August 01, 2022 4 min read

When looking for the best CNC milling machine, the amount of axes the mill has plays a significant role.

The 4-axis and 5-axis CNCs have some strong points, but their complexity and high price range don’t count in their favor.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at how the number of axes impacts the machine and why we prefer the 3-axis CNC router.

CNC Machining: Axes in a Nutshell

CNC milling machines are essentially automated routers that can create metal or wooden parts from a pre-programmed digital design.

The main thing you need to know is, “What is an Axis?”

Axes are built-in paths along which the cutting tool moves to create the design you’re milling. Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • An axis runs in a particular direction and the reverse of that direction.
  • The main axes run horizontally (X-axis), vertically (Y-Axis), and diagonally (Z-axis).
  • A 4-axis CNC has an additional A-axis, which rotates around the X-axis.
  • The 5-axis CNC machine has an A-axis and a B-axis, which revolves around the Y-axis.
  • Having more axes means that a machine can do more intricate work but also makes it harder to work with.

What Is the Best CNC Milling Machine: 3, 4, or 5-Axis?

When comparing 5-axis CNC mills to 4-axis or 3-axis CNCs, the larger machines' complexity doesn’t always work in their favor.

While both the 4-axis and 5-axis CNC machines can do more complex work and create more intricate parts, they’re also considerably harder to use.

The 4-axis mill is renowned for its efficiency in creating cylinders and other parts that require milling on the object's sides. Thanks to their additional rotational axis, 5-axis mills can make some of the most complex aeronautical features in use today.

However, the machine operator needs to turn and reposition the workpiece more often to allow the 4th axis (A-axis) and fifth axis (B-axis) to operate fully. The mill’s complex design also means the user must be extremely specific about positioning the workpiece.

The larger machines also cost considerably more due to their additional parts, placing them far out of reach of most small to medium-sized enterprises.

Finally, these machines are generally too complex to come in the compact, desktop size of the 3-axis CNC router.

3-axis desktop mills give you all the power of a CNC router without the space constraints of a large machine

The larger size means that the machines will take up considerably more space in your workshop, and you’ll need to allocate more funds to transport the machine.

The 3-axis CNC is the best CNC milling machine for most people. Here’s why:

  • Working with it is less complex, which makes it easier for new trainees to use
  • It’s readily available, which means that it’s more affordable than the other machines
  • It’s easier to anticipate when you’ll need to move the workpiece, and how you’ll need to position it
  • Since it has fewer moving parts, the 3-axis CNC is typically smaller, meaning it takes up less space in your workshop
  • While it might not accomplish the tasks as quickly, it’s versatile enough to complete most of the more complex tasks for which people generally use 4 and 5-axis CNCs.

While a larger machine may be worth the investment if you’re planning on doing complex projects daily, there’s rarely a call for the additional axes in most workshops.

With some creativity and excellent training, your team can use your 3-axis CNC mill to accomplish almost anything they’d do with a 5-axis CNC at a quarter of the cost.

Comparison Table

When looking for the best CNC milling machine, you want to check all your boxes. We’ve created this brief overview comparing 3, 4, and 5-axis CNC mills.

Number of Axes Directions of Axes Complexity of Use Pricing Size
3 Horizontal, Vertical, Diagonal Low $25,000 - $50,000 Small to medium
4 Horizontal, Vertical, Diagonal,

Horizontal rotation

Medium-High $40,000 - $100,000 Medium to large
5 Horizontal, Vertical, Diagonal,

Horizontal rotation, Vertical Rotation

High $80,000 - $500,000+ Medium to huge

Advantages of a 3-Axis CNC Router

Briefly, the advantages of a 3-axis CNC are that it is:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Compactly built
  • Readily available
  • Extremely versatile

It also doesn’t require the operator to reposition the workpiece as often.

Disadvantages of 3-Axis Machining

The downside to using a 3-axis CNC router is that it:

  • Mills more slowly than larger devices
  • Has less depth of field than larger machines
  • Takes more work to create intricate 3-dimensional projects

What Is a 3-Axis Machine?

A 3-axis machine is a CNC machine that can mill on 3 different paths: vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.

Having 3 axes allows it to mill 3-dimensional objects with relative ease.

What Are the 3 Axes on a Milling Machine?

The 3-axis CNC milling machine operates in 3 directions (or axes) to complete the milling process. The axes take their name from typical geometric constructs, and we refer to them as the x, y, and z axes.

As in basic geometry, each axis represents a direction, namely:

  • X-axis: Movement from right to left, and vice versa
  • Y-axis: Movement from the top of the piece to the bottom
  • Z-axis: Up and down movement that creates a depth of field and 3-dimensional detail

How Much Is a 3-Axis Machine?

On average, a 3-axis CNC router or milling machine costs between $31,000 and $35,000, depending on the size of the mill. The pricing can increase significantly if you pay for more complex machine parts.

Assuming you purchase a 3-axis CNC with all the added extras, training, and an extended warranty, you’re looking at $52,000 to $56,000.

Have a look at Tork CNC’s 4x4 3-axis CNC or 5x10 3-axis CNC to find out exactly how customizable these machines can be.

You can also contact us directly to find out more about the advantages behind our different 3-axis CNC upgrades and training offers.


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