Tap and die

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Taps and dies are tools used to create screw threads, which is called threading. Many are cutting tools; others are forming tools. A tap is used to cut or form the female portion of the mating pair (e.g. a nut). A die is used to cut or form the male portion of the mating pair (e.g. a bolt). The process of cutting or forming threads using a tap is called tapping, whereas the process using a die is called threading.


Both tools can be used to clean up a thread, which is called chasing. However, using an ordinary tap or die to clean threads generally removes some material, which results in looser, weaker threads. Because of this, machinists generally clean threads with special taps and dies—called chasers—made for that purpose. Chasers are made of softer materials and don't cut new threads. However they still fit tighter than actual fasteners, and are fluted like regular taps and dies so debris can escape. Car mechanics, for example, use chasers on spark plug threads, to remove corrosion and carbon build-up.


While modern nuts and bolts are routinely made of metal, this was not the case in earlier ages, when woodworking tools were employed to fashion very large wooden bolts and nuts for use in winches, windmills, watermills, and flour mills of the Middle Ages; the ease of cutting and replacing wooden parts was balanced by the need to resist large amounts of torque, and bear up against ever heavier loads of weight. As the loads grew ever heavier, bigger and stronger bolts were needed to resist breakage. Some nuts and bolts were measured by the foot or yard. This development eventually led to a complete replacement of wood parts with metal parts of an identical measure. When a wooden part broke, it usually snapped, ripped, or tore. With the splinters having been sanded off, the remaining parts were reassembled, encased in a makeshift mold of clay, and molten metal poured into the mold, so that an identical replacement could be made on the spot.

Metalworking taps and dies were often made by their users during the 18th and 19th centuries (especially if the user was skilled in tool making), using such tools as lathes and files for the shaping, and the smithy for hardening and tempering. Thus builders of, for example, locomotives, firearms, or textile machinery were likely to make their own taps and dies. During the 19th century the machining industries evolved greatly, and the practice of buying taps and dies from suppliers specializing in them gradually supplanted most such in-house work. Joseph Clement was one such early vendor of taps and dies, starting in 1828. [1] With the introduction of more advanced milling practice in the 1860s and 1870s, tasks such as cutting a tap's flutes with a hand file became a thing of the past. In the early 20th century, thread-grinding practice went through significant evolution, further advancing the state of the art (and applied science) of cutting screw threads, including those of taps and dies.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, thread standardization was evolving simultaneously with the techniques of thread generation, including taps and dies.

The largest tap and die company to exist in the United States was Greenfield Tap & Die (GTD) of Greenfield, Massachusetts. GTD was so vital to the Allied war effort from 1940–1945 that anti-aircraft guns were placed around its campus in anticipation of possible Axis air attack. The GTD brand is now a part of Widia Products Group.


From top: Bottoming, plug and taper taps (US usage), or plug, second and taper (UK usage). TapTypes.gif
From top: Bottoming, plug and taper taps (US usage), or plug, second and taper (UK usage).
Various taps. ThreadingTaps.jpg
Various taps.
A tap and "T" wrench Tap and T-wrench.jpg
A tap and "T" wrench
Various tap handles (wrenches). WrenchTapBarT.jpg
Various tap handles (wrenches).

A tap cuts or forms a thread on the inside surface of a hole, creating a female surface that functions like a nut. The three taps in the image illustrate the basic types commonly used by most machinists:

Bottoming tap or plug tap
The tap illustrated in the top of the image has a continuous cutting edge with almost no taper — between 1 and 1.5 threads of taper is typical. [2] [3] This feature enables a bottoming tap to cut threads to the bottom of a blind hole. A bottoming tap is usually used to cut threads in a hole that has already been partially threaded using one of the more tapered types of tap; the tapered end ("tap chamfer") of a bottoming tap is too short to successfully start into an unthreaded hole. In the US, they are commonly known as bottoming taps, but in Australia and Britain they are also known as plug taps.
Intermediate tap, second tap, [3] or plug tap
The tap illustrated in the middle of the image has tapered cutting edges, which assist in aligning and starting the tap into an untapped hole. The number of tapered threads typically ranges from 3 to 5. [2] Plug taps are the most commonly used type of tap.[ citation needed ] In the US, they are commonly known as plug taps, whereas in Australia and Britain they are commonly known as second taps.
Taper tap
The small tap illustrated at the bottom of the image is similar to an intermediate tap but has a more pronounced taper to the cutting edges. This feature gives the taper tap a very gradual cutting action that is less aggressive than that of the plug tap. The number of tapered threads typically ranges from 8 to 10. [2] A taper tap is most often used when the material is difficult to work (e.g., alloy steel) or the tap is of a very small diameter and thus prone to breakage.
Power taps
The above taps are generally referred to as hand taps, since they are manually operated. During operation, the machinist must periodically reverse a hand tap to break the chip (also known as swarf) that forms from cutting. This prevents the cut material from crowding and breaking the tap.
The most common type of power driven tap is the "spiral point" plug tap, also referred to as a "gun" tap, whose cutting edges are angularly displaced relative to the tap centerline.
A spiral point plug tap ("gun" tap). Spiral point tap.jpg
A spiral point plug tap ("gun" tap).
This feature causes the tap to continuously break the chip and eject it forward into the hole, preventing crowding. Spiral point taps are usually used in holes that go all the way through the material, so that the chips can escape. Another version of the spiral point plug tap is the spiral flute tap, whose flutes resemble those of a twist drill. Spiral flute taps are widely used in high speed, automatic tapping operations due to their ability to work well in blind holes.
Forming tap
A quite different kind of tap is a forming tap. A forming tap, aka a fluteless tap or roll tap, simply forcefully displaces the metal into a thread shape upon being turned into the hole, instead of cutting metal from the sides of the hole as cutting taps do. A forming tap closely resembles a cutting tap without the flutes, or very nearly just like a plain thread. There are lobes periodically spaced around the tap that actually do the thread forming as the tap is advanced into a properly sized hole. The threads behind the lobes are slightly recessed to reduce contact friction. Since the tap does not produce chips, there is no need to periodically back out the tap to clear away chips, which, in a cutting tap, can jam and break the tap. Thus thread forming is particularly suited to tapping blind holes, which are tougher to tap with a cutting tap due to the chip build-up in the hole. Forming taps only work in malleable materials such as mild steel or aluminum. Formed threads are typically stronger than cut threads. Note that the tap drill size differs from that used for a cutting tap as shown in most tap drill tables, and that an accurate hole size is required because a slightly undersized hole can break the tap. Proper lubrication is essential because of the frictional forces involved, therefore a lubricating oil is used instead of cutting oil.


Whether manual or automatic, the processing of tapping begins with forming (usually by drilling) and slightly countersinking a hole to a diameter somewhat smaller than the tap's major diameter. The correct hole diameter is listed on a drill and tap size chart, a standard reference in many machine shops. The proper diameter for the drill is called the tap drill size. Without a tap drill chart, you can compute the correct tap drill diameter with:

where is the tap drill size, is the major diameter of the tap (e.g., ⅜ inch for a ⅜"-16 tap), and is the thread pitch (16 in the case of a ⅜"-16 tap). For a ⅜"-16 tap, the above formula would produce 516 as a result, which is the correct tap drill diameter for a ⅜"-16 tap. The above formula ultimately results in an approximate 75 percent thread.

The correct tap drill diameter for metric-sized taps is computed with:

where is the tap drill size, is the major diameter of the tap (e.g., 10 mm for a M10×1.5 tap), and pitch is the pitch of the thread (1.5 mm in the case of a standard M10 tap) and so the correct drill size is 8.5 mm. This works for both fine and coarse pitches, and also produces an approximate 75 percent thread.

Tap sequence

With soft or average hardness materials, such as plastic, aluminum or mild steel, common practice is to use an intermediate (plug) tap to cut the threads. If the threads must extend to the bottom of a blind hole, the machinist uses an intermediate (plug) tap to cut threads until the point of the tap reaches bottom, and then switches to a bottoming tap to finish. The machinist must frequently eject chips to avoid jamming or breaking the tap. With hard materials, the machinist may start with a taper tap, whose less severe diameter transition reduces the torque required to cut threads. To threads to the bottom of a blind hole, the machinist follows the taper tap with an intermediate (plug) tap, and then a bottoming tap to finish.

Machine tapping

Tapping may either be achieved by a hand tapping by using a set of taps (first tap, second tap & final (finish) tap) or using a machine to do the tapping, such as a lathe, radial drilling machine, bench type drill machine, pillar type drill machine, vertical milling machines, HMCs, VMCs. Machine tapping is faster, and generally more accurate because human error is eliminated. Final tapping is achieved with single tap.

Although in general machine tapping is more accurate, tapping operations have traditionally been very tricky to execute due to frequent tap breakage and inconsistent quality of tapping.

Common reasons for tap breakage are:

To overcome these problems, special tool holders are required to minimize the chances of tap breakage during tapping. These are usually classified as conventional tool holders and CNC tool holders.

Tool holders for tapping operations

Various tool holders may be used for tapping depending on the requirements of the user:

Aids for hand-tapping (simple jigs and fixtures)

The biggest problem with simple hand-tapping is accurately aligning the tap with the hole so that they are coaxial—in other words, going in straight instead of on an angle. The operator must get this alignment close to ideal to produce good threads and not break the tap. The deeper the thread depth, the more pronounced the effect of the angular error. With a depth of 1 or 2 diameters, it matters little. With depths beyond 2 diameters, the error becomes too pronounced to ignore. Another fact about alignment is that the first thread cut or two establishes the direction that the rest of the threads will follow. You can't correct the angle after the first thread or two.

To help with this alignment task, several kinds of jigs and fixtures can be used to provide the correct geometry (i.e., accurate coaxiality with the hole) without having to use freehand skill to approximate it:

  • Hand-tapper: A simple fixture analogous to an arbor press in its basic shape. Its spindle is thus held accurately perpendicular to the work. Standard taps are held in the spindle, and the operator turns the spindle manually via a handlebar. This fixture obviates the need for the operator to carefully and skillfully approximate perpendicularity, which even for a skilled operator can easily result in a 2–5° error.
  • Tapping guide, or "tap and reamer aligner/holder", a simple conical guide slipped over a tap when using a regular tap handle. As with a hand-tapper, the basic principle is simply that of a jig or fixture to provide the correct alignment.

Heads for machine tool spindles

  • Tapping attachments: these may be normal (available in a range of tap sizes) or quick-change
  • Quick-change drilling and tapping chucks (variations available for both CNC and manual-control tools)
  • Rigid tapping attachments (for CNC)

Generally the following features are required of tapping holders:

  • Twin chucking: tap is held at points of both its circular and square cross-section. Gripping the circular section assures concentricity to the machine spindle, and gripping the square produces positive rotational drive.
  • Safety clutch: The built in safety mechanism operates as soon as the set torque limit is attained to save the tap from breakage.
  • Float radial parallel: small misalignments are taken care of by this float.
  • Length compensation: built in length compensation takes care of small push or pull to the spindle or feed difference.

Tapping case studies with typical examples of tapping operations in various environments are shown on source machinetoolaid.com

Tapping stations

Double-lead taps and insert taps need different speeds and feeds, and different starting hole diameters than other taps.

Tap drill sizes

Imperial tap and drill bit size tableMetric tap and drill bit size table [5] [6]
TapFractional drill bitNumber drill bitLetter drill bit
Drill sizes are for 75% depth of thread.
TapMetric drillImperial drill
3 mm - 0.52.5 mm-
4 mm - 0.73.3 mm-
5 mm - 0.84.2 mm-
6 mm - 1.05.0 mm-
7 mm - 1.06.0 mm15/64
8 mm - 1.256.8 mm17/64
8 mm - 1.07.0 mm-
10 mm - 1.58.5 mm-
10 mm - 1.258.8 mm11/32
10 mm - 1.09.0 mm-
12 mm - 1.7510.3 mm-
12 mm - 1.510.5 mm27/64
14 mm - 2.012.0 mm-
14 mm - 1.512.5 mm1/2
16 mm - 2.014.0 mm35/64
16 mm - 1.514.5 mm-
Drill sizes are for 75% depth of thread.


Five die sizes and types ThreadingDies.jpg
Five die sizes and types

A die cuts an external thread on cylindrical material, such as a rod, which creates a male threaded piece that functions like a bolt. Dies are generally made in two styles: solid and adjustable. An adjustable die may be adjusted either by an integrated screw or by a set of screws set in to the die holder (termed a "die stock"). Integral adjusting screws may be arranged to work axially, where the movement of the adjusting screw into a threaded hole in the die forces the slit section of the die open, or tangentially where a screw threaded in to one side of the slit bears against the opposite side of the slit. Dies without integrated screws are adjusted inside the die stock by radially-arranged screws. Two screws in the stock bear in to indentations on either side of the slit, tending to squeeze the slit closed, whilst a third screw with a tapered tip screws in to the slit forcing it open. Working these three screws against each other adjusts the die.

Integrated screws appear to be common in the US but are almost unknown in the UK and Europe.

The dies shown in the image to the right are adjustable:

Solid dies cut a nominal thread form and depth, whose accuracy is subject to the precision the die was made with, and the effects of wear. Adjustable dies can be slightly compressed or expanded to provide some compensation for wear, or to achieve different classes of thread fit (class A, B and more rarely, C). Adjustable taps also exist but are not common. These have a tip that is split through the flutes and an axial screw which forces the cutting edges slightly apart.

The work piece (blank) to be threaded, which is usually slightly smaller in diameter than the die's major diameter, is given a slight taper (chamfer) at the end that is to be threaded. This chamfer helps center the die on the blank and reduces the force required to start the thread cutting. [7] Once the die has started, it self-feeds. Periodic reversal of the die is often required to break the chip and prevent crowding.

Die nuts, also known as rethreading dies, are dies made for cleaning up damaged threads, [8] have no split for resizing and are made from a hexagonal bar so that a wrench may be used to turn them. The process of repairing damaged threads is referred to as "chasing." Rethreading dies cannot be used to cut new threads as they lack chip forming teeth. [9] However the external profile of a die does not strictly map to its function. Manufacturers of dies have produced models in a hex form which are intended for the creation of new threads. [10] These appear identical to solid dies in all aspects besides the external shape. Hexagonal thread cutting dies are used with a die stock with hexagonal holding features.


The use of a suitable lubricant is essential with most tapping and threading operations. Recommended lubricants for some common materials are as follows:

Carbon (mild) steel
Petroleum-based or synthetic cutting oil.
Alloy steel
Petroleum-based cutting oil mixed with a small amount (approximately 10 percent) of kerosene or mineral spirits. This mixture is also suitable for use with stainless steel.
Cast iron
No lubricant. A low velocity air blast should be used to clear chips.
Kerosene or mineral spirits mixed with a small amount (15–25 percent) of petroleum-based cutting oil. In some cases, products such as WD-40, CRC 5-56 and 3-In-One Oil are acceptable substitutes.
Kerosene or mineral spirits.
Kerosene or mineral spirits mixed with a small amount (10–15 percent) of petroleum-based cutting oil.

Related Research Articles

Lathe Machine tool which rotates the work piece on its axis

A lathe is a machine tool that rotates a workpiece about an axis of rotation to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, deformation, facing, and turning, with tools that are applied to the workpiece to create an object with symmetry about that axis.

Drill Tool used to create holes

A drill is a tool used for making round holes or driving fasteners. It is fitted with a bit, either a drill or driverchuck. with hand-operated types dramatically decreasing in popularity and cordless battery-powered ones proliferating.

Bottom bracket Bicycle component

The bottom bracket on a bicycle connects the crankset (chainset) to the bicycle and allows the crankset to rotate freely. It contains a spindle to which the crankset attaches, and the bearings that allow the spindle and crankset to rotate. The chainrings and pedals attach to the cranks. Bottom bracket bearings fit inside the bottom bracket shell, which connects the seat tube, down tube and chain stays as part of the bicycle frame.

Drill bit Type of cutting tool

Drills are cutting tools used to remove material to create holes, almost always of circular cross-section. Drills come in many sizes and shapes and can create different kinds of holes in many different materials. In order to create holes drill bits are usually attached to a drill, which powers them to cut through the workpiece, typically by rotation. The drill will grasp the upper end of a bit called the shank in the chuck.

A reamer is a type of rotary cutting tool used in metalworking. Precision reamers are designed to enlarge the size of a previously formed hole by a small amount but with a high degree of accuracy to leave smooth sides. There are also non-precision reamers which are used for more basic enlargement of holes or for removing burrs. The process of enlarging the hole is called reaming. There are many different types of reamer and they may be designed for use as a hand tool or in a machine tool, such as a milling machine or drill press.

Self-tapping screw Type of screw

A self-tapping screw is a screw that can tap its own hole as it is driven into the material. More narrowly, self-tapping is used only to describe a specific type of thread-cutting screw intended to produce a thread in relatively soft material or sheet materials, excluding wood screws. Other specific types of self-tapping screw include self-drilling screws and thread rolling screws.

Speeds and feeds Two separate velocities in machine tool practice, cutting speed and feed rate

The phrase speeds and feeds or feeds and speeds refers to two separate velocities in machine tool practice, cutting speed and feed rate. They are often considered as a pair because of their combined effect on the cutting process. Each, however, can also be considered and analyzed in its own right.

Collet Type of chuck

A collet is a segmented sleeve, band or collar. One of the two radial surfaces of a collet is usually tapered and the other is cylindrical. The term collet commonly refers to a type of chuck that uses collets to hold either a workpiece or a tool but has other mechanical applications.

Screw thread A helical structure used to convert between rotational and linear movement or force

A screw thread, often shortened to thread, is a helical structure used to convert between rotational and linear movement or force. A screw thread is a ridge wrapped around a cylinder or cone in the form of a helix, with the former being called a straight thread and the latter called a tapered thread. A screw thread is the essential feature of the screw as a simple machine and also as a threaded fastener.


A countersink is a conical hole cut into a manufactured object, or the cutter used to cut such a hole. A common use is to allow the head of a countersunk bolt, screw or rivet, when placed in the hole, to sit flush with or below the surface of the surrounding material. A countersink may also be used to remove the burr left from a drilling or tapping operation thereby improving the finish of the product and removing any hazardous sharp edges.

Chuck (engineering) Clamp used to hold an object with radial symmetry, especially a cylinder

A chuck is a specialized type of clamp used to hold an object with radial symmetry, especially a cylinder. In a drill, a mill and a transmission, a chuck holds the rotating tool; in a lathe, it holds the rotating workpiece.

Machine taper

A machine taper is a system for securing cutting tools or toolholders in the spindle of a machine tool or power tool. A male member of conical form fits into the female socket, which has a matching taper of equal angle.

Tap wrench

A tap wrench is a hand tool used to turn taps or other small tools, such as hand reamers and screw extractors.

Turning Machining process

Turning is a machining process in which a cutting tool, typically a non-rotary tool bit, describes a helix toolpath by moving more or less linearly while the workpiece rotates.

Milling cutters are cutting tools typically used in milling machines or machining centres to perform milling operations. They remove material by their movement within the machine or directly from the cutter's shape.

Metal lathe Lathe machine

A metal lathe or metalworking lathe is a large class of lathes designed for precisely machining relatively hard materials. They were originally designed to machine metals; however, with the advent of plastics and other materials, and with their inherent versatility, they are used in a wide range of applications, and a broad range of materials. In machining jargon, where the larger context is already understood, they are usually simply called lathes, or else referred to by more-specific subtype names. These rigid machine tools remove material from a rotating workpiece via the movements of various cutting tools, such as tool bits and drill bits.

Lathe faceplate Workholding accessory

A lathe faceplate is a basic workholding accessory for a wood or metal turning lathe. It is a circular metal plate which fixes to the end of the lathe spindle. The workpiece is then clamped to the faceplate, typically using t-slot nuts in slots in the faceplate, or less commonly threaded holes in the faceplate itself.

Pilot hole

A pilot hole is a small hole drilled into a piece of construction material. Its purpose may be:

  1. to guide a larger drill to the appropriate location and ease the job of the larger drill
  2. allow for the insertion of another hole-making tool, such as a knockout punch, that will produce the final-sized hole, or
  3. locate, guide, and provide clearance for a self-threading screw in wood or plastic to prevent damaging the material or breaking the screw.
Screw Type of fastener characterized by a thread wrapped around a cylinder core

A screw and a bolt are similar types of fastener typically made of metal and characterized by a helical ridge, called a male thread. Screws and bolts are used to fasten materials by the engagement of the screw thread with a similar female thread in a matching part.

In manufacturing, threading is the process of creating a screw thread. More screw threads are produced each year than any other machine element. There are many methods of generating threads, including subtractive methods ; deformative or transformative methods ; additive methods ; or combinations thereof.


  1. Roe 1916, p. 58.
  2. 1 2 3 Smid, Peter (2003-03-01). CNC Programming Handbook. ISBN   978-0-8311-3158-6.
  3. 1 2 "Taps: Technical information". Archived from the original on 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  4. Brown & Sharpe: Cam & Tool Design, p.11-12
  5. "US Tap and Drill Bit Size Table". BoltDepot.com. Archived from the original on 2006-12-01. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  6. "Metric Tap and Drill Bit Size Table". BoltDepot.com. Archived from the original on 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  7. "Taps and Dies Terminology". TapDie.com. Archived from the original on 2006-11-19. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  8. "Types and Uses - Continued - 14256_231". www.tpub.com. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  9. Keenan, Julian Paul (2005). ASVAB - The Best Test Prep. Research & Education Association. ISBN   978-0-7386-0063-5.
  10. "High Carbon Steel 38 Piece Do-it-yourselfer Tap & Die Set". Vermont American. Retrieved 2022-07-02.