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S. P. Shenoy
M.Tech, (MET. ENGG.), M.I.I.M.

C.E.O., Steel Plant Specialities, 211, Raikar Chambers,

Govandi East, Mumbai – 400 088
Tel. : 6797 8060, Fax : 91-22-2555 2459
E-mail : info@steelplantspecialities.com
Website : www.steelplantspecialities.com

Tapping is a machining process for producing internal threads. A tap is

a cylindrical or conical thread cutting tool having threads of a desired

form on the periphery. Combining rotary motion with axial motion, a tap

cuts or forms the internal thread.

Most taps are made of high speed steel. General purpose high speed

steels, such as M1, M2, M7 and M10 are most widely used for taps. For

tapping difficult to machine metals (e.g. heat resistant alloys, steels

harder than about 35 HRC etc.) taps made of M15 or T15 are justified.

However, they cost 2 to 3 times higher than the similar taps made of

general purpose type; the highly alloyed types are more difficult to grind

and more susceptible to grinding burn. Most users sacrifice tap-life

rather than pay for maintenance and repair.

Surface treatment of taps (nitriding, chromium plating or titanium nitride

coating) increases tap-life by 500 per cent or more and improves thread

finish, but it is an expensive and inconvenient proposition. The taps

must be re-treated each time after they are ground.

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The principal factors that influence the selection of equipment and

procedure for tapping and those which affect the thread quality,

productivity and cost are :

1. Size and shape of the workpiece.

2. Thread size and depth.

3. Tolerance and finish specification.

4. Whether blind or through holes are being tapped.

5. Speed.

6. Use of lead control.

7. Lubricant.

Stainless steels pose maximum problems in tapping. Various

suggestions are offered to overcome specific problems.

Lubrication is more important in tapping than in other machining

operations, because tap teeth are more susceptible to damage from

heat than most other cutting tool surfaces. Chips are more likely to get

congested in tapping than in operations in which the cutters are not

surrounded by the work material. Lubricant is used in tapping all metals.

The lubricants most commonly used for tapping are sulphurised or

chlorinated oils, soluble oil emulsions or mineral oils (blended with lard

oil or animal fat). Sulphurised oil is generally satisfactory for many

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tapping applications including stainless steels, but it stains some of the

metals. Soluble oils are less effective than neat oils for preventing the

adherence of tools to workpieces and preventing built up edges. Mineral

oils are less effective for cooling and flushing away chips than soluble

oil emulsions. Also, they have high viscosity resulting in clinging of


A lubricating paste is a product of dispersion of a thickening agent and a

number of solid lubricants with various melting points in a liquid

lubricant. Compared to oil which is generally used in tapping, paste

lubricant gives the following advantages :

1. It does not drip like oil.

2. Less frequent application.

3. Provision of a better mechanical lubrication cushion for extreme

conditions, such as stock loading, reversing operations, low

speeds and high speeds.

The proprietary ingredients in the primary lubricant dramatically improve

the overall tapping performance. During tapping, the paste melts and

forms a molecular film which reduces coefficient of friction. Performance

of various lubricants while tapping is presented in Table-1.

In hand–tapping of stainless steels, the use of paste lubricant brings

down tapping time by upto 45 per cent, at the same time offering

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highest ease of tapping. Worker-fatigue is reduced. These factors lead

to increased productivity.

Stainless steels are difficult to tap. The common problems encountered

in tapping stainless steel are tap breakage, oversize threads and metal

build-up on tooth. Various aspects of tapping stainless steel are

discussed below.


High speed steel taps are successfully used for tapping all grades of

stainless steel. Recommended hook angle and chamfer relief angle for

different grades of stainless steel are shown in Table-2.


Two-fluted taps are suitable upto 6mm, for sizes from 6mm to 12mm

three-fluted taps and above this range four-fluted taps are



a. Hand taps : Hand taps are suitable for through-hole tapping. For

effective chip clearance in blind hole tapping, frequent reversing of

taps is needed.

b. Spiral point tapping : Spiral point of the tap pushes the chips

ahead of tap and hence suitable for through holes.

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c. Spiral fluted taps : Spiral flute provides lifting action for the chips

and forces the chips along the flute. Hence, these taps are suitable

best for blind-hole tapping.


The major problems faced during stainless steel tapping (especially

austenitic and chromium ferritic grades) are rough threads and tap

breakage. In these grades of steels, because of their ‘gumminess’,

immediately after tapping operation, the metal “flows back” and tends to

seize the tap when direction of tap is reversed. In such cases, grinding a

hook is recommended.

For improving tapping performance, the following modifications of tap

design are recommended :

1. Grinding cylindrical grooves along the land.

2. Providing relief behind the cutting edge.

3. Narrowing the land width by grinding off approximately 2/3 of land

from heal side.

4. Omitting the cutting edges on alternate threads.


More power is required for tapping stainless steel than other steels.

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Selection of sharp taps, adequate lubricant and chip disposal together

enable to prevent work hardening.


Tap drill selection should be made to limit the thread depth between 60

to 70 per cent of full thread form. To prevent frequent tap failures, the

thread depth should not exceed 75 per cent of full form.

When holes are drilled or reamed for tapping, care should be taken to

prevent work hardening of the surface. Whenever possible, drilling and

tapping may be done in the same setting, using machine spindle to

guide the tap to minimize the tap cutting oversize threads. If material

tends to flow back during tapping as a result of cutting while reversing,

frequent reversals for tap is needed to reduce the final load on tap and

risk of tap breakage.


Right kind of lubricant improves thread finish, carries the chip during

tapping, reduces friction and cutting temperature, lowers cutting force

and torque, retains sharpness and hardness of cutting edges, and

prolongs tap-life. A variety of tapping lubricants in fluid and paste form

are available now.

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1. Tapping troubles are often caused by too small tap drills.

2. For economic and quality threads, thread depth should be limited to

75 per cent of full form.

3. To prevent work-hardening of stainless steel during tapping, sharp

taps with proper cutting angle should be selected.

4. Certain modifications in the tap design and the use of right type of

lubricant contribute significantly towards improvements in tapping


Acknowledgements :

The author expresses his sincere thanks to Dr.J.Krishnan Central

Workshop, BARC, Trombay, Mumbai-400 085 for the valuable guidance

given to write this paper and also for conducting a series of trials to

compare the performance of various tapping lubricants.

Suggested Reading :

1. Metal handbook, Vol.16–Machining-Tapping pp.259 to 265 (9th


2. Drills, Reamers & Taps – Information Handbook by Addison & Co.

Ltd., Madras pp.59 to 67.

3. Handbook of Machining Data for Cold Finished Steel Balls published

by Republic Steels Inc. pp. 142 to 150.

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4. Product Information Bulletin on ESPON-TA Tapping Lubricant

published by Steel Plant Specialities, 211, Raikar Chambers,

Govandi East, Mumbai-400 088. Tel. No. : 6797 8060

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Table-1 : Performance of various lubricants in tapping

Sr.No. Description of Tapping Coolant Av.time Ease of

(Size, type of hole, material & per hole Tapping·
thickness) (minutes)
1. M6 X 1p-6H, through holes Oila 4 3
SS304, 5mm thick

2. M6 X 1p-6H, through holes Fluidb 3.5 2

SS304, 5mm thick

3. M6 X 1p-6H, through holes Pastec 2.5 1

SS304, 5mm thick

4. M16X2p-6H, through holes Oil 40 3

SS304, 40mm thick

5. M16X2p-6H, through holes Fluid 40 2

SS304, 40mm thick

6. M16X2p-6H, through holes Paste 32 1

SS304, 40mm thick

7. M16X2p-6H, blind holes Oil 50 3

SS410, 40mm thick

8. M16X2p-6H, blind holes Fluid 50 2

SS410, 40mm thick

9. M16X2p-6H, blind holes Paste 35 1

SS410, 40mm thick

Note : a. Neat cutting oil, b. Proprietary fluid, c. Proprietary product,

·Ease of Tapping : 1. Very easy, 2. Difficult, 3. Very difficult.

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Table-2 : Hook Angle & Chamfer Relief Angle for Stainless Steels

Stainless steel grade Hook angle Chamfer relief


Austenitic & ferritic 15° to 20° 10°

Martensitic & free machining 8° to 12° 10°


Precipitation hardening 15° to 20° 8°