CNC Router FAQS: Our 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions

cnc router

When it comes to CNC routing, there are a lot of things to learn about.

What does a router do? How do you operate one? And there different types of routers? How does it differ from laser printing and what can you make with one?

So, read on for a comprehensive list of the 10 most frequently asked questions we get about CNC routers and routing…

1. What does CNC stand for?

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, which is the term used to describe a computer-operated cutting machine like a CNC router.

2. What does a CNC router do?

A CNC router’s main function is to cut, engrave and carve objects. The machine’s built-in software tells the spindle where to make precise cuts. 

The most common routers operate on these three axes:

  1. X-axis: Runs the width of the machine
  2. Y-axis: Runs perpendicular to the x-axis
  3. Z-axis: Runs vertically

3. How do you operate a CNC machine?

CNC machines rely on software to implement things like CAD files, but you don’t need to be a programming expert to run it. The design system will automatically generate the code needed to control the machine, allowing you to customise your design and make edits if needed along the way. 

4. Are there different types of CNC routing machines?

Yes, CNC machines can come in different sizes and have different capabilities.

A desktop or entry level sized router is great for personal use or in a small business, whereas mid-size and high production, industrial sized machines and are specially designed for frequent use on large scale items.

From an axis point of view, there are also up to 6 different types:

  • A 2-axis router is great for creating automotive and medical machine parts, as well as engraving.
  • A 3-axis has an additional router bit with linear movement, so it can create slightly more complex 3D shapes and parts.
  • A 4-axis CNC router machine can move in four directions, giving it a 360-degree range of motion. For this reason, it has more power and higher accuracies than the 2 and 3-axis machines.
  • A 5-axis machine means that the spindle can rotate in 2 additional planes. This enables the cutting or milling tool to remove material in areas that are hard to reach.
  • 6-axis and 7-axis routers have many advantages, most notably the ability to make highly detailed parts in record time. This makes them ideal for mass produced pieces.

5. What can you make with a CNC router?

CNC routers can be used to make almost anything 2D or 3D. The top 10 things you can make are signs, shop fit-outs, flat pack furniture items, outdoor seating, sneeze guards, musical instruments, backdrops and props, picture frames, kitchenware and kids toys.

6. What industries use CNC machines?

Many different types of industries can benefit from CNC capabilities. The 6 most common areas we service are:

  1. Retail
  2. Advertising
  3. Building
  4. Boating
  5. Furniture
  6. Medical

7. What materials can you cut with a CNC router?

A CNC cutting machine can work with a wide variety of materials, including solid pieces, full sheets and fragments. These materials include:

8. What’s the difference between a CNC router and a handheld router?

Handheld routers are good for small, woodworking projects, like trimming, cutting out decorative patterns and shaping edges. A CNC router is automated and computer controlled, so it’s much more precise and can undertake tasks simultaneously and quickly.

9. How is CNC cutting different to laser cutting?

The main difference is that laser cutters have to cut a piece all the way through or just do a shallow etching - there is no in-between. It will often burn the edges of thin materials too, like soft timbers, plywood and MDF.

CNC machines, however, can cut as deep or as shallow as you want. A CNC mill can cut both thick and thin materials, and all without leaving scorch marks. 

10. How do you maintain a CNC machine?

Maintenance is important, but not difficult, and there are a few things you need to do on a semi-regular basis to keep your machine looking and working well.

You can start with some general cleaning, such as wiping down surfaces with metal polish and dusting off wood chips and any other cuttings that have accumulated in the machine. Then you can keep the rails and bearings lubricated with degreasing products to prevent parts from seizing up, and finally, changing the vacuum filters to keep the motor running smoothly.

If kept in good condition, a CNC router should last for at least 10-15 years.