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Here's the fact:
Handheld routers can be useful for a wide variety of applications. But unfortunately, our simple hands can only be so precise.
A CNC router setup will allow you to cut complex shapes quickly and accurately, overcoming your biological limitations.
In this article we’ve got some tips for you to find the best router for CNC compatibility. We’ve even got a couple of suggestions down there too.
Keep in mind:
Finding a router to use for CNC is a bit different than a normal handheld or table-mounted router.
That being said, let’s get started:
Top Routers For CNC
10,000 - 30,000 RPM
A great option
10,000 - 23,000 RPM
Best for the money
You may consider
THE KEYS To Unlocking Router/CNC Harmony
You can use a router in a lot of different ways: handheld, mounted in a table, installed in a CNC setup.
We’re here to talk about CNC routers...
...and there’s actually less complications to worry about.
We’re essentially stripping the machine down to it’s motor: the barebones.
When looking for a CNC router, I look at RPM (rotations per minute), Horsepower, and Collets.
I’ll go through each of these below -
RPM dictates material, bit size:
A rule of thumb for RPMs: the larger the router bit, the slower the speed you want.
Also, cutting different materials requires different router bits and RPMs.
For wood, we like the 17,000-25,000+ RPM range.
For metal, 12,000 is probably the max (but we’ll focus on wood in this article).
Higher RPMs will cause less tearout, plain and simple.
TheSpruceCrafts has a great article on choosing speeds for different router bits here.
The more horsepower your motor has, the more torque it’ll have.
This is important when you’re using big bits to cut large chunks of wood at a low RPM.
Low RPMs have lower torque which can cause tear-outs.
However, motors with more horsepower maintain their torque even at lower RPMs.
Collets-where the action happens:
A good collet and chuck system will grasp bits tightly while making them easy to change out at the same time.
Pitch and dust can build up in the collet over time, so we like to have easy access to replacements if necessary.
Check your local hardware store or amazon to see if you can get collets easily.
Collets come in different sizes.
A friend of mine uses a router with a 1/4” collet that can also use a 1/8” collet.
The smaller collet lets him use smaller bits for more delicate work. He does a lot of decorative items so having access to smaller bits is important for him.
You can find a more in-depth guide to collets here.
Spindles v/s routers... what’s the difference?
Both spindles and routers use rotating router bits to cut material at high speeds.
Spindles can be thought of as elite routers.
Spindles outrank routers in horsepower, and retain torque at lower RPMs.
Spindles have precision bearings which need replacing less frequently, and spindles will be much quieter.
In high-production environments where your paycheck depends on the output of your shop, a spindle is probably the way to go (they’re also more expensive).
5 BEST ROUTER FOR CNC - REVIEWS
1. Bosch 1617 - Best Overall
Bosch puts it all on the table:
A powerful router with big range and solid horsepower, Bosch isn’t joking around with this machine.
We love the range on this machine:
From 8,000 to 27,000 RPMs, this router covers a healthy range suitable for many types of wood and many router bits (metal too!).
Not only that:
The integrated soft-start feature starts the machine up smoothly without jerking or jumping.
This will keep it from rattling around inside the CNC enclosure.
It’s got the horsepower to back it up:
A beefy 2.25 horsepower motor will keep up the torque even when you get down into that lower RPM range.
Disclaimer: some people did have trouble with stalling in the lower RPM range of this machine.
It’s probably best to keep it above 10,000 RPMs, just to be safe.
A powerhouse on paper:
As far as raw stats go, this Bosch has got it all. 2 1/4 horsepower motor, 1/4” and 1/2” collets, and a huge RPM range. Really hard to beat this one.
2. Makita RT0701CX3 - A good router for CNC machines
A small yet sturdy delight:
This Makita makes a great router for CNC and is a go-to for many people out there.
10,000-30,000 RPM guarantees versatility:
The Makita has got the largest RPM range out of any router on this list. That makes it perfect for a wide array of bits and a wide array of wood.
At just 3.9lbs...
...the Makita is also the lightest router on this list. That will only make things easier when you’re attaching it to your CNC machines.
Easy shaft lock for quick bit changes:
This router makes it easy to change out bits, and bases, quickly.
When using a router with a CNC system, the collets and bits become the focus of the machine.
If it’s easy to change out bits and collets, it’s easy to keep them clean: if it’s easy to keep them clean, then your setup will last much longer.
Makita includes 3 bases with this router:
We love this little bonus. If you decide you want to pop the router off of the CNC machine, you’ll be able to use one of three included router bases for a variety of needs.
A true companion...
Though it’s lacking the sheer power of the Bosch, this Makita router will certainly take you through thick (wood) and thin (wood). An old yellow lab, a faithful companion.
3. PORTER-CABLE 892 - Premium Pick
A high-class diva of sorts:
This Porter-Cable 892 can perform. A cousin of the Bosch discussed earlier, this router wins on it’s collets and horsepower.
We love that this machine comes with two collets: 1/4” and 1/2”. The more collets we have to choose from, the more bits we can use.
The 1/2” collet will be especially useful for bigger bits and heavy-duty cutting.
That’s not all:
A handy spindle-lock feature lets you change bits out quickly with a single wrench.
It’s important to remove and clean your bits after use, and this feature makes it much easier.
Full-time electronic feedback...
...ensures that you maintain constant spin speed under heavy load.
When you’re making deep cuts, it’s important that the bit keeps spinning fast. This will prevent tearout and keep the cutter from locking up.
A workhorse of a motor:
The Porter-Cable sports a hefty 2 1/4 horsepower motor.
This extra power boost will help keep that bit spinning within it’s 10,000-23,000 RPM range.
Though this router may look good on paper...
...people have expressed complaints about the quality of the parts and craftsmanship of this router. For example, the upper bearing is located on a plastic part which may not hold up.
To be honest:
A machine can look great on paper until you’ve got it in your hands. Given the manufacturing concerns, I’d personally go for the Bosch over this.
Many people love this router...
...but many have become frustrated by it. The stats are truly impressive.
The risk is there too.
4. DeWalt DWP-611- Best for the money
A true budget pick:
The distance between the best on this list and the worst on this list is not very large.
Here’s the deal:
If you’re a hobbyist especially, this DeWalt will probably suit you just fine. It’ll cut most wood just fine.
It doesn’t shine as bright as some of the others, sure, but your wallet will appreciate it more.
From 16,000 to 27,000 RPM...
...this DeWalt router unfortunately has a somewhat small RPM range.
It will almost certainly cover all your needs for cutting wood, but be careful with larger bits at lower RPMs.
I probably wouldn’t try to cut metal with this router.
Run of the mill collet and horsepower:
This router’s got a 1/4” collet on it, which does the job and will give access to a variety of router bits.
The 1 1/4 horsepower motor is strong but not the strongest.
Nothing makes this router terrible...
...but it could just be... better. It could have a bigger RPM range, more collet options, more horsepower.
When you’re on a rice and beans budget...
...sometimes you just have to make do. I like cheap, usable tools: I’d personally buy this router with no regrets.
Especially recommended for the casual hobbyist that isn’t doing anything crazy and won’t run it into the ground.
5. DEWALT DWP611PK - Also Consider
A router that may fall by the wayside:
This small DeWalt doesn’t shine in any strong way, but it ain’t too bad either.
1/4” collet and 1 1/4 horsepower keep it real:
As far as collets and horsepower go, these are pretty standard. Nothing to complain about here, though not much to praise either.
Not the biggest range, but will probably handle cutting through most wood.
We really appreciate the full-time electronic feedback feature on this DeWalt.
This keeps the motor running at a consistent speed no matter what you’re cutting (or how deep).
Spring-loaded release tabs on the base:
We appreciate this neat little feature. The release tabs let you remove the base from the router without any hassle.
Getting the base off nice and quick will let you install the router on the CNC first thing.
The devil is in the details:
This router doesn’t win on RPM, or collets, or horsepower, but it is a light, compact machine. That may make it easier to mount on your CNC, a good alternative to some of the heavier units on the list.
So, who's the winner...
Crowning a champion:
It’s a tight race between the Bosch, Makita, and Porter-Cable (1, 2, and 3 on this list). The other two routers just can’t compete.
Ultimately, we think the Bosch takes it.
Sizing up the competition:
The Bosch has the Makita completely outclassed in terms of horsepower, collet versatility, and RPMs.
And in the other corner:
The Porter-Cable router puts up a good fight on paper, but we can’t ignore the numerous claims of cheap manufacturing.
Back to first principles:
The Bosch’s high horsepower will keep your router bit spinning even at low RPMs, maintaining torque.
Speaking of RPMs, it’s got a huge range from 8,000 to 25,000.
It comes with both 1/4” and 1/2” collets for use with a wide variety of router bits.