Lathe vs Mill: What Are the Differences Between Them?

Both lathes and milling machines change the shape and size of objects to create quick and accurate outcomes. A lot of furnishing is done to perfect the end product, but the primary job is done by these two machines.

But which one should you use for your desired shape? Which one is the primary tool for accuracy? And which one is the right machine for ease of use?

Without further ado, join us in our lathe vs mill comparison and find out the answers to all these questions!

Lathe vs Mill – the Key Differences

If you take a look at the working principle and applications of lathes and milling machines, you’ll easily be able to differentiate between them. Here are some key differences between the two.

Lathe vs Mill – the Key Differences

Cutting Method

The primary difference between milling machines and lathe machines is in their cutting methods. A lathe machine typically uses a spinning action on the working material, making it move according to the convenience of operation. But while using a milling machine, the material you are working on remains stationary.

Both the lathe and the milling machine have cutting tools that shape the objects. But in a lathe machine, there is an additional spinning aperture to ensure the workpiece rotates.

You will observe that the object itself moves around its axis in most lathes, which is called “turning.” On the other hand, the cutting blade will move about its own axis in milling machines.

Cutting Method

In essence, a lathe constantly remains in a rotating motion while you use it to shape your objects. The act of shaping, however, is done differently for each case. For example, your hand shapes the object if you’re working with earthenware. Again, for harder objects like metal or wood, an insert cutter is used for the shaping.


Although their functions have similarities, the construction of both these machines is very different. It is because their fundamental working principles bear distinctive differences.

The main parts of a lathe are headstock, tailstock, bed, carriage, lead screw, feed rod, chip pan, and hand wheel. In a headstock, many other metal made functional components are placed. While most of the actual work is done with the help of the headstock, the tailstock keeps the workpiece in place.


Another equipped part is the carriage, which is assisted by the lead screw and feed rod in its actions. The chip pan resides at the foot of the machine and collects chips from material shaping. And the hand wheel helps to move any part controlled by the hand.

On the other hand, the main parts of a milling machine are knee, saddle, table, column, base, and spindle. The knee mainly focuses on milling the same part, supported by the table and its own saddle.

And the main job of the spindle is to maintain the spinning tool. Both the column and base provide overall support to other parts.

Versatile Use

Since the lathe has a stationary cutting tool, its uses as a machine are limited. On the other hand, having a spinning tool for cutting allows a milling machine to show more versatility.

Milling machines involve rotating. So they can create end mills from various angles. But lathe machines only work for cylindrical parts with their cutting tools. A milling machine can ideally create different types of shapes, allowing you to have more variety in your work.

Milling machines

Besides, it can also work on a wide range of materials. No matter what the shape of your workpiece is, it can contour it to perfection. But lathes only work on cylindrical objects, shaping them on the go. Their material range is also limited.

Furthermore, a lathe only has a single-bladed cutting tool to remove material. A milling machine can accommodate more than a single-bladed cutting tool and function without any issues.

Machine Types

Other than the CNC machines (which use subtractive machining), both milling machines and lathes can be categorized into different types based on their area of operation.

Some common lathe machine types are woodworking lathes, engine lathes, special-purpose lathes, wheel lathes, etc. Of them, the wood lathe is the most commonly used. The engine lathe is the most versatile, performing functions like knurling, drilling, threading, etc.

Machine Types

Again, common milling machine actions are face milling, peripheral milling, knee-type milling, etc. Besides, based on the placement of the live center, they can be horizontal, vertical, or south bend types too.


Comparing the two machines, it seems that installing a milling machine is easier than a lathe. All you have to do is ensure that the tools are placed erectly. For that, you will have to arrange the particle placement beforehand.

But when you’re installing a lathe, you have to make sure the distance between each chuck jaw and the center is equal. By doing so, you’ll be reducing the possibilities of machining flaws.


The only time-consuming factor with milling machines is that they require multiple setups. Since their parts have many sub-tools which need to be set separately, you need to take your time doing it. Nevertheless, the process itself is hassle-free and can be learned in a machine shop.


In terms of accuracy, the milling machine has the upper hand. Since they are built in a precise way to reach access that is hard to reach, milling machines navigate close and have accurate shapes. Having a multi-bladed cutting tool and stationary workpiece will help you to get your desired specifications.


However, if you only want accurate, cylindrical-shaped equipment, a dedicated lathe can do the job pretty well too. With milling machines, you need to put greater effort into attaining accuracy. You need to have the right sub-tools and proper clearance of their usage.


Both the devices can be dangerous if they are used on a big scale. If you are using a lathe to shape a huge material, it rotates continuously. There is a possibility that the workpiece will break apart or damage the metal device/user.


Again, with a milling machine, the rotating cutting tool is constantly in action. If it is large enough, you may be prone to injuries. It all depends on the axis of the machinery. The bigger the machine, the more careful you need to be.

CNC Operation

Computer numerical control, is a method of using subtractive machining to digitalize the actions of certain machinery. It is used in both lathes and mills, and the basic principle is the same.

However, the working mode of a CNC lathe is different from that of a mill. The CNC lathe machine rotates a unit (typically cylinder-shaped) of the workpiece. At the same time, its blade is used on the rotating material to remove material.

Again, CNC milling machines hold the workpiece using two parallel jaws of supporting the machine tools (as a tool post) and apply the spinning cutting tool on the stationary workpiece.

CNC Operation

Therefore, CNC turning, performed by a lathe, is considered to be less accurate. But like we explained in the accuracy section, cutting with it is an ideal choice for producing symmetrical cylindrical parts.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is CNC better than lathe?

Lathes can be CNC-operated as well. If you are comparing a CNC lathe and a common lathe, a CNC-type is much better for faster, more accurate results. However, it is also more expensive.

2. Can you use a milling machine as a lathe?

Yes, you can use a milling machine like a lathe. However, you can only do for small scale drilling and cutting. And using mill machines regularly as a lathe will eventually wear it out sooner.

use a milling machine as a lathe

3. Can you use a lathe for threading?

Yes, you can use a lathe for threading in your home garage. The engine lathe is the most efficient type of lathe to do so. But if you use it to drill, the difference will be too obvious

4. What is the difference between a peripheral mill and a face mill?

The main difference between a peripheral mill and a face mill is the area where the machines lies. Straight cuts take place from the face of the cutting tool in face milling, and the peripheral point of the cutting tool in peripheral type.

5. Is turning the same as a lathe?

No, turning is not the same as a lathe. Turning is the process of rotating a workpiece inside a lathe for cutting it. In short, the lathe is the machine that performs the act of turning.


Upon closely researching for our lathe and mill machines comparison, we found out that both these machines have great value of utility. If you’re running a factory or simply want to do some professional shaping job, you can choose either one of them.

While using lathes and milling machines, make sure you follow the right guidelines and maintain all precautions. Best of luck!

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