Cutting Tools

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What is cutting tool?

Cutting tool is a wedge shaped and sharp edged device that is used to remove excess layer of material from the workpiece by shearing during machining in order to obtain desired shape, size and accuracy. It is rigidly mounted on the machine tool. A relative velocity between workpiece and cutting tool is also provided by various mechanical and other arrangements for cutting action.

Examples of cutting tools:

Cutting tool is basically the cutter used in machining operation. Various machining operations utilize different cutters and thus various names are available for these cutters based on the application. A list of commonly used cutting tools is provided below.

Single point turning tool: Cutter for turning operation performed in lathe.
Drill: Cutter for drilling operation performed on drilling machine or lathe or milling machine.
Milling Cutter (or mill): Cutter for milling operations performed on milling machine.
Fly Cutter: Cutter for fly milling operation performed in milling machine.
Shaper: Cutter for shaping operation performed in shaping machine.
Planer: Cutter for planing operation performed in planing machine.
Boring Bar: Cutter for boring operation performed in drilling or boring machine.
Reamer: Cutter for reaming operation performed in drilling machine.
Broach: Cutter for broaching operation performed in broaching machine.
Hob: Cutter for hobbing operation performed in hobbing machine.
Grinding Wheel: Abrasive cutter for grinding operation performed in grinding machine.

In the context of machining, a cutting tool (or cutter) is any tool that is used to remove material from the workpiece by means of shear deformation. Cutting may be accomplished by single-point or multipoint tools. Single-point tools are used in turning, shaping, plaining and similar operations, and remove material by means of one cutting edge. Milling and drilling tools are often multipoint tools. Grinding tools are also multipoint tools. Each grain of abrasive functions as a microscopic single-point cutting edge (although of high negative rake angle) and shears a tiny chip.

Cutting tools must be made of a material harder than the material which is to be cut, and the tool must be able to withstand the heat generated in the metal-cutting process. Also, the tool must have a specific geometry, with clearance angles designed so that the cutting edge can contact the workpiece without the rest of the tool dragging on the workpiece surface. The angle of the cutting face is also important, as is the flute width, number of flutes or teeth, and margin size. In order to have a long working life, all of the above must be optimized, plus the speeds and feeds at which the tool is run.

Cutting tool inserts:

Cutting tools are often designed with inserts or replaceable tips (tipped tools). In these, the cutting edge consists of a separate piece of material, either brazed, welded or clamped on to the tool body. Common materials for tips include tungsten carbide, polycrystalline diamond, and cubic boron nitride. Tools using inserts include milling cutters (endmills, fly cutters), tool bits, and saw blades.


To produce quality parts, a cutting tool must have three characteristics:

  • Hardness - hardness and strength at high temperatures.
  • Toughness - toughness, so that tools don't chip or fracture.
  • Wear resistance - having acceptable tool life before needing to be replaced.

Cutting tool materials can be divided into two main categories: stable and unstable.

Unstable materials (usually steels) are substances that start at a relatively low hardness point and are then heat treated to promote the growth of hard particles (usually carbides) inside the original matrix, which increases the overall hardness of the material at the expense of some its original toughness. Since heat is the mechanism to alter the structure of the substance and at the same time the cutting action produces a lot of heat, such substances are inherently unstable under machining conditions.

Stable materials (usually tungsten carbide) are substances that remain relatively stable under the heat produced by most machining conditions, as they don't attain their hardness through heat. They wear down due to abrasion, but generally don't change their properties much during use.

Most stable materials are hard enough to break before flexing, which makes them very fragile. To avoid chipping at the cutting edge, most tools made of such materials are finished with a sightly blunt edge, which results in higher cutting forces due to an increased shear area. Fragility combined with high cutting forces results in most stable materials being unsuitable for use in anything but large, heavy and stiff machinery.

Unstable materials, being generally softer and thus tougher, generally can stand a bit of flexing without breaking, which makes them much more suitable for unfavorable machining conditions, such as those encountered in hand tools and light machinery.

Cutting Tools