Cylinder Head Porting Tools

Our USA made carbide bur die grinder bits and cutting tools are extremely important for cylinder head porting.  We will explain and help you understand what cylinder head porting is below.

What is Cylinder Head Porting?

Cylinder head porting refers to the process of modifying the intake and exhaust ports of an internal combustion engine to improve quantity of the air flow. Cylinder heads, as manufactured, are usually suboptimal for racing applications due to design and are made for maximum durability hence the thickness of the walls. A head can be engineered for maximum power, or for minimum fuel usage and everything in between. Porting the head provides the opportunity to re engineer the airflow in the head to new requirements. Engine airflow is one of the factors responsible for the character of any engine. This process can be applied to any engine to optimize its power output and delivery. It can turn a production engine into a racing engine, enhance its power output for daily use or to alter its power output characteristics to suit a particular application.

Dealing with air.

Daily human experience with air gives the impression that air is light and nearly non-existent as we move slowly through it. However, an engine running at high speed experiences a totally different substance. In that context, air can be thought of as thick, sticky, elastic, gooey and heavy (see viscosity) head porting helps to alleviate this.

Porting and polishing

It is popularly held that enlarging the ports to the maximum possible size and applying a mirror finish is what porting entails. However, that is not so. Some ports may be enlarged to their maximum possible size (in keeping with the highest level of aerodynamic efficiency), but those engines are highly developed, very-high-speed units where the actual size of the ports has become a restriction. Larger ports flow more fuel/air at higher RPMs but sacrifice torque at lower RPMs due to lower fuel/air velocity. A mirror finish of the port does not provide the increase that intuition suggests. In fact, within intake systems, the surface is usually deliberately textured to a degree of uniform roughness to encourage fuel deposited on the port walls to evaporate quickly. A rough surface on selected areas of the port may also alter flow by energizing the boundary layer, which can alter the flow path noticeably, possibly increasing flow. This is similar to what the dimples on a golf ball do. Flow bench testing shows that the difference between a mirror-finished intake port and a rough-textured port is typically less than 1%. The difference between a smooth-to-the-touch port and an optically mirrored surface is not measurable by ordinary means. Exhaust ports may be smooth-finished because of the dry gas flow and in the interest of minimizing exhaust by-product build-up. A 300- to 400-grit finish followed by a light buff is generally accepted to be representative of a near optimal finish for exhaust gas ports.

The reason that polished ports are not advantageous from a flow standpoint is that at the interface between the metal wall and the air, the air speed is zero (see boundary layer and laminar flow). This is due to the wetting action of the air and indeed all fluids. The first layer of molecules adheres to the wall and does not move significantly. The rest of the flow field must shear past, which develops a velocity profile (or gradient) across the duct. For surface roughness to impact flow appreciably, the high spots must be high enough to protrude into the faster-moving air toward the center. Only a very rough surface does this.

Two-stroke porting

In addition to all the considerations given to a four-stroke engine port, two-stroke engine ports have additional ones:

Scavenging quality/purity: The ports are responsible for sweeping as much exhaust out of the cylinder as possible and refilling it with as much fresh mixture as possible without a large amount of the fresh mixture also going out the exhaust. This takes careful and subtle timing and aiming of all the transfer ports.
Power band width: Since two-strokes are very dependent on wave dynamics, their power bands tend to be narrow. While struggling to get maximum power, care must always be taken to ensure that the power profile does not get too sharp and hard to control.
Time area: Two-stroke port duration is often expressed as a function of time/area. This integrates the continually changing open port area with the duration. Wider ports increase time/area without increasing duration while higher ports increase both.
Timing: In addition to time area, the relationship between all the port timings strongly determine the power characteristics of the engine.
Wave Dynamic considerations: Although four-strokes have this problem, two-strokes rely much more heavily on wave action in the intake and exhaust systems. The two-stroke port design has strong effects on the wave timing and strength.
Heat flow: The flow of heat in the engine is heavily dependent on the porting layout. Cooling passages must be routed around ports. Every effort must be made to keep the incoming charge from heating up but at the same time many parts are cooled primarily by that incoming fuel/air mixture. When ports take up too much space on the cylinder wall, the ability of the piston to transfer its heat through the walls to the coolant is hampered. As ports get more radical, some areas of the cylinder get thinner, which can then overheat.
Piston ring durability: A piston ring must ride on the cylinder wall smoothly with good contact to avoid mechanical stress and assist in piston cooling. In radical port designs, the ring has minimal contact in the lower stroke area, which can suffer extra wear. The mechanical shocks induced during the transition from partial to full cylinder contact can shorten the life of the ring considerably. Very wide ports allow the ring to bulge out into the port, exacerbating the problem.
Piston skirt durability: The piston must also contact the wall for cooling purposes but also must transfer the side thrust of the power stroke. Ports must be designed so that the piston can transfer these forces and heat to the cylinder wall while minimizing flex and shock to the piston.
Engine configuration: Engine configuration can be influenced by port design. This is primarily a factor in multi-cylinder engines. Engine width can be excessive for even two cylinder engines of certain designs. Rotary disk valve engines with wide sweeping transfers can be so wide as to be impractical as a parallel twin. The V-twin and fore-and-aft engine designs are used to control overall width.
Cylinder distortion: Engine sealing ability, cylinder, piston and piston ring life all depend on reliable contact between cylinder and piston/piston ring so any cylinder distortion reduces power and engine life. This distortion can be caused by uneven heating, local cylinder weakness, or mechanical stresses. Exhaust ports that have long passages in the cylinder casting conduct large amounts of heat to one side of the cylinder while on the other side the cool intake may be cooling the opposite side. The thermal distortion resulting from the uneven expansion reduces both power and durability although careful design can minimize the problem.
Combustion turbulence: The turbulence remaining in the cylinder after transfer persists into the combustion phase to help burning speed. Unfortunately, good scavenging flow is slower and less turbulent.

extension tool

Need a longer reach?
Try our 4″ and 9″ extension tool for your carbide bur bits



The die grinder is the stock in trade of the head porter and are used with a variety of carbide cutters, grinding wheels and abrasive cartridges. The complex and sensitive shapes required in porting necessitate a good degree of artistic skill with a hand tool.

Until recently, CNC machining was used only to provide the basic shape of the port but hand finishing was usually still required because some areas of the port were not accessible to a CNC tool. New developments in CNC machining now allow this process to be fully automated with the assistance of CAD/CAM software. 5-Axis CNC controls using specialized fixtures like tilting rotary tables allow the cutting tool full access to the entire port. The combination of CNC and CAM software give the porter full control over the port shape and surface finish.

Measurement of the interior of the ports is difficult but must be done accurately. Sheet metal templates are made up, taking the shape from an experimental port, for both cross-sectional and lengthwise shape. Inserted in the port these templates are then used as a guide for shaping the final port. Even a slight error might cause a loss in flow so measurement must be as accurate as possible. Confirmation of the final port shape and automated replication of the port is now done using digitizing. Digitizing is where a probe scans the entire shape of the port collecting data that can then be used by CNC machine tools and CAD/CAM software programs to model and cut the desired port shape. This replication process usually produces ports that flow within 1% of each other. This kind of accuracy, repeatability, time has never before been possible. What used to take eighteen hours or more now takes less than three.

Valves and valve seats are ground with special equipment designed for this purpose.

collet reducer

Try our 1/4” to 1/8” Collet Reducer
Allows you to use 1/8” shank carbide bits in your 1/4” die grinder


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