High cutting speeds and feeds are essential requirements of a machine tool structure to accomplish its basic function which is to produce a workpiece of the required geometric form with an acceptable surface finish at as high a rate of production as is economically possible. Since bearings in high speed spindle units are the main heat source of total cutting system, in this work, the thermal characteristics of the spindle bearing system with a tilting axis were investigated using finite element method to improve the performance of the spindle bearing system. Based on the numerical results, a specially designed prototype spindle bearing system was manufactured. Using the manufactured spindle bearing system, the thermal characteristics were measured and compared to. the numerical results. From the comparison of the numerical results with the experimental results, it was found that the finite element method predicted well the thermal characteristics of the spindle bearing system. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.