What’s the Difference Between CNC Milling And CNC Turning

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Have you ever wondered how shapes and frameworks are formed? There are two technical ways of doing this. First is the CNC milling technique, and then the CNC turning technique. CNC machining enables you to feed information into the machine to execute commands on the type of shape you want. In this article, we’ll further explain the difference between these two techniques. Let’s dive in.

I. What is CNC milling?

For a complete understanding of what CNC milling is, it is simply an automated process of fabricating your desired design on a material for further use of the material in production. The CNC milling operation allows the machine to move in a rotational direction while cutting and removing expendable material in the fabrication of the appropriate design for your material. In this process, the workpiece does not change direction, only the machine does. And this is achieved using a three-dimensional rotational axis in forming the desired pattern. This manufacturing process allows the rotary cutters to shape the workpiece into the required form along multiple axes, as the workpiece is held in place.

II. What is CNC turning?

CNC turning is also similar to CNC milling. And it is an automated production procedure of manufacturing a custom-made material but with a lathe machine. Therefore, CNC turning or CNC machining is a computerized numerical control mechanism that produces a pre-determined design using the lathe machine. The successful operation of this process requires the machine to be in a motionless position as the material turns as its name implies. The forging of the material is dependent on the speed the material is turned around the chuck (i.e., what holds the material). And that also works according to the specification inputted in the machine. 

III. What are the advantages of CNC milling

The CNC milling technique provides several benefits. The first of them is its ability to create complex forms, and this can be done in a short time. with the use of different milling machines, you can achieve different cutting styles such as hollow milling, face, and end milling. Similar to the above-mentioned advantage of the CNC milling process is the high precision and accuracy it uses in cutting these tools thereby making every custom-made tool of high quality. Furthermore, the CNC milling procedure can produce a large number of identical parts efficiently and in no time as well.

IV. What are the Features of CNC turning

Owing to the functions of the CNC turning method which is to create precise cylindrical shapes, and the ability to work with various materials such as plastic, wood, and metal, the installation of its software is quite simplistic and resilient. This feature allows it to adapt to manufacturing other products such as a specified hollow tube. Moreover, due to its accuracy, it mitigates the effect of human error. Some materials used in the process may be a bit thick or weigh less, and these are some of the conditions that determine the placement of the lathe machine used in CNC turning.

V. What’s the Path of movement of the cutting tool

The movement path of both cutting tools explains a bit about why they are different. In CNC milling, the path of movement is along multiple axes termed X, Y, and Z, in a rotary motion that creates the desired design. It can also move both vertically and horizontally while creating shapes and forms. Conversely, the CNC turning method holds the material in place by a part of the machine known as the chunk and the spinning of the material creates the cylindrical design of your choice that the machine has been ordered to create. However, the acceleration of the material along the spindle assists in the formation of the shapes.

VI. What’s the workpiece?

The operational use of the CNC turning and CNC milling methods are widely applicable to many fields including mold manufacturing. These techniques are very much applicable in the plastic industry, woodworking, metal works, and electrical industry. And due to this fact, the workpiece that can be used in this process includes plastics, wood, and metals. Alternatively, the CNC milling operation can work with composite materials. i.e., when two materials are combined, a CNC milling technique can create custom designs with them.

VII. How about the Machines

Due to the working principle of the CNC milling machines, they are typically larger and more complex than CNC turning machines which work with a single-point cutting axis. CNC turning machines are typically smaller and simpler, as they only need to rotate the workpiece while the cutting tool removes material. However, both machines can complement each other. For instance, after a shaft is turned using the CNC turning process, it may still need some additional components that end up being a very well-crafted instrument or tool.

VIII. What are the Advantages of CNC milling and CNC turning

Each machine has its uniqueness, but they work similarly and can also complement each other as earlier mentioned. With that said let’s highlight some advantages of both machines

  • CNC Milling – With the CNC milling operation, a major advantage of this technique is the ability to make complex shapes and designs in the shortest times possible like in rapid prototyping. And due to this benefit, it requires less manpower. This is because it doesn’t require any special training for any personnel to monitor and supervise a machine. Therefore, one operational manager is capable of managing multiple CNC milling machines simultaneously. Practically, the CNC milling machine works with various materials such as plastic, wood, metal, and composite materials as previously hinted. But then, another benefit of a CNC milling machine is that it provides the speed needed to produce identical parts in-mass quantities in a limited time.
  • CNC Turning – the CNC turning machine equally possesses its benefits and they include the ability to produce precise and accurate cylindrical shapes at a high speed and efficiency. This can be attributed to the seamlessness of its software installation. Because of the ease of its installation, an operator can begin producing hexagonal, round, or square-shaped parts. Its speed of operation likewise allows for fast and flawless production of parts. Moreso, its products are of excellent quality when compared with traditional machines.

IX. How about the Tool selection?

When it comes to selecting a suitable tool, certain considerations such as the type of material, its shape, and size, and the condition and type of production as well must be factored in. Even though both machines perform similar functions, they are still different in their capacities. For instance,  for mold production these factors must be carefully considered from the mold design

In CNC milling. A multi-point tool is used for milling. We won’t be surprised if you wonder why. This is because the milling of materials to create specific designs implies working with a multi-point cutting axis that moves rotationally on the material to get the appropriate design. Therefore, when one cutting edge of the multi-point cutting tool gets damaged, it can continue its work without interruption. In turn, that provides rapid production of components, and efficiency is bolstered. This is also helped by the quick contact and disconnect of the milling tool, thereby reducing friction and the hotness of the tool on the material. Meanwhile, CNC turning utilizes a single-point cutting device. And because of this, it can not easily detach itself from the material. Furthermore, due to the friction created and the hotness of the process, the cutting point can easily break.  The single-pointed cutting device does not do well in CNC turning owing to high temperature.

X. What are the Applications of CNC milling and CNC turning

  • CNC Milling – CNC milling is applicable in a lot of industries. Its application is nearly unlimited as it can work on several materials. The CNC milling method is also used for producing prototypes, especially in the aerospace industry due to its efficacy when working on contoured, plain, and top-layer materials. It is likewise applicable in the automotive, and medical device manufacturing industries. Additionally, because of its high tolerance and accuracy, it can be used to produce consumer-related products. The electronic industry also deploys the CNC milling tool for producing prototypes for electronic items.
  • CNC Turning – CNC turning also is applicable in numerous industries as it can also perform efficiently with almost all types of materials. Its high level of precision makes it deployable for the commercial production of components. Contrary to the CNC milling process that is mostly used for prototyping and small-scale production, the CNC turning method works with materials like various metals and plastics. And as a tool that creates cylindrical shapes and forms, it is likewise capable of boring and threading. Which in turn increases its range of applications.


In a nutshell, CNC milling and CNC turning are both similar but perform their functions in different ways. It may be necessary sometimes to use one cutting technique even after using the other technique. In essence, they complement each other. However, the materials the CNC milling can work with might be a little more than the materials the CNC turning works with. Although, the materials compatible with CNC turning are likewise vast. Consequently, the major difference between both processes is that while one cutting device moves over the material using a multi-point cutting edge, the other holds the materials in place and spins the material to create its design while both removing excess material in the process. We hope this has been very fun and enlightening. 


Gary Liao

Gary Liao

Gary Liao is the Engineering Manager of TDL Company and has more than 20 years of mold design experience.

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