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The Difference Between Cutting Speed and Feed Rate

close up of cnc machine bit showing the difference between cutting speed and feed rate

Understanding the difference between cutting speed and feed rate is essential for anyone involved in machining processes. These two parameters play a pivotal role in determining the efficiency, precision, and quality of machining operations across various industries. While both cutting speed and feed rate influence the material removal rate, they operate on distinct principles and affect the machining process differently. 

In this blog post, we will uncover the fundamental difference between cutting speed and feed rate, explaining their significance and how they impact machining operations. Through understanding these differences, machinists and engineers can optimize their machining strategies to achieve superior results and enhance productivity. Before we compare the difference between feed rate and cutting speed, let’s first go over what is cutting speed and feed rate, and the factors that affect them. 

What is Cutting Speed?

Cutting speed, often denoted as S, refers to the velocity at which the cutting tool moves across the workpiece surface. It’s typically measured in surface feet per minute (SFM) or meters per minute (m/min). Cutting speed is primarily influenced by the rotational speed of the spindle and the diameter of the cutting tool. A higher cutting speed means the tool is moving faster relative to the workpiece, resulting in increased material removal rates.

However, it’s essential to balance cutting speed with factors such as tool material, workpiece material, and desired surface finish to prevent excessive heat generation, tool wear, or even workpiece damage. Now let’s discuss the factors that affect cutting speeds so you can truly understand the difference between cutting speed and feed rate and why that is important. 

Factors Affecting Cutting Speed

When examining the factors that affect the cutting speed, you should consider the material type. Different materials have varying hardness and machinability, which directly influences the optimal cutting speed. For instance, the cutting speed for aluminum will be significantly higher than the speed for hardened steel. Since aluminum is softer, the tool encounters less resistance allowing for faster speeds without excessive tool wear. Trying to cut harder materials with a high cutting speed can result in damage to the tool and could compromise the machining accuracy. 

Next, it’s important to understand how the tool type plays a role in cutting speed. The type of cutting tool, its material composition, and geometry also impact the recommended cutting speed. Carbide tools, for example, can withstand higher cutting speeds compared to high-speed steel tools due to their superior hardness and heat resistance. Going back to our example above, cutting hard steel can quickly wear down cutting tools due to its abrasiveness. 

Lastly, the rigidity and power of the CNC machine play a crucial role in determining the maximum cutting speed achievable without compromising the tool’s integrity or the quality of the machined surface. Cutting steel may require slower cutting speeds to maintain precision and avoid vibration or deflection in the machine tool. Materials like aluminum have lower cutting forces which allow for higher cutting speeds without reducing the machine’s accuracy. 

Importance of Cutting Speed

When looking at the importance of cutting speed, there are a few key aspects to consider such as optimal material removal, tool life, and surface finish. Of course, like any milling project, achieving optimal performance could be the most important part of determining the cutting speed. For optimal material removal, a properly set cutting speed ensures efficient removal, reducing machining time while maintaining dimensional accuracy and surface finish. 

Next, let’s talk about the importance of cutting speed and tool life. Operating within the recommended cutting speed range extends the lifespan of cutting tools by minimizing wear and reducing the risk of tool breakage. This is crucial for reducing production costs associated with tool replacement and maintenance.

Lastly, the cutting speed directly influences the quality of the surface finish of the machined part. Optimal cutting speeds can produce smoother surface finishes, reducing the need for additional operations such as polishing or grinding. It’s important to highlight that higher cutting speeds typically result in smoother surface finishes, provided that the other parameters are optimized accordingly.

What is Feed Rate?

To understand the difference between feed rate and cutting speed, we need to explain what feed rate is and the factors affecting it. Feed rate, denoted as F, refers to the rate at which the cutting tool advances along the workpiece in a specific direction, typically measured in inches per minute (IPM) or millimeters per minute (mm/min).

feed rate illustration with end mill passover diagram

Unlike cutting speed, which relates to the rotational motion of the tool, feed rate pertains to the linear motion of the tool along the workpiece. The feed rate directly impacts parameters such as chip thickness, depth of cut, and tool life. Increasing the feed rate can enhance material removal rates and productivity, but it must be carefully controlled to prevent issues like tool breakage, poor surface finish, or excessive load on the machine.

Here are some factors that contribute to the feed rate and why it is so important to understand when performing your CNC milling projects!

Factors Affecting Feed Rate

Just like cutting speed, the material type also impacts the feed rate. Different materials have different properties, such as hardness, toughness, and brittleness, which affect the optimal feed rate. Harder materials generally require slower feed rates to prevent excessive tool wear and breakage, whereas softer materials, such as aluminum can have a faster feed rate without damaging the tool. 

Next up, the type of cutting tool, its geometry, and the depth of cut all play a role in determining the optimal feed rate. Larger diameter tools typically require slower feed rates because they can remove more material per revolution and avoid tool overload. It’s also important to note that a sharp and properly maintained cutting tool is essential for achieving optimal feed rates. Dull or damaged tools may require slower feed rates to compensate for reduced cutting performance.

The rigidity of the CNC machine and its spindle, as well as its horsepower, determine the maximum feed rate that can be applied without causing excessive vibration, deflection, or tool chatter. More rigid machines with higher horsepower can generally handle higher feed rates. It’s also essential to have a secure workpiece fixturing to maintain accuracy and stability during milling operations. Poor fixturing can lead to vibrations and chatter, requiring a reduction in feed rate to avoid surface finish issues and dimensional inaccuracies.

Importance of Feed Rate

First and foremost, feed rate plays a pivotal role in determining the lifespan and performance of cutting tools in your operations. Optimal feed rates ensure that the tool maintains a consistent level of engagement with the workpiece, minimizing wear and prolonging tool life. Conversely, inadequate feed rates can subject the tool to excessive stress or rubbing, accelerating wear, and potentially leading to premature tool failure. 

Next, the feed rate significantly influences the surface finish of machined components, a critical factor in determining part quality and functionality. By adjusting the feed rate, machinists can tailor the chip formation process, optimizing chip size and evacuation to achieve smoother surfaces and finer tolerances. 

Maintaining attention to feed rate is essential for attaining the desired surface finish. Ultimately, feed rate optimization in CNC milling embodies a delicate equilibrium between material removal efficiency, tool longevity, and surface finish quality, underscoring its indispensable role in shaping the outcomes of precision machining processes.

Understanding the Relationship Between Cutting Speed and Feed Rate

relationship between feed rate and cutting speed equation and variables chart

When it comes to the difference between feed rate and cutting speed, not only is there a direct relationship between the two, but a lot of the relationship has to do with the materials being used. Understanding this relationship is essential to completing a successful operation as well as preventing damage to your tools or the part you are working on. The direct relationship in general is to understand that as cutting speed increases, the feed rate also increases to maintain a constant material removal rate. On the other hand, decreasing cutting speed often requires a reduction in feed rate to prevent excessive tool wear and maintain machining precision.

However, the relationship between cutting speed and feed rate can vary based on the material being machined. For example, while softer materials may allow for higher feed rates at increased cutting speeds, harder materials might require lower feed rates to prevent tool damage. Note that moving too slowly can also cause issues like reduced tool life from rubbing and more heat transfer into the material or tool.

Achieving Optimal Performance:

Finding the optimal balance between cutting speed and feed rate often requires experimentation and optimization. Machinists may need to adjust these parameters based on factors such as material type, tool geometry, machine capabilities, and desired machining outcomes. Over time, you will be able to determine the appropriate parameters needed as you learn more about the factors that contribute to cutting speed and feed rate. 

Another helpful tip is to continuously monitor your cutting tool wear and workpiece surface quality during machining operations. This can provide valuable insights for fine-tuning cutting speed and feed rate settings, helping you to achieve optimal performance with your milling projects. 

Lastly, it’s important to utilize your CNC software as this is an invaluable tool when determining your cutting speed and feed rates. Advanced CNC machining software often includes features for simulating machining processes and optimizing cutting parameters, helping machinists streamline the process of finding the optimal balance between cutting speed and feed rate.


Comprehending the difference between feed rate and cutting speed is crucial for maximizing efficiency and precision in machining operations. While cutting speed determines how fast the cutting tool moves relative to the workpiece material, feed rate controls the rate at which the cutting tool engages with the workpiece. By carefully adjusting these parameters based on material properties, tool characteristics, and desired outcomes, machinists can achieve optimal results in terms of surface finish, dimensional accuracy, and tool life. 

At DATRON Dynamics, our CNC milling machines are rigid and durable for high-speed machining and can improve the quality of your parts while reducing cycle times. Not to mention, our next Control Software allows you to accurately monitor the machining process making it easier to decipher if you are milling at the right cutting speed and feed rates! Take your milling to a whole new level and contact us today for a demo!

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