What are CNC Routers Used for?

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A CNC router is a machine similar to a handheld router used to cut materials like wood, steel, aluminum, plastic, composites, and foam. The device is computer-controlled to perform a range of carpentry tasks that would ordinarily be performed by a panel saw, a boring machine, or a spindle molder.

It uses a computer numerical controlled program to create paths that enable the machine to work. The program also determines the machine’s speed of rotation, rate of movement, and motion type for the specific project.

Such features help the CNC router increase productivity and reduce waste-producing items within a shorter period compared to other machines. Usually, the device is mounted on a large, stationary table that has a spindle moving along three axes- x, y, z.

Difference Between CNC Router and CNC Miller

A CNC router is similar in concept to a CNC mill, but there are a few notable differences. First, while both use rotational speed as the driving force to make cuts, CNC routers operate at a higher speed compared to CNC mills.

Also, CNC routers are primarily used to cut soft materials, while CNC mills cut through tough materials like metal. Another notable difference is that CNC mills move in an x-y direction as the spindle moves on a linear axis above the workpiece.

This feature enables CNC mills to make thicker cuts and use torque, not rotational speed. The following table should summarize their differences:

Device/FeatureCNC RouterCNC Mill
MaterialWood, plastic, foamMetals and other tough material
Operating speedHighSlow
ConfigurationX, Y, Z axisX-Y configuration
Spindle movementRotationalHigher torque

How CNC Routers Work

CNC routers use a series of pre-programmed commands to operate. The most common programming language is the G-code, but there are other languages like Mazak and Heidenhain.


Uploading the File

Upload the image into the drawing software and allow the program to convert it to vectors. A vector is a DXF file extension that provides details about x, y, z-axis and dictates how the image will appear on the surface

Choose the Tool and the Tool Path

It would help if you chose the tool you want to use. It can be a 0.75-inch core box bit or a 0.25-inch v-bit. During this step, you also adjust the speed of the router and set the cutting depth. When choosing the toolpath, you can either trace the vectors, cut inside, or outside the vectors.

Upload the Vectors to the G-code software

This helps convert the vectors into a language the software and the device can interpret. The G-code also has the X, Y, and Z coordinates. X is the horizontal of the table, Y, the vertical, and z the perpendicular to the tables.

Identify the Center Point

It is key to proceeding to the next steps. Find the center point of the material, place it on the table, and secure it with clamps. Then jog the machine until the router bit is above the marked center point and begin cutting into the surface.

Example of Using CNC Router

Woodworkers use CNC routers to cut and create different shapes of wood. For example, if you have a project to design an antique wooden chair, you can use the router to cut the wood. You need CAM and CAD software to direct the CNC router to cut the wood at precise angles.

Then take the newly cut pieces of wood and use screws or bolts to put them together to make the rustic patio chair. Note the computer controls the CNC router once the coordinates have been uploaded into the machine controller using a separate CAD program.

CNC router manufacturers provide CAD and CAM software applications. Usually, CAM converts the CAD design or drawing into the g-code language. This is the code the CNC machine can understand.

CNC routers can be controlled manually too. CAD/CAM software creates possibilities for speeding up the programming process, contouring, and operating the device manually.

Types of CNC Routers

The operation of a CNC router depends on the kind of machine you have. There are four types of CNC routers:

  • Industrial CNC router: It makes up 80% of CNC routers in the market. Many woodworking companies use them for mass production of products like doors, signs, furniture, doors, and other things. Most of them have three and five-axis CNC formats as many manufacturers offer A and B axis for full five-axis capabilities and fourth rotary axis
  • Hobby CNC router: This kind is designed for home projects. It is also called the mini CNC machine and desktop CNC router because it is small and lightweight. Some common models include the CNC 6090, CNC 6040 and the CNC 3040
  • Mid-range CNC router: This type is accurate and precise, just as the industrial CNC router. The only difference is in their sizes as the mid-range routers and smaller and lighter
  • Specially-designed CNC router machine: This kind is designed for specific purposes. Examples include the specialty CNCS and Multi-Axis CNCS

While the routers come in different configurations, they all have common parts: one or more spindle motors, a dedicated CNC controller, stepper motors, ball screws, AC inverter frequency drives, servo amplifiers, servo motors, a workspace table.

Also, some routers come equipped with vacuum pumps and grid table tops for holding the parts in place for cutting.

Some Pro Tips When Using CNC Router

  • Examine the routing motions before turning on the router. Ensure the clamps are well-positioned, the height of the chair works with the job and that your clothes and hair are tucked away
  • Examine the material you are cutting into: It ensures you are cutting into the content accurately and are ready for any eventualities. If you are routing correctly, the router should remain stable and steady without jumping, howling or producing a burning smell
  • Wear ear and eye protection: Ensure your eyes and ears are adequately protected, so the dust and noise don’t impair you
  • Use the climbing cut technique: For sections that are likely to tear out, ensure you move the router in the direction of the bit rotation. Also, be aware of the probability of the router pulling away fast.

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