How to Choose the Best CNC Router for Woodworking

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Computer Numerical Control (CNC) routers are a big ticket item for companies and wood hobbyists alike. These machines are worth every penny for the sheer amount of designing and cutting they can do for you. The bigger the heavy-duty CNC router is, the bigger the price tag.

Luckily, the router market also offers desktop CNC machining routers that save you space and save you money. The fantastic newer and easy-to-use desktop routers will make your life easier and your projects go smoother. These machines can cut through most materials including aluminum, composites, glass, plastic, steel, and, of course, wood.  Oh man, I want to add one of these to my shop!

What makes these power tools different from other woodcutters and high-powered machines? How do these specific routers work? And how do you pick the best CNC router for your wood projects?

We hope this article will answer your questions about shopping for the perfect CNC router.  If not, leave a note in the comments section and we'll do our best to help.

How Do CNC Routers Work?

CNC routers are intriguing machines that run on advanced technology that makes your patterns smoother and cuts practically perfect when being recreated.

In order to run a CNC router, you need a computer, software, and general computer skills to run the software. These routers run off a Computer Assisted Design (CAD) program, which is a design software program.

CAD software was created for designers and engineers to assist them in creating or analyzing their own designs. They can be used for any type of designing, from designing a house to designing clothes.

This software, then, showcases your designs in either 2D or 3D, so you can see every detail.

Almost all desktop CNC routers include a CAD program software that you can install and run from any newer computer or laptop. The CAD software gives you the amazing ability to upload (or even the ability to draw if you’re using advanced CAD drawing software) the design or cut you want the router to perform.

It takes the exact angles you give it and turns the image and information into vectors as well as a command for the router to manipulate and use. Most CAD software for CNC routers use 2D imaging so you can view the dimensions and information needed to recreate the pattern onto the wood.

You can choose from different tool paths your software offers and you can choose what bits you need for your specific pattern or cut. You can save your template to use later as needed as an added bonus.

They cut right down to the smallest detail and the smallest measurement with super accuracy. This leaves you with less cutting errors, less re-dos with your projects, and less wasted lumber overall. You don’t have to recreate the patterns over and over again.

Owning a CNC router will save you so much time and effort in the long run by providing machine level precision that only the most experienced craftsman can approach.

Picking the Best CNC Router for Woodworking Projects

Now that we know how CNC routers work for woodworking and the benefits of owning one, we can learn the key features to look for before purchasing a CNC router for your use or your company’s use.

Material: When it comes to what material the CNC router can cut, not all routers are created equal. The more heavy-duty CNC routers are able to cut through steel whereas the smaller, desktop routers are only able to cut through softer materials like plastic and wood. Each router will list what it can cut through. The smaller CNC routers should be sufficient for woodworking and wood projects you have but if you want to get industrial you may need something more elaborate.

Spindle: The spindle (a.k.a. the milling head) is a very important part of a CNC router. Every brand has different spindle options to choose from.

For the right spindle you need to know the horse speed you need for your projects. Heavy use and a poorly made spindle, means you’ll be spending money constantly on replacement spindles.

The CNC router you buy should have the the right spindle options for the types of projects you want to tackle. The softer the material you’re cutting, the softer your spindle should be. 

Also, keep in mind the cooling system of the router’s spindle. If your spindle gets too hot, your spindle’s lifespan will cut down quickly. There are two cooling systems used, either water cooling or air cooling.

A water-cooling spindle obviously uses water to keep it cooled down. These  spindles stay cool and it’s a very effective system. However, that means you need a water pump installed which calls for more work.

Air cooling spindles blow cool air to keep the spindle from overheating. This cooling system doesn’t require any pumps or added mechanics to be installed. It isn’t quite as effective as a water cooling system but it gets the job done.

Availability: Before purchasing a CNC router you need to check the availability of the bits and parts. For some brands, finding the parts you need for your router can be an issue which over time can become a major headache.

Space: You need to know what space you’re working with since some of these routers can be big beasts. If you only have a small woodworking wood shop, you’ll want to stick to a desktop CNC router rather than an industrial-sized router for designing.

Price: We know price is a concern for everyone. Unfortunately, CNC routers can get very expensive, especially the more heavy-duty industrial CNC routers. Don’t be afraid to shop around and compare prices from different brands and retailers. Keep your budget always in the back of your mind.

Conclusion

There are so many types of CNC routers to choose from. As you look into these machines you'll find everything from DIY Mini CNC Kits to CNC Units with Name Brand Routers built-in on up to high-end commercial units and everything in between. Make a list of important qualities based on the type of projects you want to use it for before you shop.

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Taylor Bishop - April 23, 2019 Reply

I wanted to thank you for this advice for picking a CNC router for woodworking. You mentioned that different routers will be able to cut through different materials, like heavy-duty ones cutting through steel. I wonder if it could be good to have several routers if you are working with a lot of different materials.

    Woodworkology - April 30, 2019 Reply

    Hi Taylor, thanks for your comment. I think what tools you need really depends on what your doing. Most of the readers here are hobbyists and as such can’t afford multiple routers let alone house them. As such, it’s important to think about what the majority of your projects will entail before making a purchase.

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