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the concept of 3, 4, and 5 axis cnc machining

What’s The Difference Between 3, 4, and 5 Axis CNC Machining?

Are you looking for CNC Machining service? What’s The Difference Between 3, 4 and 5 Axis Machining? How to choose the suitable CNC machine to perform your CNC machining projects?

The 3-axis, 4-axis, and 5-axis machines are the most commonly used CNC machines. What makes these machines different is the number of axes. The number of axes will determine the type of work the CNC machine can do, the level of precision, and much more.

Thus, we will describe them in detail in this article.

What Industries Use CNC Machines?

All of us know that CNC stands for computer numerical control. It involves computer programming to control tools and machinery.

What’s more, a CNC machine can perform specific tasks with the help of the correct coding. So we need to feed instructions using codes that then interpret what needs to be done by the machine.

Thus, it means that there is no need for a physical operator. Instead, the CNC machining process will continue to perform the given task until you achieve the desired product. And the best part is – the machine will operate on its own!

Let’s get to the basics before learning more about 3, 4, and 5 axes machines. Many industries are adopting the CNC machining process, including the following.

  • Automotive
  • Dental
  • Aerospace
  • Computer part
  • Manufacturing
  • Toolmaking
  • Motorsports industry

By using it, the industries can have the following benefits.

  • Increase in their productivity levels
  • An assured decrease in expenses associated with the production
  • Increase in the production speed
  • The machine is highly accurate
  • Ability to work with different material types

That’s it! Now you understand that CNC machining is much more beneficial compared to manual operations.

So, let’s get to the main topic. What are 3-axis, 4-axis, and 5-axis CNC machines?

What Is 3-Axis Machining?

It is the most basic and less expensive of the three types. You can use it mostly for parts that do not require much detailing work. So if you deal with smooth 2D to 2.5D parts, go for a 3-axis machine. Again, the workpiece should be flat and should not move at all.

The 3-Axis machining can help you perform different tasks. For example, you can drill, cut sharp edges, tap holes, flatten surfaces, and mill slots. In addition, you can use it to cut parts along the three axes: X, Y, and Z.

3 axis machining
3 axis machining


  • The machine enables you to complete multiple operations because all axes can move at the same time.
  • The 3-axis machining allows you to upgrade to more axes depending on your machining center.
  • The machine is straightforward to use and cheaper to access.
  • The 3- axis machine works at high speed and is efficient in removing materials.


  • It has three axes X (width), Y (length), and Z (depth.)
  • It can move back-to-forth, side-to-side, and up-to-down.
  • The machine cuts away the materials you don’t want. Then, you can mold your product to the desired shape and size.
  • It is suitable for producing mechanical parts and components.

What Is 4-Axis Machining?

The 4-axis CNC machine looks similar to that of a 3-axis machine. But, apart from the three axes X, Y, Z, it also consists of a rotation on the X-axis. This rotation is nothing but the A axis.

There are two types of 4-axis machining.

  • Index Machine: Here, the A-axis rotates while the machine is not cutting materials.
  • Continuous Machine: Here, the machine can perform cutting and rotating functions together. If you want more angled cuts, then this is the machine for you.
4 axis machining
4 axis machining


  • It offers more functionality, accuracy, and precision than a 3-axis CNC machine.
  • Since it can handle different angles, you can get quality work.
  • The machine can reduce the production time and cost by working on the four sides of a workpiece.


  • The extra rotation allows the machine to remove materials from both sides.
  • The 4-axis machine can work on a workpiece without having to dismount it.

What Is 5-Axis Machining?

Of the three machines, this is the most efficient and the most expensive. That’s because the machine has extra rotation on the two axes.

Yet, despite the high price, a 5-axis machine is worth for its features, work efficiency, and accuracy.

Like a 4-axis machine, it has a rotation on the X-axis, which we call A-axis.

What’s more, it also has another rotation on the Y-axis, which we call C-axis. So there are two types available in 5-axis machines.

  • 3+2 Machine: It can rotate two axes independently. That means simultaneous rotation of two axes is not possible. 
  • Fully Continuous Machine: It can rotate the two axes simultaneously.
5 axis machining
5 axis machining


  • Efficiently work on the five sides of a workpiece at the same time.
  • Machinists can work on very complex components.
  • When the features are intricate, can work on them.
  • The continuous 5-axis creates 3D shapes.


  • You can efficiently operate the workpiece from five sides. In addition, you can choose any two from three rotational axes.
  • More time on CNC program preparation.

What Are the Main Differences Between 3, 4, and 5 Axis CNC Machining?

You now understand the basics of 3, 4, and 5 axis CNC machines. Almost all significant differences are clear from the above explanations.

Yet, there are several other differences between 3, 4, and 5 axis CNC machining.

1. Cost:

Remember, the more the number of axes; the more will be the price. So, you will find that the cost of using the 5-axis machine will be higher than the others.

machining cost comparison

2. Features:

The three machines come with different features.

For example, the 3-axis machine cannot handle angled features while the other two can.

The 4- axis machining comes with three axes but with an additional rotation on the X-axis.

The 5- axis machining has a three-axis and an additional three rotation. Moreover, the 5-axis does an excellent job of handling complex angles.

3. Numbers and Axis Movement:

The 3- axis has three axes. Besides, it can perform three movements, including left-right, front-back, and up-down.

The 4-axis has three axes with one rotation.

Finally, the 5-axis has three axes and two rotations.

4. Flexibility, Accuracy, and Efficiency:

The 5-axis machine has higher accuracy, increased productivity, and efficiency.

The 4-axis has lower accuracy than the 5-axis machining but higher than the 3- axis.

The 3- axis machining has a lower level of accuracy and productivity than the 4-axis machining.

5. Applications:

The 3- axis machining moves the three axes continuously at the same time. You will find the 3-axis machining is suitable mainly for drilling holes, cutting sharp edges, milling slots, and automatic operation.

The 4- axis machining has the tree axis of X, Y, and Z plus the addition A-axis by rotation. It works excellent on cylindrical surfaces.

The 5-axis machining can perform complex functions mostly preferred for aerospace, medical, military, oil, and gas mechanical parts.

How to Choose Between 3, 4, and 5 Axis CNC Machining?

Depending on the work you want to do, we can help to choose suitable CNC machining service. For example, if the design is not very complex, you can select the 3-axis machining.

A. Budget:

Your budget can also define which machine to choose. The price will increase as you move from 3-axis to 4-axis to 5 axis machines. The 5-axis is costlier, while the 3-axis is less expensive.

B. Requirements:

As said above, select a 5-axis machine if you want to deal with complex parts.

Likewise, you can pick either 3-axis or 4-axis machine for working on less complex and tiny pieces.

Contact AT Precision Machining for Help!

No matter what requirements you have, our team can provide you with a precise solution. Be it CNC Milling, CNC Turning, CNC Lathe, or 5 axis CNC Machining!

Feel free to send us the design of the required part ( Our engineers will do their best to turn your design into reality.

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Hey there, I’m Sam!

From AT-Machining, I’m a CNC Machining Expert in this field for more than 20 years.  We offer cost-effective machining services from China. Ask for a quote for your ongoing or upcoming projects now!

Best Regards, Sam, Co-Founder

AT Machining

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