What is A CNC Router and How it Works?

Computer numerical control or CNC refers to a machine that helps in forming, cutting, and operating various new technology and machinery. If it is the first time that you’ve heard this word, we will help you understand it more. Moreover, we’ll give you a better understanding of how it works. If you want to increase your woodworking productivity, then the CNC Router is for you.

A CNC router is a machine that is almost similar to handheld routers that specialize in cutting various materials. This tool helps reduce materials like aluminum, wood, steel, plastic, foam, and composites. It works like any other cutting machine, except that it uses computer controls to create “routes” for the router to cut along. Moreover, you can benefit from its ability to route tool paths that enable the machine to function.

CNC routers are useful in reducing wasted materials while increasing work productivity. If you are planning to sell your wooden projects, you need efficient woodworking equipment. Let’s understand some of the basics of a CNC router.

How Big Are CNC Routers?

Modern CNC routers are smaller than older and industrial-strength CNC router models that take a lot of space. In fact, new CNC routers are so small that it can fit on a desktop machine. Once connected, you can easily use the software and configure the CNC router through the desktop in performing various production and cutting functions.

Traditional CNC routers were initially for industrial applications and were extremely large. In fact, it needed a lot of room for a house. Nevertheless, new developments have seen a drastic reduction in the size of CNC routers, so they can now sit on a large household table.

Different CNC Router Applications

CNC routers have different applications, especially in woodworking. Some woodworkers use these routers in cutting and shaping various types of wood. For example, it can help you design a very durable and rustic chair for your patio. Moreover, you can use CNC routers to cut maple wood to build more furniture and other wooden objects. 

CNC routers are very useful in the processing of solid materials. The most common activities wherein CNC routers are helpful include hobbies such as woodworking, and the construction of prototypes in the engineering field. Moreover, you can use it for developing works of art and other forms of manufacturing. 

CNC routers are currently available in distribution centers, and you can also purchase it even for private use. As time goes on, you can expect many more powerful CNC routers with enhanced capacities to be extremely accurate in the manufacturing processes.

Benefits of CNC routers

With the use of computer numeric control, the CNC router is far more precise and useful than its handheld predecessor. It ensures that even more complicated and detailed designs are possible to produce. Moreover, you can quickly work on it without the additional hindrance of figuring out how to physically cut the product. The use of computer control means that material cutting is quicker and more accurate.

CNC router significantly reduces waste material, as cutting is much more precise. It also significantly improves efficiency, as you can produce more items in less time. Finally, the routers’ quality remains the same regardless of the material that you want to cut.

Compared to traditional CNC machines, tricky elements may take longer with a handheld router. On the contrary, the CNC router enables a consistently high level of quality while requiring a much shorter time to manufacture products.

How does a CNC Router work?

Cutting and shaping of a wooden craft are possible through the use of CAD and CAM software on your computer. Then, you will instruct the CNC router how exactly it would cut the wood angles precisely. This setup ensures better accuracy and precision cutting and shaping performance compared to other manual operators.

CNC routers can move and cut in three different directions, depending on how you instruct the machine. The X-axis, first direction, is usually the longest that runs front to back. The y-axis, second direction, runs from left to right. Finally, the third direction is the z-axis that runs up and down. CNC routers are very powerful in that they operate in almost complete unison in all three courses, allowing this machine to carve complicated parts.

The Components Of A CNC Router

To further understand how CNC routers work, let us identify its major components. Let us see how these components work together and function as one machine. There are several other components and modifications available for every CNC model, but most of these routers have these standard components.

CNC Controller and Computer System

The CNC controller and the computer system are operating together as a brain for these routers. It tells the engines and the drive system which direction to travel and how far it should go. Most designs start in a digital format, such as a dxf or some other similar format. The user will then use a CAM software kit along with the CNC controller software issued. Such types of software transform a 3D or 2D digital image to a G-code device route file.

The computer then translates these commands to a digital signal transmitted to the CNC controller. It converts the digital signal to varying voltages and currents that power the mechanical drive systems. It is usually a plug-and-play wherein the user interface varies by type or manufacturer. However, the primary method is the same. You start with digital design, then use additional software to create the machine’s directions.

The Spindle

The spindle is the part that is responsible for cutting and can operate between 2000 and 10,000 RPMs. Think of it as an actual router, such as a regular wood router. The power rating classifies the router spindle – horsepower in English, units, and Watts in SI units. The spindle works by rotating a cutting tool, like a router bit, at different speeds. Typical spindles can cut wooden objects and other soft materials that usually range from 8000 to 30,000 revolutions per minute.

Most CNC wood routers are also capable of cutting metals. However, it is only suitable for non-ferrous metals such as aluminum. On the other hand, there are some spindles controlled by the CNC controller. It controls the RPM based on the components that you are cutting and the feed rate of the machine. 

The Cutting Bed

The cutting bed is where you will cut your materials, which protects and secures the material. It comes in different types, but the function remains the same. Some of the conventional cutting bed designs are the T-slot, and the vacuum table. The T-slot style table fits well for most of the pieces because it uses bolts and clamps to attach the material to the bed. 

Moreover, the T-slot is more flexible in that it can accommodate almost any piece but lacks the flexibility and speed of the setup. The vacuum table is standard on several high-end models and works well with companies that mass produce. However, it is only ideal on relatively flat parts, such as wood and sheet paper. 

The Linear Drive Systems

It is the link between the mechanics and the electronics of the system. Each axis uses a linear drive system that shifts the spindles in that specific axis. Once the engine receives its power utilizing a CNC controller, it will provide rotational energy.

Frequently Asked Questions

CNC routers may be new to some beginner woodworkers who have plans of being a professional in this field. To further understand, we have answered some of the most commonly asked questions from other users.

What can I make with a CNC router?

There are factors that you have to consider in buying the best CNC router. First, you have to make sure that the machine’s power and capacity match the kind of project you want to do. If you are doing DIYs, if you are a hobbyist or just want to learn, then small models of CNC routers are good. 

However, if you plan on selling and creating massive products in the future, then invest in high-end models. Moreover, make sure of its durability. Make sure that it can cut the primary materials involved in your project. Finally, take into account the value of money. 

How deep can a CNC cut?

The depth of how much CNC can cut depends on the capacity and power of the machine. Usually, most CNC routers will work best when cutting depth of up to 2 or 3 times the material’s diameter. Regardless, you must look for the power and capacity of the router before buying it.

What is the difference between a CNC router and a CNC mill?

A CNC router is for working on softer and lighter materials like plastic and wood. It can also cut on non-ferocious metals like aluminum and iron. On the other hand, CNC mills are ideal for all kinds of cutting for different materials. From wood to harder metals like titanium and other durable alloys. Therefore, the significant difference is the cutting power wherein CNC mills have higher cutting capacity than routers.


CNC routers are beneficial to every aspiring and professional woodworker. It is a tool that is almost identical to a handheld router but specializes in cutting various materials. Moreover, it helps in reducing several soft and light materials.

Slicing and shaping the wooden design is possible with the use of CAD and CAM software on your computer. Then, tell the CNC router precisely how to cut the wood angles. In buying, just make sure that you get the best type depending on your needs and your budget.

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