Difference Between 3-Axis 4-Axis And 5-Axis Milling

CNC milling machines come in many configurations. Among the most common options are the 3-axis, 4-axis and 5-axis.

The type of machine to go for will depending on your material fabrication capability. This guide explores some fundamental aspects you can consider when choosing these milling machines.

What is 3-axis Milling?

3-axis milling is a procedure involving machine equipped with cutting tools that operate in three separate directions. The cutting process can be carried out individually for each direction but it can also be done simultaneously. Its processes occur in linear directions of X, Y, and Z.

3 Axis Milling Machine

3 Axis Milling Machine

This process is better suited for simple designs that have very few requirements such as 2 two and a half dimensional objects. You can also produce three-dimensional objects that have a straightforward design. It is not ideal for applications that involve intricate designs.

What is 4-axis Milling?

This procedure relies on the utilization of Computer Numerical Control that enables it to function on four separate planes at the same time.

Movement in this process occurs along the linear X, Y, and Z axes and an additional A axis that is rotational. The A axis increases the axis of movement by allowing the piece to swivel along the X axis.

In this process, with the additional axis, you can produce parts that are a little complex. It also enhances control over the production process. You can utilize this method for a wide range of applications.

What is 5-axis Milling?

5 Axis Milling

5 Axis Milling

This is an advanced procedure that includes the use of a Computer Numerical Control that enables operations in five distinct directions at the same time.

The axes along which its cutting tool operates are X, Y, Z, A, and B. A and B function as rotational axes further expanding the range of motion on the equipment.

This method produces intricate geometrical designs as it can operate on many more angles than the other methods.

Equipped with two rotational axes this procedure removes the need for you to manually reposition the work materials. It is utilized in various sectors for industrial applications

Difference between 3-Axis, 4-Axis, and 5-Axis Milling

The major distinction between these three types of milling stems from the number of axes they can access.

3-axis variation functions in the simplest way with its range of motion restricted to the basic planes which are X, Y, and Z. Given its limited range of motion and angles it can only be utilized for producing plain designs with limited requirements.

The 4-axis is an improvement on the 3-axis with an additional axis known as the A-axis. The additional axis introduces a rotational mechanism that is limited to the X-axis.  Therefore, this method will produce parts that are more complex than those produced by the former method.

The most advanced method involves using the 5-axis milling which includes all the axes in the four variations plus an additional B axis.

This B axis also serves as a rotational component alongside the A axis. The parts produced are therefore more accurate with this method and you can use it for producing complicated designs. It is also ideal for large-scale production as it is a continuous and automated process that does not require manual input

Applications of 3-Axis, 4-Axis, And 5-Axis Milling

All the milling methods can be utilized for a variety of applications. You should therefore consider your application when selecting the most appropriate milling method. The applications that utilize these methods include

3-axis milling applications

  • Manufacturing and engineering
  • Mold and die making
  • Construction industry
  • Jewelry industry
  • Woodworking

4- axis milling applications

  • Complex shapes
  • Secondary operations
  • Aerospace and military components
  • Hard metals and exotic alloys

5-axis milling applications

  • Aerospace industry
  • Medical equipment
  • Energy production


When selecting the best method for your applications it is wise to take all of their features into consideration.

The scale of production and the intricacy of your intended design will help guide you in choosing a milling method that will consider all your needs. The main difference between the milling methods listed is the number axis present which determines the complexity of designs that can be produced.

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