3-axis vs 5-axis CNC machining: Differences and Applications

Recently, 5-axis CNC machines are already becoming one of the most efficient machines for parts fabrication. However, 3-axis machining is still a proficient and profitable solution.

In fact, some companies and services may prefer conventional 3-axis machines to the more sophisticated 5-axis machines.

3-axis vs 5-axis CNC machining Differences and Applications

Both machines fabricate parts and structures with high precision and accuracy. They require little to no human interference besides imputing the instructional programs.

Also, they ensure quick parts production with extreme reproducibility making them an invaluable asset to any industry.  

This article discusses intricate details about the working principle of the two CNC machines. It provides an adequate comparison that may prove vital when deciding on the choice for your next project. Read ahead! 

What is 3-axis Machining?

3-axis machining involves using a cutting tool that operates along three axes – X, Y and Z planes – as it trims and cuts pieces off the workpiece.

Operating the machine is straightforward, with the workpiece remaining static in its initial position as it chips off parts of the material until the desired shape is achieved.

The simple operation and compatibility with many cutting operations make this cutting tool the most popular choice in the industry.

In 3-axis machining, the machine can cut along all six sides of the workpiece as it moves around it in three directions. Indeed, other multi-axe devices are more efficient, especially for making more complex cuts.

For example, making angled cuts along the X-Y- Z coordinates of 3-axis machining is complicated. You may need to get specialized cutting tools like Dovetail cutters. Therefore, this increases the cost of fabrication.

What is 3-axis Machining

Characteristics of 3-axis Machining

  • Machining along three axes: The cutting tool or spindle can move in three directions – X, Y and Z. That is, up and down, right and left, and back and forth.
  • Simple operation: Unlike other multi-axis CNC machines, the three-axis machines are simple to operate, not requiring any special computer skills in programming.
  • Single machine setup: Provided the part does not have overly complex geometries, you can incorporate all the necessary tools into a single 3-axis machine for quick and consistent production.
  • 3-axis machining guarantees high precision and accuracy, provided the parts you manufacture are devoid of too many details.

Advantages of 3-axis Machining

The advantages of 3-axis machining are a mirror of its characteristics and working principle.

  • Quick simultaneous machining of parts along three axes without the need for manual rotation of the workpiece
  • Allows the setup of different machine elements in a single machine, including the clamps, fixtures, etc.
  • The machine requires one-time programming. Once the instructions have been configured on the device, it can fabricate numerous exact parts without any human interference.
  • High precision and accuracy of the parts, especially if there are few complex 3D geometries and features.

Applications of 3-axis Machining

Even with the introduction of other multi-axis CNC machines, 3-axis machining is still extensively used in various manufacturing industries. Though nowadays, its application may be restricted to creating less complex structures.

Applications of 3-axis Machining

Typical industries that utilize 3-axis machining services include:

  • Automotive Industry: Several components in cars, trucks and other automobiles are manufactured with 3-axis machining. These components include the engine cylinders, transmission housing, brake rotors, etc.
  • Aerospace Industry: 3-axis machining is suitable for fabricating parts of airplanes such as gas valves and air conditioners.
  • Medical Industry: Surgical tools, medical device implants, etc., are often manufactured with 3-axis machining. The process can create components such as joint replacements, prosthetics, etc., with suitable precision and accuracy.

What is 5-axis Machining?

Unlike the former, 5-axis machining involves using a cutting tool capable of moving in five different directions along which the workpiece rotates. The cutters can cut along the three coordinates – X, Y and Z – and turn the workpiece along two planes – A and B.

This added feature makes this process more suitable for handling highly complex components with tight tolerance and precision requirements.

There exist two types of 5-axis CNC machining – the 3+2 axis and continuous 5-axis machining. Both are capable of making effective cuts across all axes. 

However, the 3+2 axis machining may be less efficient, such as experiencing a restriction in using either plane simultaneously.

Whereas, as the name suggests, the 5-axis continuous machining lacks such limitations. This makes it the best suited for fabricating parts with the most complicated geometries, incorporating all the essential features.

Characteristics of 5-axis Machining

The characteristics of 5-axis machining include the following.

  • Spatial positioning: The workpiece’s positioning is flexible and easily switched from time to time for better machining operations. Cutters are arranged at different angles to the workpiece, each machining the surfaces and angles in a single-step process.
  • Free geometrical configuration: The process affords you up to 5-axis free geometry milling, allowing for quick manufacturing of your parts.
  • Tool guidance: In 5-axis machining, the cutting tools are guided along the different cutting axis and planes of the workpiece. Unknown to you, during milling, the working angle may be changed numerous times to allow delivery of precise cuts, improve cutting speed, ease of chip removal, etc., for the best outcome.
  • Single machine setup: The five-axis machining setup consists of a series of several tools that are absent in the 3-axis setup. This allows the complete machining of your prototypes without having to change devices or machine orientation and further increases the machining speeds and precision of the process.
  • Simultaneous machining: The flexibility of the 5-axis machining operations allow the different cutting tools to engage in size reduction and reshaping of the workpiece till the desired shape or features are obtained.

Advantages of 5-axis Machining

The advantages of 5-axis machining are due to its unique characteristics. They include the following.

Advantages of 5-axis Machining

  • Allows the machinist to simultaneously machine different angles and portions of the parts without adjusting its initial position.
  • It is the most effective machining for fabricating complex structures, requiring high precision and accuracy.
  • A single machine setup for vast applications; machinists don’t need to continue changing machine arrangements from time to time.
  • 5-axis machining is super fast, affording you about 5 to 10 times the average milling speed of conventional machining tech.
  • Reduction in the number of toolings; compared to the 3-axis, investing in the 5-axis machining helps you save the cost of purchasing additional features and tools.

Applications of 5-axis Machining

5-axis machining is suitable in vast industries, especially fabricating complex parts and structures with tight tolerances. Below are some of the sectors that consistently utilize 5-axis machining.

  • Aerospace Industry: Turbine blades and valves of typical components of airplanes that require the services of 5-axis machining. These parts are highly complex and require top-notch precision, which makes this machining process the best fit.
  • Medical Industry: The medical industry has high precision standards, as the slightest machine error may harm patients’ health. The ability of 5-axis CNC machines to pay attention to the most intricate details, ensuring that all tight tolerance requirements are adhered to, makes it a perfect fit for fabricating surgical tools, implants and other medical parts, products and devices.
  • Automotive Industry: The automotive industry also requires parts with high-quality requirements regarding shape complexity and tight tolerances. Hence, the need for 5-axis machining operations.
  • Electronic Devices: Electrical appliances and gadgets are essential to our daily livelihood. 5-axis machining may prove vital in fabricating the most intricate components having tight tolerance for the best effectiveness.
  • Energy Industry: Fabrication of parts used in the energy industry may require high precision and accuracy to prevent failures which may be detrimental. Therefore, the need to utilize 5-axis machining services for optimum manufacturing of these components.

Difference Between 3-axis and 5-axis CNC machining

Difference Between 3-axis and 5-axis CNC machining

The primary difference between 3-axis and 5-axis CNC machining is the spatial orientation of the workpiece as you fabricate your parts and components. The names of the machines are a genuine representation of their working principle.

While 3-axis machines enable the cutting tools to work from three different axes, 5-axis machining allows working from five axes.

However, all CNC operations are highly reliable and versatile, permitting the reproducibility of parts and maintaining tight tolerances and precision standards.

Regardless, they are two different machines. Hence, the main distinction between the two machines ensures one is more advantageous, depending on the fabrication needs.

Sometimes, the option may be open – both machines are suitable for your parts. In that case, the choice is up to you.

The ability of the 5-axis machine to work across more axes makes it a more suitable option for fabricating more complex structures with complicated features. However, they are more expensive, requiring a significant capital investment.

Therefore, if you are on a tight budget, consider using the 3-axis machines, especially if you only need them for simple but precise cuts.

In addition, they are simpler to operate with less complex programming. You may not need to hire expert programmers and operators who will cost more.

However, as we mentioned earlier, if your part design features multiple complex structures with tight tolerance requirements, it is best to stick to the 5-axis machines. Even if you do not have the device, consider working with a service or an expert partner that has it.

With 5-axis machining, you do not need to change the machine setup or engage in manual workpiece rotation. The machine does everything for you, ensuring faster production yet maintaining the necessary precision and accuracy requirements for your parts.

3-axis vs 5-axis CNC machining: Which One is Best for Your Project?

Parts fabrication experts do not like suggesting that one machining method is better than another. Ideally, there is no perfect solution for all sorts of fabrications.

The best machine for your project often depends on the part’s complexities, manufacturing time, quality and precision requirements and your budget.

That said, 3-axis and 5-axis machining have benefits and shortcomings that give one an edge, depending on your project. Ideally, the 5-axis machines are more compatible with parts with multi-complex geometries and undercut, but they require considerable capital.

However, 3-axis machining is the best choice for simple operations. Furthermore, 3-axis machining is suitable for fabricating complex structures, though you may need to change the machine setup time after time.

Therefore, depending on the intricacy of your project, quality requirement, time and budget, you may choose to use either of the two machines. So you must consider all the factors before selecting the best machine for your fabrication needs.

Kemal CNC Machining Services

Having read this article this far, you are sure of the best CNC machining operation for your project.

However, these machines are expensive, with the 5-axis machines costing more. Therefore, having this device may not be economical, especially for one-time machining solutions or small-scale fabrications. Consequently, you need a competent and reliable partner.

Kemal is an expert at providing CNC machining services. We boast highly skilled and experienced technologies with vast knowledge in CNC machining, injection molding, and other related technologies.

Our team is known for delivering top-notch precision and accurate machining solutions for your fabrication needs.

Whether small-scale fabrication, custom parts or even mass production, we are the best fit for your project. We require you to upload your design files, configure materials, finishing options and lead time. Then we instantly provide you with an online quotation for your fabrication.

What’s more?

Regardless of the complexities of your design and aesthetic demands, our experts offer the touch of experience needed to make your dream creation a reality.

Contact Kemal today!


Besides the main differences between 3-axis and 5-axis machining, the latter is more suitable for fabricating complex structures with complicated features.

Either process is compatible with vast industrial applications. In fact, if you check through, you’d notice similarities between the two techniques.

However, you must utilize 5-axis machining when fabricating parts with highly complex geometries. The method ensures that all precision and accuracy specifications of such components are achieved, ensuring that your product satisfies its intended use.


The primary difference between 3-axis and 5-axis CNC machines is the number of axes the machines can operate simultaneously.

As the name suggests, 3-axis milling machines can work around three coordinates – X, Y and Z; the 5-axis machines can work the three axes and two different coordinates – A and B.

However, both machines are highly versatile and capable of fabricating complex structures with top-notch precision and accuracy.

The main advantage of the 5-axis CNC machine is its ability to fabricate highly complex and complicated structures with high precision and accuracy.

The two extra machining coordinates it has over the 3-axis machines make manufacturing parts with this tool super fast without requiring additional tool setup.

The difference between the 3 / 4 and 5-axis CNC machines is the complexity associated with the movement of the cutting tools against the workpiece.

In 3-axis machining, the cutters can cut through X, Y and Z axes; four axis-machining has extra A coordinates that allow additional workpiece rotation during machining.

The 5-axis machining has two different coordinates – A and B for more workpiece movement and better machining.

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