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spotface vs. counterbore holes

Spotface Vs. Counterbore Holes in Machining: Exploring Their Differences and Uses

There are various types of holes in machining with varying uses across the machining and engineering industry. Spotface and counterbore are two of the widely used hole-making applications in machining.

Although they both serve a similar purpose of preparing a workpiece surface to accommodate fastener heads, most individuals often confuse them for each other due to their subtle differences.

Understanding the differences between these machining features and how they provide reliable connections in mating parts and ensure a superior finish is essential to choosing the one that best meets your project’s demands.

This article provides a detailed comparison of the spotface and counterbore holes. Read on to learn about their applications and standard machining techniques. Let’s dive in!

What Is a Spotface Hole?

what is a spotface hole
What Is a Spotface Hole

A spotface hole is a shallow, cylindrical recess over a pilot hole. A spotface hole creates a smooth, flat mounting surface for mating parts such as fastener heads to sit against. A spotface is otherwise called a shallow counterbore hole.

This machined feature provides an accurate recess that creates a level surface for the fastener head to rest against instead of allowing the fastener to go below the level of the workpiece’s surface. The spotface feature is a very shallow counterbore suitable for a workpiece surface, allowing proper load distribution and alignment of fasteners.

What Is a Counterbore Hole?

what is a counterbore hole
What Is a Counterbore Hole

A Counterbore hole is a flat, recessed mounting surface cut into a material at the entrance of a drilled hole primarily to protect the screw head. A counterbore screw hole is a typical cylindrical, flat-bottomed hole with a larger hole above it.

Unlike a spot-faced feature, a counterbore hole goes deeper into the workpiece surface with an enlarged opening. Product designers employ this feature in applications that require fasteners like screws to sit below or flush with the level of a workpiece’s surface.

Comparing the differences between Spotface vs Counterbore holes

differences between spotface vs counterbore holes in drawing
Differences between Spotface vs Counterbore holes in Drawing

While both spotface and counterbore holes are quite similar in appearance and accommodate fasteners, their depth, function, screw hole accommodation, and surface finish set them apart. We will explore the fundamental differences between these machining features in this section:


Both hole types consist of two coaxial cylindrical holes – the upper space of larger diameter, which accommodates the screw or bolt head, and the narrower and usually deeper hole where the screw’s shaft fits. However, the depth of the upper cavity differentiates a spotface hole from a counterbore hole.

A counterbore hole is often deep enough to fit a fastener’s head below the surface of a part. However, this can vary based on the type of fastener and the width of the head. Counterbores are specifically designed to place the head of fasteners like screws or bolts below the workpiece’s surface, ensuring it is flush with the surrounding material.

Conversely, a spotface feature is typically shallower and designed to offer an uneven surface level area, creating a flat recess seat for fasteners’ heads. As a general rule of thumb, a spotface hole bears the minimum necessary depth to fit the full diameter of the fastener onto an even surface. However, there is not advisable to add extra depth if the part has a flat surface and meets the screw at a 90° angle.

Surface Finish

Generally, surface finish is another significant difference between spotface vs. counterbore holes. Although both holes are usually smooth and offer flat, even recessed areas for fasteners, a spot-faced surface provides a superior surface finish.

Spotfaces’ primary purpose is to provide a level mounting surface for appropriate clamping pressure, and counterbores can have rough walls without compromising functionality.

Callout Symbol

The callout symbols for these holes help engineers and machinists accurately convey these features on mechanical drawings. Including the spotface or counterbore symbol in a technical drawing indicates the need for a spotface or counterbore feature during machining.

Spotfaces are often indicated with the letters ‘SF’ instead of a symbol. According to the ASME Y14.5 standard, the spotface callout symbol is the counterbore hole symbol with ‘SF’ inside it.

In contrast, a counterbore hole is indicated on an engineering drawing with the ‘⌴’ symbol. Also, the depth number and diameter symbol are specified for counterbore holes. Indicating this feature in a technical drawing denotes the need for a recessed area for the head of fasteners like a socket head cap screw to sit flush with the surrounding material in a cylindrical hole.


Another differentiating factor is the applications of spotfaces and counterbores. A counterbore is usually deep enough to fit a fastener’s head beneath the part’s surface. It is applicable where the part’s surface must closely touch or scrape against other parts or where an exposed bolt’s head can dig other items.

Spot-facing in engineering creates a flat, smooth surface on machined components. More notably, it flattens an aspect of an uneven surface. Spotface holes are machined in a workpiece to ensure the fasteners sit appropriately and securely on a rough or curved surface. However, the fastener’s quality must match that of the drilled hole.

Common Spotface and Counterbore Machining Techniques

hole drilling machining
Hole Drilling Machining

Generally, spotface and counterbore machining is not very difficult. However, the machinist must be precise about the main procedure. Machinists often use manual or CNC milling techniques to create spotface or counterbore holes in a workpiece, with each method offering unique advantages and disadvantages.

We will discuss how manual milling and CNC milling are applied to spotface and counterbore hole machining below:

Manual Milling

Manual milling is a machining technique that involves using a milling machine and tool cutters to cut the desired features, including a spotface or counterbore hole, in a workpiece. It is cost-effective, straightforward, and mostly suited for low-volume production.

However, unlike CNC milling machines, manual milling requires skilled expertise and experience. Additionally, production rate and accuracy may be significantly reduced with manual machining.

CNC Milling

cnc milling
CNC Milling

CNC milling is an automated machining process that uses computer-controlled machines and cutting tools to accurately remove material from a workpiece to create the desired shape. This machining technique allows the creation of complex shapes and machined items with precise tolerance as low as 0.0004”. It is well-suited for milling cavities, profiles, and surface contours.

Compared to manual milling, increased accuracy, faster production rate, and enhanced surface finish are typical advantages of CNC milling. However, CNC milling machines are costly and may require special training to operate them effectively. Irrespective of its limitations, CNC milling remains a popular choice for machining spotfaces and counterbores due to its increased precision and efficiency.

Spotface vs. Counterbore Holes Applications

cnc machined part with spotface hole
CNC Machined Part with Spotface Hole

Spotface and counterbore holes are commonly used features in various industries. Here are some of the typical industry applications of spotfaces and counterbores:

General Manufacturing

Manufacturing engineers often use spotfaces and counterbores to create precise, flush connections between different components of an assembly. These machining features facilitate a flat, accurately located surface and recesses for fasteners, allowing secure and accurate connections to an assembly.

In general manufacturing, spotfaces and counterbores are used in different industries and applications ranging from consumer goods and machining to woodworking. Spotfaces and counterbores optimize overall product quality and increase precision and accuracy by creating a flat area for fasteners to sit flush against.


automotive prototyping services auto parts manufacturing
Automotive Prototyping Services Auto Parts Manufacturing

Spotfaces and counterbores significantly create secure connections between suspension systems, engine components, and other vehicle components. These holes in machining are accurately located and ensure these vehicle components are securely attached by creating a flat surface that accommodates fasteners.


As in the automotive industry, spotfaces and counterbores are commonly used to create precise and reliable connections between aircraft components like engine parts and landing gears. Using standard machining features such as spotface and counterbore holes in aircraft components provides increased strength and durability of machined aircraft components, which ensures optimal overall performance and reliability of aircraft.

Other Machined Holes in Engineering

other machined holes in engineering
Other Machined Holes in Engineering
  • Simple Hole: A simple hole is a cylindrical opening that goes through a workpiece to a desired depth without features like threads.
  • Tapered Hole: A tapered hole has a gradually changing diameter along its length. This machined feature allows the insertion of tapered components such as pins and dowels.
  • Blind Hole: A blind hole is a hole that doesn’t lead to the opposite side of a workpiece. Blind holes improve aesthetics, increase strength, and support for mating parts.
  • Through Hole: A through hole is a hole that breaks through a workpiece’s thickness to the opposite end. That is, it is possible to see through such a hole.
  • Countersink Hole: This is a conical cutout at the outer face of a through or blind hole that is purposely to ensure the conical shape of particular screw heads flush with the surrounding surface.
  • Tapped Hole: A tapped hole features threads of desired depth made with a special tool known as a tap. These holes are reliable, easy to use, and allow secure connection in mating parts.


Spotface and counterbore are essential machining features that contribute significantly to manufacturing complex assemblies, ensuring the secure and precise connection between mating parts. Understanding the difference between these holes in machining is crucial to carefully selecting the right hole that meets the specific requirements of your applications.

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Your Global Partner for Quality CNC Machining Services in China

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