Machine tools are one of the foundations of modern society. From bicycles to cars, to computers, machine tools help us produce both finished goods and parts that go into those goods

. Whether you’re building a car or making spaghetti sauce, chances are good that at least part of the process involved some work done on a machine tool.

An axis CNC machine is a great example of a machine tool.

What are the 7 basic types of machine tools? Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common types.


1. Lathes

A lathe is a machine tool that spins an object about an axis while a cutting tool is moved perpendicularly to the axis of rotation.

The workpiece rotates at between dozens and thousands of RPM, typically powered by electricity or an engine. A lathe may be automatic or manual; it can cut threads, do cylindrical grinding (as in metalworking), and be used for inspections and other tasks.

2. Milling Machines

A milling machine is a type of machine tool that uses one or more cutting tools to remove material from the workpiece (analogous to how a lathe removes material by rotating it with a cutting tool).

Like most machine tools, milling machines are powered by electricity or engine, and the cutting tools are usually a rotating tool bit (analogous to a lathe’s single-point cutting tool) or a moving spindle with multiple tool bits that can be changed (analogous to various grinding wheels on the headstock spindle of a mill).

Milling machines are generally differentiated from other machine tools because they do all of their cutting “vertically” (perpendicular to the surface of the table), as opposed to horizontal boring machines or lathes which cut at an angle.

3. Drilling Machines

Drilling machines are essentially vertical milling machines, with the table replaced by a non-movable sub-spindle holding drill chucks. Instead of being powered by an electric spindle, they are usually driven by compressed air or oil motors to rotate the cutting bits (drills).

They use high-speed steel drills made from grade 4130 steel instead of flat-end mills and run them at speeds suitable for metal.

4. Grinding Machines

Grinding machines are used to grind the cutting edge of tools, remove burrs from metal parts, smooth surfaces, or make accurate flat surfaces on round pieces.

It can be described as “the process of using a hard surface (attached to a handle or tool) against another hard surface (the grinding wheel)” and is used on metal, wood, plastic, and other materials.

5. Sawing Machines

Sewing machines are used to saw metal or wood by moving a thin blade back and forth with a rapidly oscillating motion.

The process is called “sawing” because the cutting action resembles that of a saw, which makes a cut by holding an edge in tension against a stiff series of teeth in order to shear through the material.

6. Punching Machines

A punch press, also known as a stamping machine or automatic press, is a machine that shapes metal by cutting and forming.

Punch presses employ the use of an array of punches, which are shaped to produce formed components using either deep drawing or embossing.

7. Shearing Machines

A shearing machine is a metalworking machine that does not cut, but “separates” material by means of force to change their shape. The process is usually done with the aid of tools called shears.

Shears are blades formed in various configurations to make different cuts using either compression between stationary dies or hydraulic pressure against cutting tips.

Who Uses These Machines?

All the above machine types are employed in every modern manufacturing facility. These 7 basic types of machine tools were identified by the American Machinist Association in 1969 and have been used ever since to classify various forms of machining machines.

Craft workers and professionals alike rely on machine tools to complete their project. Machine tool technology has evolved rapidly throughout history and many machines, such as lathes and milling machines, have been refined for over a century.

This is why it can be beneficial to use the 7 basic types of machine tools as a guide when choosing which type of machine tool will accomplish the task at hand.


Although these are the 7 basic types of machine tools, there are hundreds of variations that classify many machines used to make products in a manufacturing facility.

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