CNC Milling Vs. CNC Turning, How to Choose?

When deciding between CNC milling and CNC turning, examining their differences and considering your specific needs is essential.

CNC milling is ideal for complex parts with intricate geometries, offering versatility and precise cuts on various materials.

Learn more: What Kinds of Materials are Used In CNC Machining?

On the other hand, CNC turning excels in producing cylindrical parts with rotational symmetry, delivering faster production times and excellent concentricity.

Factors such as workpiece complexity, material compatibility, machining speed, tooling requirements, cost considerations, surface finish, and dimensional tolerances should be considered.

By evaluating these aspects of your project requirements, you can determine whether CNC milling or turning is the right choice.

Learn more: Factors to Consider When Choosing a CNC Machining Service Provider

What is CNC Milling?

CNC milling is one of the CNC machining processes that creates custom-designed parts or components by gradually removing material from a workpiece with computerized controls and rotating cutting tools.

Learn more: Custom-Designed Parts for Kinds of Industries, Offer Free Drawing Design

They have complete freedom of movement along the X, Y, and Z axis while the workpiece stays motionless.

Milling is better ideal for prototypes and short production runs due to its restricted dimensional operation, which limits the pace of operations.

milling turning machines

What is CNC Turning?

CNC turning is a production method in which material tools are held in a clamp and rotated while a tool is introduced to the item to remove material until the desired shape is achieved.

Subtraction machining refers to removing material to create the desired form.

If the CNC turning center has one turret, all the work may be done from one side.

Due to their speed, CNC turning operations are suited for big production runs with short lead times.


Features and Differences

Work Complexity

Workpiece complexity is a crucial factor to consider when choosing between CNC milling and CNC turning.

The part’s complexity refers to the intricacy of its geometries, features, and the number of axes required to machine it.

CNC milling is suitable for machining complex geometric parts. It allows for multi-axis movements and precise cuts in multiple directions (X, Y, and Z-axes).

This process can handle intricate designs, including pockets, slots, undercuts, and contoured surfaces.

The ability to program and control the tool’s movement in multiple directions makes CNC milling highly versatile and suitable for parts that require intricate details and complex 3D shapes.

CNC turning is better suited for parts with rotational symmetry and simpler geometries. It excels in producing cylindrical shapes like shafts, rods, and discs.

The workpiece rotates while the cutting tool removes material, allowing for efficient and precise machining.

Although CNC turning can perform operations like facing, grooving, and drilling, it is not as suitable for complex features or intricate shapes that require multi-axis movements.

However, it is excellent at achieving concentricity and dimensional accuracy, making it ideal for parts that require precise roundness and smooth surfaces.


Machining Speed and Efficiency

Machining speed and efficiency are important considerations when comparing both processes.

CNC milling tends to have slower machining speeds compared to CNC turning.

This is primarily because milling involves complex multi-axis movements and tool changes.

The machine must reposition the workpiece and swap different cutting tools as it progresses through various cutting operations.

These additional movements and tool changes increase cycle times, making CNC milling a relatively slower process.

However, advancements in tooling and machine technology have helped improve milling speeds, reducing cycle times to some extent.

Conversely, CNC turning offers faster production times than CNC milling, especially for large batches of identical parts.

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Since the workpiece rotates, the cutting tool can remove material continuously, resulting in efficient machining.

The absence of frequent tool changes and the ability to perform operations in a single setup contributes to the increased speed and productivity of turning processes.

This makes CNC turning an excellent choice for high-volume production runs.

CNC machining process

Tooling and Setup

CNC milling typically requires various cutting tools and fixtures to accommodate different operations and part geometries.

The selection and setup of appropriate toolings, such as end mills, drills, and reamers, can be more involved and require careful consideration.

The setup may involve aligning the workpiece and establishing coordinate systems for accurate machining.

Additionally, the workpiece may need to be securely clamped to the milling machine’s bed or vice, ensuring stability during the machining process.

Conversely, CNC turning generally has simpler tooling and setup requirements than milling.

It typically involves a single-point cutting tool mounted on a carriage. The tool is positioned near the rotating workpiece, and adjustments can be made to achieve the desired cuts and dimensions.

The setup may involve securing the workpiece in a chuck or collet and aligning it with the machine’s rotational axis.

Thus, CNC milling often involves more tooling options and fixture considerations, while CNC turning requires simpler tooling.

Cost Considerations

Cost factors are important in establishing the appropriateness of machine processes for a certain project.

CNC milling machines have a greater initial cost than CNC turning machines.

Milling machines’ complexity, multi-axis capabilities, and tool-changing systems contribute to their higher price tag.

Furthermore, milling cutters and tooling might be more expensive because of the range of tools required for various operations and materials.

Because single-point cutting tools are often utilized, turning tooling is typically simpler and less costly.

CNC turning machines, on the other hand, are frequently more cost-effective in terms of initial expenditure.

They have simpler designs and need fewer axes of movement than milling machines, resulting in cheaper machine costs.

Advantages of CNC Milling

CNC milling is a flexible process that creates objects with complicated geometries and sophisticated details.

It can generate 3D forms, pockets, slots, undercuts, and curved surfaces, giving you more design options.

The machines may move in many axes (X, Y, and Z), allowing complicated cuts and forms to be fabricated.

This multi-axis capacity enables the manufacturing of more elaborate and complex components.

Advantages of CNC Turning

CNC turning is ideal for creating cylindrical components since it is very efficient.

The workpiece’s constant rotation allows for continuous material removal, resulting in quicker production times.

CNC turning is noted for its high concentricity, ensuring that machined features align exactly with the rotating axis.

This is critical for items that must be perfectly round and aligned.


Aspect CNC Milling CNC Turning
Operation Rotary-cutting tools remove material from a workpiece The cutting tool removes material as the workpiece rotates
Tooling Various cutting tools (end mills, drills, etc.) Single-point cutting tool
Setup Complexity More complex due to tool changes and multi-axis Simpler setup with fewer tool changes
Speed and Efficiency Slower speeds due to complex movements Faster production times, especially for large batches
Cost Higher upfront costs (machines, tooling) Lower upfront costs (machines, tooling)
Surface Finish Versatile in achieving different surface finishes Excellent concentricity and smooth surface finishes
Production Volume Suitable for both low and high volumes Highly efficient for high-volume production


In conclusion, choosing between CNC milling and CNC turning requires careful consideration of various factors.

CNC milling is suitable for parts with complex geometries, offering versatility and precise cuts on a wide range of materials.

It involves higher upfront costs due to the complexity of milling machines and the need for multiple cutting tools and fixtures.

On the other hand, CNC turning excels in producing cylindrical parts with rotational symmetry, offering faster production times and excellent concentricity.

It generally has lower upfront costs and simpler tooling requirements compared to milling.

Finally, by analyzing parameters such as component complexity, material compatibility, machining speed, tooling needs, and cost considerations, you may choose the best appropriate method that corresponds with your project objectives and budget restrictions.

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