Welcome to our ultimate guide on cnc woodworking. Cnc machines are typically used for cutting/ routing/ engraving three different types of materials – foam, wood and metal. This guide will focus on the wood part, which software you need, which type of machines are best, and what to look out for if you are looking to jump into the process of buying a woodworking cnc machine. The good news is is that there is a pretty large spectrum from the small diy kits all the way up to massive industrial machines.
Getting Started – Software
For the basics you’ll need to be familiar with both 2d drafting and 3d modelling programs. The top 3d programs out there like Rhino or Solidworks that do parametric modeling is really expensive. The Ashlar Vellum series (Cobalt) is a bit more affordable, or you can turn to free alternatives to get started like Autocad 123D, Sketchup or Blender (polygon based, but also can be used for complex parametric modeling). Free alternatives for 2d drafting worth looking into are QCAD and LibreCAD (both open-source as well).
Then there’s g-code. We’ve got a basic how-to guide here. Essentially once you’ve got your 2d dxf or 3d stl file, you’ll need to convert this data into g-code, kind of like the driving language for a cnc machine. This then lets you know the actual paths going to be used and how long this will take. Good thing is is that there are good free and paid programs out there. Best paid would probably be Mach3 or Mach4. For paid you can look at CAMotics, PyCAM, ReplicatorG or Slic3r.
Getting Started – Machines
Now we’ll take a look at some actual cnc woodworking machines to see what brands and products are the most popular, as well as things to look for e.g. bed size vs actual cutting area, spindle type, rpm min and max, and overall build quality.
Konmison DIY CNC Router
Working Area: 7 x 7 x 2 inch travel
The Konmison wood router is a solid diy kit under $500. We’re big fans of more of the bare-bones kit where you add your own computer and software. The working area is great for a potential desktop woodworking cnc router. Comes with free software and is also suitable for pvc work.
Zen Toolworks diy kit
Working Area: 7 x 7 x 2 inch travel
Speed: No mention on their site
The Zen Toolworks diy kit is another of our favorite diy kits. This is also a sub $500 benchtop cnc woodworking router. Be aware that you will needa 3 Axis Stepper Motor Driver. spindle/cutter with mounting brackets, and a DC power supply. Also no software is included in this kit. So overall this is a barebones kit, but a good one to get started on.
Oliver Machinery 1013 IntelliCarve Automatic Carving Machine
Working Area: 13 x 18 x 2 inch travel
Speed: 15,000 rpm
You can get started with a Intellicarve machine for between $2-3000. That seems a bit steep compared to the previous machines we have mentioned, however this kit has everything to get started – stepper motor, spindle etc. You just need to hook up a computer, as software is also included (I-Picture). The bed is aluminum so will last longer than some of the other machines that may use a wooden bed.
Working Area: 10.8 x 15.2 x 2.36 inch working travel
Speed: 8,000 rpm
The 3040T cnc woodworking machine comes in at just under $2000 and is a very sturdy machine – built like a tank! Comes with a spindle motor to get started. Perfect for cutting/ engraving wood. Inappropriate for metal, unless you step up and get a higher 4 axis model. The 3040T is a sleek looking engraving/ milling cnc router and we like the fact that the controller is a separate box.
What else to look out for
We’ve provided some great recommendations to get started with – easily purchased from Amazon. However there are tons of brands that come and go, as well as brands outside of Amazon that do pretty well like that we’ve mentioned in some of our other articles. Check out Shopbot, Rockler, Sherline and Tormach.
For the actual cnc machine, most manufacturers give a 2 year warranty period. This is about right given the potential amount of wear and tear a machine can have. The other thing you want to think about is safety. Where exactly will you be putting your machine? As most cnc woodworking routers do not have an enclosure, so can be dangerous to stand next to while cutting.
You’ll also need other supplementary tools and accessories, like the following:
- Safety glasses – eye safety is #1
- C-clamps – for clamping material to the bed securely, as well as for gluing wood together
- Vice grips – also for clamping material to the bed, or too a makeshift platform
- Wood glue – for gluing your project together or sheets of mdf/ particle board together prior to cutting
- Sandpaper – for surface finishing – some machines, especially 3 xis machines use a stepped process, kind of like stairs around a curve, so you will have to finish off by hand
- Primer – no need for powder coating on wood, wet paint is fine
- Paint – for finishing your final object
- Saw – electric/ band/ hand saw – for cutting a block ready for cnc machine usage
Overall getting your own machine, set-up , and extra tools/ accessories is going to cost you at minimum in the $500 to $1000 range and up. This is about the range where 3d printers are starting to come into. So for personal hobby and artwork, you can also dig into some 3d printers at this price point, but then the material cost for resin will add up to higher than just cutting with particle board (mdf).
Also for 3d printing, you could probably get away with a non-enclosed solution to save some cash here, due to the process being a lot gentler compared to cnc routing/ engraving wood. If you have kids that you’d want to give a cnc engraver as a gift,then a 3d printer may be a better way to go due to safety.
So what kind of woodworking cnc machine do you have? Which machine would you buy next?