What Is The Difference Between Milling And Drilling?

Although they look and function similarly, drilling and milling are two very different actions. Drill presses are used to cut through metal, wood, and other tough surfaces. However, milling machines only cut through metal.

Drilling cuts into a surface vertically, while milling does the same with the added bonus of cutting horizontally with the side of the bit. You can use either a drill press or a powered hand drill for drilling, but milling is only done with a milling machine.

What Is The Difference Between Milling And Drilling?

Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following advice:

  • The main differences between milling and drilling
  • The pros and cons of each
  • Which one you should choose

The Differences of Milling Machines and Drill Presses

If you’re new to the industry or you’re trying to figure out which machine you should use for your next project, you’re in the right place. The primary functions are alike, and both of them can be useful for a variety of situations. There’s no doubt that you’ll have more than enough possible projects regardless of which you choose.

Without further ado, here are the six main differences between milling and drilling:

  • The first difference was already mentioned in the introduction, but it’s worth noting again. Drills use up and down motions with a spinning bit to dig holes into a surface. The same motion is used by the bits of a milling machine, but they also cut sideways to widen a hole or taper it off.
  • Milling machines allow you to use drill bits to cut up and down, but drilling machines don’t allow you to cut horizontally with milling bits. For this reason, it’s easy to present the idea that milling machines have a wider range of uses. It’s also worth noting that milling machines have a secure hold for regular drill bits.
  • Most milling machines have tables to secure work into place, whereas this isn’t always the case with simple drill presses. Even if they do come with vices, they’re not as effective as the T-brace that milling machines come stock with.
  • You can use a compact drill to be more mobile with a drill press, but the smallest milling machine is still very bulky. You won’t be able to pack a milling machine into a backpack as you could with a portable battery-powered drill.
  • Milling machines are often operated with computers these days. Drill presses use manual movements to switch the placement of the table and to operate the drill. The computer that milling machines use also moves the table to get a precise cut.
  • Milling machines are only used to cut through metal, whereas drills can cut through metal, wood, plastic, and many other surfaces.

The Pros and Cons of Each Machine

Some people prefer one over the other, and for good reasons. Milling machines might seem like an obvious choice, but we haven’t gotten into the negative aspects of these tools. Drill presses are classic, easy to use, and they last much longer since they’ve been used and recreated for so long.

A drill press is also called pillar drill, bench drill or pedestal drill.

Here are the pros and cons of each machine:

Pros of Milling Machines

A modern CNC milling machine making a large cogwheel
A modern CNC milling machine making a large cogwheel
  • The fact that you can cut horizontally as well as vertically with a milling machine is something that can’t be overlooked. Whether you’re trying to get a perfect taper or you want to make a wide hole that you drilled through, this feature is one of the main reasons that so many workers use milling machines.
  • Using a computer is always going to be more precise than manually operating a machine. Modern milling machines that use computers allow you to quickly input the specifications without too many complications. They also use moisture to prevent overheating and friction.
  • Milling machines use an incredible amount of force. You likely won’t experience any vibrations or shaking like you would with low-quality drills. The results are often much cleaner, leaving hardly any metal debris behind. You’ll also notice that it’s much quicker since it doesn’t have to go over the same area multiple times.
  • Milling machines allow you to rotate and move the bit while it’s cutting. Unlike a drill press that has to go vertically when it’s cutting, you can rotate the bit on a milling machine for unique angles and cuts.
  • Since they’re designed specifically for metal surfaces, milling machines don’t require speed changes and various adjustments as often as drill presses do.

Cons of Milling Machines

  • Unfortunately, milling machines are very large. Even the smallest machines are too big to be mobile. They’re bulky, heavy, and they require quite an extensive process to move them from one place to another. This might not be a problem if you have a stationary shop, though.
  • Although the computer is a welcome addition, it adds to the pricey cost of milling machines. It’s also another part that will eventually need repairs, and it can be confusing to operate if you’re not used to it.

Pros of Drills and Drill Presses

A press drill with metal drill bit
A press drill with metal drill bit
  • The most apparent advantage of drills is that you can buy a portable tool to take with you wherever you go. Even a drill press isn’t as heavy as a milling machine, not to mention the fact that you don’t have to worry about computer components.
  • Drills are much quicker to use from start to finish. You don’t have to adjust as many settings since it’s very straightforward. Turn it on, place it where it needs to go, set the speed, place the correct bit, and get to drilling.
  • If you’re not used to tools and machines, drills are the best place to start. They’re a primary foundation for all other machines, and you can’t go wrong if you stay in control. The simplicity is a great way to get people more interested in power tools.
  • Battery-operated drills aren’t tethered to anything at all. You can use them wherever you want to without having to move a table, computer, or vice. Drill presses are stationary, but milling machines don’t have a portable alternative.
  • Finally, drill presses and handheld drills are almost always cheaper than milling machines. Due to the multipurpose usage and computer attached to milling machines, they cost quite a bit compared to a traditional drilling machine. If you’re on a budget, then drills will always be a better choice.

Cons of Drills and Drill Presses

  • The mobility of operation for a drill press is limited to the aforementioned verticle movements. Unlike milling machines, they can’t rotate or cut in multiple directions. This makes tapering a bit more challenging, though it’s not impossible.
  • Not having a computer-generated precision is also a bit of a disadvantage. If you’re an experienced operator, then this isn’t an issue. However, beginners might have an issue with not being able to target precise points.


Whether you’re choosing a drill press or a milling machine, both of them are excellent investments. The usefulness is boundless, especially if your job requires you to use one of them on a daily basis. Cutting horizontally and vertically is very useful, but it’s not always necessary. With the information found throughout this article, you can make the best choice for you.

Here are a few lessons from the post:

  • If you’re on a budget or you’re new to the industry, you should get a drill.
  • If you’re looking for complex variations and multiple uses aided by the accuracy of a computer, then milling machines are a better pick.
  • Both of them cut into metal surfaces, but milling machines aren’t able to cut anything else.

Hi there! My name is Jack and I write for ToolsOwner. I have a passion for everything related to tools and DIY projects around the house. You often find me in my workshop working on new projects.