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To Balance, Or Not To Balance? Toolholders, That Is

It’s time for machine tool builders and machining companies to shelf the long-standing ISO 1940-1 standard in favor of ISO 16084:2017. Not only is balancing tools rarely necessary, it can also be risky.

Posted: January 6, 2021

Balancing the toolholder several times results in toolholders becoming excessively modified.
A small internal counterweight in the symmetrical body of Big Kaiser’s auto-balancing EWB boring heads moves in direct proportion with each adjustment. Because the weight is carbide, it’s three times more dense than the steel in the tool carrier.
Big Kaiser’s Series 315 rough boring heads can eliminate the need for semifinishing cuts by balancing cutting forces even under the most severe casting core shift.
Big Kaiser’s New Baby chuck and Mega New Baby chuck are balanced for high-speed machining. The precision collet guarantees a maximum runout of 1 micron at the collet nose.
Big Kaiser’s New Baby chuck and Mega New Baby chuck are balanced for high-speed machining. The precision collet guarantees a maximum runout of 1 micron at the collet nose.
All components in Big Kaiser’s Mega ER Grip series -- body, collet, nut and clamping wrench – are balanced for high-speed machining.



A lot of conflicting information has circulated over the years about balancing tools. As an author of the new standard for calculating permissible static and dynamic residual unbalances of rotating single tools and tool systems – ISO 16084:2017 – allow me to clear some things up and, hopefully, make life a little easier for you.

An argument can be made for balancing almost every tool put in a machine. In the world of rotating tools, small changes to an assembly, like a new cutting tool, collet, nut or retention knob, can put an assembly out of tolerance. Therefore, it stands to reason that any unbalance could translate to the part, tooling and/or machine spindle in harmful ways.

You’ll hear the case for balancing every single tool based on the long-standing ISO 1940-1 standard. Since its institution in 1940, the G2.5 balance specification has been widely accepted across the industry; i.e., “it’s how things have always been done.”

However, machines were much slower 80 years ago. Back then, the most advanced machines would have spun larger, heavier tools at a maximum speed of about 4,000 RPM. If you applied the math from those days to today, you’d get unachievable values.

For example, the tolerances defined by G2.5 for tools with a mass of less than 1 pound rated for 40,000 RPM calculates to 0.2 gram millimeters ( of permissible unbalance and eccentricity of 0.6 micron. This isn’t within the repeatable range for any balance machine on the market. Similarly, application-specific assemblies, for operations like back boring and small, lightweight, high-speed toolholders, can’t be accurately balanced for G2.5.

Machine tool builders rely on an outdated number, too, often basing spindle warranty coverage on using balanced tools at very specific close tolerances. While it’s true that poorly balanced tools run at high speeds wear a spindle faster, decently balanced tools performing common operations won’t wear spindles or tools drastically and deliver the results you’re looking for.

A Little Lesson About Forces

This all begs the question: When do you need to take the time to balance holders? I would argue that tools require balancing only if they’re notably asymmetrical or being used for high-speed fine finishing. Here’s a rule I’ve long followed: If cutting forces exceed centrifugal forces due to unbalance, high-precision balancing isn’t needed because the force required to balance the tool will most likely be less than cutting forces.

In other words, if you’re rough milling with a heavy radial cut, the different forces will start bending the tool. When that happens, the cutting forces and all the feed forces will be substantially higher than whatever the unbalance forces might be. If that’s the case, it’s not that you take the unbalance force and add it to the cutting force and find your adjustment. At that point, aggressive cutting – not unbalance – is going to damage the spindle.

Unbalanced tools are also blamed for issues that turn out to be misunderstandings about a machine’s spindle. I’ve visited shops with new high-speed spindles that had trouble running micro tools over 15,000 RPM. They rebalanced all the tools on the advice of their machine tool supplier, but to no avail.  It turned out the machine was tuned for higher torque and higher cutting forces. Before going to the effort of balancing toolholders, work with your machine builder to understand where a spindle is tuned.

Not only is balancing tools rarely necessary, it can also be risky. Our inherently asymmetrical fine-boring heads are a good example. Because we balance them at the center, a neutral position of the work range, you lose that balance if you adjust out or in.

To adjust, you’d typically add weight to the light side, which can be a problem for chip evacuation and an obstructor. Or you can remove weight from the heavy side, but that means you have to put some big cuts on the same axis of the insert and insert holder, ultimately weakening the tool.

In longer tool assemblies, common corrections made for static unbalance can also cause issues. It happens when a toolholder is corrected for static unbalance in the wrong plane; i.e., adding or removing weight somewhere on the assembly that’s not 180 degrees across from the area where there’s a surplus or deficit. Once the tool is spun at full speed, those weights pull in opposite directions and create a couple unbalance that often worsens the situation.

A Cautionary Tale

If you do go down the balancing road, you’d better know where you can modify tools, what’s inside, how deep you can go, and at what angles. Whether you’re adding or removing material on a holder, I highly recommend consulting the tool manufacturer for guidance first.

As a cautionary tale, consider a customer who was attempting to balance a batch of our coolant-fed holders. Based on the balancing machine, the operator drilled ¼-inch holes at the prescribed angle into the body of the holders. Not realizing what was inside, he drilled into cross holes connecting coolant flow and ruined several holders.

Tooling manufacturers are doing their part to avert disasters like this. For most, simple tools like collet chucks or hydraulic chucks are fairly easy to balance during manufacturing. We account for any asymmetrical features while machining and grinding holders and pilot each moving part, ensuring they’ll locate concentrically during assembly. These measures ensure the residual unbalance of the assemblies is very, very low and eliminate the need for balancing.

Auto-balancing boring heads are designed specifically for the high-speed finishing I mentioned earlier, where unbalance force can be greater than cutting force. Our EWB boring heads, for instance, have a small internal counterweight that moves in direct proportion with each adjustment. Because the weight is carbide, it’s three times more dense than the steel in the tool carrier and is maintained inside the head’s symmetrical body.

Decades of the same standards have conditioned us to think a certain way about balancing tools. While it seems logical that every tool must be balanced, it’s just not the case: Many issues attributed to unbalance aren’t caused  by unbalance, and the risks of balancing every single tool often aren’t worth the reward.

Save your balancing time and resources for high-speed fine finishing. If you do have work where balance is crucial, consider how the tools you buy are balanced and piloted out of the box and/or consult your partners before making any modifications.

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