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August 21, 2019
Let’s start with the material carbide end mills are made from. While end mill manufacturers frequently refer to their cutters as “solid carbide”, in truth, they are more accurately called “cemented carbide”. BTW, I don’t think they’re trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, marketing just can’t resist more adjectives and you could as easily say they use “solid” to refer to end mills that don’t use inserts.
Nevertheless, The material is not a solid metal at all, but a matrix composed of tungsten carbide (which itself is tungsten and carbon in equal parts) held together with a binder–typically cobalt. In addition, there may be a very thin end mill coating to further enhance performance. More about end mill coatings below.
As one would expect, it is the tungsten carbide and not the binder that does the serious cutting. Hence, a lot of the quality of the carbide is a function of how much tungsten carbide grains there are versus how much binder. Cheap carbide has a lot more binder than expensive high quality carbide. This can come about either by way of how the material is prepared or because of the grain size.
Manufacturers use terms like “sub micron” and “micrograin” to describe the better grades. As the grains of tungsten carbide get smaller, there are more of them relative to the binder.
Imagine a container of ball bearings. Suppose we fill one container with large balls and another same-sized container with much smaller balls. Then we proceed to fill each container with water until it is full to the top. Which container can hold more water? The container with the larger balls has more space between the balls for the water, and hence holds more water. Think of the ball bearings as the tungsten carbide grains and the water as the binder.
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