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What is Difference Between CNC Turning and Milling?

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In the landscape of modern manufacturing, CNC machining stands as a cornerstone technology that has transformed the way precision components are produced.

CNC turning and milling lie at the heart of advanced manufacturing. Their adaptability and precision make them invaluable for creating complex components used across a wide spectrum of industries, from aerospace and automotive to medical devices.This article is dedicated to exploring the key differences between CNC turning and CNC milling, two essential processes that shape precision manufacturing in various industries.

Duplex Stainless Steel 2205 Casting
CNC turning parts

CNC Turning – Explaining the CNC Turning Process

CNC turning is a machining process known for its ability to shape cylindrical and conical components with precision. This process primarily relies on the use of lathes and cutting tools.

Lathes in CNC Turning

A lathe is the central machine tool used in CNC turning. It consists of a spindle that holds the workpiece and rotates it at high speeds.

Lathes are designed to secure the workpiece firmly in place, ensuring its proper rotation during the machining process.

The workpiece can be made from various materials, including metals, plastics, and wood, depending on the specific requirements of the project.


Cutting Tools in CNC Turning

Cutting tools in CNC turning are precision instruments designed to remove material from the workpiece to create the desired shape.

These cutting tools are attached to the tool holder, which is controlled by the CNC system. The CNC (Computer Numerical Control) system directs the tool’s movement and cutting operations.

Cutting tools come in various shapes and sizes, each suited for specific operations such as facing, grooving, threading, and parting.

Materials for CNC Turning

1.Metals: CNC turning is exceptionally proficient in processing various metals. This includes but is not limited to:

    • Aluminum: Known for its lightweight and corrosion-resistant properties, aluminum is frequently used in CNC turning for aerospace and automotive parts.
    • Steel: Different types of steel, such as stainless steel and tool steel, are employed for their durability and strength in manufacturing components like shafts and fasteners.
    • Brass and Copper: These materials are often used for their excellent conductivity and corrosion resistance, making them suitable for electrical and plumbing components.


2. Plastics: CNC turning is equally effective with various plastic materials, including:

    • Nylon: Nylon is chosen for its exceptional wear resistance and is commonly used for producing bushings and gears.
    • Acrylic: Known for its transparency and optical clarity, acrylic is employed in manufacturing parts like optical lenses and display components.
    • Delrin (Acetal): Delrin is favored for its low friction and high stiffness, making it an ideal choice for producing precision parts.


3. Exotic Alloys: CNC turning can handle challenging materials like titanium, Inconel, and Hastelloy. These high-performance alloys are commonly used in aerospace and medical applications.

4. Composite Materials: CNC turning is used for processing composite materials, which combine fibers like carbon or glass with resin matrices. These materials are renowned for their strength-to-weight ratios and are used in industries such as sports equipment, automotive, and aerospace.

5. Wood: Although less common, CNC turning can also be applied to wood. It is utilized for crafting intricate wooden components, such as decorative spindles, furniture legs, and artistic pieces.

CNC Milling

CNC milling is a pivotal machining process that relies on milling machines and cutting tools to sculpt precision components.CNC milling is the process of removing material from a workpiece using rotary cutters that rotate around their own axis while simultaneously moving along multiple axes to create intricate shapes and designs.

Milling Machines

CNC milling machines come in various configurations, such as vertical, horizontal, and gantry-style machines. These machines house the cutting tools and are equipped with multiple axes (typically 3, 4, or 5 axes) for precise control over cutting movements.

Cutting Tools

CNC milling employs an array of cutting tools, including end mills, face mills, and ball-nose cutters, each designed for specific machining operations. The choice of tool depends on the required shape and surface finish.

CNC turning and milling
CNC milling parts

Materials Suitable for CNC Milling

CNC milling is versatile and can accommodate a wide range of materials, making it suitable for various applications. The materials commonly used in CNC milling include:

• Aluminum: Aluminum is a popular choice due to its lightweight nature, making it suitable for aerospace and automotive components.

• Steel: Different steel alloys are employed for their strength and durability in manufacturing machine parts and structural components.

• Brass and Copper: These materials are used for their electrical conductivity and aesthetic appeal in components like connectors and decorative parts.

• Titanium: Known for its high strength-to-weight ratio, titanium is used in aerospace and medical applications.

• Acrylic: Acrylic’s transparency and versatility make it a top choice for crafting display components, signs, and architectural models.

• ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): ABS is valued for its impact resistance and is commonly used in consumer products like toys and electronics enclosures.

• Polyethylene: With its low friction properties, polyethylene is used in applications requiring wear resistance, such as conveyor components.


The Difference Between CNC Turning and Milling


CNC Turning

CNC Milling


  • Lathes
  • The workpiece rotates at high speeds, and the cutting tool is moved parallel to the workpiece’s axis.
  • Milling machines
  • Rotates about its own axis while moving along multiple axes to shape the workpiece.


  • Cutting tool moves linearly along the workpiece’s axis.
  • Suitable for creating cylindrical and conical components.
  • End mills and ball-nose cutters.
  • Complex 3D shapes, cavities and slots can be created.

Production Capabilities

  • Ideal for the production of cylindrical and conical components, including shafts, pins, and bushings.


  • Excels at creating intricate and complex shapes, making it suitable for producing parts with 3D features, pockets, slots, and detailed contours.


  • Metals, plastics, composites, and wood.
  • Metals, plastics, composites, and wood.


  • Produce discontinuous, continuous and fragmented chips
  • Produces discontinuous chips


  • Axles, drive shafts, pistons,and crankshafts
  • Jet engine shafts
  • Bone screws, dental implants, and spinal rods.
  • Contact pins and terminals.
  • Wing structures and turbine blades
  • Engine parts
  • Artificial joints, bone plates, and surgical instruments.
  • Connectors, and precision components

How to Choose Between CNC Turning and CNC Milling

1. Part Geometry and Complexity

  • CNC Turning is ideal when your project primarily involves cylindrical or conical shapes. If your component is relatively simple and doesn’t require intricate 3D features, turning is a practical choice.


  • CNC Milling is the go-to option when you need to produce complex and detailed parts with intricate contours, pockets, slots, or 3D geometries. Milling excels in projects with higher complexity.


2. Material Requirements

  • Consider the type of material you intend to use. Both CNC turning and milling can work with a wide range of materials, but the choice may depend on the specific machine, tooling, and material properties.


3.Precision and Tolerance

  • Assess the required precision and tolerances for your project. If your component demands high precision and tight tolerances, both CNC turning and milling can achieve this. However, milling can provide more versatility when working with intricate designs.



Understanding the differences between CNC turning and milling will allow you to decide which method best suits your project requirements – potentially saving you a lot of time and money.

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