Make your own free website on






Where does the term milling come from? The term milling can be traced back to the Latin root Miola, or grindstone. 
Early face milling cutters resembled flour-milling grindstones of the beginning of the nineteenth century. They were circular type of stone that was used to crush wheat. These circular stones had radial groves to permit the ground flour and chaff to escape centrifugally from the grind. The teeth on milling cutters look a lot like these stones, so the theory goes; the new metal-cutters were called “mills”.
    In 1818 the first milling machine was made. It was thought that Eli Whitney invented the milling machine, but it was Simeon North or one of his sons. It had a head from a lathe and a wood cone pulley for a belt drive.

Between 1819 and 1826 an important development took place at Harper’s Ferry Armory VA. John Hall developed a series of precision machines. There were three types of machines; they were called Cutting Engines for straight cutting, curved cutting, and lever cutting.
The machine known as the straight-cutting machine became the plain miller. The curve-cutting machine became the profile-milling machine that had a rise and fall of the table in response to a pattern plate below the table. The lever-cutting machine is similar to the hand miller.
    Visitors and workers in Harper’s Ferry carried the technology to New England, where North Ordnance had an arms factory.
  In 1828 a contract for 5000 Hall rifles was awarded to North from the Ordnance Dept, these rifles were to have parts that were interchangeable with the rifles made in Virginia.

 A fair amount of successes in making interchangeable rifle parts had been achieved by gun manufacture Robbins & Lawrence from Vermont. There was an exhibition in London’s Crystal Palace, where Robbins & Lawrence showed off these machines. After the show the firm began shipping over 150 machines to England’s Enfield Arms Works, of these 75 were milling machines.
There was a serious drawback to the early miller’s, they had no way to adjusted vertically, most designers thought of them as a lathe.

      In about 1835 Gay, Silver & Co. developed the first vertical adjustable mill with adequate support for the spindle. The headstock casting had the spindle on the bottom and served as an overarm, supporting the outer end. The headstock moved up and down on the vertical column and was adjusted with a hand crank. An idler pulley provided slack in the belt to permit the vertical head adjustment.

    Shortly after Frederick Howe arrived at Robbins & Lawrence after serving his apprenticeship at Gay, Silver & Co. He had built a plain milling machine, so far as the vertical feed was concerned, this machine was a backward step, but in all other respects it was a major step ahead. At least for the kind of work that was done by most armories. Howe improved on this machine, and in 1850 he developed the index-milling machine. The work could be positioned in rotation in the horizontal plane and adjusted vertically by a lead screw. In 1852, Howe improved the rigidity of the mill. The design was sold to the British for Enfield.

    It is thought that Francis Pratt modified this machine into the famous Lincoln Miller. The Lincoln miller was a manufacturing machine, it was an excellent machine for performing the same operation over and over, but it totally lacked the kind of flexibility in the tool room that the engine lathe was able to provide for turning operations.
It wasn’t until 1862 that the knee & column mill was developed, it was Joseph R Brown’s idea for a universal milling machine that was a true tool room mill. This brought the milling machine from the crude design of Simon North to a machine of universal industrial caliber.

    The process of milling, which includes machines, cutters, is one of the most important metalworking processes. It is the most versatile, with it’s ability to carve large workpieces, or do work on miniature ones. It is the most efficient means of reducing a raw workpiece to a finish shape.  







Send mail to THZABEL@HOTMAIL.COM with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: November 29, 2001