A typical reamer consists of a set of parallel straight or helical cutting edges along the length of a cylindrical body. Each cutting edge is ground at a slight angle and with a slight undercut below the cutting edge. Reamers must combine both hardness in the cutting edges, for long life, and toughness, so that the tool does not fail under the normal forces of use. They should only be used to remove small amounts of material. This ensures a long life for the reamer and a superior finish to the hole.
The spiral may be clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on usage. For example, a tapered hand reamer with a clockwise spiral will tend to self feed as it is used, possibly leading to a wedging action and consequent breakage. A counter-clockwise spiral is therefore preferred even though the reamer is still turned in the clockwise direction.
For production machine tools, the shank type is usually one of the following: a standard taper (such as Morse or Brown & Sharpe), a straight round shank to be held by a collet, or a straight round shank with a flat for a set screw, to be held by a solid toolholder. For hand tools, the shank end is usually a square drive, intended for use with the same type of wrench used to turn a tap for the cutting of screw threads.
The geometry of a hole drilled in metal by a twist drill may not be accurate enough (close enough to a theoretically true cylinder of a certain precise diameter) and may not have the requisitely smooth surface finish for certain engineering applications. Although modern twist drills can perform excellently in many cases—usually producing sufficiently accurate holes for most applications—sometimes the stringency of the requirements for the hole's geometry and finish necessitate two operations: a drilling to slightly undersize, followed by reaming with a reamer. The planned difference between the drill diameter and the reamer diameter is called an allowance. (It allows for the removal of a certain small amount of material.) The allowance should be < 0.2mm (.008 in) for soft materials and < 0.13mm (.005 in) for hard materials. Larger allowances can damage the reamer. The drilled hole should not be enlarged by more than 5% of the drilled diameter. Drilling followed by reaming generally produces hole geometry and finish that is as close to theoretical perfection as possible. (The other methods of hole creation that approach nearest to perfection under certain conditions are boring [especially single-point boring] and internal cylindrical grinding.)
An adjustable hand reamer can cover a small range of sizes. They are generally referenced by a letter which equates to a size range. The disposable blades slide along a tapered groove. The act of respectively tightening and loosening the restraining nuts at each end varies the size that may be cut. The absence of any spiral in the flutes restricts them to light usage (minimal material removal per setting) as they have a tendency to chatter. They are also restricted to usage in unbroken holes. If a hole has an axial split along it, such as a split bush or a clamping hole, each straight tooth will in turn drop into the gap causing the other teeth to retract from their cutting position. This also gives rise to chatter marks and defeats the purpose of using the reamer to size a hole.
Reamed holes are used to create holes of precise circularity and size, for example with tolerances of -0/+0.02mm(0.0008") This will allow the force fitting of locating dowel pins, which need not be otherwise retained in the body holding them. Other holes, reamed slightly larger in other parts, will fit these pins accurately, but not so tightly as to make disassembly difficult. This type of alignment is common in the joining of split crankcase halves such as are used in motorcycle motors and boxer type engines. After joining the halves, the assembled case may then be line bored (using what is in effect a large diameter reamer), and then disassembled for placement of bearings and other parts. The use of reamed dowel holes is typical in any machine design, where any two locating parts have to be located and mated accurately to one another - typically as indicated above, to within 0.02mm or less than 0.001".
Another use of reamed holes is to receive a specialized bolt that has an unthreaded shoulder - also called a shoulder bolt. This type of bolt is commonly used to replace hot peened rivets during the seismic retrofit of structures.
A machine reamer only has a very slight lead in. Because the reamer and work piece are pre-aligned by the machine there is no risk of it wandering off course. In addition the constant cutting force that can be applied by the machine ensures that it starts cutting immediately. Spiral flutes are essential on a machine reamer to clear the swarf automatically.
A rose reamer has no relief on the periphery and is offset by a back taper to prevent binding. They are primarily used as roughing reamers.
Shell reamers are designed for reaming bearing and other similar items. They are fluted almost their whole length.
A precision tapered reamer is used to make a tapered hole to later receive a tapered pin. A taper pin is a self tightening device due to the slow angle of the taper. They may be driven into the tapered hole such that removal can only be done with a hammer and punch. They are sized by a number sequence (for example, a No.4 reamer would use No.4 taper pins). Such precision joins are used in aircraft assembly and are frequently used to join the two or more wing sections used in a sailplane. These may be re-reamed one or more times during the aircraft's useful life, with an appropriately oversized pin replacing the previous pin.
A morse taper reamer is used manually to finish morse taper sleeves. These sleeves are a tool used to hold machine cutting tools or holders in the spindles of machines such as a drill or milling machine. The reamer shown is a finishing reamer. A roughing reamer would have serrations along the flutes to break up the thicker chips produced by the heavier cutting action used for it.
A combination reamer has two or more cutting surfaces. The combination reamer is precision ground into a pattern that resembles the part’s multiple internal diameters. The advantage of using a combination reamer is to reduce the number of turret operations, while more precisely holding depths, internal diameters and concentricity. Combination reamers are mostly used in screw machines or second-operation lathes and not with Computer Numerical Control ( CNC ) machines because G-Code can be easily generated to profile internal diameters.
Combination reamers can be made out of cobalt, carbide, or high-speed steel tooling. When using combination reamers to ream large internal diameters made out of material with lower SFM , carbide tips can be brazed onto a configured drill blank to build the reamer. Carbide requires additional care because it is very brittle and will chip if chatter occurs. It is common to use a drill or combination drill to remove the bulk of material to reduce wear, or the risk of the part pulling off on the combination reamer.