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Difference Between Milling and Drilling

Milling and drilling are two of the most commonly used machining processes. To the inexperienced, these two processes might seem the same. However, to those who have enough background and practice, it’s easy to spot their differences. Essentially, both processes remove materials from a workpiece.

With the help of these two processes, machinists can manufacture pieces according to certain specifications. Understanding the key differences between these two is essential to manufacturing metal, wood, and other types of workpieces.

Vertical vs horizontal motion

The first obvious distinguishing characteristic between the two is the direction by which the equipment cuts through a material. When using a drilling machine, you need to move the cutting attachment in a vertical motion to pierce and remove parts of the workpiece. Milling machines, on one hand, utilizes either a horizontal or vertical motion to bore holes, fine-tune edges or cut specific shapes.

Position of the workpiece

Another noticeable difference between the two is how you position the workpiece against the cutting attachment. For the drilling process, the stock remains stationary on the table. You don’t need to move it against the spinning spindle. Instead, you need to position the material using the table clamp and move the cutter by pulling the hand lever.

For the milling process, you will notice that the stock does not remain stationary on the worktable. Instead, you can freely move it against the rotating blade or cutting spindle to create the target shape or design that you want. At the same time, you get to move the spinning cutter vertically or horizontally depending on the model that you use.  


When purchasing a piece of equipment or selecting a machining process to use, it’s crucial to know what types of tasks you need to work on. By clearly outlining the requirements of your project, you can identify whether you need a piece of equipment that comes with more functionalities.

If your project calls for more complex machining processes other than drilling through a material, then it would be best to use a milling machine. With it, you can do the following tasks:

  • Smoothen edges or surfaces
  • Cut irregular shapes from a large metal stock
  • Cutting slots into metal sheets or workpieces
  • Engraving complicated shapes
  • Machining curves or straight lines
  • Produce flat surfaces   
  • Create teeth for gears  

Automatic vs manual operation

Even with the latest tech innovations in the metalworking and manufacturing industry, some processes are still manually done by machinists and hobbyists. One fine example of that is the drilling process. It’s not exactly complicated, so you can easily learn how to use the equipment and eyeball measurements without the aid of a computer program. With a bit of practice, you can quickly align the mark you put on the workpiece and that of the rotating cutting tool.

Milling, on the other hand, requires a bit more finesse and accuracy. As such, it’s common to find milling machines controlled by computer programs. While these models do come with a staggering price tag, they never fail to deliver impressive results. 

If you’re a simple hobbyist with a limited budget for tools and equipment,  you can opt for manually operated milling machines. These work just as fine as the computer-controlled type especially if you have enough skills and equipment.     

Pros and Cons of Drilling and Milling Machines

Besides the differences enumerated above, it’s also useful to look into the pros and cons of using both types of machining processes. This will help you consider which would work better for your needs.

Drilling machine pros

  • Have lightweight versions, perfect for small projects
  • Some are battery-operated which comes handy for those working in tight spaces
  • Cheaper than the usual type of milling equipment 

Drilling machine cons

  • Limited cutting motion
  • No option for automation so it’s susceptible to human errors

Milling machine pros

  • Lets your shape, cut, or design a workpiece with greater ease
  • Allows you to maximize the use of computer algorithms to create seamless finishes
  • Works more efficiently compared to drills because it applies a greater amount of force

Milling machine cons

  • Comes with an incredibly bulky and heavy design
  • Costs a lot of money, especially if you want to use the CNC machine

Hopefully, the in-depth discussion about milling and drilling above can help you identify the best option for you. Need a piece of machining equipment for your manufacturing business? We can help! Get in touch with our team for more information.

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Different Types of Milling Machines

Milling machines facilitate in removing metal pieces through a rotating cutter. The rotation of the cutter takes place at high speed, which helps it cut through metal efficiently. Furthermore, these cutters have cutting edges that play a vital role in cutting materials.

Milling machines can hold more than one cutter at a time. It is the most important machine that you can find in a workshop. You can perform operations with high accuracy. It has a high rate of metal removal compared to other similar machines, such as a shaper, planner, and lathe machines.

These machines are famous for their better surface finishing and excellent accuracy, making them a necessity for production work. Milling machines are available in many types. Some of the main types of milling machines are as under:

Knee and Column Type

The most common type of milling machine is called knee and column. In this machine, you will find a vertical column that is attached to the bed that consists of all the gear drives and helps in rotating the knee and saddle. The knee in a knee type milling machine is responsible for providing vertical or up and down movement to the workpiece which is located in the base of the machines. In the upper region of the knee, you will find a saddle attached. The saddle can move in a transverse direction.

1.     Horizontal or Plain Milling Machine

Plain milling machines are more robust than hand millers. The plain milling machines that have a horizontal spindle are also called horizontal milling machines. You can feed the table in vertical, cross, or horizontal directions. The feed includes:

  • Verticle – adjusts the table vertically.
  • Cross – moves the table parallel to the spindle.
  • Longitudinal – rotates the table

2.     Vertical Milling Machine

The position of the spindle on a vertical milling machine is perpendicular or vertical to the table. You can use this machine for slots, machining grooves, and flat surfaces. The spindle head is fixed to a vertical column, which rotates at an angle. The milling cutter is fixed on the spindle to work with angular surfaces. In some vertical milling machines, you can adjust the spindle up and down.

3.     Universal Milling Machine

Universal milling machines can adapt to perform a wide range of operations. The table can pivot at any angle for up to 45-degrees on both sides from the normal position. As the table of the horizontal milling machine can move in three directions, it also boasts the fourth movement. This machine can also perform helical milling operations. You can also use additional attachments to increase the capacity of the machine. Some special attachments include:

  • Slotting attachment
  • Rotary attachment
  • Vertical milling attachment
  • Index head or dividing head

You can produce a milling cutter, reamer, twist drill, spiral, bevel, spur, and much more from this machine. You can perform all the operations that a shaper machine does with the universal milling machine.

Fixed Bed Type or Manufacturing Type

A fixed bed type, as its name hints, is a type of milling machine that has a rigid bed attached to the machine. You cannot arrange the saddle and knee of this milling machine. It has a movable spindle head-mounted with the spindle of the machine. The machine can perform cutting operations by moving in horizontal and vertical directions.

1.     Simplex Milling Machine

The spindle or the spindle head can travel in one direction only. The most common direction in which it can move is vertical.

2.     Duplex Milling Machine

The spindle can move in both horizontal and vertical directions.

3.     Triplex Milling Machine

The spindle can move in all three directions i.e. X Y and Z axis.

Planer Type Milling Machine

These machines are also called “plano millers.” A planer type milling machine performs heavy-duty tasks and is massive in sze. This machine contains spindle heads that are adjustable in transverse and vertical directions.

The Planer type machine relates to a planer and is similar to the planning machine. The cross rails of these machines can lower and raise the cutters. Their saddles and heads are all supported and maintained by rigid uprights.

The vital difference between a plano miller and a planer is the movement of the table. In a planer, the cutting speed increases through the movement of the table, whereas in the plano miller, the table moves to give the feed.

Special Type

These are unusual milling machines and perform special tasks that other milling machines don’t. The special type machines consist of a spindle to rotate the cutter and have a provision for moving the workpiece or the tool in different directions. Here are some of the special type milling machines that are common:

1.     Rotary Table Milling Machine

The rotary table milling machine consists of a circular table that rotates in a vertical axis. You need to set multiple cutters at different heights. The machine works with one cutter roughing up the workpiece, and the rest of the cutters finishing the surface. The operator can load and unload the workpieces continuously while the machine is working, and that is the most significant advantage of the rotary table milling machine.

2.     Tracer Controlled Milling Machine

This machine is perfect for tracing the elements and reproducing dies with complex and irregular shapes. The stylus energizes the oil relay system, operating the primary hydraulic system of the table. This type of arrangement is called servomechanism and is complicated.

3.     CNC Milling Machine

The most versatile milling machine is the CNC machine, and you have to control its operations using a computer. In this machine, the spindle can travel in all three directions, and the table rotates 360 degrees. The features of these machines are similar to bed type milling machines, so we can consider the former an upgraded version of the bed type. The movements are controlled hydraulically on commands through a computer. You simply load the sketch of the workpiece into your computer, and it automatically cuts the workpiece through its cutters based on that sketch.

4.     Drum Milling Machine

The drum milling machine is just like a rotary table. The only difference is that this machine has a table that supports the workpiece and is called a drum, which can only rotate horizontally. To remove the metal, you need to place the workpiece on the drum. These cutters have three or four spindle heads. After one complete turn, you need to remove the finished parts and clamp the new one onto it.


Now you know the main types of milling machines that you will find in almost every industrial sector for cutting materials and shaping them. The next step is to pick a machinery company that listens to you, understands your requirements, and delivers the best solution to you in the form of a machine that lasts for years and requires minimal maintenance. If you are looking for a reliable partner for all your mechanical needs, WMW Machinery can definitely help.

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What Does a Milling Machine Do?

Machines allow many industries to streamline their production processes. With the right type of machinery, workers can quickly manufacture items in a uniform and precise manner and businesses can cut back on their operational costs. Currently, there are hundreds of different types of equipment used by manufacturing businesses. One fine example would be the milling machine. Essentially, it’s a piece of equipment workers use to file metal parts into their desired shape, size or design.

How does a milling machine work?

The milling machine was developed back in the 18th century. Its precursor model was used to create the tiny gears inside clocks. A few years later, manufacturers started making ones for the metalworking sector. Earlier models are specifically designed to rely a lot on the machinist’s precision and accuracy. While the latest ones or the CNC mills are run by computer programs or algorithms.

At first glance, you might mistake it for a circular saw that simply slices a material into smaller portions. However, upon closer inspection, you can see that it cuts a workpiece into a specific shape. It can also create flat surfaces, smoothen edges, and drill holes with threading depending on the type of attachment used.

The milling or cutting attachments spinning at a high speed removes some parts of the workpiece. The machinist feeds the stock into the equipment to create the desired results.

You can also find stark differences between the orientation of the moving and the stationary components of certain mill models.

Types of mills

Mills are classified into two general types namely, vertical and horizontal. The key difference between the two is the orientation of the spindle, a component of the mill that holds the cutting attachment. While the two mill types work similarly, it’s important to understand that they have varying capabilities

Vertical milling machine

The cheaper vertical variant only works best for those who need to make metal parts in small batches. Additionally, while it’s relatively more user-friendly compared to horizontal type, it heavily relies on the operator’s skills and mechanical proficiency. Operators need to eyeball their measurements as accurately as possible to get superb product finishes.

Here are some uses of the vertical mill:

  • Die sinking large steel blocks
  • Removing of stock on metal plates
  • Indexing and machining slots and holes

Horizontal milling machine

The horizontal type, on one hand, comes in extra handy for businesses who want to amplify their production capabilities. However, this type of equipment tends to be more expensive. As a result, it’s a less popular choice. On top of that, there’s a scarce number of operators who can expertly use a horizontal milling machine.

Below are some of the key uses of a horizontal mill:

  • Cutting several grooves into the material
  • Working on projects with multiple planes or sides
  • Inserting slots on heavy and hard metals such as copper, stainless steel and titanium

Manual vs CNC Mills

Mills can also be classified as manual or CNC. Earlier models make use of a manual system. A lot of companies prefer using the manual model because it doesn’t cost as much as the CNC type. Moreover, it doesn’t require programming, which means traditional machinists can use the equipment with great ease.

However, companies who want to produce metal parts that are more precise and uniform prefer using CNC mills over the manual type. While CNC machines tend to have a high upfront cost, it allows manufacturers to cut their labor budget. CNC mills are also the better choice for manufacturers who need to produce items in large batches.

Key components of a milling machine

When using any piece of equipment, it’s crucial to understand how each of its components works. For both horizontal and vertical mills, you can find the following main parts:

  • Base – The base serves as the equipment’s foundation and cutting fluid’s reservoir. It’s usually made of cast iron so it can fully support the tool and workpiece.
  • Spindle – It’s an immovable part that holds the attachments such as arbors and cutters.  
  • Column – It’s another fundamental supporting part of the equipment. It also houses the driving gears and motor.
  • Table – It’s a stationary part that holds the workpiece in place while moving it towards the cutting tool. The table is mostly equipped with clamping bolts to secure the workpiece. 
  • Knee – With it, the machinist can adjust the distance between the workpiece and the tool. It can either be powered by mechanical parts or hydraulic pumps.
  • Saddle – The saddle provides horizontal movement to the workpiece. 
  • Arbor – It’s one of the mechanical parts of the equipment. It serves as the spindle’s extension and allows the machinist to control the movement of the tool.  
  • Arbor Support – Horizontal mill machines are mostly equipped with arbor support. Essentially, it holds the arbor and attaches it to the overhanging arm. 
  • Cutting tools – These are the attachments used to shape a workpiece. Each tool is used for different purposes.

With proper use of the essential parts of the mill, a machinist can complete a wide range of metal fabrication tasks.

What do milling machines do?

Both vertical and horizontal mills are quite versatile. They can be used on both flat and irregular working surfaces. They can also serve various functions. Besides machining into large blocks of material, mills can also be used for routing, planing, keyway cutting, and die-sinking. The key to the versatility of the equipment is the extensive selection of tool attachments available.

Each tool comes in a specific shape and size so they leave distinct marks. Below is a list of the usual tools used and the function they serve.

  • Miller cutters – These are used for various operations such as smoothing surfaces and cutting shapes onto the surface of the material. 
  • Gear cutters – This type of tool creates gears by cutting teeth into the workpiece.
  • End mills – They cut materials in an axial direction. These are used in cutting slots, facing edges and plunging.
  • Slitting cutters – Create narrow slits or remove material on the stock surface.  
  • Bevel cutters – Makes bevel cuts into the stock material.
  • Staggered tooth cutters – These cut deep slots and provide maximum chip clearance.
  • Finishing end mill – Leaves a smooth and clean finish on the workpiece.

There are plenty of other mill machine tools in many factories. Some notable examples include corner rounding end mill, keyseat cutters, carbide face mill, and T-slot cutter.

To maximize the use of the equipment, metal fabrication companies often opt for knee type milling machines. Factories mostly provide manufacturing companies exact specifications in order to create a piece of bespoke milling equipment.

WMW Machinery’s Milling Equipment

Milling machines are useful for a lot of businesses. Their versatility makes them a good investment especially if you’re in the metalworking niche. Are you looking for a manual or CNC mill? WMW Machinery can customize one for you. Get in touch with our team today!  

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