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Tool Selection and Tool Holding: Knowing the Correct Tool for machining to use and Where to place it

When manufacturing a work-piece or product, a machinist must know the appropriate tools that will be efficient for the manufacturing process. 

If a machinist does not understand the functionalities of a particular tool, we recommend that the machinist gets in touch with the tool manufacturer. Today’s manufacturers not only advertise the capabilities of their tools but also provide their customers with the necessary support for understanding, such as in-person training. 

To avoid unwarranted expense and loss of time it is essential that during production runs the right tools are utilized. Below, we highlight the different types of manufacturing tools and when they should be used.

Tool Selection:

To manufacture the best possible work-piece or product, a machinist must understand how and when to use a particular tool. To put this thought into perspective let’s take for example the purchase of an ordinary drill from your local hardware store. With an ordinary drilling tool, an individual should know that it is best used to drill materials such as wood or soft materials, a material such as steel would break the drill resulting in a waste of time and money. In manufacturing, there are different types of tools for different types of materials such as HSS/cobalt, carbide, ceramic and diamond tools. We recommend that machinists understand their tools and how they function before machining a work-piece or product.


HSS (high-speed steel) and cobalt are two cutting tools that are very similar in their capabilities. Usually used for drills, taps and end mills; these tools are resistant to high-temperature machining. HSS and cobalt work very well with drills and end mills and can be an inexpensive option, starting from a few dollars only. Although they are reliable, functioning tools; capable of drilling holes, they lack in cutting speed. The average cutting speed of HSS/cobalt drills is in the low ranges such as 30 SFM; this is much slower than other cutting tools. Because of their slower speeds, HSS/cobalt tools are ideal for the machining of a single work-piece rather than mass production.


Carbide is a cutting tool that can be used to cut almost any type of material. Faster than HSS/cobalt tools, carbide is perfect for mass production. When combined with coatings such as diamond or TiALN, the cutting edge of a carbide tool can become extremely hard and wear-resistant which gives the tool a longer lifetime. Coatings on carbide cutting tools permit manufacturers to achieve the desired cutting speeds. Because of their ability to stand firm against higher temperatures, generally speaking, carbide cutters are known to leave a finer finish. Although carbide can be used to cut most material they are best suited for all types of steel materials such as stainless steel or carbon steel but not heat-treated materials.

Ceramic Tools:

Ceramic cutting tools are meant only for hard ferrous materials such as heat-treated steel, etc. Unlike other cutting tools that can be used for a variety of different materials, ceramic cannot be used for soft materials due to its negative cutting edge. If a machinist attempted to use a ceramic cutting tool for a material that is non-ferrous or soft steel, the tool would chip and break against the materials.

Diamond Tools:

Diamond cutting tools are meant for cutting non-ferrous materials such as aluminum. Diamond tools can function at a high speed without using much force, this allows for less heat to be formed in the desired cut. Because of their superior hardness and composition, diamond tools are ideal for shiny finishing, high material removal and tool life that can last not only for hours but also months or years. Generally, the production cost of machining a work-piece with diamond tooling is very low considering the high price of the diamond tool itself

Fly cutter:

In the event a machinist is working with plenty of material removals, we recommend that the machinist utilize a fly cutter. Typically, a fly cutter has a body that is designed to have carbide inserts that sit within the body, as the tool revolves the carbide inserts will cut the material. One of the benefits of a fly cutter is that the inserts can be easily replaced permitting for continued efficiency and time-saving. Some tool manufacturers produce sharp ground inserts for aluminum cutting and pressed coated inserts for steel cutting for the same body. That is very helpful for a machinist that has to machine different materials in a job shop.


As we are discussing tool selection we must address tool holding. Tool holders are required for clamping tools while machining. A machinist must know and utilize the right tool holder that will assist a particular tool in use. So for instance, if a machinist is using a drill to create a hole, that machinist should know to use a drill chuck or collet chucks. Drills can push back into the holder so a stop is recommended inside the holder behind the drill to prevent it from being pushed back. A machinist could also lightly tighten a drill without a stop if that drill is very tiny for instance a 0.5 mm drill. Also, when a machinist is removing a lot of material it is better to have the tool held in a holder that prevents it from pulling out. 

There are various types of tool holders such as collet holders, milling chucks, hydraulic holder’s side–locks and shrink fit holders. Although side-locks can be used for tool holding and are the easiest to use, we do not recommend them because the set screw will push the tool ever so slightly out of the center. For reliability reasons we recommend machinists rely on tool holdings such as hydraulic chucks, milling chucks, or shrink fits because they are best suited for centering cutting tools. We believe that shrink-fit holders are best to keep tools in the center and reduce cutting vibrations, but the downside is that only carbide tools can be held in shrink-fit holders.

Machinists must understand their tools and the appropriate supports that assist them for it will be critical to the success of every task they are faced with. We recommend that all machinists familiarize themselves with the different tools of the manufacturing industry and learn what holdings they work best with. Although we have provided theoretical knowledge it is practical knowledge that will allow for the betterment of their craft.

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