Face Milling: Tools and Tips

Posted on Jun 15, 2021

Face Milling

When it comes to machining, there are always multiple ways to achieve the same cut, and face milling is no different. Face milling is an effective process that produces excellent surface finishes on milling parts. 

As lathes and machining centers become more powerful and efficient, the productivity of this process is constantly improving. In this article, we’ll provide you with a well-rounded outline for face milling, including the common cutting tools used to carry out this type of machining operation.

What Is Face Milling?

Face milling is a machining process that produces excellent surface finish on a workpiece. Lathes and machining centers are the most common machine tools for face milling processing for high-precision surface finishes. An end mill is sometimes used as the cutting tool to perform face milling, but more often with a shell mill or fly cutter.  

Almost every machine shop today uses face milling for all kinds of milling operations, such as roughing, semi-finishing, heavy-duty milling and more. They understand how important it is to pick the right machine tool for the job. And as for the machine itself, there is often a choice between manual and CNC machines.

→Read more : What You Need to Know About The Insert End Mill

How Does Face Milling Work?

Facing on a milling machine or machining center involves placing the cutting tool perpendicular to the surface being machined. The process removes the material by rotating the tool counterclockwise as the table moves the workpiece across the cutter, producing a flat surface. 

The main difference between a manual and CNC milling machine lies in the feeding mechanism. For CNC machines, the table along with the workpiece is fed automatically, whereas manual machines require manual feeding by the operators. The former is able to produce a smoother surface because of the more constant feeding. Therefore, always opt for the automatic feeding option in order to reduce human error in the process.

Cutting Tools for Face Milling

The most common types of cutting tools are shell mills, fly cutters, and end mills. Let’s take a look at them:

End Mill
An end mill is not the best choice for face milling and often leads to poor machining results. It utilizes both ends of the cutter to create a flat surface on the same axis as the spindle. Compared with tools that are perpendicular to the cutter axis, it is simply not as strong. However, end mills can create intricate patterns on the workpiece thanks to the multiple teeth design. 

Figure 1. End Mill with Teeth

Shell Mills (Face Mills)
Shell mills are the most commonly used facing tool for face milling. If you are looking for high-quality and consistent finishes, a shell mill is probably your best bet. Shell mills feature multiple cutting teeth and a number of inserts on the outer edge of the cutter. As long as the inserts are leveled evenly, you should always be able to accomplish the desired surface finish. This type of facing tool is suitable for a wide range of materials as well. 

Figure 2. Face Mill with Inserts


Fly Cutters
While end mills and shell mills create finishes at high speed, a fly cutter delivers a finer finish with less horsepower. Unlike end mills and face mills, a fly cutter is a single-point cutting tool. Although this results in slower machining, it can provide a more even surface finish. If you are only looking for fine finishes and speed isn’t a concern, you’ll be happy with a fly cutter. Fly cutters are also suitable for both soft and hard materials, such as aluminum and steel, respectively. 

Figure 3 : Self-made Fly Cutter (Copyright@Nick Johnson, Flickr)


Operational Tips

Here are some tips that will help your face milling operations translate to better result: 

  • For cutting softer materials such as aluminum, a fly cutter is the more suitable choice.
  • For cutting harder material such as steel, a shell mill is recommended.
  • To create more appealing and intricate patterns on your finishes, an end mill is the ideal choice.
  • Always take into account the horsepower in your spindle. A shell mill is going to wear real fast with a smaller spindle with high horsepower. 
  • Avoid entering and exiting the workpiece repeatedly because it will create unnecessary stress on the cutting edge.
  • Keep the tool path on the part being machined as much as possible.
  • Do not face mill over holes or slots to avoid multiple cut entries and exits. 
  • The workpiece should be lifted to touch the revolving cutter when setting the depth of cut.

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