Key Tool Holding Considerations

Each tool holder style has its own unique properties that must be considered prior to beginning a machining operation. A secure machine-to-tool connection will result in a more profitable shop, as a poor connection can cause tool runout, pull-out, scrapped parts, damaged tools, and exhausted shop resources. An understanding of tool holders, shank features, and best practices is therefore pivotal for every machinist to know to ensure reliable tool holding.

Types of Tool Holding

The basic concept of any tool holder is to create a compression force around the cutting tool’s shank that is strong, secure, and rigid. Tool holders come in a variety of styles, each with its own spindle interface, taper for clearance, and compression force methods.

Mechanical Spindle Tightening

The most basic way in which spindle compression is generated is by simple mechanical tightening of the tool holder itself, or a collet within the holder. The downside of this mechanical tightening method of the spindle is its limited number of pressure points. With this style, segments of a collet collapse around the shank, and there is no uniform, concentric force holding the tool around its full circumference.

tool holding

Hydraulic Tool Holders

Other methods create a more concentric pressure, gripping the tool’s shank over a larger surface area. Hydraulic tool holders create this scenario. They are tightened via a pressurized fluid inside the bore of the holder, creating a more powerful clamping force on the shank.

Shrink Fit Tool Holders

Shrink fit tool holders are another high quality tool holding mechanism. This method works by using the thermal properties of the holder to expand its opening slightly larger than the shank of the tool. The tool is placed inside the holder, after which the holder is allowed to cool, contracting down close to its original size and creating a tremendous compressive force around the shank. Since the expansion of the bore in the tool holder is minuscule, a tight tolerance is needed on the shank to ensure it can fit every time. Shank diameters with h6 tolerances ensure the tool will always work properly and reliably with a shrink fit holder.

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Types of Shank Modifications

Along with choosing correctly when it comes to tool holding options, tool shanks can be modified to promote a more secure machine-to-tool connection. These modifications can include added grooves on the shank, flats, or even an altered shank surface to aid in gripping strength.

Weldon Flats

A Weldon flat can be used to create additional strength within the tool holder. The tool holder locks a tool in place with a set screw pushing on a flat area on the tool shank. Weldon flats offer a good amount of pull-out prevention due to the set screw sitting in the recessed shank flat. Often seen as an outdated method of tool holding, this method is most effective for larger, stronger tools where runout is less of a concern.

ToughGRIP Shanks

Helical Solutions offers a ToughGRIP shank modification to its customers, which works by increasing the friction of the shank – making it easier to grip for the tool holder. This modification roughs the shank’s surface while maintaining h6 shrink fit tolerance.

Haimer Safe-Lock™

In the Haimer Safe-Lock system, special drive keys in the chuck interface with grooves in the shank of the tool to prevent pull-out. The end mill effectively screws into the tool holder, which causes a connection that only becomes more secure as the tool is running. Haimer Safe-Lock™ maintains h6 shank tolerances, ensuring an even tighter connection with shrink fit holders.

haimer safe-lock

Key Takeaways

While choosing a proper cutter and running it at appropriate running parameters are key factors to a machining operation, so too is the tool holding method used. If opting for an improper tool holding method, one can experience tool pull-out, tool runout, and scrapped jobs. Effective tool holding will prevent premature tool failure and allow machinists to feel confident while pushing the tool to its full potential.

Tackling Titanium: A Guide to Machining Titanium and Its Alloys

In today’s manufacturing industry, titanium and its alloys have become staples in aerospace, medical, automotive, and firearm applications. This popular metal is resistant to rust and chemicals, is recyclable, and is extremely strong for its weight. However, there are several challenges that must be considered when machining titanium and selecting the appropriate tools and parameters for the job.

Titanium Varieties

Titanium is available in many varieties, including nearly 40 ASTM grades, as well as several additional alloys. Grades 1 through 4 are considered commercially pure titanium with varying requirements on ultimate tensile strength. Grade 5 (Ti6Al4V or Ti 6-4) is the most common combination, alloyed with 6 percent aluminum and 4 percent vanadium. Although titanium and its alloys are often grouped together, there are some key differences between them that must be noted before determining the ideal machining approach.

Titanium 6AL4V

Helical Solutions’ HVTI End Mill is a great choice for high efficiency toolpaths in Titanium.

Titanium Concerns


Although titanium may have more desirable material properties than your average steel, it also behaves more flexibly, and is often not as rigid as other metals. This requires a secure grip on titanium workpieces, and as rigid a machine setup as is possible. Other considerations include avoiding interrupted cuts, and keeping the tool in motion at all times of contact with the workpiece. Dwelling in a drilled hole or stopping a tool next to a profiled wall will cause the tool to rub – creating excess heat, work-hardening the material, and causing premature tool wear.

Heat Generation

Heat is a formidable enemy, and heat generation must be considered when selecting speeds and feeds. While commercially pure grades of titanium are softer and gummier than most of its alloys, the addition of alloying elements typically raises the hardness of titanium. This increases concerns regarding generated heat and tool wear. Maintaining a larger chipload and avoiding unnecessary rubbing aids with tool performance in the harder titanium alloys, and will minimize the amount of work hardening produced. Choosing a lower RPM, paired with a larger chipload, can provide a significant reduction in temperature when compared to higher speed options. Due to its low conduction properties, keeping temperatures to a minimum will put less stress on the tool and reduce wear. Using high-pressure coolant is also an effective method to reduce heat generation when machining titanium.

cutting tools for titanium

These camshaft covers were custom made in titanium for Mitsubishi Evos.
Photo courtesy of @RebootEng (Instagram)

Galling and Built-Up Edge

The next hurdle to consider is that titanium has a strong tendency to adhere to a cutting tool, creating built up edge. This is a tricky issue which can be reduced by using copious amounts of high pressure coolant aimed directly at the cutting surface. The goal is to remove chips as soon as possible to prevent chip re-cutting, and keep the flutes clean and clear of debris. Galling is a big concern in the commercially pure grades of titanium due to their “gummy” nature. This can be addressed using the strategies mentioned previously, such as continuing feed at all times of workpiece contact, and using plenty of high-pressure coolant.

Titanium Solutions

While the primary concerns when machining titanium and its alloys may shift, the methods for mitigating them remain somewhat constant. The main ideas are to avoid galling, heat generation, work hardening, and workpiece or tool deflection. Use a lot of coolant at high pressure, keep speeds down and feeds up, keep the tool in motion when in contact with the workpiece, and use as rigid of a setup as possible.

In addition, selecting a proper tool coating can help make your job a successful one. With the high heat being generated during titanium machining operations, having a coating that can adequately deal with the temperature is key to maintaining performance through an operation. The proper coating will also help to avoid galling and evacuate chips effectively. Coatings such as Harvey Tool’s Aluminum Titanium Nitride (AlTiN Nano) produce an oxide layer at high temperatures, and will increase lubricity of the tool.

As titanium and its many alloys continue to grow in use across various industries, more machinists will be tasked with cutting this difficult material. However, heat management and appropriate chip evacuation, when paired with the correct coating, will enable a successful run.

machining titanium

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.

Ball Nose Milling Strategy Guide

Ball Nose Milling Without a Tilt Angle

Ball nose end mills are ideal for machining 3-dimensional contour shapes typically found in the mold and die industry, the manufacturing of turbine blades, and fulfilling general part radius requirements. To properly employ a ball nose end mill (with no tilt angle) and gain the optimal tool life and part finish, follow the 2-step process below (see Figure 1).

ball nose

Step One: Calculate Your Effective Cutting Diameter

A ball nose end mill’s Effective Cutting Diameter (Deff) differs from its actual cutting diameter when utilizing an Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) that is less than the full radius of the ball. Calculating the effective cutting diameter can be done using the chart below that represents some common tool diameters and ADOC combinations or by using the traditional calculation (see Figure 2).

ball nose

ball nose

Step Two: Calculate Your Compensated Speed

Given the new effective cutting diameter a “Compensated Speed” will need to be calculated. If you are using less than the cutter diameter, then its likely your RPM’s will need to be adjusted upward (see Figure 3).

ball nose

ADOC = Axial Depth of Cut
D = Cutting Diameter
Deff = Effective Cutting Diameter
R = Tool Radius (Dia./2)
RDOC = Radial Depth of Cut
SFM = Surface Feet per Minute
Sc = Compensated Speed

Ball Nose Milling With a Tilt Angle

If possible, it is highly recommended to use ball nose end mills on an incline (ß) to avoid a “0” SFM condition at the center of the tool, thus increasing tool life and part finish (Figure 4). For ball nose optimization (and in addition to tilting the tool), it is highly recommended to feed the tool in the direction of the incline and utilize a climb milling technique.

ball nose

To properly employ a ball nose end mill with a tool angle and gain the most optimal tool life and part finish, follow the 2-step process below.

Step One: Calculate Your Effective Cutting Diameter

The chart below that represents some common effective cutting diameters and ADOCs at a 15º tilt angle. Otherwise, the traditional calculation below may be used (see Figure 5).

ball nose

ball nose

Step Two: Calculate Your Compensated Speed

Given the new effective cutting diameter a compensated speed will need to be calculated. If you are using less than the cutter diameter, then its likely your RPM’s will need to be adjusted upward (see Figure 6).

ball nose

Deff = Effective Cutting Diameter
SFM = Mfg Recommended Surface Feet per Minute
Sc = Compensated Speed

Diving Into Depth of Cut: Peripheral, Slotting, & HEM Approaches

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 How to Combat Chip Thinning I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling

Every machining operation entails a radial and axial depth of cut strategy. Radial depth of cut (RDOC), the distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece; and Axial depth of cut (ADOC), the distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline, are the backbones of machining. Machining to appropriate depths – whether slotting or peripheral milling (profiling, roughing, and finishing), is vital to your machining success (Figure 1).

Below, you will be introduced to the traditional methods for both peripheral milling and slotting. Additionally, High Efficiency Milling (HEM) strategies – and appropriate cutting depths for this method – will be explained.

Quick Definitions:

Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC): The distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece. Also referred to as Stepover, Cut Width, or XY.

Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC): The distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline. Also referred to as Stepdown, or Cut Depth.

Peripheral Milling: An application in which only a percentage of the tool’s cutter diameter is engaging a part.

Slotting: An application in which the tool’s entire cutter diameter is engaging a part.

High Efficiency Milling (HEM): A newer machining strategy in which a light RDOC and heavy ADOC is paired with increased feed rates to achieve higher material removal rates and decreased tool wear.

depth of cut

Peripheral Milling Styles and Appropriate RDOC

The amount a tool engages a workpiece radially during peripheral milling is dependent upon the operation being performed (Figure 2). In finishing applications, smaller amounts of material are removed from a wall, equating to about 3-5% of the cutter diameter per radial pass. In heavy roughing applications, 30-50% of the tool’s cutter diameter is engaged with the part. Although heavy roughing involves a higher RDOC than finishing, the ADOC is most often smaller than for finishing due to load on the tool.

roughing depth of cut

Slotting Styles and Appropriate ADOC Engagement

The amount a tool engages a part axially during a slotting operation must be appropriate for the tool being used (Figure 3). Using an inappropriate approach could lead to tool deflection and damage, and poor part quality.

End mills come in various length of cut options, as well as numerous reached options. Choosing the tool that allows the completion of a project with the least deflection, and highest productivity, is critical. As the ADOC needed to slot can be lower, a stub length of cut is often the strongest and most appropriate tool choice. As slot depths increase, longer lengths of cut become necessary, but reached tooling should be used where allowable.

slotting depth of cut

Depth of Cut Strategy for High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

Pairing a light RDOC and heavy ADOC with high performance toolpaths is a machining strategy known as High Efficiency Milling or HEM. With this machining style, feed rates can be increased and cuts are kept uniform to evenly distribute stresses across the cutting portion of the tool, prolonging tool life.

Traditional Strategy

  • Heavy RDOC
  • Light ADOC
  • Conservative Feed Rate

Newer Strategy – High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

  • Light RDOC
  • Heavy ADOC
  • Increased Feed Rate

HEM involves using 7-30% of the tool diameter radially and up to twice the cutter diameter axially, paired with increased feed rates (Figure 4).  Accounting for chip thinning, this combination of running parameters can result in noticeably higher metal removal rates (MRR). Modern CAM software often offers a complete high performance solution with built-in features for HEM toolpaths.  These principals can also be applied to trochoidal toolpaths for slotting applications.

depth of cut

Corner Engagement: How to Machine Corners

Corner Engagement

During the milling process, and especially during corner engagement, tools undergo significant variations in cutting forces. One common and difficult situation is when a cutting tool experiences an “inside corner” condition. This is where the tool’s engagement angle significantly increases, potentially resulting in poor performance.

Machining this difficult area with the wrong approach may result in:

  • Chatter – visible in “poor” corner finish
  • Deflection – detected by unwanted “measured” wall taper
  • Strange cutting sound – tool squawking or chirping in the corners
  • Tool breakage/failure or chipping

Least Effective Approach (Figure 1)

Generating an inside part radius that matches the radius of the tool at a 90° direction range is not a desirable approach to machining a corner. In this approach, the tool experiences extra material to cut (dark gray), an increased engagement angle, and a direction change. As a result, issues including chatter, tool deflection/ breakage, and poor surface finish may occur.

Feed rate may need to be lessened depending on the “tool radius-to-part radius ratio.”

corner engagement

More Effective Approach (Figure 2)

Generating an inside part radius that matches the radius of the tool with a sweeping direction change is a more desirable approach. The smaller radial depths of cut (RDOC) in this example help to manage the angle of engagement, but at the final pass, the tool will still experience a very high engagement angle.  Common results of this approach will be chatter, tool deflection/breakage and poor surface finish.

Feed rate may need to be reduced by 30-50% depending on the “tool radius-to-part radius ratio.”

corner engagement

Most Effective Approach (Figure 3)

Generating an inside part radius with a smaller tool and a sweeping action creates a much more desirable machining approach. The manageable RDOC and smaller tool diameter allow for management of the tool engagement angle, higher feed rates and better surface finishes. As the cutter reaches full radial depth, its engagement angle will increase, but the feed reduction should be much less than in the previous approaches.

Feed rate may need to be heightened depending on the “tool-to-part ratio.” Utilize tools that are smaller than the corner you are machining.

corner engagement

Ramping to Success

Poor tool life and premature tool failure are concerns in every machining application. Something as simple as tool path selection – and how a tool first enters a part – can make all the difference. Tool entry has a great deal of influence on its overall success, as it’s one of the most punishing operations for a cutter. Ramping into a part, via a circular or linear toolpath, is one of the most popular and oftentimes the most successful methods (Figure 1). Below, learn what ramping is, its benefits, and in which situations it can be used.


What is Ramping?

Ramping refers to simultaneous radial and axial motion of a cutting tool, making an angular tool path. Oftentimes, this method is used to approach a part when there is a need to create closed forms such as pockets, cavities, engravings, and holes. In doing so, the need to plunge with an end mill or drill to create a starting point is eliminated. Ramping is particularly important in micromachining where even the slightest imbalance in cutting forces can cause tool failure.

There are two types of ramping toolpaths: Linear and Circular (Figure 2 ).


Linear Ramping involves moving a cutting tool along two axes (the z-axis and one of the x, y axes). This method has significant more radial engagement with complementary increased cutting forces distributed across only two axes.

Circular Ramping (Helical Interpolation) has a spiral motion of the cutting tool that engages all three axes (x, y, and z axes). This method typically has less radial engagement on the cutting tool, with the cutting forces distributed across the three different axes. This is the recommended method, as it ensures the longest tool life.

Suggested Starting Ramp Angles:

Soft/Non-Ferrous Materials: 3° – 10°

Hard/Ferrous Materials 1° – 3°

Benefits of Ramping

When a tool enters the part via a Ramping method, it gradually increases in depth, preventing any shock loading on end mills. This reduces costs resulting from unnecessary tool breakage. Ramping produces smaller chips when compared to plunging, which makes chip evacuation faster and easier. As a result, cycle time can be decreased by running the end mill at faster parameters. Ramping also creates an extra space in the tool changer that would otherwise be occupied by a drill purposed with machining a starter hole.


Similar to ramping in both method and benefit, arcing is another technique of approaching a workpiece (See Figure 3).

While ramping enters the part from the top, arcing enters from the side. The end mill follows a curved tool path (or arc) when milling, thus gradually increasing the load on the tool as the tool enters the part, as well as gradually decreasing the load as the tool exits the part. In this way, shock loading and possible tool breakage are avoided.

For more information on ramping, arcing, and other tool entry methods, please see Helical Solutions’ “Types of Tool Entry.” 

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.

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 thin wall during the machining process, 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

radial chip thinning

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.