milling machines

Milling Machines vs. Lathe Machines

Most modern manufacturing centers have both milling machines and lathe machines. Each machine follows the same machining principle, known as subtractive machining, where you begin with a block of material and then shape that material into the desired specifications. How the part is actually shaped is the key difference between the two machines. Understanding the differences in more depth will help in putting the right part in the right machine to maximize their capabilities.

 

cnc lathe

An Example of a Lathe Machine

cnc milling machine

An Example of a Milling Machine

Operation

The major difference between a milling machine and a lathe machine is the relationship of the workpiece and the tool.

Lathe Machines

In a lathe, the workpiece that is being machined spins about it’s axis, while the cutting tool does not. This is referred to as “turning”, and is effective for creating cylindrical parts. Common operations done on a lathe include drilling, boring, threading, ID and OD grooving, and parting. When looking to create quick, repeatable, and symmetrical cylindrical parts, the lathe machine is the best choice.

cnc lathe

Milling Machines

The opposite is true for milling machines. The tool in a milling machine rotates about its axis, while the workpiece does not. This allows the tool to approach the workpiece in many different orientations that more intricate and complex parts demand. If you can program it, you can make it in a milling machine as long as you have the proper clearance and choose the proper tooling.

milling machines

Best Practice

The best reason to use a milling machine for an upcoming project is the versatility. The tooling options for a milling machine are endless, with hundreds of available specialty cutting tools and various styles of end mills which make sure you are covered from start to finish on each job. A mill can also cut more complex pieces than a lathe. For example, it would impossible to efficiently machine something like an intake manifold for an engine on a lathe. For intricate parts like that, a milling machine would be required for successful machining.

While lathe machines are more limited in use than a milling machine, they are superior for cylindrical parts. While a mill can make the same cuts that a lathe does, it may need multiple setups to create the same part. When continuous production of cylindrical parts is necessary, a lathe will outperform the mill and increase both performance and efficiency.

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16 replies
  1. Deb Pearl
    Deb Pearl says:

    Thank you for all the information on milling machines and lathe machines. My husband has been really curious about what they do. That is really cool that lathe machines spin about an axis while the cutting tool doesn’t and a milling machine does the opposite.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Banes
    Jeff Banes says:

    The difference between the milling machines and lathe machines is very well brought up in this article.

    Can you also highlight the cost of the same and by how much do they differ?

    Reply
    • Jeff Rauseo
      Jeff Rauseo says:

      Hi Jeff. Thanks for your comment.

      Lathe machines and milling machines can vary widely based on features. It is certainly possible to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a lathe, or just a couple thousand for a basic machine. The same can be said for milling machines, which can range from small hobby machines that run a couple of thousand dollars up to massive industrial machines that can cost in the 6 figures. I would suggest speaking to your local dealer for more information on cost.

      Reply
  3. sahilmachine
    sahilmachine says:

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing the useful information about the Milling Machines vs. Lathe Machines.

    Reply
  4. Jarrett
    Jarrett says:

    Good piece on the difference between milling machines and lathes, thanks. I have a lathe at home (although I have experience with milling machines) and I’m looking to transition over to CNC. When I started doing research, I realized that I needed to know more about these CNC machines is and how they actually work – I came across this page (https://carveyourcreation.com/what-is-a-cnc-machine) and it’s a great help in this respect, but it also talks about a way to build your own CNC machine at home. I hope you don’t mind if I share the link. I’d like to discuss some things and I’ll be calling you shortly. Thx again

    Reply
  5. Kit Hannigan
    Kit Hannigan says:

    I’m really glad that you mentioned how the tooling options for a milling machine can be limitless. My brother designs custom remote-controlled cars as a hobby, and his work consists of a lot of visits to the machine shop. Should he get serious, I’d definitely suggest that he get one of these milling machines so he can have more control over the specifics of his projects instead of relying on an operator.

    Reply
  6. Catherine Lind
    Catherine Lind says:

    Found the article I was hoping for. Clear cut, no pun intended, which made for a very easy learning tool for one who desired to understand the general specifics of each machine. I enjoyed this well written article. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Louis Carter
    Louis Carter says:

    When designing and building prototypes, it is sometimes easier to drill, mill, and fit manually without having to measure setup, and program.

    Reply
  8. Sam Li
    Sam Li says:

    I love what you said about milling machines and how they can approach any object from various angles. Grinding machinery is vital when it comes to breaking metal down. If I were to need such equipment, I would make sure to contact a company that is known for its reliable machines.

    Reply
  9. Greg Hampton
    Greg Hampton says:

    I like what you said about using a lathe since the piece being machined spins about the axis. My boss wants to get some new parts made in the coming weeks. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for professionals who can help her with this.

    Reply
  10. Fuson Precision Machining
    Fuson Precision Machining says:

    Wonderful information, thanks a lot for sharing the kind of content with us. Your blog gives the best and the most interesting information on milling machines vs. lathes. I wonder if we can gather such practical information about it, a great post definitely to come across.

    Reply

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