Starting from the humble beginnings of the Cincinnati Milacron Hydrotel, invented in 1952 by Richard Kegg in collaboration with MIT, CNC routers have come a long way. With a CNC router machine, you can create projects designed with a CAD program precisely and quickly. These machines can process materials such as metals, wood, and even plastics.
In this CNC router buying guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to consider when choosing the best CNC machines.
Components of CNC Routers
CNC routers use various elements to create a desired shape or design, including different software applications, components, and tools.
- Control console: The control console is primarily thought of as the brain of a CNC routing machine. It tells the axis motors when and how to move the cutters, among other components.
- Table: The table holds a workpiece in place for the entire duration of the routing process. The workpiece is mainly attached to the metal/wood/plastic table with T-slots and metal brackets.
- Pillar: The pillars run along the axis to give the milled component stability.
- Cutting tool: The CNC machine cutting tool is simply attached to the column. This moves over the axis to give CNC workpieces their desired shape.
- Frame: As the name suggests, a frame offers the machine a stable hold and maximum stability to withstand cutting forces.
- Axes: The axes play a central role in the CNC. The axes in a CNC routing machine allow a cutting tool/workpiece to be moved to achieve the greatest possible precision.
Other key components include the coolant supply and spindles.
Popular Types of CNC Routers
The three most common types of CNC router machines include:
3-Axis CNC Router Machine
A CNC router machine with three axes is ideal for DIY enthusiasts and hobbyists in particular. It is also very suitable for model work, as it is completely sufficient for working on a smaller scale. Furthermore, you can conveniently operate these machines using easy-to-understand software.
4-Axis CNC Router Machine
This is a middle ground between the hobbyist and professional-grade performance. Routers with four axes are designed for demanding home and hobby work, and they are much cheaper than 5-axis routers. However, compared to three-axle models, they are significantly more expensive but feature similar basic processing and equipment.
5-Axis CNC Router Machine
If a CNC router machine has five axes, it works much more precisely than a model with three axes. However, they are much more expensive in terms of price, and sometimes they are not compatible with the router heads you may need. Often, they are specially designed for specific needs and situations, which causes additional costs.
5-Axis vs. Gantry vs. Portable Routers
5-axis routers are quite precise. You can use them to machine work plates that cannot be machined with a three-axis router cutter. You can carry out several steps simultaneously with these machines; even very complex three-dimensional objects are not a problem. Meanwhile, gantry routers are types with gantries that move along the x-axis.
Portable CNC routing machines are smaller handheld models. This type is perhaps the best CNC router for wood, as you can easily move it around flat and wooden surfaces. In addition, it has technology for tracking your location and moving the spindle to provide precise and highly detailed cuts. Often, the best cheap CNC routers are small and portable models.
What To Look for When Buying a CNC Router
If you have not yet had any experience with a CNC router machine, it is important that you also know other important criteria that you should pay attention to when making a purchase.
Define Your Usage Needs
Firstly, take note of the size of the part that you will have to work on. This will then determine the size of your machine, which must be greater or equivalent to your needs. The material you’re working on is also another factor that will help you decide.
Do you need to machine wood, iron, or steel? These materials require a very rigid machine to process them.
Aluminum doesn’t require too much power, and working on this material is much easier and faster than steel or wood. Generally, CNC routers designed for wood aren’t necessarily as powerful as those intended for metal.
Some routing machines are specifically intended for machining steel. This material is much stronger than wood. However, working on steel requires a powerful device that is capable of withstanding resistance counter-forces. If you’re working with large slabs of graphite, you will need a much more robust machine.
A CNC milling machine can be equipped with 3, 4, or 5 axes. The standard CNC milling machine consists of 3 axes. This 4-axis, on the other hand, has the same functions as the first. It is from these characteristics that the position of the rotary axes will depend. The model with 5 rotary axes, on the other hand, is composed of 2 rotary axes and 3 linear axes, which results in a more efficient model.
Ensure the software you intend to use is compatible with the model you choose, or be prepared to learn if necessary. Please note that some machines do not come with software, so be sure to keep this in mind when choosing a model.
In this case, you can get it separately from another supplier of your choice. In addition, the choice of software will always be based on the utility of your machine.
Applications and Industries
You can use a hobby CNC router machine for many different things. If you only want to process wood with the CNC router, your requirements are, of course, lower than if the CNC router has to be able to process metal and other hard materials. These router cutters can process various materials such as wood, metal, acrylic, or other plastics. Which materials that can be machined with which process depends on the type of router machine used.
If you have extensive options and want to precisely machine hard materials, you will likely need to opt for a more expensive model. However, if your requirements are lower, you can also resort to a simpler entry-level CNC router designed for hobby use. Compared to industrial router machines, these are significantly simpler (often with 3 axes) models that can be used for engraving and simple router work at the same time.
A few examples of areas in which CNC routers are used:
- Furniture and cabinet making
- Mold Making
- Sign Making
- Stone Carving
- Manufacturing of aerospace components
Manufacturing of medical devices and instruments
There are many accessories needed for the operation of a CNC router machine. First, ensure you purchase all the aluminum, wood, stainless steel, hardwood, and polymer router heads you need. If there is only one standard router head available, the possibilities for it tend to be limited. In addition, there are many optional accessories to consider, such as cleaning utensils, covers, laser engraving accessories, and more.
Tips for Finding and Buying a CNC Router
When processing materials, the question of how powerful the machine is very important. However, the available space and the type of router heads available are essential to consider as well.
You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new CNC router machine. If you have the budget for a 3-axis or portable but need a more powerful and precise machine, you may be able to get the model you need by opting for a used model.
In addition to everything mentioned, some additional things you should consider when shopping include value and performance, downtime, maintenance and cycle time, customer service, and adaptability.
Finding CNC Routers on Surplus Record
Once you’ve determined the type of router you or your business needs, finding one on Surplus Record is easy! You can use the search bar in the header of our website to perform a basic search. Simply type in “cnc router.”
Manufacturers include Thermwood, Komo, Multicam, Weeke, and C.R. Onsrud.
We also work with a variety of dealers who specialize in CNC routers. You can also find dealers in your area or by name who specialize in CNC routers.