Face Milling and End Milling: Key Differences You Need to Know

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Are you exploring the diverse world of CNC milling and puzzled about the differences between face milling and end milling? In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into these two fundamental milling processes, clearly defining each method, their distinct advantages, and ideal applications.

By the end of this article, you will understand the key differences that set face milling and end milling apart. Also, you will learn how to choose the most effective technique for your specific machining projects.

Stay tuned to uncover practical insights that will enhance your machining skills and decision-making in the workshop.

What is Face Milling? and How Does it Work?

Face milling is a common CNC milling process where the primary cutting occurs along the face of the milling tool, enabling it to produce flat surfaces on the workpiece. This milling technique involves a circular cutter equipped with multiple cutting edges that rotate around the spindle, which is perpendicular to the workpiece surface. When the machine operates, the cutter’s teeth simultaneously skim off material from the workpiece, ensuring a flat finish.

face milling

This face milling operation is highly efficient for achieving smooth, clean surfaces and is particularly useful for preparing parts that must be flat or need to have a fine finish before undergoing further processing. 

By adjusting the depth of cut, the speed of the spindle, and the feed rate, machinists can control the quality and characteristics of the surface finish. This makes face milling versatile for different materials and applications, from large-scale industrial manufacturing to more refined engineering projects. The fly cutter is the best face mill cutting tool for softer materials.

Typical Applications of Face Milling

Face milling is a versatile machining process with several typical applications. It is essential in both general and specialized engineering tasks. Here are some of its most common uses:

Leveling Surfaces: Face milling is frequently used to level large surfaces, ensuring they are flat and even. This application is crucial in preparing the foundations of a machining project where other dimensions are built upon this leveled surface.

Leveling Raised Edges: it efficiently removes any raised or unwanted edges from workpieces. This is particularly useful in projects requiring a high degree of precision and smoothness across junctions and edges.

Creating Pockets and Recesses: Face milling excels at milling out pockets or recesses in materials. This capability is important for creating compartments or cavities in parts, which are often necessary for assembly interfaces or to lighten the overall weight of a component.

Creating Parallel Surfaces: By using face milling cutting tools, machinists can produce parallel surfaces with great accuracy. This is essential when multiple surfaces of a workpiece need to interact flawlessly with other parts, ensuring proper fit and function without extensive manual adjustments.

What is End Milling? and How Does it Work?

End milling is a precise CNC milling process used to create slots, pockets, contours, and profiles in a workpiece. Unlike face milling, which primarily involves cutting actions perpendicular to the cutter axis, end milling utilizes the cutting edges located on both the end and sides of the milling tool. This enables the tool to operate in multiple directions—axially and radially—making it capable of handling complex and detailed shapes.

end milling

During the end milling process, the mill or cutter rotates at high speed while moving along the required path. This versatility allows end mills to manage intricate cutting tasks, such as creating intricate geometric forms and fine details, crucial for component fitting and aesthetic purposes. This method is ideal for projects that require precision and detail in their execution.

Common Applications of End Milling

End milling is distinguished by its ability to perform a variety of complex and detailed operations. Here are some of the most common applications of end milling:

Slotting: End milling is particularly effective for cutting narrow or wide slots in materials, from simple straight slots to more complex configurations. This is essential for creating keyways, grooves, and other features that require precise linear cuts.

Profiling: This process involves shaping the outer contours of a part. End mills are used to outline and create complex profiles on workpieces, which is crucial in industries such as automotive and aerospace where precise component shapes are necessary.

Plunge Cutting: Unlike face milling, end milling can perform plunge cutting, where the tool moves vertically into the material to begin machining. This is used for creating starting holes or cutting deep recesses without pre-drilled holes.

Contouring: End milling excels in making curved or angled cuts in a workpiece to produce complex shapes and surfaces. This is particularly valuable for sculptural or 3D machining tasks that require high precision.

Counterboring: This application involves enlarging a hole to a specific depth, creating a stepped profile. End mills are suitable for counterboring tasks, which are often required to prepare holes for seating fasteners or assembly purposes.

Comparison Analysis: Technical Advantages and Disadvantages Face Milling and End Milling

When choosing between face milling and end milling, it’s essential to understand their technical advantages and disadvantages to select the right method for your project. Let’s break down these differences:

face milling and end milling

Advantages of Face Milling:

Smooth Finishes: Face milling is renowned for its ability to produce exceptionally smooth surfaces. This is crucial for parts that require a high aesthetic quality or precise fitting surfaces.

Versatility in Materials: Whether you’re working with metals, plastics, or composites, face milling can handle a diverse range of materials, making it a go-to choice for versatile machining needs.

Higher Feed Rates: With its design allowing multiple cutting edges to engage with the material, face milling can operate at higher feed rates, increasing productivity without compromising finish quality.

Disadvantages of Face Milling:

Limitations in Cutting Angles: The geometry of face milling tools restricts them to primarily perpendicular cuts relative to the tool’s axis, limiting the ability to perform undercuts or produce complex geometries.

Higher Power Consumption: The larger diameter and multiple cutting edges of face mills require more power, which can increase operational costs, especially in large-scale manufacturing.

Advantages of End Milling:

Detailed Cutting: End mills excel at creating detailed and complex shapes, including intricate profiles and precise slots, thanks to their ability to cut both radially and axially.

Suitability for Various Operations: From drilling to profiling and slotting, end mills are designed for versatility, allowing them to handle multiple types of operations within a single setup.

Disadvantages of End Milling:

Higher Tool Costs: End mills are typically more expensive than face mills due to their complex design and the precision required in manufacturing them.

More Complex Setup: Setting up for end milling can be more complex, requiring careful planning and alignment to achieve the desired accuracy and finish.

By understanding these advantages and disadvantages, you can better assess which milling process will best suit your project’s requirements. Whether you prioritize surface finish, material versatility, detailed cutting, or operational efficiency, the right choice will enhance your machining performance and outcome. What are your key considerations when selecting a milling process for your projects?


In this blog post, we’ve explored the distinctive characteristics, applications, and pros and cons of face milling and end milling. Each method offers unique advantages, with face milling providing excellent surface finishes and high productivity, and end milling excelling in detailed and complex machining tasks. The choice between these techniques depends on your specific project requirements, including the type of material, desired precision, and production efficiency.

As you plan your next machining project, consider these insights to select the optimal milling process. If you need customized CNC milled parts, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our expert team is ready to provide tailored solutions that meet your precise specifications. Reach out today to see how we can help bring your projects to life!


What is the difference between face milling and side milling?

The main difference between face milling and side milling lies in the orientation and purpose of their cuts. Face milling primarily focuses on generating a smooth and flat surface on the top of a workpiece, using a cutter whose axes are perpendicular to the work surface. In contrast, peripheral milling involves cutting the sides of a workpiece, perfect for creating vertical slots or channels. Side milling cutters can engage the material from the side and are aligned parallel to the workpiece.