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What Is a Manual Milling Machine?

Helen Akers
Helen Akers

A manual milling machine is a material cutting device that is not controlled by automation or a computer. Milling machines are used to break down material into smaller pieces. They contain a spindle, which may operate in a horizontal or vertical fashion. Small-scale jobs that do not require very precise settings may benefit the most from the use of a manual milling machine.

Milling machines all have a work table that secures the piece of material that needs to be cut. These machines can remove material from larger pieces to create desired grooves, edges, slots or shoulders. For material like metal that is difficult to cut and shape, such machines are ideal. Before the introduction of computer and automated technology, all milling machines were manually operated.


The first manual milling machines were introduced in the 1800s. They evolved to include "universal capability" in the 1860s, meaning that a single machine could handle several different types of cutting. Automated milling machines first started to replace manual versions in the 1940s.

Unlike a computer number controlled (CNC) or automated milling machine, a manual machine needs to be adjusted and operated by a skilled, hands-on operator. A manual milling machine typically cuts and breaks down material at a slower rate than a CNC machine. Automated or CNC machines are usually used when a large amount of material needs to be shaped according to the same specifications.

Since a manual milling machine requires an educated, trained and skilled operator, it tends to be used by smaller businesses or independent individuals. The majority of large companies or corporations use some form of automated technology to operate their machines. Those workers who still use a manual milling machine must be aware of the exact location of the machine's work piece and the cut dimensions that need to be made.

Manual milling machines may cut material in a horizontal or vertical fashion. Horizontal machines have cutters that go across the work piece table in a linear fashion. Vertical machines use cutters that rotate on the spindle's axis.

Some manual milling machines use a digital read out display to indicate the location of the work piece and the spindle's position. The digital display gives the operator greater control and precision. It may indicate several machine functions, such as inclines. A display may also allow an operator to determine how to shift the spindle and work piece to match preset cutting dimensions.

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