cnc router diagram

What to Know Before You Buy a CNC Router Machine

So, you’ve decided to take the next step along your machining career? Or maybe you’re ready to up your hobbyist game and tackle some next-level projects. To help you make the best choice, we’ve compiled a guide to help you find the perfect machine for your needs.

CNC router is a computer-controlled version of a handheld router. This automatic device specializes in cutting, drilling, boring, and milling a variety of materials.

What makes the CNC router machine genuinely distinct is the fact that it works on lighter materials. CNC routers are typically aimed at machining softer, low-density workpieces like those made of copper and aluminum. And while the lower torque and rotational speed of router bits may look like a limitation, CNC router machines are exceptionally fast.

What it lacks in terms of mass (compared to milling machines), the CNC router makes up for its performance. It can produce exact, accurate, and complex shapes and contours with a high degree of repeatability.

If you are set on buying your first CNC router, here is a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the purchase. We assume that you have already carried out a detailed assessment of whether or not you need a CNC router.

Primary Parts of a CNC Router

cnc router diagram

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The core components of a CNC router include:

  • Spindle: The spindle is the life and blood of a CNC machine. It singularly represents the versatility of the router. CNC spindles vary based on their handling, machining action, cooling method, etc.
  • Motor: The motor is the heart of your machine — the organ responsible for its functioning. CNC motors can either be stepper motors or servo motors. The motor defines the performance of your CNC machine.
  • Table: The CNC router table helps you with your workholding. These are made of different materials, ranging from aluminum-based T-slots to MDF spoilboards. The former needs regular replacement when required.
  • Control System: Control systems are the brain of CNC machines. They interpret CAD/CAM software and execute g-code programming, which facilitates mechanical action. These could be in the form of g-code senders like PlanetCNC or open-source firmware like GRBL.
  • Motion Control Drives: CNC routers typically move across at least three axes – the x-axis, the y-axis, and the z-axis with the help of a gantry. Their movement defines the tool path they need and the associated motions (linear, rotary, etc.) that aid machining.
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As stated, CNC router machines are highly versatile and can work on:

  • Wood
  • Medium-density fibreboard (MDF)
  • Foam
  • Plastic
  • Acrylic
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Stone
  • Certain metals (like copper, brass, aluminum)
  • Glass
  • Aluminum Composite (ACM)

CNC router can machine the above materials through woodworking, carving (2D/3D), fabricating, milling, molding, engravings, threading, grooving, and more.

Why Do You Need a CNC Router?

Now that you have a clear understanding of what a CNC router is, it is time to answer why workshops need it in the first place. When compared to manual machiningCNC router machines offer the following advantages:

  • CNC routers can cut down purchase costs by 30%, which enhances your workshop’s cost performance. Speed up big and DIY projects
  • It can process a variety of materials, right from plastics and foam to marble and copper.
  • As they are computer-controlled, CNC routers introduce automation, which reduces operational, labor, and processing costs – thereby giving your bottom line a boost.
  • It reduces wastage, which could contribute to higher operational costs.
  • If you work with large workpieces, you can buy CNC routers with compatible cutting fields and make the task easier.
  • CNC routers offer excellent repeatability, which can be a significant concern while producing high-precision jobs.
  • Due to its high speed, greater accuracy, and reduced wastage, a CNC router can increase production capacity by many folds.
  • CNC router machines find use across various verticals of different industries, from advertising to woodworking.
  • Operations involving CNC routers are much easier as they are automated.
  • It minimizes the need for physical handling and machining of the workpieces, which improves safety conditions for your workers.

Critical Considerations While Purchasing a CNC Router

With the advantages listed above, you may be eager to get your hands on the latest CNC router. But before you step out for router hunting, here are a few factors to bear in mind:

Budget

Quite often, budget is the primary concern while purchasing any equipment. So naturally, a hobbyist or a DIYer cannot spend as much as a manufacturing unit. The expense becomes a more significant issue considering CNC routers can cost anywhere between USD $2,500 to $200,000+. This price range is subject to the configuration, brand, and exact specifications. The best way to analyze whether the investment in a CNC router is justified is by performing cost analysis, calculating ROI, and quantifying the value derived by the machine. This holistic assessment can narrow down your budget range with the corresponding realistic expectations.

The Type of CNC Router You Need

router types cnc

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Not every CNC router that you come across is suitable for the task at hand. A CNC wood router, for example, is much different than a 3D printer. Therefore, the device must be calibrated to match the unique application and capability. Fortunately, CNC routers are available in varying shapes and sizes, which offer the operator a world of choices! Some of these include:

    • Benchtop CNC
    • Mini CNC Router
    • Light duty Router
  • Desktop CNC Router
  • Material-based CNC
  • 3-axis, 4-axis, 5-axis CNC router

They can also vary depending on whether they are the basic model or feature-rich industrial models.

Size and Capacity

The capacity of a CNC router is a product of the project size and requirement.

If you are an entry-level operator, your projects would be much different from a veteran woodworker. Typically, a CNC machine with a working area of 4×8 serves various purposes for beginners, college students, and small-scale operations. Similarly, a Mini CNC router would be more suitable for small businesses, while larger enterprises choose top-level industrial CNC models.

While calculating the acceptable size, you will also have to map it against the space available in your workshop.

Accessibility

Since we are on the subject of space, it is also worth mentioning that positioning your CNC router also makes a world of difference. For instance, it could give or block access to some parts. Similarly, you will also have to factor in the location of electrical supply points and the electricity requirements necessary to power the machine. Finally, you will also have to review the positioning of your inventory and how the finished goods are transported off the device so that you can minimize movement.

Duty Cycle

The duty cycle dictates the number of hours you can operate the CNC router.

For instance, for 10 minutes, a 100% duty cycle would imply that the machine can run for ten whole minutes. On the other hand, a 20% duty cycle would indicate that it can work only for 2 minutes out of 10.

So depending on your project requirements, delivery timelines, and how long you plan on using the machine, you can find something with lower or higher duty cycles.

Durability

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Under normal conditions, a CNC router is a powerful workhorse. While wear and tear are an unavoidable side effect of using it, machine durability is often a cause of concern. For starters, it is a sign of high quality. You do not want to use blunt machine tools or work with a ca collet chuck that lets the workpiece slip. Durability is also a product of the maintenance activities that need to be carried out for the machine’s high performance.

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Customer Service

Customer service is often overlooked while choosing a CNC router. However, you need someone who can deliver reliable after-sales service, AMC contracts, and 24×7 assistance to ease your experience.

Top Vertical Knee Mills

CNC Supra Vertical Knee Mill

cnc supra
CNC Supra Vertical Milling Machine

If you are looking for a heavy-duty, industrial-grade CNC router machine that will meet most of your expectations and last you a good, long while, then the CNC Supra Vertical Knee Mill is a great place to start. Here’s a quick overview of its features:

  • Available in 9×49 and 10×54.
  • Power requirement: 240V single-phase AC.
  • 3HP Spindle Motor with variable speed control.
  • 52PC Clamping Set.
  • Three-axis CNC Bridgeport-type knee mill X, Y, Z ball screws with pre-loaded ball nuts.
  • Compatibility with accessories like air-based laser engravers, edge finder, touch plate, etc. A vertical knee mill is especially popular for laser engraving and small jobs

Carbide 3D Shapeoko 4

If you’re not familiar with the popular 3D, you may not be aware that Carbide 3D’s Shapeoko was replaced in 2021 by the Shapeoko 4.

The Shapeoko 4, an entirely new machine, is very different from the Shapeoko Pro. Carbide 3D claims it was heavily inspired by the Shapeoko Pro, the company’s top CNC machine.

It measures 444x444x101 mm for the popular Standard but they offer it in 2 larger sizes, the XL and the XXL. The XL has 838x444x101 mm, while the XXL has 838x444x101 mm. The XXL is the largest, and the largest XXL gives the most space (838x838x101 mm). The sizes of the machines are varied too. The largest machine, the XXL, measures 1270x1042x483 mm in size and weighs 75 kg.

Inventables X-Carve

The Inventables X-Carve is another machine that has a great reputation in the CNC community.

The Inventables X-Carve, like the Shapeoko range by Carbide 3D, has a passionate user base. You can find them on various online forums ready to answer questions and give advice on all things machining. Their US-based support staff can easily be reached to resolve any problems with your machine. Both phone and email support are available.

 It’s a popular choice for anyone looking to cut any kind of material up to soft metals like some aluminum.

Summary

CNC router can be a great addition to your workshop. However, before you shell out the big bucks, it is worth asking the following questions:

  • Where and how do you intend to use the CNC router
  • What are the specifications and configurations that you require
  • How can you check the maximum boxes while selecting the CNC machine

These guidelines can lend you direction in finding the best CNC router for your workshop. All it takes is a lite research to create your dream machine.

About Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters, a leading supplier of CNC mills, milling machines, and CNC lathes. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn.

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MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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