Buying a CNC router machine is a substantial investment so you should consider your options. That should include what type of router machine you want and how much you want to pay for it.
Your intention for the machine is also worth thinking about as is the speed it operates at, and whether you could build it yourself.
If you do decide to buy one then look out for its weight and the various systems involved in the machine.
In this guide, we will look at what you should know before you buy a CNC router machine.
This will include the components of one, what you may use it for, whether you should build one and what to consider if you do buy one.
The Components Of A CNC Router Machine
A CNC router machine can be considered a substantial investment as it is a complicated piece of equipment for any workshop.
Though their uses and models differ, each one should be comprised of similar components.
That includes a computer system that can interpret CAD and CAM software to send instructions for its own motion control. In turn, this looks after the various speeds, the tool path, the feeds, and tool changers.
Other components include the CNC motor which could be a stepper or a servo motor. The spindle will hold whatever cutting tool is being used and then spin it on its axis to remove any discarded material.
While dirt can prove problematic, as can heat, the spindle does have other factors including speed, torque, the bearing system, and horsepower.
The linear rail system will guide movement along the axes but also support another, secondary load with its machine components. It may use rack and pinion or ball screws which is another consideration.
The gantry is the component that straddles across the table while maintaining steady spindle movements and has cutting tools attached to it via tool changers.
Then there is the CNC router table which can use a clamp, vacuum, or adhesive and come in an array of materials including aluminum, steel, and disposable spoil boards.
The Considerations For A CNC Routing Machine
When you do get to consider a CNC routing machine, try to choose the right one for your needs. Not every single machine will be suitable for the tasks you want it to perform so do your research first.
If you are working with a material like aluminum honeycomb, you should be able to trust your routing machine to be accurate to the thousandth of an inch, at a high speed too.
Speed is highly important for the movement in the X, Y, and Z axes. Put bluntly, the speed (or feed as it is also known) will indicate how effective the drive system is.
You want a smooth motion as any stiffness, specifically in the drive direction, will impact motor torque. How fast the machine moves will also indicate the quality in the motion control system and its drive electronics.
Watch it move and a trustworthy motion controller should be smooth with the right pulse signals to offer even more power.
For efficient machining, you should be looking at a minimum of 1,000 mm per minute which should translate to decent torque to make the spindle go fast enough.
The machine movement rate should keep up and fail to generate heat, especially at the cutting zone.
There are two specifications to look out for; the cutting feed which is the maximum rate the router machine can cut, and the rapid feed which is the ultimate speed that the machine can move when it is not machining.
Look out for a normal operating speed of 6,000 mm per minute, though some router machines can go over 10,000 mm per minute.
Consider that speed when it comes to time taken to produce a part as time equals money.
You should be able to guarantee enough room for your CNC router machine. That could be as much as 10 by 5 feet and there should be space all around it to operate the machine.
However, consider that the bigger models can cause problems for bed misalignment and frame-twist. The bigger models may need to be supported simply to keep their alignment.
What You Use A CNC Router Machine For
Before you consider what type of CNC router machine you want, think about what you intend to use it for. It could be prototyping, furniture crafting, engraving, creating parts, signs, or musical instruments.
One of the most important uses of a CNC router machine is for prototyping as you can swiftly make design changes. Forget about hand-carving one or ordering custom-milled parts as you can create the prototype yourself.
While you may not be expected to provide a conveyor belt of furniture, a CNC router machine can prove adept at providing intricate and accurate designs.
If you need some accurate engraving then you can also use a CNC router machine. A lot of them come with a laser engraving kit for fast, effective engraving.
Creating Parts Or Signs
Custom-made signs can be a burden for many businesses which is why many use a CNC routing machine. With the technology involved in a CNC router, creating a business’ logo can prove straightforward.
Creating Musical Instruments
That’s right, you could create a musical instrument with your CNC routing machine which could save you a lot of money, and even earn you some. Due to the machine’s precise accuracy and speed, the components such as neck carving, fretwork, and inlays can be produced.
To Build Or Buy A CNC Router Machine
If you want a project before you even get started on your own router machine, you could build it yourself.
That could mean choosing the most ideal router machine for your requirements without those features you simply do not want and it should save you money.
Once it is built and operational, you should get a nice sense of pride and accomplishment to see it working effectively.
Then again, the build can take time and you may only find one with the most basic features when you really want one for bigger projects.
Building A CNC Router Machine
With a DIY kit and a few online tutorials, you can build your own CNC router machine though that can take time.
The machines typically come from materials including metal, particle board, and a few others thrown in.
What may be of interest to you is that a CNC router machine typically has loose tolerances when compared to a lathe or milling machine.
Buying A CNC Router Machine
Then again, you can simply buy the CNC router machine you have always wanted though there are some considerations to make.
Think about your budget and how much you are willing to pay for the machine tool and how much benefit it can bring.
If you do not imagine that you will be using it extensively, either for a hobby or small business, then figure that into your budget for a small outlay.
However, if a CNC router machine would prove to be a crucial addition to your large shop then it may prove to pay for itself, even after estimating the cost of router bits and accessories.
The software requirements may be an important consideration as you want the CNC router machine to fit into your business or workshop effortlessly.
Should you have an engraving or cabinet making business then the software package of your CNC router machine should be compatible.
That’s similar to the electrical requirements, specifically the voltage as some router machines have their own electrical capabilities.
A desktop model should have single-phase power to operate in a home shop while three-phase power is expected with a more sophisticated and up-to-date model of CNC router machine.
Yes, I’m afraid we have to discuss the weight of a CNC router machine as it can be substantial. Should you want to move your CNC router machine around with you then opt for a desktop model.
Consider that the lightweight bench top router machines do come with a smaller working area that can prove restrictive.
For the heavier, more substantial router machines, they will come with less vibration, more heavy-duty performance, and prove to be more accurate.
The Motor System
There are just two motor systems available in the majority of CNC router machines. Those are the servo motor system and the stepper.
For the former, you can expect them to be called ‘closed-loop’ systems and should prove to be the more expensive of the two.
The increased outlay does come with better performance in high-torque and high-speed applications.
Often referred to as ‘open-loop’ control motors, stepper motor systems rotate between positions and come at a lower price so should be more suited for those applications that operate at low up to medium speed.
The Drive System
The drive system is that part of the CNC router machine that will include its slides that allow movement across the X, Y, and Z axes. The specific system also dictates the drive mechanism; how the drive motors rotate into a linear motion.
There are three types of drive system to consider and it is important as this is essentially the mechanism that moves the axes.
Ball screws will be the costliest of those options but comes with better efficiency and accuracy plus they prove to be the option for professional router machines.
Rack and pinions is the drive system that is ideal for longer axes and should be cheaper as it meshes together two gear-esque components to move the machine.
Then there are lead screws which should be more accurate than rack and pinions but less efficient than ball screws yet should do well with vertical applications.
How Much A CNC Router Machine Should Cost
If you do decide to buy a CNC Router Machine then you could be looking to pay a five-figure sum upfront.
What should be considered is simply how useful that router machine should prove over the long term and how much you expect to get out of it.
For a basic model with a three-axis, you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000. Going further up the price range is a mid-range router machine which can cost between $25,000 and $50,000.
Those with a bigger budget can get the very best in CNC router machines and pay over $50,000 for them. You should expect 4 or 5-axis models for that outlay.
Buying a CNC router machine can prove to be a significant investment so consider it carefully. Make a note of the space you have to offer in your workshop and what you intend to do with the machine.
Smaller jobs typically mean cheaper models and you do not want to pay up for a model you barely use with features that prove useless for your requirements.
With the right model, you can complete a range of products and embark on several projects.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does It Work Out Cheaper To Buy Or Build A CNC Router Machine?
While it will prove cheaper simply to build your own CNC router machine, it will take time, effort, and knowledge.
DIY kits are available online so choose one that meets your needs before you commit to the build. Be careful if you order yours from overseas as there may be substantial freight and customs fees to pay.
However, if you do buy your CNC router machine then you will have a warranty as protection, after-sales service can help too.
Why Is The Router Bit Quality Important For Your CNC Router Machine?
Buying cheaper components typically means having to suffer from poor quality and buying more replacements quickly.
With router bits that lack in quality, you can expect them to wear faster and then break quicker so work out how many you need first.
In most cases, you are better off investing in higher quality router bits to prevent you from having to go out and shop for more replacements.