Choosing the right milling machine

A conventional milling machine, also called a manual milling machine, is a machine that can manufacture all kinds of parts. The table feed is manually controlled by an operator.

This kind of milling machine is particularly useful if you need a machine tool for unit production, small series production or reworking parts. They are very economical compared to CNC milling machines that have digital control.

There are different types of tool fastenings for milling machines. Once you have made your choice, you will need to buy tools according to the type of milling machine you have (strong or weak taper).

CNC milling machines and machining centers will be treated in a separate buying guide.

View milling machines

How to choose a milling machine?

SPINNER milling machine
SPINNER milling machine

First of all, you must define the number of axes you need. Most milling machines have three-axes. They have a vertical axis called the Z axis, a longitudinal axis called the X axis, and a transverse axis called the Y axis.

There are three main types of milling machines:

  • Vertical milling machines are equipped with a vertical spindle and tools are attached perpendicularly to the table.
  • Horizontal milling machines are equipped with a horizontal spindle and tools are attached parallel to the table.
  • Universal milling machines: they are equipped with a hinge spindle.

You will also have to choose the power of your milling machine according to the materials you want to work with. Milling machines won’t be subject to the same efforts if they are working on steel, aluminium or PVC. It is also necessary to take the cutting depth into account, i.e. the depth of penetration of the cutter into the workpiece. If you choose a low-power milling machine, you may need to perform several successive passes to complete a machining operation that could have been done in a single pass with a more powerful machine.

You must also choose your milling machine according to the dimensions of the parts you will have to machine and the amplitude of the movements that will be necessary to carry out all of the machining operations. A milling machine’s machining capacities correspond with its amplitudes of movement (called the X, Y and Z travel) on each axis.

Selection criteria:

  • number of axes
  • spindle orientation
  • power
  • X, Y and Z travel

How many axes do you need for your milling machine?

Huracan Maquinarias milling machine
Huracan Maquinarias milling machine

Milling machines are generally equipped with three axes: a vertical axis that allows the table to be raised towards the cutter (in the case of a milling machine with a vertical spindle) and two horizontal axes that allow the table to be moved longitudinally and transversely.

You can also choose a 4-axis milling machine. The fourth axis allows the table to be rotated so that the part can be machined at different angles without needing to be disassembled and replaced manually.

Five-axis milling machines also have a spindle rotation axis, which makes it possible to vary the approach angle of the cutter.

A vertical or horizontal conventional milling machine?

Knuth horizontal milling machine
Knuth horizontal milling machine

A milling machine is called vertical when the spindle is perpendicular to the table. The table can move vertically to bring the workpiece to the tool that is being rotated. A vertical milling machine can also be equipped with a drill bit for drilling and a reamer for accurately calibrating a hole or tap.

A milling machine is called horizontal when the spindle is parallel to the table. This type of milling is used in particular to make simultaneous grooves on a plate because it is possible to place several milling cutters next to each other. Horizontal milling machines provide better chip evacuation than vertical milling machines.

What other characteristics are important to consider when choosing a milling machine?

Knuth Digital Readout
Knuth Digital Readout

On conventional milling machines, the table feed is performed by turning a crank handle connected to a vernier (graduated ruler) which allows you to control the speed and length of the movement. A DRO (Digital ReadOut) is a digital display that can replace the vernier. It can be supplied as standard with the milling machine or added later. In the latter case, the digital display is supplied with linear sensors that measure the movement of the table.

Automatic milling machines offer motorized movement of the table on at least one of its axes.