Whether you’re a hobbyist or looking to run a small business from your garage or workshop, a small CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine will help you expand the types of work you can do and the variety of materials you can machine.
However, whenever you mention a CNC machine, most people immediately think of the CNC milling machine or lathe as the cutting machine of choice. And while CNC milling is excellent for cutting, engraving, and prototyping, there is another reliable CNC machine with some of the milling machine’s attributes available at a lower cost: the CNC router machine.
You can buy a DIY CNC router kit in which the components were produced from 3D printing. Or you can opt for a desktop CNC router for your home shop. Several companies sell these small CNC router machines, enabling you to complete complex work, use them as an engraving machine, or take on a few woodworking projects. Whatever the type of CNC machine, it constantly expands the list of machining possibilities.
But how can you know which is the best CNC router for you? Practically any entry-level freestanding or desktop CNC machine will transform your home workshop, but the suitable CNC machine will be nothing short of a game-changer.
With all these possibilities, you should be able to narrow down your choices by knowing what to look for in a CNC router machine. You might find a few unfamiliar brand names, such as Carbide 3D-Shapeoko, Inventables, Mysweety, BobsCNC Evolution, X-Carve, Sainsmart Genmitsu, and DeWalt.
Here is a buyer’s guide to help you determine what the best CNC router machines have in common:
Your desktop CNC router machine should handle various materials, including wood, hard or soft metal, plastic, acrylics, MDF, PVC, PCB, and other workpiece materials. Woodworkers, who typically don’t depend on the precision of CNC milling machines, appreciate the affordability of CNC router machines.
After purchasing and learning to use a CNC router machine, hobbyists, woodworkers, and self-employed machinists start completing many DIY projects for fun and profit. Desktop CNC machines have the flexibility for advanced precision design without taking up the space of full-sized CNC machines.
2. Easy to Use
Hobbyists and beginners might find learning advanced technology intimidating or even overwhelming. However, CAM software has become increasingly user-friendly, and learning G-Code and programming basics is not nearly as challenging as it once was. Many CNC machines, including the smaller desktop CNC router machines, are designed to be easy to learn and operate. Plenty of excellent tutorials and courses teach you how to manage a modern CNC Router.
If a project requires multiple parts, each piece must come off the machine within tolerances. It’s called repeatability, and it’s the hallmark of CNC machines, including the CNC router machine. Remember that although consistency is the goal for any CNC machine, it takes the combined efforts of a trained operator and a high-quality CNC machine to achieve those results. And that also applies to woodworking, 3d printers, CNC milling, and lathes.
You will expect fast performance from a CNC router machine, and the best of them can deliver it. Speed begins with high-quality technical specs from stepper motors to ball screws and on an intuitive, easy-to-use machine that helps the operator understand the optimum cutting speeds and feeds for various workpieces.
5. Heavy-Duty Gantry
Heavy components traveling at high speeds and feeds generate high forces of inertia. The horizontal gantry support under the table and the vertical gantry legs take the brunt of that force. Look for sensors preventing the gantry from colliding with the limit switches when you run it to the extent of its travel.
Aluminum extrusions should be evenly distributed along the router’s Y-axis, creating an accurate and evenly stiff machine bed. An example of a rugged router machine is the Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO Router Kit with GRBL Control. It runs on Arduino, a powerful, open-source software, and it performs as a carving, milling, and engraving machine with a working area of 300 x 180 x 45mm.
6. Small Footprint
Many CNC router machines, with their slightly reduced cutting areas and smaller footprints, are ideal for hobbyists since they are designed to fit into the limited working area of a small home shop. However, even though you’re shopping for a desktop CNC router, check out the footprint of each machine to ensure it will comfortably fit in its designated space. Remember that the machine’s parameters also affect the maximum size of the workpiece the machine can handle.
7. Clamping System
No matter what material you’re machining or engraving, you must clamp it to the worktable. And with the limited work area of desktop CNC machines, clamps can’t take up too much of it. Think about how you will fasten your workpieces and find out if any clamps are included with the router.
8. Offline Controller
Look for a high-quality CNC router machine with an offline controller, allowing you to operate the machine efficiently without a computer. The best offline controllers include a touch screen and an emergency stop.
9. Dust Collection
Although machinists and woodworkers can use the CNC router machine to increase their productivity, woodworking shops should be especially mindful of the mess and health hazards of dust in the workshop. Some desktop CNC routers have built-in customizable dust collection systems.
Be sure to ask what kind of warranty and service the company offers. The standard warranty is one year, but it can vary among manufacturers, so it’s essential to verify it.
Do You Need More Accuracy Than a CNC Router Machine Can Deliver?
At CNC Masters, we have CNC milling machines that do almost anything the big boys do without the struggles that come with cumbersome, complicated full-size CNC mills that don’t fit your home shop or budget.
You can expand the capabilities of an all-purpose machine, such as our heavy-duty CNC Supra, by equipping it with a laser engraver attachment. Our CNC machine offerings include the Max CNC Mill and Baron CNC Mill, options for hobbyists or DIY enthusiasts.
If you were hoping for a smaller CNC machine with plenty of power, our CNC Jr. Mill might be the perfect complement to your growing home business. Our CNC mills come with CNC software to help you get up and running quickly, and the CAD/CAM experts at CNC Masters will be a phone call away offering their professional support.
Your competitors might already be experiencing the benefits of CNC machining. You may even be outsourcing your CNC milling work to them, paying their prices, and accepting their delivery dates.
Take control of price and delivery by doing your own CNC milling and lathe work. The best time to make this move and take things into your own hands is right now. Whether you are a small operation, one-person shop, or hobbyist, it could be the wisest investment you will ever make.
A high-quality CNC machine will be a fantastic addition to your machine shop, woodworking shop, home workshop, or that hobby you pursue in your garage. A CNC machine will expand your capabilities and make you a productive and more creative worker.
Browse the selection of CNC machine tools at CNC Masters, and let us know how we can help you place one of the best CNC machines on your floor or bench!