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Grinding HSS lathe tools.

Following a number of requests, this

page details the grinding of a
general purpose lathe tool.

This is an attempt to try and explain

in simple terms the tool design,
terminology and the grinding process
needed to create it.

This first image shows a tool blank. There are 5

faces to consider at the cutting end, but only 3 of
them require grinding. The back (4) surface and
bottom (5) surface can be left untouched.

The remaining three faces require grinding along

two axis each, however they can still be created
within three grinding operations.

On most tools there is also a fourth grinding

operation which is a radius on the tool tip. This
radius increases tool life and improves surface

The numbered faces in this image also indicate the order in which the three faces are cut.

Although there are three faces to cut and each of them has two angles to set, the front and side faces
both have two critical angles and two non-critical. The top face has two angles, both of which are
Tool geometry.

The end and side faces both have a clearance/relief angle and another edge cutting angle. The relief
angles are needed to stop the tool rubbing. A tool with a greater relief angle usually has a lower rate
of wear, but because there is less material to support the cutting edge the tool can break more easily,
it also cannot conduct heat away so efficiently.

The top face has two rake angles because it can cut both 'into' and 'along' the work piece. These
angles are identified as a 'side rake' angle and a 'back rake' angle. The rake angle sets the angle of
shear for the cut. A greater rake angle reduces cutting forces and gives a better tool life, but too much
rake can make the tool fragile.

The diagram below shows the terminology used to describe cutting tools (click for a larger image).

Different materials are best cut using slightly different angles and the table below gives some
suggested angles for the critical faces; but in summary harder materials have a smaller rake angles
and softer ones greater rake angles. The exception is Brass and bronze which are usually cut with
zero or negative rake to prevent 'digging in' of the tool.
A Tool Grinding Rest

Accurate grinding of the required faces can more

easily be achieved with an adjustable grinding

The photo on the right shows a simple grinding

rest which is only angle adjustable (not height)
and it has a sliding fence which can be used to
hold the cutter at a set angle as it travels across
the edge of the grinding wheel.

Some notes on the construction of the grinding

rest can be found here.

Tool Grinding Sequence

Throughout this sequence the tool temperature was kept reasonable by frequent dipping in a pot of
water. Also - always ensure that the safety guards are in place on the grinding wheel, and always wait
for it to stop before adjusting the rest.
The first face to be cut was the side face.

In this example we are making a normal right

handed tool for the lathe.

Grinding the side face of the tool

The grinding rest was tipped to give the required side clearance relief and the fence adjusted to give
the side cutting edge angle. The work was fed across the edge of the grinding wheel with a light
inward pressure to make the cut.

The angle set by the table is the important angle here as is sets the side relief. The angle of the fence
is non-critical and is simply used so that the side relief doesn't have to be ground all the way along
the tool.

Second to be cut was the end face shown in

green below.

Grinding the end face of the tool

The grinding rest was tipped to give the required end relief angle and the fence adjusted to give the
front cutting edge angle. Again the front cutting edge angle was not important, although it is usually
set to make the tip and less than 90 º. The relief angle is the critical one.

If the tool tip is to be radiused, it is cut next.

This can be done as a freehand operation on the

bench grinder, or by hand on a grinding slip, if
only a very small radius is needed.

Grinding tool tip radius by hand

Finally the top face was cut. This face had a side
and back rake angle.

The completed tool

To cut the top face, the grinding rest was tipped to set the side rake angle and the fence angled to cut
the back rake angle. Both these angles are important to make an effective tool.

This photograph shows the tool

cutting a 25mm mild steel bar and
leaving a good surface finish.
Cutting pressure was light and there
was no tool chatter.

The tool in action

I grind most lathe tools using a bench grinder. This is equipped with a small grinding
rest as shown here which is scribed with lines at 10 degree intervals. The rest height
and angle can be adjusted. More details of the grinding rest are here. For normal lathe
tools it is easy to set up the rest to have the correct angle and then using the scribed
lines as a guide to grind the facets on the tool tip. However, this method is not very
satisfactory for grinding threading tools where the angle of the tip must be accurate.
The little jig shown in the header photo was constructed for grinding threading tools. It
can also be used to grind other lathe tools if the angle must be exact. The jig is very
simple and consists of a piece of 1/8" x 3" steel with a 6 mm square pivoting arm
secured by a small M3 socket head screw. The pivot point is very close to the edge of
the sheet. The pivot arm can be set at any angle in the range +/- 90 degrees. On the jig
shown are two scribed lines at 60 degrees from the zero (centre ) line. These lines are
for setting the pivot arm for grinding a 60 degree tool tip. Other lines could be added for
different tool angles or the pivot arm can be set using a protractor.

This photo shows the back of the jig. The bar is a stop and guide that runs against the
back edge of the grinding rest to keep the jig parallel to the grinding wheel.
This shows the set up for grinding the first face of the tool. The tool is held against the
bar with the forefinger and the jig slid from side to side to grind the face.

This shows the grinding of the second face. The pivot has been swung round to the
other side.

A very simple jig that facilitates accurate grinding of threading tools.

Here I show grinding the back side clearance. The grinder is a 40-year-old Sears 6 inch fitted
with a GrindR™ table. The table is horizontal and we’re just grinding a 60 degree included angle
(no rake). The tool bit is a 5/16-inch Crucible Steel CPM T15 HSS bit. Almost finished with it in
this step.
After finishing the back side clearance we need to grind the negative rake. Here, the table has
been set to 18 degrees and the back rake is being ground. The bottom of the tool is up in this
picture. It is almost finished when this picture was taken.
Here’s the tool fresh off the grinder. Took me a little more than a half hour to get here – and I’m
just a hobbyist. Not bad is it? The picture shows it in the cutting orientation.
Once we finish grinding, we need to hone the cutting edge. A little bit of oil and a fine India
stone do wonders for the cutting edge. The cutting edge (the very front edge) must be razor sharp
when you’re finished with this step.
Here’s the finish ground and honed tool bit mounted in my QC tool holder ready for use.
I thought I should show something other than steel which was shown above. Here's a piece of
0.5-inch aluminum from Home Depot mounted in my 3 jaw. It's not 6061 and it sure is "gummy"
to machine. My knife tool is ready to cut.
After a couple of passes with the knife tool this is the finish I got with the lathe set to auto feed.
Looks worse than it really is.
And here’s what it looks like after two passes with the ‘contrary finishing tool’ only .004 depth
of cut – with the tool I just made. This was its first cut. I think I’ll keep it.
This is the tool height setting I used. The tool cuts below the top of the tool and is tolerant of
incorrect height adjustment. Notice that it does not cut from the top of the tool but rather from
the front