Cylinder Head Resurfacing – All About Getting The Correct Surface Finish

Cylinder Head Resurfacing - All About Getting The Correct Surface Finish
Cylinder Head Resurfacing - All About Getting The Correct Surface Finish

Cylinder head resurfacing, is a very common process today, especially with all the leaking head gaskets.

Above all, cylinder head resurfacing, is the most common machining operation; done in machine shops to date.

But, to make matters worse, many different material combinations like aluminum; cast iron, and steel, all require their own specific surface finish.

So, there are many other reasons for cylinder head resurfacing, besides a head gasket failure.

  • To restore flatness or to just improve the current surface finish.
  • After welds or other repairs or milled to increase the compression ratio.
  • The angle changed slightly to better align, with an aftermarket intake manifold.
  • After removing the cylinder head, for a valve job.

So, whatever the reason is for cylinder head resurfacing, you want to do it quickly, efficiently and correctly. Mistakes here can be very expensive, because once metal has been removed there is no putting it back.

To seal properly, a head gasket requires a surface finish, that is within a recommended range.

Cylinder Head Resurfacing - All About Getting The Correct Surface Finish
Cylinder Head Resurfacing – All About Getting The Correct Surface Finish

The specifications vary, depending on the type of head gasket. So, if the surface is too rough, or in some cases too smooth; the gasket may not seal properly and leak. One common mistake to avoid here is, not looking up the recommended specifications; for a particular engine and/or a particular type of head gasket.

CBN or PCD Tool Bits, Can Give The Best Ra Numbers But:

  • You have to make sure you use, the correct feed rate and speed.
  • The equipment has to be rigid enough, to hold the cutter steady.
  • This is so the tool bit, doesn’t lift or chatter, when it makes in interrupted cut.

That’s why, many machine shops today, have switched to dry milling, for cylinder head resurfacing.

Many Machine Shops Today Have Switched To Dry Milling
Many Machine Shops Today Have Switched To Dry Milling

This is because, it eliminates the mess and maintenance, that go with wet grinding.

Getting The Correct Surface Finish

To achieve smoother finishes required by many of today’s aluminum heads; you need to use the right combination of table feed and (rpm), when milling the cylinder head. This requires a variable speed table and/or multi-speed or variable speed milling head. Increasing the (rpm) of the cutting head and/or slowing down the feed rate, produces a smoother finish.

Correct Surface Finish
Correct Surface Finish

We recommend a feed rate of two inches per minute, at 1,000 rpm; on a milling machine with a two-bladed cutter ( harder to index but better ); to achieve a surface finish of 12 RA. Carbide or PCD tooling, is usually recommended for, milling aluminum. While, carbide or CBN is recommended for, milling cast iron.

Can The Surface Finish Ever Be, Too Smooth

Although very smooth surfaces are required for (MLS) head gaskets; and smoother is generally better (up to a point) for most gaskets; because it improves cold sealing, but there is a limit. Most gasket manufacturers say, the surface should not be smoother than about 30 RA for most; non-asbestos or graphite head gaskets. This is because of, these gaskets’ lateral support from the head and block. Another very important fact, when doing any cylinder head resurfacing.

Multi-layer Steel (MLS) Head Gaskets
Multi-layer Steel (MLS) Head Gaskets

When the head is bolted to the block; the metal on both sides, bites into the gasket to help hold it in place. You don’t want too much bite, when the head is aluminum and the block is cast iron. Due to, the sideways shearing forces that result, from the expansion and contraction, of the aluminum head. Yet, a certain amount of support is necessary, to keep the combustion gases in the cylinders; from distorting the gasket and blowing past it.

How Important Is Cleaning

Clean, flat and smooth. These three words describe the surface, in any machining job, not just the head and block. But, how clean, how flat and how smooth; do the surfaces really have to be, to get a good, long lasting seal? It depends on the application.

Clean means no dirt, oil, grease or residual gasket material, on either mating surface. Both surfaces must, be spotlessly clean and dry, to assure a good cold seal.

One thing to watch out for here is, the use of cleaning solvents or gasket remover chemicals; that leave residue on the surface. The residue may interact with the coating on or materials in a head gasket, leading to premature gasket failure.

Cylinder Head Resurfacing, What Not To Do

Some machine shops and engine rebuilders use, an abrasive pad in an air drill or buffer; to buff off residual gasket material on head, block and manifold surfaces. It’s a quick and easy way, to remove old gaskets. It is also risky, because there’s a risk of removing metal; and leaving a depression that will be hard to seal.

Instead, hand scraping (carefully), thermal or chemical cleaning should be employed.

Belt Sanding

As for belt sanding, it can be a real time-saver because; heads and other parts, do not have to be mounted in a fixture. But, cylinder head resurfacing, with a belt has dropped off. Because, it is not as precise as milling or grinding and relies too much on the individual operator.

Belt Sanding Is Not As Precise As Milling Or Grinding
Belt Sanding Is Not As Precise As Milling Or Grinding

As a result, belt sanding is better for, clean up work and resurfacing hard-to-fixture parts like; manifolds and timing covers.


So, when doing any, cylinder head resurfacing, it needs to be flawless. Because, you can’t expect to get, high quality surface finishes, if you’ve neglected your equipment. Dry milling doesn’t require any coolant, so there’s no coolant to maintain.

Thank You !