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Best CNC Router for Woodworking

CNC or Computer Numerical Control is a technology conceived in mechanical engineering. Woodwork has also adopted CNC technology because of the technology’s impressive ability. In this article, I am going to introduce you to the concept of CNC. Afterward, I will introduce CNC routers for woodworking. The last thing I plan to do is going to the market and review the 5 best CNC routers for woodworking that I recommend. In the market, I plan will review the best CNC routers for three kinds of users. The first category I plan to review is wood CNC for heavy-duty users. The second group of users is wood CNC for medium-sized professional users. and also, for those in the budget novice and start-up category.

What is CNC?

As I mentioned earlier CNC is a technology that originates from mechanics in 1751. Craftsmen and technicians at that time faced a challenge. The challenge was that of creating more precise operations mechanically than by handcrafts.  In woodwork, CNC produces designs and patterns that are difficult to make manually. Even though the principles of CNC started around 1751, CNC, as we know it now came during the Cold War. The US Navy gave John T. Parsons the task of increasing the number of helicopter blades produced per production line. John T. Parsons motorized the axles of the blade making machines. In collaboration with IBM, they developed a model to control the helicopter blade making machines by a computer. For interest’s sake, I have attached a picture of the design of John T. Parsons’ “Motor Controlled Apparatus for Positioning Machine Tool”.

Original design of CNC router for woodworking

John T. Parsons’ contribution to CNC was immense and it earned him the title “Father of Numerical Control” Medal in 1968. The medal came from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Engineering.  I have given you enough history. I am now going to give you a list of things to look for when choosing a CNC router.

Things to look for when considering to buy a CNC router for woodworking

Motor Type: When choosing to buy CNC routers you have a choice between two types of motor systems. Servo motors and stepper motors. CNC routers with servo motors are more expensive than those with stepper motors. I will not go into detail about the technical differences between the two motor systems. I will give a brief explanation.

Servo motors are more expensive than Stepper motors with the same power ratings. Servo motors are more efficient compared to stepper motors. Servo motors yield between 80% and 90% output under a light load. In contrast a Stepper motor’s 70% efficiency. Stepper motors are less efficient because they consume more power and produce heat. Servo motors draw current proportional to the load resulting in low heat production. In contrast, stepper motors draw current regardless of load. The stepper motor dissipates the excess power as heat.

When it comes to motor life Stepper motors offer better value for money. This is because stepper motors only have one wearing part, bearings. In contrast, servo motors have many brushes.  The servo motor brushes need replacing every 2,00 hours of operation. Servo motors also have encoders that also need periodic replacement.

Drive System: CNC routers have 3 types of drive systems Rack and Pinion, Lead Screw and Ballscrew. Ballscrew is the most expensive drive system. Ballscrew withstands a larger material size and yields better accuracy.

Spindle: Spindles are motors that do the actual cutting with the use of a router bit. When buying a CNC machine, one has to look at the following factors. RPM, torque, power requirements, load requirements, collet typed and size.

Table size: The table is the ”business end” of a CNC router. When you choose to invest in a CNC router you need a large enough table to handle normal workpieces. If space is a constraint, make sure you invest in a router with extensions.

Software: CNC routers operate on three software layers.  CAD Design software, CAM and Control software. I am going to explain these three concepts using the flow chart below.

Automatic Tool Changer System (ATC): A CNC for woodworking router with ATC helps to change router bits during a job. When making elaborate designs you need to change router bits several times. This makes ATC necessary.

Dust Collection: Woodworking produces sawdust. This makes a CNC router with dust collection essential for safety.

Weight: The heavier the CNC for woodworking machines, the better it performs.

I have given you enough background information to let us go to the market to buy some CNC routers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best CNC Routers For Woodworking

Here is my list for the top 4 cnc routers for woodworking on the market

Heavy-duty CNC Routers for woodworking

The heavyweight CNC routers are the best for a woodworking workshop. As I mentioned earlier the heavier a CNC router the better quality it is.

Number 1: Powermatic CNC Powermatic PM 2X2 RK

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Description

Powermatic is a brand established in McMinnville Tennessee by Leonard Smith in 1928. PM 2X2 RK stands out when it comes to CNC routers. The Powermatic is the most heavy-duty CNC on the line up of CNC Old Jack is going to review today.

Specs

  • X-Axis: 24inch.
  • Y-Axis:24inch.
  • Z-Axis:6inch.
  • Motor Power:3HP.
  • Motor Voltage:115V.
  • Router needed (router with a 3-1/2inch base or Universal).

Reasons it stands out

When I was reflecting on my experiences with CNC routers for wood the Powermatic PM-2x2RK stood out due to several reasons. The PM-2X2RK weighs 598lbs. This heftiness makes it one of the most precise CNC routers for woodworking. Another feature that increases the precision is the cast gravity cast aluminum gantry support. The gantry support provides stability to the spindle. This feature ensures an accurate job during use.

Another useful feature I noticed during use is the touch-off pluck. This allows one to re-zero the Z-axis with the push of a button on the controller. As a professional, this feature saves me time.

When it comes to performance, the Powermatic PM-2x2RK has ball screws. The ball screws have recirculating ball bearings. The recirculating ball bearings play an important role. They allow rapid movement on all the axis while maintaining precise spindle placement. You will appreciate this feature during use.  I like working with high-performance tools. The Powermatic PM-2x2RK delivers the performance need . Powermatic ensured that the CNC router is adequately powered with a stepper motor. The PM -2x2RK’s motor delivers high torque of 3HP on the X, Y and Z-axis. During I noticed that the motor delivers fast, quiet and precise movement.

Another feature I liked is the table. The Powermatic PM-2x2RK CNC router for woodworking has a large 39.17inch x 28.39-inch tabletop. The table has extrusions that give a large sturdy surface. The CNC router’s tabletop has integrated T-slots. During use, the T-slots allow you to position the hold-down clamps to in any location.

Another feature is the MDF spoil board. A spoil board is a disposable work surface mounted atop the router’s permanent table.  The spoil board is MDF and protects the router table from damage.

In terms of dust collection, the Powermatic PM-2x2RK has a dust shoe. The dust shoe ensures that the work surface is free from debris when hooked up to a dust collector.

Disclaimer !!

The Powermatic PM-2x2RK is a heavy-duty CNC router.  I don’t recommend it for hobbyists, it’s so heavy that one needs a hoist or forklift to assemble it. If you want a heavier variation you can also check out the (Powermatic PM-2x4SPK CNC Kit with Electro Spindle) on Amazon.

Gray areas

The biggest negative of the Powermatic PM -2x2RK CNC router is that though it is sold as ‘router’ it’s a CNC mount. This means that one has to either buy a router or use the one existing in the workshop. The second reason is that the Powermatic PM-2X2RK retails for almost USD$ 6000, on has to be certain that they are buying it for business reasons.

Medium Size CNC routers for woodworking

Number 2: Next Wave Automation CNC Piranha XL

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Description

Next Wave Automation is a company started in 2004. It specializes in making CNC machines for hobbyists and light industrial uses. The CNC Piranha XL is the second-best CNC router for woodwork. Both hobbyists and professional craftsmen can use the CNC Piranha XL.

Specs

  • X-Axis: 12inch.
  • Y-Axis:24inch.
  • Z-Axis:4inch.
  • Motor Power:3HP.
  • Table dimensions :12” X 30”.
  • R USB 2.0 port.
  • Motor Voltage 115V.
  • Recommended routers: DeWalt DWP611. See full features of this router on Amazon here. It is also my top picks for trim router in this article.

Reasons it stands out

The most outstanding feature of CNC Piranha XL is that it comes with its processor. This means that you don’t need to keep a desktop computer in the workshop. You can install the software on your office desktop and then do you design there. When you are done designing you load the file to a USB flash drive and plug it into the CNC Piranha XL’s port.

The second reason for why CNC Piranha XL is among the best CNC for woodworking is that it doesn’t need one to assemble it for first-time use. All you need is to take it out of the box and plug in the router. No building required design makes it ideal for both hobbyists and professionals alike.

Another big plus is the use of drive screws instead of drive belts. Drive screw CNC routers for woodworking are become increasingly popular for several reasons. When using a CNC with a drive belt on a hot day, the belt expands and throws the machine out of alignment. Secondly, if the CNC is under high load it can skip a tooth on the belt and cause problems. Proponents of belt-driven CNC’s are better speed and less stress on the motor.

The CNC for woodworking has an aluminum interlocking slotted table track. This provides highly customizable clamping during use. This makes the Next Wave Automation CNC Piranha XL the best CNC for elaborate designs. Creative craftsmen and artists will find this feature useful.

The other outstanding feature about the CNC Piranha XL is the reasonable price.

Gray Areas

The biggest disappointment for me is the software issues. Firstly, the CNC Piranha XL is not Mac compatible. This means that if you don’t own a Windows PC then you will have to use invest in one.  Secondly, the CNC Piranha XL is only compatible with computers running on Windows 7 and later. Moreover,  the support sometimes is not adequate. Lastly, the CNC Piranha XL does not come with a router. You have to buy one separately.

Number 3: Next Wave Automation CNC Piranha FX

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Description

The CNC Piranha FX is third-best because of its entry live price and smaller size than the CNC Piranha XL.

 

Specs

  • X-Axis: 12inch.
  • Y-Axis:13inch.
  • Z-Axis:3inch.
  • Table dimensions :12” X 18”.
  • R USB 2.0 port.

Reasons it stands out.

The CNC Piranha FX is smaller than the CNC Piranha XL. Yet,it has all the capabilities of the larger version. The CNC Piranha FX also comes with its processor. This means that you don’t need to keep a desktop computer in the workshop. You can install the software on your office desktop and then do you design there. When you are done you just load the file to a USB flash drive and plug it into the CNC Piranha FX’s port.

The second reason for ranking highly this CNC for woodworking is that it doesn’t require one to assemble it for first-time use. All you need is to take it out of the box and plug in the router. No building required design makes it ideal for both hobbyists and professionals alike.

The third reason why it stands out is that one can purchase a laser module to do laser CNC Wood routing. I recommend that you buy Next Wave Automation’s purpose made laser module. Laser wood engraving produces very beautiful designs. This additional function makes the CNC Piranha FX exceptional.

The fourth reason that make me like it is that its very compact. When space is constrained the CNC Piranha FX is the best choice. The price is also attractive.

Lastly, during use, it performs well. The machine is very stable when in operation. This is important because it means that one is guaranteed accurate work.

The CNC for woodworking has an aluminum interlocking slotted table track. This provides highly customizable clamping during use. This makes the Next Wave Automation CNC Piranha XL the best CNC for elaborate designs. Creative craftsmen and artists will find this feature useful.

Gray Areas

According to my observations, the biggest minus of the CNC Piranha FX is its size. The size constraint limits you to work only on boards that are under about 13″ in length without tilting. The software of the CNC Piranha FX has a slight learning curve for those who are new to the craft. It will take some time for one to be fully proficient. There are video tutorials online to assist though.

Budget Novice and start-up category

Number 4: BobsCNC E3 CNC Router Engraver Kit with the Router Included

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Description

BobsCNC is my preferred CNC router for wood because it is designed with simplicity and utility in mind. BobCNC is manufactured by Bob and his family and friends.

 

Specs

  • X-Axis: 24inch.
  • Y-Axis:24inch.
  • Z-Axis:3.3inch.
  • Router: Comes with Dewalt 660 rotary saw
  • Table dimensions :12” X 30”.
  • Motor Voltage 115V.

Reasons it stands out

The first reason why BobsCNC stands out is the simple design. BobsCNC is designed to eliminate unnecessary complexity this results in unmatched reliability. From my experience, the BobsCNC E3 is the most reliable CNC router for woodworking one can get in America.

Another big point is that Bob and the company delivered all the necessary functionality at a reasonable price. Those, who follow this website already though we strongly recommend that you buy a high quality yet cost-effective. This will allow one to build a descent workshop over time without breaking the bank and also without the need to constantly replace tools.

During use, one realizes that the BobsCNC E4’s laser cut frame is very rigid. Rigidity is an essential character for a CNC router a rickety frame will affect precision. One other impressive feature of the laser cut frame is aesthetics. Even though I am a pragmatic and utilitarian craftsman, I have to acknowledge that BobCNC’s E4 has a very appealing plywood frame. The fact that its laser-cut also means that all the components fit each other well.

Another great feature I like about the BobsCNC E4 is that it comes with a DeWalt DW660 router. The DeWalt DW660 is designed with a slim body for less fatigue over prolonged use.

On the software and computing side of the BobsCNC E4, Bob and the company incorporated some decent low cost yet effective features. For instance, the actual computer of BobsCNC is a Raspberry pi. Raspberry pis have earned a reputation for endurance and durability even in the most hostile environments. They have become popular in industrial applications operating even some heavy-duty machinery. All you need is a computer with a USB port to operate the BobsCNC. BobsCNC also comes with some good open-source software that is enough to get you going.

The support for BobsCNC E4 is incredible. Bob and his colleagues have taken it upon themselves to personally attend to support issues of the E4 and their other products. The great support makes this CNC suitable for both experienced and professional craftsmen.

Gray Areas

My biggest issue with BobsCNC is that it takes a long time to assemble. When a BobsCNC E4 is delivered to you will notice that it comes fully knocked down. Some people find it overwhelming.  being difficult to assemble increases the risk of breaking some of the components.

Number 5 : SainSmart Genmitsu CNC Router Machine3018-MX3

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Descriptions

SainSmart Genmitsu CNC is the most affordable high-quality CNC router for woodwork. I have used it several times at one community college that I volunteer to teach upcoming craftsmen. This is a reasonably priced simple and straightforward CNC router.

Specs

  • Router: Comes with DeWalt 660 rotary saw.
  • Table dimensions :11.8” X 708”.
  • Motor Voltage 115V.
  • Frame Material used Aluminum.

Reasons

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018 CNC  stands out because it runs on the mach3 software. Mach3 software allows one to use their pc as a controller. This reduces costs by eliminating the need to buy the controller panel. Mach3 makes it possible for users to work in familiar file formats like jpeg. Mach3 makes it very easy to control the router easily with a very low learning curve.

Another feature that stands out is the safety-driven design. The MX3 has two 5mm acrylic baffles on each side of the machine so that one can safely check the engraving process. To protect against engraving faults, each axis is equipped with a limit. The limit stops the tool spindle from leaving the engraving area.

Another feature that stood out for me on the MX3 is the working area. The CNC router for woodworking has an active build area of 1 an open back and front passthrough. This allows one to load a material larger than the machine itself.

During use, the MX3 CNC automatic tool setting function comes in very handy. I noticed that the feature allows one to quickly home the tool position.

Another positive point I noticed during use is that the MX3 CNC router for woodworking is very accurate.  Even though its an entry-level machine. The precision with which it renders the CNC models impressed me.

The MX3 supports laser engraving as well all you need to do is replace the spindle with a laser module. I recommend purchasing the SainSmart 445nm/5.5W Blue laser module kit.

Gray Areas

My biggest issue is that a machine is a lightweight tool so, during assembly, there are chances of breaking some of the components.

Partying words

I hope that the guide I have given you is enough for you to get a good CNC router for woodworking. If you choose to buy any of the 5 CNC’s above you would have made a good investment. As for me, I choose the Next Wave Automation CNC Piranha XL to buy for my small workshop and I love every single moment of using it. For some of you who are interested in using CNC machines for something else rather than woodworking, check out my article for finding a good CNC machines for gunsmithing.