Vertical vs. Horizontal Milling – How to Choose?

Posted on May 24, 2021

Vertical Milling

Horizontal milling machines are known for varying, thicker, and shorter cutting tools, while vertical milling machines have long vertical cutting tools. This is why many manufacturers use them to cut grooves and slots into workpieces. Thanks to the rotary table, milling operations can be undergone while positioned at various angles.


Vertical milling machine in the metal working industry is the machine that makes process of machining utilizing spinning tools to remove metal materials by advancing a vertical milling tool into one or several work pieces under the structure of a vertical track. This machining method could be done on different directions. Milling covers a wide variety of various operations and ranges a wide scale from single tiny parts to heavy and large gang milling operation tasks. Vertical milling machines are so multi tasking that most of the operations are feasible.

Basic Characteristics of a Vertical Mill

Vertical milling machines are the mills that have the spindle moving vertically. It is the most common type of milling machine. The spindle head is held by a column that attaches to the worktable of the machine. Since the spindle is vertically oriented, it is hung over the work table and performs a milling process by moving downward against the surface of the workpiece. When the spindle is pressed downward against the workpiece, the contact surface of the workpiece is removed by the mill cutter.

There are two types of vertical milling machines: the turret milling machines and the bed milling machines. The spindle and work table on a turret milling machine can move perpendicularly and parallel to the axis while on a bed milling machine, only the worktable can move perpendicularly to the axis. A turret milling machine is able to perform a wider variety of milling operations than a bed milling machine; therefore, it is preferred to the bed type machines by most parts manufacturers.

Development of Vertical Milling Machines

Vertical milling machines and machining center is the arrangement of its structure that aligns vertically, and the work pieces are machined by cutting tools that go up and down vertically. On the contrary, horizontal machining centers have the spindle arranged horizontally and the machining is conducted lying flat. With the vertical design, the weight of the work piece would help to make itself sternly located on the clamp for heavy vertical cutting route without much worry on route deviation. Furthermore, by the help of powered turret, the cycle time is thus shortened significantly.



The research and development of milling methodology of vertical milling machines is highly popular in the industrial world due to its productive and effective nature as milling process can be carried out by different tooling systems and are interchangeable by the ATC system. With this expectation, the following development and the idea of vertical milling machines and machine centers are thus gradually formed in the markets. The phrase vertical “machining center” can be used to describe a wide variety of CNC vertical drilling and vertical milling machineries that are accommodated with several critical but sometimes optional accessories equipped together with the machine body itself, such as tool magazine, ATC, power tool turret, CMM, multi-axis working tables, just to name a few. The work piece machining of machine centers are normally not of symmetric round shape but other complicated profiles, because the former one can be solved by lathes with power turrets and the live tools in a much more productive way of vertical milling processing.


The Machining Axes during Vertical Milling

A vertical milling machine is considered a large machine, and not only because of its weight, which can range from 1500 pounds to well over 6000 pounds. Usually, the vertical mill is sent to a partially assembled place. The assembly is completed on-site. Smaller vertical mills can only be 5.5 feet high, while a large mill can stand over 10 feet tall and create a footprint of 20 square feet or larger.

The axis of the vertical milling spindle is vertically aligned with the machine bed. This means that the cutting tool is positioned vertically to shape the metal or other material into the desired form. The vertical cutter moves while the part remains stationary. The vertical mill controls the movements, mechanically (manually) or by programming with a computer.

A vertical milling machine can produce small parts, such as grooves, or large parts, such as torque converters. Coolant is often used to cool parts, lubricate milling tools and parts, and wash away sludge and metal chips. The machined part can be polished in a vertical mill, giving it a chrome finish.

Vertical Milling vs. Horizontal Milling

The short answer is that both inherently excel at different things, despite the similarities: horizontal milling machines are more ideal for larger and more complicated projects, whereas vertical milling machines are more suited for quicker tasks that only require a small volume. You should be choosing one of these milling machines based on the requirement of your actual lines of work. 

Another big difference between vertical milling machines and horizontal milling machines is the orientation of the spindle (though this isn't a direct selection factor); vertical milling machines have spindles that feature vertical orientation, whereas horizontal milling machines have spindles that feature horizontal orientation. This means that the cutting tool of horizontal milling machines is mounted horizontally on the spindle that is capable of removing material effectively from the remaining workpiece.

Furthermore, with particular respect to cutting tools, horizontal milling machines have a wider variety of cutting tools to choose from compared to vertical milling machines. While horizontal milling machines have thicker and shorter cutting tools, vertical milling machines typically have thinner and longer cutting tools. Additionally, vertical milling machines are normally not capable of performing heavier and deeper cuts as a horizontal milling machine would.

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