What’s the Difference Between CNC Milling and CNC Turning? – Precision Machining Services Explained

Milling and turning are two of the most common CNC machining processes used throughout the modern manufacturing industry. If you’re a newcomer to the world of precision parts production, you may find yourself wondering what the differences are between all of the high-tech computerized machining equipment utilized by quality CNC machine shops. To that end, read on to find out everything you need to know about milling machines versus lathes.

As one of America’s leading providers of precision machining solutions since 1956, United Machine Company aims to provide you with all of the manufacturing industry insight and CNC system expertise you require to understand, plan and optimize your custom parts production.

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CNC Machining 101: Understanding How CNC Milling Machines and CNC Lathes Function

While many industrial part manufacturing applications utilize both CNC mills and lathes, the two types of equipment actually approach the machining process in opposite ways:

The essential difference between CNC milling and turning is the way in which the machining equipment interfaces with the workpiece material.

  • CNC Milling – The cutting tool within the milling machine rotates. The workpiece moves in a straight line or curve, while the cutter mills away surface material from multiple axes.
  • CNC Turning – The workpiece material rotates within the lathe. The lathe cutting tool moves in a straight line or curve, precisely removing material as the workpiece spins against it.


As a result of the way that the machines interact with the working material, CNC mills and lathes are each uniquely optimized for manufacturing different types of precision parts with complex designs and specifications. Essentially, milling machines carve complex components out of solid blocks of metal or plastic by carefully cutting away the excess material. They can be seen as operating like an automated, robotic sculptor.

In contrast, CNC turning rotates the working material against the cutter – in a way that’s more analogous to a pottery wheel or spit roast. CNC lathes are therefore more commonly used to machine cylindrical parts such as metal shafts.

Outfitted with a Cutting-Edge Range of CNC Machining Equipment – From 5-Axis Milling to 7-Axis Turning

United Machine Company’s precision manufacturing capabilities include 3, 4 & 5-axis CNC milling as well as 7-axis CNC turning services. Visit our Equipment List page for a full overview of all the advanced mills, lathes and other manufacturing equipment we have at our disposal.

With our state-of-the-art equipment and unparalleled craftsmanship, we provide close-tolerance machined parts from as small as the size of a pencil lead up to 36 inches long, with order quantities ranging from 5 up to 50,000.