Milling cutters are cutting tools used in milling machines or machining centres. They remove material by their movement within the machine or directly from the cutters shape (a form tool such as a Hobbing cutter). Milling cutters come in several shapes and many sizes. There is also a choice of coatings, as well as rake angle and number of cutting surfaces. Below are the features of a cutter.
Several standard shapes of milling cutter are used in industry today, which are explained in more detail below.
Flutes / teeth :
The flutes of the milling bit are the deep helical grooves running up the cutter, while the sharp blade along the edge of the flute is known as the tooth. The tooth cuts the material, and chips of this material are pulled up the flute by the rotation of the cutter. There is almost always one tooth per flute, but some cutters have two teeth per flute. Often, the words flute and tooth are used interchangeably. Milling cutters may have from one to many teeth, with 2, 3 and 4 being most common. Typically, the more teeth a cutter has, the more rapidly it can remove material. So, a 4-tooth cutter can remove material at twice the rate of a 2-tooth cutter.
Helix angle :
The flutes of a milling cutter are almost always helical. If the flutes were straight, the whole tooth would impact the material at once, causing vibration and reducing accuracy and surface quality. Setting the flutes at an angle allows the tooth to enter the material gradually, reducing vibration. Typically, finishing cutters have a higher rake angle (tighter helix) to give a better finish.
Center cutting :
Some milling cutters can drill straight down (plunge) through the material, while others cannot. This is because the teeth of some cutters do not go all the way to the centre of the end face. However, these cutters can cut downwards at an angle of 45 degrees or so.
Roughing or Finishing :
Different types of cutter are available for cutting away large amounts of material, leaving a poor surface finish (roughing), or removing a smaller amount of material, but leaving a good surface finish (finishing). A roughing cutter may have serrated teeth for breaking the chips of material into smaller pieces. These teeth leave a rough surface behind. A finishing cutter may have a large number (4 or more) teeth for removing material carefully. However, the large number of flutes leaves little room for efficient swarf removal, so they are less good for removing large amounts of material.
Tool coatings can have a great influence on the cutting process The right coating can increase cutting speed and tool life, and improve the surface finish. Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD) is an exceptionally hard coating used on cutters which must withstand high abrasive wear. A PCD coated tool may last up to 100 times longer than an uncoated tool. However the coating cannot be used at temperatures above 600 degrees C, or on ferrous metals. Tools for machining aluminium are sometimes given a coating of TiAlN. Aluminium is a relatively sticky metal, and can weld itself to the teeth of tools, causing them to appear blunt. However it tends not to stick to TiAlN, allowing the tool to be used for much longer in aluminium.
The shank is the cylindrical (non-fluted) part of the tool which is used to hold and locate it in the tool holder. A shank may be perfectly round, and held by friction, or it may have a Weldon Flat, where a grub screw makes contact for increased torque without the tool slipping. The diametre may be different from the diametre of the cutting part of the tool, so that it can be held by a standard tool holder.