, workpiece material, operation, and more.

3. Desired Slot Size

Some machinists use keyseat cutters to machine slots greater than their cutter width. This is done with multiple operations so that, for example, a keyseat cutter with a 1/4” cutter width can create a slot that is 3/8” wide. While this is possible and may save on up-front tooling costs, the results are not optimal. Ideally, a keyseat cutter should be used to machine a slot equal to its cutter width as it will result in a faster operation, fewer witness marks, and a better finish (Figure 3).

ideal keyseat slot

4. Staggered Tooth Geometry

When more versatility is required from a keyseat cutter, staggered tooth versions should be considered. The front and back reliefs allow the tools to cut not only on the OD, but also on the front and back of the head. When circumstances do not allow for the use of a cutter width equal to the final slot dimensions as stated above, a staggered tooth tool can move axially in the slot to expand its width.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter
Machining difficult or gummy materials can be tricky, and using a staggered tooth keyseat cutter can help greatly with tool performance. The shear flutes reduce the force needed to cut, as well as leave a superior surface finish by reducing harmonics and chatter.

Having trouble finding the perfect keyseat cutter for your job? Harvey Tool offers over 1,800 keyseat cutter options, with cutter diameters from 1/16” to 1-1/2” and cutter widths from .010” to ½”.

Optimize Roughing With Chipbreaker Tooling

Chipbreaker End Mills feature unique notch profiles, creating a serrated cutting edge. These dividers break otherwise long, stringy chips into small, easily-managed swarf that can be cleanly evacuated from the part. But why is a chipbreaker necessary for some jobs, and not others? How does the geometry of this unique tool impact its proper running parameters? In this post, we’ll answer these questions and others to discover the very real benefits of this unique cutting geometry.

How Chipbreaker Tooling Works

As a tool rotates and its cutting edge impacts a workpiece, material is sheared off from a part, creating chips. When that cutting process is interrupted, as is the case with breaks in the cutting portion of the tool, chips become smaller in length and are thus easier to evacuate. Because the chipbreakers are offset flute-to-flute, a proper, flat surface finish is achieved as each flute cleans up any excess material left behind from previously passed flutes.

Benefits of Chipbreaker Tooling

Machining Efficiency

When chips are removed from the part, they begin to pile in the machine. For extensive operations, where a great deal of material is hogged out, chip accumulation can very rapidly get in the way of the spindle or part. With larger chips, accumulation occurs much faster, leaving machinists to stop their machine regularly to remove the waste. As any machinist knows, a stopped machine equates to lost money.

Prolonged Tool Life

Inefficient chip evacuation can lead to chip recutting, or when the the tool impacts and cuts chips left behind during the machining process. This adds stresses on the tool and accelerates rate of wear on the cutting edge. Chipbreaker tooling creates small chips that are easily evacuated from a part, thus minimizing the risk of recutting.

Accelerated Running Parameters

A Harvey Performance Company Application Engineer recently observed the power of a chipbreaker tool firsthand while visiting a customer’s shop in Minnesota. The customer was roughing a great amount of 4340 Steel. Running at the parameters below, the tool was able to run uninterrupted for two hours!

Helical Part No. 33737
Material 4340 Steel
ADOC 2.545″
RDOC .125″
Speed 2,800 RPM
Feed 78 IPM
Material Removal Rate 24.8 Cubic In/Min

Chipbreaker Product Offering

Chipbreaker geometry is well suited for materials that leave a long chip. Materials that produce a powdery chip, such as graphite, should not be machined with a chipbreaker tool, as chip evacuation would not be a concern. Helical Solutions’ line of chipbreaker tooling includes a 3-flute option for aluminum and non-ferrous materials, and its reduced neck counterpart. Additionally, Helical offers a 4-flute rougher with chipbreaker geometry for high-temp alloys and titanium. Harvey Tool’s expansive product offering includes a composite cutting end mill with chipbreaker geometry.

In Summary

Chipbreaker geometry, or grooves within the cutting face of the tool, break down chips into small, manageable pieces during the machining process. This geometry can boost shop efficiency by minimizing machine downtime to clear large chips from the machining center, improve tool life by minimizing cutting forces exerted on the tool during machining, and allow for more accelerated running parameters.

Why Flute Count Matters

One of the most important considerations when choosing an end mill is determining which flute count is best for the job at hand. Both material and application play an important role in this critical part of the tool selection process. Understanding the effects of flute count on other tool properties, and how a tool will behave in different situations is an essential consideration in the tool selection process.

Tool Geometry Basics

Generally, tools with more flutes have a larger core and smaller flute valleys than tools with fewer flutes.  More flutes with a larger core can provide both benefits and restrictions depending on the application.  Simply put, a larger core is directly proportional to tool strength; the larger the core, the stronger a tool will be.  In turn, a larger core also reduces the flute depth of a tool, restricting the amount of space for chips to exist.  This can cause issues with chip packing in applications requiring heavy material removal.  However, these considerations only lead us part way when making a decision on which tool to use, and when.

flute count core

Material Considerations

Traditionally, end mills came in either a 2 flute or 4 flute option.  The widely accepted rule of thumb was to use 2 flutes for machining aluminum and non-ferrous materials, and 4 flutes for machining steel and harder alloys.  As aluminum and non-ferrous alloys are typically much softer than steels, a tool’s strength is less of a concern, a tool can be fed faster, and larger material removal rates (MRR) is facilitated by the large flute valleys of 2 flute tools.  Ferrous materials are typically much harder, and require the strength of a larger core.  Feed rates are slower, resulting in smaller chips, and allowing for the smaller flute valleys of a larger core tool.  This also allows for more flutes to fit on the tool, which in turn increases productivity.

flute count

Recently, with more advanced machines and toolpaths, higher flute count tools have become the norm in manufacturing.  Non-ferrous tooling has become largely centered on 3 flute tools, allowing greater productivity while still allowing proper chip evacuation.  Ferrous tooling has taken a step further and progressed not only to 5 and 6 flutes, but up to 7 flutes and more in some cases.  With a wider range of hardness, sometimes at the very top of the Rockwell hardness scale, many more flutes have allowed longer tool life, less tool wear, stronger tools, and less deflection.  All of this results in more specialized tools for more specific materials.  The end result is higher MRR and increased productivity.

Running Parameters

Just as material considerations will have an impact on the tool you choose, operation type and depth of cut requirements may also have a big impact on the ideal number of flutes for your application.  In roughing applications, lower flute counts may be desirable to evacuate large amounts of chips faster with larger flute valleys.  That said, there is a balance to find, as modern toolpaths such as High Efficiency Milling (HEM) can achieve extreme MRR with a very small step over, and a higher number of flutes.  In a more traditional sense, higher flute counts are great for finishing operations where very small amounts of material are being removed, and greater finish can be achieved with more flutes, not worrying as much about chip evacuation.

flute count

Flute count plays a big role in speeds and feeds calculation as well.  One common rule of thumb is “more flutes, more feed,” but this can be a very detrimental misconception.  Although true in some cases, this is not an infinitely scalable principle.  As stated previously, increasing the number of flutes on a tool limits the size that the flute valleys can be.  While adding a 5th flute to a 4 flute tool theoretically gives you 25% more material removal per revolution with an appropriately increased feed rate, feeding the tool that much faster may overload the tool.  The 25% increase in material removal is more likely closer to 10-15%, given the tool is exactly the same in all other specifications.  Higher flute count tools may require speeds and feeds to be backed off so much in some cases, that a lower flute count may be even more efficient.  Finding the right balance is key in modern milling practices.

How to Avoid Composite Delamination with Compression Cutters

Composites are a group of materials made up of at least two unique constituents that, when combined, produce mechanical and physical properties favorable for a wide array of applications. These materials usually contain a binding ingredient, known as a matrix, filled with particles or fibers called reinforcements. Composites have become increasingly popular in the Aerospace, Automotive, and Sporting Goods industries because they can combine the strength of metal, the light weight of plastic, and the rigidity of ceramics.

Unfortunately, composite materials present some unique challenges to machinists. Many composites are very abrasive and can severely reduce tool life, while others can melt and burn if heat generation is not properly controlled. Even if these potential problems are avoided, the wrong tool can leave the part with other quality issues, including delamination.

While composites such as G10 and FR4 are considered “fibrous”, composites can also be “layered,” such as laminated sheets of PEEK and aluminum. Layered composites are vulnerable to delamination, when the layers of the material are separated by a tool’s cutting forces. This yields less structurally sound parts, defeating the purpose of the combined material properties in the first place. In many cases, a single delaminated hole can result in a scrapped part.

Using Compression Cutters in Composite Materials

Composite materials are generally machined with standard metal cutting end mills, which generate exclusively up or down cutting forces, depending on if they have right or left hand flute geometry. These uni-directional forces cause delamination (Figure 1).

delamination

Conversely, compression cutters are designed with both up and down-cut flutes. The top portion of the length of cut, closest to the shank, has a left hand spiral, forcing chips down. The bottom portion of the length of cut, closest to the end, has a right hand spiral, forcing chips up. When cutting, the opposing flute directions generate counteracting up-cut and down-cut forces. The opposing cutting forces stabilize the material removal, which compresses the composite layers, combatting delamination on the top and bottom of a workpiece (Figure 2).

compression cutters

Since compression cutters do not pull up or press down on a workpiece, they leave an excellent finish on layered composites and lightweight materials like plywood. It is important to note, however, that compression cutters are suited specifically to profiling, as the benefits of the up and down-cut geometry are not utilized in slotting or plunging operations.

Something as simple as choosing a tool suited to a specific composite material can have significant effects on the quality of the final part. Consider utilizing tools optimized for different composites and operations or learn how to select the right drill for composite holemaking.

The Multiple Uses of a Chamfer Mill

A chamfer mill, or a chamfer cutter, is one of the most common tools used by machinists daily. When creating a part, machining operations can oftentimes leave a sharp edge on a workpiece. A chamfer mill eliminates sharp edges, leaving a sloped surface, or a chamfer, instead. In doing so, the part will be stronger and more aesthetically appealing to its eventual user.

This singular tool can provide many cost-saving benefits to machinists. Aside from the namesake operation it performs on a part, a chamfer mill can be used for several machining operations including beveling, deburring, countersinking, and spotting.

Chamfer Mill for Beveling

The terms “chamfer” and “bevel” are often used interchangeably. These two features, while similar, actually have two different definitions. While a chamfer impacts a portion of the side of a workpiece – specifically the edge of a part, a bevel angles the entire side of what was a squared-off part feature. Thus, the side of a part can feature two chamfers, or only one bevel (Figure 1).

A chamfer mill, however, can perform both operations. The two features are equivalent in both geometry, and how they are machined.  A chamfer mill will create both part features in the exact same fashion; a bevel just may use a larger portion of the cutting surface, or may require multiple passes to create a large part feature.

Chamfer Mill for Deburring

Like many other versatile tools, a chamfer mill can be used to easily and swiftly deburr a part during the CNC machining process. In doing so, efficiency is maintained as manual deburring – a time exhaustive process – isn’t necessary.

A chamfer mill’s angled cutting surface makes it a great tool for deburring workpiece edges.  Because a very small amount of the chamfer cutter’s cutting face will be used, a simple adjustment to running parameters will allow for simple deburring operations using a very light cut depth.

Chamfer Mill for Spotting & Countersinking

Drilling precise, clean, and aesthetically appealing holes into a part is not a one-step process. In fact, some use up to four different tools to machine a perfect hole: spotting drill, drill, flat bottom counterbore, and countersink. However, a chamfer cutter is often used to perform two of these operations simultaneously.

By using a pointed chamfer cutter with a diameter larger than that of the hole being drilled, a machinist can spot and countersink the hole in one operation prior to its creation. Tipped-off Chamfer  Cutters are unable to perform a spotting operation because they are non-center cutting. By spotting a hole, the drill has a clear starting point. This works to alleviate walking during the drilling process, which in turn drastically reduces the chance of misaligned holes. By countersinking a hole, the screw sits flush with the part, which is often a requirement for many parts in the aerospace industry.

One consideration to keep in mind is that a carbide spot drill should always have an angle larger than that of the drill following it. However, many countersinks have angles that are smaller than most drill points.  This creates a dilemma in choosing a chamfer tool for both spotting and countersinking, as they can reduce the number of tools needed, but do not see the full benefit of a spot drill with a proper angle.

Key Takeaways

A chamfer mill, also known as a chamfer cutter, is a tool that can perform several machining operations including chamfering, beveling, deburring, spotting, and countersinking. Due to this versatility, chamfer mills are an essential part of every machinist’s arsenal.  All that’s needed to run them is these various operations is a slight change to running parameters and depth of cut.

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 end mill, 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, undercutting end mills are actually very versatile tools that are worth keeping on hand for a variety of operations.

Undercutting

undercutting machining

Unsurprisingly, undercutting end mills 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 undercutting end mill.

Exactly what tool to use depends on the geometry of the feature and the part. Undercutting end mills 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

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 undercutting end mills 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 undercutting end mill 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 undercutting end mill 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 end mills 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 undercutting end mills 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 undercutting end mill styles as stock standard tools.

undercutting end mills

Reducing Tool Runout

Tool runout is a given in any machine shop, and can never be 100% avoided. Thus, it is important to establish an acceptable level of runout for any project, and stay within that range to optimize productivity and prolong tool life. Smaller runout levels are always better, but choice of machine and tool holder, stick-out, tool reach, and many other factors all have an influence on the amount of runout in every setup.

Defining Tool Runout

Tool runout is the measurement of how far a cutting tool, holder, or spindle rotates off of its true axis. This can be seen in low quality end mills where the cutting diameter is true to size when measured while stationary, but measures above tolerance while rotating.

The first step to minimizing runout is understanding what individual factors cause runout in every machine setup. Runout is seen in the accuracy of every cutting tool, collet, tool holder, and spindle. Every added connection between a machine and the workpiece it is cutting will introduce a higher level of runout. Each increase can add to the total runout further and further. Steps should be taken with every piece of tooling and equipment to minimize runout for best performance, increased tool life, and quality finished products.

Measuring Runout

Determining the runout of your system is the first step towards finding how to combat it. Runout is measured using an indicator that measures the variation of a tool’s diameter as it rotates. This is done with either a dial/probe indicator or a laser measuring device. While most dial indicators are both portable and easy to use, they are not as accurate as the available laser indicators, and can also make a runout measurement worse by pushing on a tool. This is mostly a concern for miniature and micro-tooling, where lasers should be strictly used due to the tool’s fragile nature.  Most end mill manufacturers recommend using a laser runout indicator in place of a dial indicator wherever possible.

Z-Mike Laser

Z-Mike laser measurement devices are common instruments used to measure levels of tool runout.

Runout should be measured at the point where a tool will be cutting, typically at the end of the tools, or along a portion of the length of cut. A dial indicator may not be plausible in these instances due to the inconsistent shape of a tool’s flutes. Laser measuring devices offer another advantage due to this fact.

High Quality Tools

The amount of runout in each component of a system, as-manufactured, often has a significant impact on the total runout of a given setup. Cutting tools all have a restriction on maximum runout allowed when manufactured, and some can have allowances of .0002” or less. This is often the value that should be strived for in a complete system as well. For miniature tooling down to .001” diameter, this measurement will have to be held to an even smaller value. As the ratio of tool runout to tool diameter becomes larger, threats of tool failure increase. As stated earlier, starting with a tool that has minimal runout is pivotal in keeping the total runout of a system to a minimum. This is runout that cannot be avoided.

Precision Tool Holders

The next step to minimizing runout is ensuring that you are using a high quality, precision tool holder. These often come in the form of shrink-fit, or press-fit tool holders offering accurate and precise tool rotation.  Uniform pressure around the entire circumference of a shank is essential for reducing runout. Set screw based holders should be avoided, as they push the tool off-center with their uneven holding pressure.  Collet-based tool holders also often introduce an extra amount of runout due to their additional components. Each added connection in a tool holding system allows more methods of runout to appear. Shrink-fit and press-fit tool holders are inherently better at minimizing runout due to their fewer components.

tool runout

Included in your tool holding considerations should be machine tool cleanliness. Often, chips can become lodged in the spindle, and cause an obstruction between two high-precision surfaces in the system. Ensuring that your tool holder and spindle are clean and free of chips and debris is paramount when setting up for every job.

Shank Modifications

Apart from equipment itself, many other factors can contribute to an increasing amount of tool runout. These can include how long a tool is, how rigid a machine setup is, and how far a tool is hanging out of its holder.  Shank modifications, along with their methods of tool holding can have a large impact. Often thought of as an older, obsolete technology, Weldon flats are found guilty of adding large amounts of runout in many shops. While many shops still use Weldon flats to ensure a secure grip on their tools, having a set screw pushing a tool to one side can push it off center, yielding very high levels of runout. Haimer Safe Lock™ is another option increasing in popularity that is a much higher performance holding technology. The Safe-Lock™ system is designed with the same tolerances as shrink fit and other high precision tool holders. It is able to minimize runout, while firmly holding a tool in place with no chance of pull-out.

haimer safe lock

The Haimer Safe-Lock™ system is one option to greatly reduce tool runout.

Runout will never be completely eliminated from a machining system. However, steps can (and should) be taken to keep it to a minimum using every method possible. Keeping a tool running true will extend tool life, increase performance, and ultimately save your shop time and money. Runout is a common concern in the metalworking industry, but it is often overlooked when it could be main issue causing part rejections and unacceptable results. Every piece of a machine tool plays a part in the resultant runout, and none should be overlooked.

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°.

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
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).

dovetail cutters
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.