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I hear you!
A CNC Router can produce the sort of work that previously only came out of professional wood shops.
But how can a guy like you, with a tiny workshop and a limited budget get a CNC Router, right?
Well, nowadays these CNC machines come in all shapes and sizes, and to suit all budgets. There’s no reason why the hobbyist woodworker should be without one.
So, if you’re looking for the best CNC Router out there, look no further!
In this article I’m going to talk you through the ins and outs of these machines. And we’re going to look at the seven best options out there.
So, stick with me, and let’s go!
Working Area Size
CNC Piranha XL
30.48 x 60.96 cm
MySweety DIY Router Kits
16 X 10 cm
CNC Piranha FX
40 X 58 cm
Cheaper Premium Pick
The Taishi 6040
26 X 24 cm
Best desktop router
DIY Mini 2418
24 x 18 cm
For small shop
DIY CNC Router Kit
30 x 18 cm
A helpful Guide to buy cnc routers
TYPES OF CNC ROUTERS
There are a few different types and classifications of three-axis table routers.
Industrial CNC Routers :
These are large, heavy-duty machines that are designed and built to do professional production on a big scale.
They are capable of doing fast, complicated cutting of large parts and these machines often weigh several tonnes, and cost many tens of thousands of dollars
Mid-range CNC Routers:
These are smaller versions than their industrial counterparts, but capable of the same intricacy, accuracy and volume in production – on a slightly smaller scale.
Hobbyist DIY CNC Routers:
These machines are used my amateur woodworkers and hobbyists to make parts for projects and are often home-made or made from commercially available kits.
These machines are on a much smaller scale than industrial versions. They’re smaller, less powerful and lighter in weight
Mini and Desktop hobbyist CNC Routers:
Hobbyist CNC Routers are on the same sort of scale as DIY Hobbyist machines, but they’re bought ready-made or in complete kits. Mini and Desktop versions are very similar in operation to these, but on a smaller scale again, and often have tiny tables.
WHAT IS A CNC ROUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
It’s basically a computer-controlled router. You can mill, drill and cut with one.
Unlike a jig-router, you can produce accurate one-offs with a CNC router as easily as you can make repeat pieces.
Accuracy, and the ability to automate production are what really sets the CNC Router apart.
The router works within a specified cutting area, guided by computer control – you input instructions via an interface programming language.
It works like a traditional router to remove material using various cutting bits, but the need to physically move the router around is removed.
So, WHY USE A CNC ROUTER?
As we’ve said, the CNC Router offers unmatched precision when compared to its hand-held and jig-based counterparts.
It also offers great scope for automation and can reproduce the work of many tools, such as the panel saw, boring machines and the spindle moulder.
You can even cut mortises and tenons very accurately and repetitively with a CNC Router.
CNC ROUTER VERSUS A MILL
The truth of it is:
Mills are really expensive, and they don’t offer the same level of control that a CNC Router does.
Repeat work is also more difficult and less consistent with a mill than with a CNC Router.
The range of tools available for routers is also greater than those available for a mill.
And with a mill, you’re often paying for metal cutting capabilities, whether or not you intend to use that capacity, so again, for woodworkers, and for accuracy, the CNC Router wins.
SPINDLE VERSUS CNC ROUTER
There are a few things to consider here, so listen up...
The first thing being what material you’re going to be cutting.
If it’s metals, then the Spindle machine is your best bet.
For wood, CNC Routers are best.
Routers generally spin too fast for metal cutting.
Spindles cost more money than CNC Routers, so if you’re a woodworker, the choice is quite simple. And the CNC Router is your friend.
Read More: Best router for CNC machines
THE ADVANTAGES OF A CNC ROUTER OVER A TRADITIONAL ROUTER -
CNC control offers great control and fine limits when it comes to producing flawless pieces – every time.
Once programmed, the CNC router removes any scope for human error from woodworking.
Less laying and marking out are big benefits with a CNC router.
But the true advantage of these machines is in the automation.
You’ll spend way less time at the machine than you will with a mini mill, for instance.
You can get on with other work while the CNC router gets on with it’s own.
Fewer mistakes means less wasting of expensive materials.
CNC also means less need for layout, and this results in far more reliable production.
Produce work at scale:
Smaller scale projects can be completed with great intricacy using a CNC router.
You can also use the software to easily scale up or down a part.
Something that’s incredibly difficult to do using more traditional tools.
Set it and forget it:
A CNC Router is quicker and produces less waste than a traditional router.
Once you’ve set it, you can pretty much forget it, short of having to change out tools occasionally.
Mistakes are less frequent, so long as you get your programming correct in the first place. And as we’ve said, repeat jobs are a breeze with a CNC Router.
HOW TO CHOOSE A CNC ROUTER?
Working area size:
You need to consider the sizes of parts and pieces that you’re going to be producing, and the table and working area on the router needs to be big enough to accommodate that
The router you buy needs to be capable of cutting the material that you want to shape. If you plan on working with hardwoods, and you want to produce larger cuts, more quickly, then you need to make sure that the router you choose can handle that
Look at the method for user interface and be sure that it’s easy for you to learn and use. If you’re entry level to CNC, then look for products that promise a good entry level experience.
Quality of build:
Buy the best kit that you can afford. Look at build quality and remember that build quality greatly affects accuracy and stability.
THE 7 BEST CNC ROUTERS OF 2019 - REVIEWS
1. Bobs CNC E3 – Our top Pick
The Bobs CNC E3 kit comes supplied with a De Walt DW660 Router and the frame is made from laser cut Birch Plywood. The cutting area on this machine is 450mm x 380mm and the depth capacity is 85mm.
The frame of this CNC set up is laser cut for accuracy and rigidity is assured by the use of 6mm 5ply baltic birch plywood, which is a great, hardwearing material for construction. This will easily handle cutting most woods.
A Cut Above:
Cutting power here comes from the excellent and reliable Dewalt DW660 Router, which comes with 1/8” and ¼” collets as standard, increasing the tools available to use.
Don’t lose the thread:
The MDF spoil board on this brilliant kit has threaded holes – amazingly convenient and a great feature.
Small is beautiful:
The Bobs CNC E3 boasts a convenient and compact footprint, measuring in at only 630mm x 640mm x 480mm.
This is a great little machine for smaller workshops and sheds, and you won’t have too much trouble fitting it in – even if you’re really short on bench area.
So, what’s the catch?
Well, there aren’t many at all, is the simple answer to that question. This is a very well-made piece of kit and the only real drawback is the lack of any alternative mounting options, if you don’t want to use the supplied De Walt router.
Probably, yes. There’s some really great and thoughtful touches in the design of this excellent package and it’s a great place to start your CNC routing journey.
De Walt reliability and power is matched with superbly engineered, quality frame materials with this kit, and it’s really hard to look past the Bobs CNC E3.
2. CNC Piranha XL – Our premium pick
This is a CNC router table that’s right at the top of the price range. You get a quality set up and a really nice looking, aluminium frame and table for your money.
The working area on this machine is a massive 300mm x 600mm, and the depth capacity is a large 100mm.
The construction of the frame and bed here are just quality. Accuracy levels will be high with such a well-engineered piece of kit.
Lock and load:
The Piranha XL comes with three different router clamps. You can use a Bosch, a Dewalt or a Porter Cable router with this unit but neither are supplied, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of buying a dedicated router, or use one of your existing ones.
Put it on the table:
The table here is quality. It has really handy clamping grooves and comes with two clamps, although you’ll probably need a couple more for everyday use.
The table is sturdy and large, and I can find nothing wrong with it.
One negative with this machine is the relatively large footprint, coming in at a whopping 500mm x 775mm.
Although this machine provides a nice big cutting area, that’s matched by the area you’ll need to find in your workshop.
If you have limited space, this probably isn’t the one for you.
So, is the piranha as fishy as its name?
This is a really well-engineered table but you really are paying for that.
The user interface here is really nice, in the form of a touchscreen module, and the clamping system on the table is a really convenient addition for everyday use.
This won’t be for everyone, because the footprint is quite large, but it’s a really nice piece of kit
3. MySweety DIY Router Kits – Our best budget pick
This option is basically the MySweety 1610 Mini Mill kit with an added GRBL control unit, giving you CNC capability.
It’s a good budget option.
The 1610 has a high-quality Aluminium frame and the working area on this unit is small, measuring just 160mm x 100mm, with a depth range of 45mm.
You’ve been framed:
The aluminium frame gives this unit some decent rigidity and accuracy.
General construction quality is good and this machine will accurately cut smaller components and pieces.
Although the travel isn’t massive on any axis, if you’re doing smaller and more intricate work, then this is a great little machine.
The supplied spindle is good quality and although it’s only suitable for shallow cuts and light-duty machining, it’s reported to be reliable and sturdy enough for hobbyist tasks.
Table and clamping:
The table on this unit, although small, is sturdy and practical.
It has a nice clamping rail system integrated and comes with four clamps,
You’ll be able to start working pretty quickly once you get this little machine out of the box and assembled.
There’s two ways to look at the compact nature of this CNC Mill.
You get a smaller working area and therefore your project capability is limited, but the footprint is tiny, and it’ll fit anywhere easily.
It’s also lightweight and portable, so it’ll be a decent option for many woodworkers.
So, what’s the verdict?
Well, the MySweety will be a sweet option for some woodworking enthusiasts that have very limited work space and only want to produce small parts.
If that’s you, then the construction of this machine is really nice, and it’ll give you accurate performance.
The lightweight design and size also make this a good option if you want to store it away between jobs, so don’t rule it out.
This is a great option if you’re stepping up from conventional mini milling to CNC and you already own the MySweety 1610.
In that instance, this upgrade would cost you very little money indeed, and hence – it makes our best budget pick on this list.
4. CNC Piranha FX – Our cheaper premium pick
This is basically a less expensive option in the Piranha range and compares well to the earlier Piranha XL, although as the name suggests, you get a smaller working area with this machine than with its bigger brother.
That measures in on the FX as a very respectable 300mm x 330mm, with a height range of 75mm.
The Piranha FX is a well-engineered machine and its combination of steel and aluminium alloy offers great rigidity.
You’ll get good accuracy from this machine and it’ll handle some heavy work if you need it to, eating up hardwood carving and shaping jobs easily.
Cut to the chase:
Like its bigger brother, the FX is not supplied with a router, but it comes with three different clamping modules that will take either a De Walt, Porter Cable, or a Bosch router.
This works out great if you’ve got one of these lying around the workshop.
You’ll need to factor in the extra cost if you’re going to need to buy a dedicated router to use with this unit, so bear that in mind before buying.
Back to bed:
The bed and indeed the general construction of this machine is well designed and well executed, so you’ll find it easy to set up for jobs and your work shouldn’t move about.
It comes with a couple of clamps, which is a nice touch, but you’ll likely need a couple more.
The cost of this unit allows for that, though, so there should be budget to get the bits you need to get working.
It’s worth noting that there have been some reported problems with some of the router clamps supplied with the FX.
They don’t always perfectly fit the routers that they’re supposed to accommodate, so be prepared for some fettling and fiddling in some cases.
Verdict of the Piranha FX:
This is a nice machine that’s well-made and feels like quality.
It can take on jobs that a spindle router can’t and you have a choice of routers to use.
The touch screen unit is a bonus, and very convenient to use.
One of the nicest features of this machine is that you can use a laptop to programme your design, download it onto a USB stick, and then get that precious laptop out of the workshop before you start raising dust.
All-in-all, this is a nice mid-price option and it’ll get through some fairly sturdy work, accurately and smoothly.
5. The Taishi 6040 – Our best desktop router pick
This is a surprisingly good package for its place in the range of pricing.
It has a really nice table and good general construction, using high-quality materials.
This gives you a very nice working area of 400mm x 580mm, and the depth range is a decent 75mm.
The build here is attractive and sturdy.
The material is an aluminium alloy and there’s no noticeable flex or movement, allowing this table and frame to carry out some heavier-duty tasks without flinching.
Nearly 100watts of power:
This is a spindle router, but it’s not as limited in power as some of the other, smaller spindle machines.
You get a really powerful 800 Watts here and that’s enough to get through some reasonably heavy work, quickly and easily.
There’s only one real drawback with this machine.
The footprint is relatively large, measuring 750mm x 480mm, so bear in mind that you’ll need to allocate the space to use this unit.
So, is the Taishi for you?
This is a really nice machine and set-up for the cost.
It’s a great unit if you want to do larger sized engraving tasks on bigger work pieces and would be a formidable choice for panel raising and engraving tasks.
The big table really offers some great advantages, and this will be a go-to machine for people doing tasks in that sort of bracket.
The power of the spindle matches the scope for working on bigger projects. Definitely one to watch.
6. DIY Mini 2418 – Our best for small shop pick
This takes the number six slot in our list of picks, because it’s a great option for workshops with very little work or bench space.
This is a tiny machine with a footprint of only 260mm x 240mm. The working area on the DIY Mini is a miniscule 240mm x 180mm, and it has a working depth range of just 40mm.
Back to basics:
This is a basic little machine, capable of only doing smallest and lightest of CNC machining...
...but it would be a great introduction model if you want to dip your feet into the CNC world without spending very much cash at all.
This unit offers full, if tiny capability, and is a great, budget option if you want to see if CNC is for you.
This machine will perform fairly accurately too, and the construction material here is sturdy aluminium.
This machine employs a spindle unit to get the cutting done.
This isn’t a very powerful spindle, so avoid if you intend to carry out heavier machining tasks.
It’s a capable little unit for smaller work pieces, though. So, don’t necessarily rule it out.
Mini by name, mini by nature:
The DIY Mini 2418 has a really compact table, measuring only 260mm x 240mm. It’s built well and so long as your jobs are smaller, this machine has everything you’ll need.
This will fit almost anywhere, in even the smallest of workshops or hobbyist garages or sheds.
This really is a specialist little machine and if it’s the size that you need, you’ll have little to complain about.
The DIY Mini 2418 is what it is, basically. If you’re looking to try CNC machining and you don’t want to spend a massive amount until you know if you like it, then this is a great machine.
It’s basic but it costs about a third of the amount that our top pick costs and it’s a complete unit, so you’ll be cutting as soon as you’ve assembled and set it up.
Worth considering if you’re an unsure newbie, or if you just have very little space for a new machine but you want the convenience and accuracy of a small CNC router.
7. DIY CNC Router Kit 3018 – Our best pick for hobbyists
This kit is an upgrade on our number six pick, in terms of size.
You get a working area of 300mm x 180mm here – as opposed to 240mm x 180mm, and the depth range remains at 40mm.
So although these machines are identical, the table size is slightly bigger here and you get a capacity that’s 60mm larger on one axis.
Frame and materials:
As with its little brother, you get decent build quality in aluminium with the 3018, which results in no flex and a good user experience.
Accuracy is assured by a rigid frame and a nicely engineered table. It’ll do smaller jobs well.
Can it cut it?
The answer is, sometimes. This is a spindle router that isn’t very powerful, so this isn’t a machine for cutting hardwoods or for taking large amounts of material off in one pass.
A buyer of this device needs to be realistic about the sort of tasks it can perform.
Range and Table:
This machine is another great pick for people with really small workshops.
It’s a compromise with regard to its little brother in that it’ll take up slightly more space, with a footprint of 400mmx 330mm.
However, this is still really small, and you do get an increase of 60mm on one axis when compared with the 2418 version
Is the 3018 one to rate?
This depends on your requirements and the amount of space, and cash that you have available.
This is a great machine in terms of footprint and price and would be another great introductory machine if you’re still undecided as to whether or not CNC machining is for you.
This machine will allow you to learn the basics of CNC work, and it won’t break the bank. It’s a great option too, if the working area of the 2418 isn’t quite big enough for you.
So, get cutting!
We’ve had a good look at seven very different CNC Routers here and I think one will be suitable for almost all hobbyist woodworkers that are looking to jump on board with CNC woodworking.
Each of these machines offer various advantages in terms of cutting capability, size and power.
CNC offers so many advantages to woodworkers and there’s a machine here to suit every budget and workshop.
Hopefully I’ve helped you through what these great machines can do, how they work, what sort of options you have, and what to look out for when buying your own CNC Router.
There’s a world of projects and fun awaiting you in the world of CNC Machining, so what are you waiting for anyway? Pick your machine and get to work!