Where traditional mills and routers are large handheld or table-mounted spindles for analog carving jobs, the CNC router sophisticates things, introducing pinpoint accuracy in three axes and allowing you to produce end-use and, more importantly, sellable, objects right before your eyes. And perhaps best of all, you can pick up a decent one for somewhere in the region of $300.
The majority of CNC machines come in kits that require you to build the machine yourself. These are mostly pretty sizeable objects and so it makes sense that many are shipped in pieces –just something to keep in mind as we run you through this list of the top CNC routers worth knowing right now.
If you’re a small business owner or a hobbyist looking to turn professional you might be considering how to scale up your operation and start manufacturing projects faster, easier and with more precision. A machine that can trace and cut with no human intervention in a matter of minutes and that fits readily in your workshop seems like the perfect solution. But is it worth the investment? Today we’ll be exploring the highest quality CNC wood routers in 2021 and seeing how they’re stacking up. And while we’re at it, we’ll check out some of the essential points you should consider before making this significant purchasing decision.
What to Consider Before Buying A CNC Router?
CNC routers can range from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. It’s really not a purchase most business owners take lightly, regarding the category they fit in.
And while there are many advantages to owning a professional level CNC machine, we’re going to be focusing on the more affordable models today. These are the CNCs that fall in the lowest price range and that are best suited for small businesses and hobbyists who do projects in their spare times. These machines are excellent for learning the ropes and they can definitely bring returns if properly used and thoroughly mastered.
One of the most important aspects you should keep in mind when choosing a CNC is the work area. This will limit the size of the project you are able to do so it’s essential that you choose a machine that is large enough to accommodate the material you need to work with on a daily basis.
Additionally, consider that a router is a voluminous and sturdy machine so be sure to make an assessment if your workshop can fit it or if you’re better off making some adjustments or expansions before getting one.
Assembling a CNC is no easy task and, depending on the manufacturer, it can take from hours to days. The machine comes either as a kit or pre-assembled.
The kit will require you to assemble the entire unit from scratch and it will take some experience around a workshop to achieve. Proper assembly is essential to accuracy and performance so taking your time and doing a thorough job is your best bet.
Pre-assembled units come with most of their parts already together, however some will still require 30 minutes to a few hours of work before you can press Go and collect $200. However, this process will be far less time consuming and will require significantly less skill and patience than the kit version.
Before deciding on a router make sure to check that the option you’re considering is able to work with the material you need. Most affordable CNCs will be great for soft material such as wood, plastic and maybe aluminum but harder metals will stump them. If you’re looking for something with more power you might want to save up for a more heavy duty model.
Many CNC routers come with laser add-ons. This can add a new dimension to your projects as well as functionality to your investment. Check if the machine you’re considering has this as an add-on or is flexible enough to allow for a DIY upgrade.
Our Top Picks
1. BobsCNC E3
A home-built kit, BobsCNC E3 provides a generous 17.7 x 15.3 x 3.3-inch cutting space and a DEWALT 660 router. Both the gantry and cutting head utilizes a rail system supported by an SG20U. Combine that with an Arduino microprocessor that runs with various operating systems from Windows to Raspberry Pi, and it’s easy to see why this router makes the cut (no pun intended).
Specs aside, the act of putting this machine together is one that helps buyers learn more about the functionality behind CNC routers for woodworking. Wood construction keeps this model as environmentally friendly as possible but does require regular upkeep like tightening the bolts.
With a wood frame, expect an accelerated rate of wear and tear. Wood simply does not hold up as long as metal. On the plus side, the wood body makes modifying this device a simple process.
Another DIY model, MySweet’s router kit includes all the necessary parts to build an excellent machine. This router features three axes, a 6.5 x 7.5 x 2-inch workspace, and runs on either 110 or 240 volts. Its 7,000 RPM spindle runs on three two-phase AmpStepper motors, which is more than enough power for the aluminum design.
Honestly, this is a scaled-down version of an industrial CNC router. Learning how to put it together is half the fun, but it isn’t a piece of cake. Supplying the tool path software is slightly challenging for first-timers. An ER 11 power supply and LED readout are missing from the kit as well. Also, the PCB cutting bits are subpar for regular woodwork.
As a hobby machine, we like MySweet’s kit. Not only does it get the job done, but it provides a fun DIY project. While its purpose is for small projects, that might be enough for the enthusiast.
Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO Router Kit Wood Carving, Milling, and Engraving Machine is a nice piece of design made to be a perfect router kit for a newbie or a beginner. The 3018-PRO CNC Router Kit is packed with a lot of amazing features which makes it a perfect choice for some woodworkers. Some of these features may make the device very easy to operate and it is also constructed to be gotten from the carton. This unit as it comes out of the box is ready to go. With its plug-and-play feature, not only does it make it safe to use but it’s durable too.
When you look at the device, it might not look very solid but when users use it, they find out that it actually lasts longer than most CNC routers out there in the market. What we don’t like about this product is that it most times comes with incomplete sets that require you to purchase before use. The manual is also difficult to study but we advise that you can practice and learn from online websites. There is also a design flaw we need to talk about, and that’s the lack of a limit switch which would cause the user to make errors and mistakes.
The MCWdoit Upgrade Version CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control DIY Mini CNC Machine, Wood Router Engraver with Offline Controller is a high-quality CNC Router in which customers and users cannot pass by. It is an upgraded version of the MCWdoit CNC 3018. This model comes with very amazing but useful features which may include; a fixed heat sink, an integrated driver chip, a fan, and a huge upgrade to the motherboard. This CNC features a very spacious surface in which users can be able to make use of their projects.
The MCWdoit Upgrade Version CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control DIY Mini CNC Machine, Wood Router Engraver with Offline Controller is full of spare parts. The manufacturers advise that this product should be used only by professionals and also this machine wasn’t built to handle projects on an industrial level. The MCWdoit Upgrade Version CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control DIY Mini CNC Machine, Wood Router Engraver with Offline Controller is a versatile tool and it is suitable for surfaces made of several materials such as soft metals, plastics, acrylic, and PVC.
Produced by Yofuly, the Yofuly Upgraded CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control Engraving Machine with Offline Controller are the upgraded version of the CNC 3018 with a new control board and an integrated driver chip. It is very easy to install and the manual, as well as the software, can be found easily over the Internet. When the Yofuly Upgraded CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control Engraving Machine with Offline Controller arrives, it comes in a box and is semi-assembled meaning that users have to spend at least 20 minutes setting up their devices.
There is an offline controller integrated into the system. This means that users can use the Yofuly Upgraded CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control Engraving Machine with Offline Controller without any computer. This CNC router can also be used on a variety of materials which includes some metals such as aluminum and copper and other surfaces such as plastic, wood, PCB CCL, acrylic. The Yofuly Upgraded CNC 3018 Pro GRBL Control Engraving Machine with Offline Controller as we know is suitable for professionals or people who already have knowledge about the CNC router.
NWA Piranha XL is the most technologically-advanced CNC router on our list, making it convenient and easy to use.
It is the only router on our list with a touchscreen color graphic pendant, which provides you with a control panel for the tool.
Besides the touchscreen, this router does not require you to connect it to a PC computer. Simply design your work and save it on a flash drive that you can then plug into the pendant and proceed to run.
These advancements combine well with the large 61 x 30 x 10-cm working area to help you accomplish projects like creating carvings, plaques, precision parts, and ornamentals.
7. Vevor 3020T
If you specialize in engraving, then you need a tool that complements your skill best. Vevor 3020T is one of the best CNC routers for engraving soft materials including wood, plastics, PVC, and PCB.
It comes with 3 axes, which are composed using trapezoidal screws and hard shafts chrome-plated. These features optimize the router for plane engraving.
The tool’s working area is made of aluminum and a dust-proof plate is easy to clean and durable to give you long-lasting service. To help you achieve the highest degree of precision engraving, the router has a powerful 300-watt motor, whose speed peaks at 8,000 r/min.
8. JFT CNC 3040
The CNC 3040 offers high-quality cutting while remaining reasonably priced. It is very similar to the CNC 3018 but much larger and more powerful. As with other routers with similar names, the “CNC 3040” refers to its work area, which is 300 x 400 mm in this case.
While the CNC 3018 can only cut hardwoods, the CNC 3040 can cut aluminum and, with the proper upgrades, some grades of steel. With its small size and diverse cutting capabilities, this is an excellent machine for expanding your repertoire.
The CNC Shark HD4 is an improved version of the previously popular Shark Pro Plus. It is a product of Next Wave Automation Designs, an Ohio-based company. Next Wave is a market leader in the design and manufacture of low-cost, high-quality CNC machines.
The CNC Shark HD4 is part of the company’s Shark series, and it offers several improvements over its predecessor, as well as a few other incredible features that advanced users will appreciate. The first upgrade is a reinforced gantry for added stability, as well as a rigid interlocking aluminum table.
This benchtop CNC router will make a fine addition to your maker space. You can choose from three different sizes: Standard, XL, or XXL for your most ambitious projects.
The Carbide 3D Shapeoko CNC router kit comes with all the tools needed to assemble each part. This product is entirely made in the USA and you can count on MatterHackers’ excellent customer service before and after your purchase.
With this sturdy CNC workhorse you’ll be able to cut through various woods, plastics, and even soft metals like aluminum.
How to use a cnc router machine
What’s the Lifespan of a CNC Router/How Long Does a CNC Router Last?
Many factors affect the durability of a router. First, the materials and the quality of the machine will determine how long it serves you. Therefore, go for durable products. Another factor that determines the lifespan of this machine is how well you handle and maintain it. Proper maintenance of this machine, including using it for the right projects, will see that the device lasts longer.
What is the GRBL Controller?
It is a software type that sends GCode to CNC machines. This controller is useful as it allows the user to get commands down to any controller.
What is the “axis” as used in a CNC router?
The term “axis” is the number of directions that the router can move. For example, on a 3-axis routing center, the router moves across the X, Y, and Z linear axes when approaching the material.
What can a CNC router do?
A CNC router can cut, carve, and engrave a variety of materials including steel, glass, foams, plastics, wood, and composites. The variety of compatible materials depends on the CNC router’s bits and power.