Table of Contents


Knurling Tools and Techniques: A Comprehensive Guide

Manufacturers use different post-finishing techniques to give machined components special characteristics. Knurling is among these secondary processing methods. It can impart attractive surfaces to custom parts by creating distinctive patterns, such as ridges and indentations on machined surfaces.

This distinctive guide explains everything you need to know about knurling, including its different variations and the common problems during knurling processes. Let's get to it.

What Is Knurling?

what is knurling

Knurling is a manufacturing technique usually conducted on a lathe that involves the production of complex patterns on a component’s surface. These patterns can consist of straight lines, angles, or interlocking designs. The knurling process enhances the part’s durability and aesthetics while improving its grip. However, you should that knurled patterns can vary. It can feature straight ridges or a spiral arrangement of these “straight” ridges, deviating from the more conventional criss-cross design.

Knurling is an effective method for refurbishing parts. This is because the raised portions of a knurled surface help reduce the effects of wear and tear on the part. It also plays a role in assembling metal pins into plastic molds.

Knurling is used in the production of several products like tool handles, mechanical pencils, pistol grips, barbell bars, and so on. Furthermore, knurling is common in the grips of darts and the footpegs of BMX bicycles. It is also commonly used in the production of surgical instruments.

Hand vs. Machine Knurling

machine knurling
Machine Knurling

There are two different knurling techniques: manual and mechanical. Let’s have a look at each machining process:

Hand Knurling

hand knurling
Hand Knurling

Hand knurling involves using a manual knurling tool called a hand knurler. Depending on the setup, this tool may incorporate one or more knurl wheels. A knurling wheel usually takes the form of a compact rolling device adorned with patterns such as diamonds or diagonals on its surface.

When the hand knurler is securely fixed to the material’s surface and set in motion, the wheels exert pressure upon it. This causes the deformation and modification of the material’s surface. However, fundamental inaccuracies characterize hand knurling, and its operation must be continuous and uninterrupted to prevent the overlap of knurl lines.

This process is usually reserved for small workpieces that can be manually handled and maneuvered. Consequently, it produces simple knurl patterns, with the manual process posing significant challenges for complex machining.

Machine Knurling

Machine knurling techniques are executed using a machine, which is often a manual or CNC lathe. Initially, the workpiece is firmly secured onto the lathe. Subsequently, the wheels are affixed to a knurl holder and attached to the worktable. The machine knurling process involves the wheels contacting the workpiece to create the desired knurl pattern. This knurling operation proceeds continuously and is typically free from errors.

To ensure smooth operation and facilitate cutting, it is customary to apply lubrication to the stock before turning. This prevents overheating and enhances the interaction between the stock and the cutting tool. Additionally, it is essential to maintain constant chip removal to prevent accumulation, which could lead to machine interruptions and defects.

Machine knurling can accommodate workpieces of various sizes, lengths, and materials. The use of precise tooling and feeds allows the production of complex knurl patterns with fine pitch and ensures strict control over dimensional accuracy.

The Knurling Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

The knurling technique entails utilizing specialized knurling wheels to generate the intended patterns on the surface of a workpiece. This describes how the process is executed:

Step 1: Selecting the Right Workpiece Material

When pressed by the knurling tools, the material must be malleable enough to move. Aluminum, brass, mild steel, and various plastics are common machining materials. Harder materials may necessitate the use of specific knurling tools and slower speeds.

Step 2: Choosing the Appropriate Knurling Method

Hand and machine knurling are the two most common methods of knurling. The former employs a small roller tool that presses against the surface of the workpiece to generate the desired pattern. The latter employs a lathe to cut the desired pattern into the workpiece. Hand knurling is best suited to softer metals, but machine knurling can obtain finer details in harder materials.

Step 3: Setting Up the Knurling Wheels or Tools

Knurling wheels are available in various tooth sizes, angles, and materials to suit various purposes. The tooth profile determines the pattern and severity of the knurl. They are held in place by a knurl holder that is mounted to the work table. The reverse picture of the intended knurl pattern is contained in knurling tool.

Step 4: Properly Mounting the Workpiece

The workpiece is secured between centers or in a lathe chuck. It must be properly clamped to stop the workpiece from slipping under the knurling stresses.

Step 5: Executing the Knurling Operation

The revolving workpiece is gently fed with the knurling wheels or tools. To achieve even knurling, perpendicular alignment and constant pressure are essential.

The material surface is then deformed because the wheels or tool are fed continuously into the workpiece while applying constant pressure. This results in bumps or depressions on a workpiece’s surface. Sharp, high knurls may require multiple passes in tougher materials.

The Art of Knurl Patterns

There are several knurling patterns, and they include:

Straight/Standard Knurl

standard knurl
Standard Knurl

Straight knurling wheel imparts linear and grooved designs onto the surface of a workpiece. This technique typically involves the creation of intersecting lines, whether parallel or diagonal, through a specialized knurling tool equipped with two hardened wheels featuring diagonal teeth.

Straight knurling pattern designs serve as ornamental motifs that enhance the visual attractiveness of a surface on various workpieces. This technique finds its ideal application on cylindrical objects like handles and knobs. Moreover, it proves to be a fitting choice for various uses, including luxury writing tools, bespoke hardware, or jewelry, imparting an elegant and fashionable appearance.

Diagonal Knurls

diagonal knurls
Diagonal Knurls

Diagonal knurling Is a specialized machining method deployed across various industries to impart textured designs or gripping attributes to cylindrical or rounded surfaces. It is categorized into two:

  • Left-Handed Diagonal Knurls

They exhibit diagonal ridges that incline from the upper right to the lower left when observed from the end of the cylindrical object. Knurling tool configured with ridges matching this pattern are employed to craft left-handed knurls. These particular knurls serve their purpose in cases where counterclockwise rotation or turning represents the preferred direction.

  • Right-Handed Diagonal Knurls

They showcase diagonal ridges that slant from the upper left to the lower right when viewed from the end of the cylindrical object. These knurls are formed using knurling tools with ridges tailored to this orientation. Right-handed knurls are commonly utilized when a clockwise rotation or turning motion is favored.

Diamond Knurl

diamond knurl
Diamond Knurl

Diamond knurling is a standard method that results in the creation of small diamond-shaped ridges or indentation designs on the surface of a workpiece. It involves the incorporation of intersecting diagonal lines, forming multiple diamond-shaped protrusions. A single diamond knurling wheel enhances the workpiece’s wear resistance and overall durability, finding widespread application in machine components, tools, and ornamental items that encounter regular contact or high friction levels.

The diamond-shaped indentations or texturing distribute pressure and wear evenly, reducing the risk of deterioration or harm. This technique generates intricate and aesthetically pleasing knurling patterns on machined components such as bicycle parts, lighter casings, or personal accessories.

Specialty Knurls

types of knurls
Types of Knurls

In the case of a concave knurling, the teeth found on the knurling wheel exhibit a curvature directed towards the center of the wheel’s surface. This configuration is typically used to engage with and manipulate a single section of the workpiece along its axial direction.

Conversely, a convex knurl is optimal for prolonged traversing knurling operations. Its rounded shape facilitates smoother movement across the workpiece’s surface.

Beveled knurls are another variation consisting of boasts inclined or sloped ridges, creating a distinct beveled edge on the workpiece. These particular knurl types are commonly employed for either aesthetic or practical purposes.

Knurl Tool Holders: Types and Applications

knurl tool holders
Knurl Tool Holders

There are different kinds of knurling tool holders, and they all have specific applications. Here are a few of them:

Bump Holder: Single and Double-Die Configurations

Bump holders are designed in single-die and double-die variations, with the former capable of accommodating a single knurling wheel and the latter capable of accommodating two wheels.

Moreover, there is a modular configuration available for bump-style knurl holders. This configuration features an easily interchanged tool head, enabling a single or double-die setup without modifying the holder.

Bump holders find applications in both manual and CNC lathes, and they are particularly well-suited for Swiss-type lathes, where compact bump-style holders are the preferred choice.

Straddle Holder: Precision Alignment

knurl tool holders principle
Knurl Tool Holders Principle

A straddle holder head can accommodate two knurl wheels. The ability to reposition these wheels is provided to work with workpieces of differing diameters. It is frequently necessary to ensure that the knurl wheels within a straddle holder are properly aligned with the center of the workpiece.

When using two knurl wheels simultaneously, the lines can overlap if both wheels do not exert uniform pressure on the workpiece.

Scissor Holder: Adjustability and Flexibility

A scissor holder is similar to a straddle holder and can house two knurl wheels. Turning a nut on the holding handle makes it possible to fine-tune the spacing between the knurl wheels.

When employing a scissor holder, it is important not to position the wheels precisely at the center of the stock, as is customary with straddle holders. Instead, the scissor holder should be slightly offset forward of the center to apply an appropriate amount of pressure effectively.

Swivel Holder: Versatility with Multiple Wheels

The swivel holder’s chief component can accommodate as many as six knurling wheels. This enables the simultaneous attachment of multiple wheels to the head, facilitating rapid wheel replacement through a simple twisting motion. This configuration allows for the convenient deployment of fine, medium, and coarse knurling wheels.

The Practical Benefits of Knurling

machined knurls parts
Machined Knurls Parts

These are some of the benefits of knurling:

 Enhanced Grip and Safety

Increased surface friction from knurled surfaces makes it possible to maintain a firm grip even when it’s slippery. This enables increased safety and control. Knurling on parts such as bolts, knobs, wheels, and rollers aids in preventing slippage during assembly or use.

Aesthetic Enhancement

Beyond its practical advantages, knurling can give objects a pleasing aesthetic touch. Knurling produces textured patterns that can be visually appealing and have an exciting appearance.

Improved Paint Adhesion and Branding

Knurling increases a material’s surface area, which is beneficial for branding and paint adhesion. Textured surfaces provide for better paint adhesion and longer-lasting results. Manufacturers can also add branding components to their products by using knurled patterns.

Functional Usability in Various Industries

Numerous sectors benefit from the use of knurling. It is frequently used in engineering and manufacturing, from plumbing fixtures to automotive parts.

Challenges and Limitations in Knurling

Although knurling has several benefits and applications, some limitations and challenges remain. They include:

Material Considerations

Not all materials are appropriate for knurling. When selecting whether to use knurling, it is essential to consider the material’s hardness and flexibility. Some materials, including soft plastics, might not properly hold up to the procedure and could deform or sustain damage.

Surface Finish and Precision Requirements

It might be challenging to knurl precisely and with the proper surface polish. The technique can leave behind burrs or other flaws. To meet quality standards, additional machining or surface finishing procedures are needed.

Potential Weakening of the Surface

Knurling can occasionally weaken the material, especially if it has intricate designs or is used on a brittle material. Engineers and producers must carefully weigh the trade-offs between enhanced grip and potential structural flaws when adopting knurling.

Expert Tips for Successful Knurling

knurling process
Knurling Process

The following knurling advice will help you get the best results:

Choosing the Right Tool and Setup

The first step involves carefully selecting an appropriate knurling tool tailored to your application needs. There are different tools, such as single-point and multiple-point varieties, is available. When choosing, it’s crucial to consider factors like the workpiece’s material and the desired knurl pattern.

To achieve optimal results, it’s essential to adjust the rotational speed and feed rate of the workpiece according to the material being knurled. Typically, softer materials benefit from faster speeds and higher feeds, whereas harder materials require slower speeds and lower feeds. The proper alignment of the knurling tool is a critical aspect of the process, as it ensures the creation of uniform and symmetrical knurl patterns. Any misalignment can result in inconsistent outcomes and premature wear of the tool.

Additionally, it’s imperative to securely clamp the workpiece in place to prevent any unintended movement during knurling. Any form of vibration or shifting can lead to irregular knurling patterns.

Importance of Lubrication and Cleaning

To ensure the smooth operation of the knurling process and prevent excessive friction and heat generation, it is essential to incorporate lubrication. Using an appropriate cutting fluid or lubricating agent extends the knurling tool’s lifespan and improves the knurled surface’s final appearance. Following each knurling operation, removing any residues, including chips, debris, and surplus lubricant, from both the knurling tool and the workpiece is essential. The accumulation of such residues can impact the knurling quality and negatively accelerate tool wear.

Achieving Consistency and Precision

Before knurling the final workpiece, it is advisable to use a sample piece composed of identical material and dimensions to refine the knurling configuration. This helps to facilitate the attainment of the desired knurling pattern while reducing errors on the actual workpiece. Attention should be devoted to the depth of the knurling pattern, as consistency is of utmost importance for both aesthetic appeal and functional performance.

To maintain the quality of knurled workpieces, it is recommended to implement a comprehensive quality control protocol for precision machining. This procedure guarantees that the knurling meets stipulated specifications and industry standards.


at machining

After exploring the knurling procedure in detail, you should be able to distinguish between various knurling patterns, tools and prevalent issues encountered during knurling operations. This acquired knowledge can aid in making informed decisions regarding your project.

AT-Machining is offers the best solutions for your knurling needs. We leverage our modern CNC machining technologies, highly skilled and certified engineers, and machinists to create your parts with high precision and cost-effectiveness. We are confident of our capabilities and ensure we deliver products that meet your requirements. Submit your design file today to get a free quotation!

photo 2

Hey there, I’m Sam!

From AT-Machining, I’m a CNC Machining Expert in this field for more than 20 years.  We offer cost-effective machining services from China. Ask for a quote for your ongoing or upcoming projects now!

Best Regards, Sam, Co-Founder

AT Machining

On-demand CNC Machining With Custom Finishes. You Design It, We'll Make It.