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The most frequently used tool on a vertical milling machine is the end mill. End mills are made in either a right-hand or a left-hand cut. Identification is made by viewing the cutter from the cutting end. A right-hand cutter rotates counterclockwise. The helix of the flutes can also be left or right hand; a right-hand helix flute angles downward to the right when viewed from the side. An illustration of the cutting end of a four flute end mill, which is an example of a right-hand cut, right-hand helix end mill is shown below.
The end teeth of an end mill can vary, depending on the cutting to be performed. Two flute end mills are center cutting, which means they can make their own starting hole. This is called plunge cutting. Four flute end mills may have either center cutting teeth or a gashed or center drilled end. End mills with center drilled or gashed ends cannot be used to plunge cut their own starting holes. These end mills only cut with the teeth on their periphery. End mills can be single end or double end (see table). Double end type end mills are usually more economical because of the savings in tool material in their production.
End mills are manufactured with two, three, four, or more flutes and with straight flutes, slow, regular, and fast helix angles. A slow helix is approximately 12 degrees, a regular helix is 30 degrees, and the fast helix is 40 degrees or more when measured from the cutter axis. Most general purpose cutting is done with a regular helix angle cutter.
Aluminum is efficiently machined with a fast helix end mill and highly polished cutting faces to minimize chip adherence.
If large amounts of material need to be removed, a roughing end mill should be used. Ball-end end mills have two or more flutes and form an inside radius or fillet between surfaces. Ball-end end mills are used in tracer milling and in die sinking operations. Round bottom grooves can also be machined with them.