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.