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What is CNC Routing?

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, which is a technology that is frequently incorporated into machinery for speed and efficiency. You may have read our recent guide to CNC Milling, but today, we are talking about another form of machining – CNC Routing.

A CNC router is quite similar to a CNC mill, but many argue that it is better at waste reduction and offers more productivity to engineers and operators. It is also an upgrade on the more traditional handheld router, though offering less portability, whilst both of these router types are used to cut durable materials like steel, wood, aluminium, plastic, and more.

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) allows the machine to follow tool paths that execute pre-set rules and instructions, saving time by offering excellent levels of automation. A CNC router is the natural upgrade on a handheld router for anyone looking to become more productive with their routing work.

What different types of CNC Router are there?

  • Beginner or Hobby CNC Routers are the best option for those with a small budget who want to do some CNC routing from the comfort of their homes. The desktop router is the most common in this category, but at the upper end of the hobby CNC routers, you’ll find…
  • Mid-range CNC Routers – these exist somewhere between hobby routers and industrial routers and are more robust than home machines yet not as strong and powerful and industrial CNC machines, as you’d expect
  • Industrial CNC Routers live at the top of the food chain. These beasts can be huge, powerful, and noisy, thanks to how fast, flexible, and precise they are. Businesses will, in most cases, opt for one of these and take advantage of their advanced features. 
  • Finally, Specialist CNC Routers are used for different applications, such as engraving metal

How much space do I need for a CNC Router?

CNC Routers are desktop machines that vary in size depending on how new they are. Some of the more modern versions are more streamlined and have been designed with better spatial economics. If space is at a premium but you need a larger machine, we’d suggest budgeting around 2m in width and 3m in length, with another 2m for height. If you are shopping around for something smaller, we are confident you could find something powerful that requires less space. Remember, however, that the smaller the machine, typically the less productivity it offers, so you must consider whether your CNC routing machine is for home use, or for industrial and business purposes.


You should also consider some space next to the CNC routing equipment to set up a computer, as this will be used to program the machine for its required production functions.

It is also possible to find miniature desktop CNC Routers, measuring around 40cm3.

What might you use a CNC Router for?

It depends entirely on the material that you’re using. Many wood specialists find that CNC routing is perfect for achieving precision and detail with wood cutting. Let’s say you have a precise and difficult design that would be very challenging to achieve with a handheld router, you could instead program the machine to do the cutting for you. Once you have the precisely cut pieces of wood, you can attach them. 


It’s not only wood that you could use a CNC router for, you could also apply its precision cutting skills to wood, plastic, or foam for example. Creatives find that creating miniature objects, sculptures, and frames are all feasible thanks to CNC routing and its versatility. In the industrial sector, thermoplastics companies also make use of CNC routing to automate the trimming procedure.

What makes a good CNC Routing machine?

Power in abundance!

Of course, if you’re just looking to run a little desktop machine for some small projects, power is probably not your first concern, but if you’ve got some sturdy engineering tasks on your to-do list, then it should be a priority to look for power. This will involve looking at the type of motor or spindle each router is fitted with. Different routers offer suitability for different materials and purposes, so it’s worth consulting with an expert. If you’re going to be using the router all day long, you’ll want to invest in a water-cooled or liquid-cooled spindle as overheating is a major concern. 


Large or small capacity

A big project needs a big router, a small project needs a small router. A large router can fill a room, a small router can fit on a desk. Make sure you buy not only for your present needs, but with your future needs in mind.


Value & Durability

If you buy cheap, you get cheap, that’s the reality. You might find that the highly affordable machines are the ones that wear through their parts the quickest and give you the most trouble. Look for something proven to last a long time at a reasonable price point. Work with your budget and consult more experienced users about their knowledge of CNC routing machines. Look for great parts and tools deals but remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of design software too.

How does a CNC routing machine function?

Let’s break this down into three nice and easy steps.

Step one: Designing the vector file

The user starts by designing a vector file (unless they have a G-Code already). These vector files are made using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and are typically in the DXF format, but can also be saved as CDR, PDF, DWG, SVG, AI, STL, and BMP. 


Step two: Convert your vector file into G-Code

By using Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software, you can convert your vector into G-Code. This is a language that is readable and understandable to the CNC routing machine.


Step three: Run the code!

Your CNC routing machine may have recommended some software to use for this, or you may be comfortable with a certain program already. Upload the G-Code and run it, this will then instruct the routine machine to follow the set instructions. That’s it, job done!



Are you confident in your new knowledge about CNC routing? Happy we could help!


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