Indexable Dovetail Cutter

What Are Indexable Dovetail Cutters

Indexable dovetail cutters are specialized cutting tools for cutting dovetail angled groove into a work piece and are used for joining or fitting parts. They are essentially an end mill whose form leaves behind a dovetail slot, which is why they are also referred to as the dovetail end mill. 

Dovetail end mills can be made of solid construction or with inserts and holders. As the name implies, they are in most cases used to cut the male and female parts of dovetail joints (i.e., the pins and tails). The joint of an indexable dovetail cutter is exceptionally robust and is often used for boxes, chests, drawers and other places where the ends of two pieces are required to join at the right angle. 

Types of Indexable Dovetail Cutters

Indexable dovetail cutters can come with a variety of end or tip geometry options, including square end, ball nose, radius tip and chamfer tip:

Square End: Indexable dovetail cutters with square end tip geometry have a square or straight end that features chamfer, no radius and other finish.

Ball Nose: Indexable dovetail cutters with ball nose tips have a “ball nose” that features a radius usually half the diameter of the cutter. This type of cutter is ideal for machining female semi-circle grooves of radii.

Radius Tip: Indexable dovetail cutters that are radius-tipped are straight flutes that feature ground radius on the very tip. 

Chamfer Tip: Indexable dovetail cutters are characterized by the angle section of the side or end. And angled cut of chamfered edge on a work piece is produced by the chamfer tips. 

Selecting an Indexable Dovetail Cutter

When choosing an indexable dovetail cutter, you need to take the factors relative to the desired finish into consideration. There are typically two finish options – roughing and finishing. Roughing cutters are designed with the machine geometry, materials and flutes specifically for removing heavy material rapidly. They are normally used for machining work pieces closed to the designated finishing dimensions. On the other hand, finishing dovetail cutters generate closer tolerances for high quality surface finish. 

Other factors you should take into consideration when selecting an indexable dovetail cutter involve the size of the cutter and construction criteria. The size factors include cutting diameter, length of flute or cutting edge, diameter of shank or arbor, overall tool length, and radius dimension and angle. Other than the above, tool material is also another important factor when choosing the right cutter. We’ll address this in a separate section below.

Materials of Indexable Dovetail Cutters

The material of indexable dovetail cutters is a very important aspect in understanding and becoming adept at the machine tool. Choosing the wrong materials for unfitted applications can be detrimental. For high speed applications, materials like cobalt, carbide and diamond should be used due to their hardness. For general metal machining, cutters made of steel material should be sufficient. For surface finishing applications, dovetail cutters made of micrograin carbide and ceramic are preferred.

Choosing the right coatings for your dovetail cutters is important as well. Proper coatings are able to provide corrosion and abrasion resistance, tool hardness, lubrication and smoothness, as well as improving the life of the tool. Other coating options may be available as well depending on the manufacturers. 

Applications of Indexable Dovetail Cutter

As a specialty tool, an indexable dovetail cutter does have a wide range of other applications. These cutters are normally used to cut O-ring grooves in fluid and pressure devices, detailed undercuts and industrial slides. You’ll also come across general purpose dovetail cutters that are ideal for undercutting or deburring work pieces. 

One thing you need to keep in mind when using one of these dovetail cutters is that it is fragile and very susceptible to failure. In practice, users sometimes falsely regard dovetail cutters as larger than they really are because of the design which leads to undesired tool breakage. In other words, they often mistake the cutter’s larger end diameter as the vital dimension when the smaller neck diameter is in fact more critical in calculating job specifications. 

As the cutters are designed for micro-applications, special considerations are required in response to their unique shape. Breakage and cycle time can be greatly reduced once we understand the true size of these cutting tools. 

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