CNC which stands for Computer Numerical Control is a method for automating three-dimensional cutting and milling. The best CNC routers will let you produce factory grade work in a small shop as you get started in your CNC career. Today it is easy to find CNC routers that offer precision and speed at prices that are affordable for entrepreneurs getting started in manufacturing. Here are some of the best CNC routers with reviews. Keep in mind that you still need a good CNC programmer to make these devices work well for your startup.
Axiom Precision AR4 Pro+ 4-Axis-Ready CNC
We included the Axiom Precision AR4 Pro+ in our review to give an example of the high-end in the small-format CNC market—this CNC router is engineered from the ground up like a large industrial machine, but is scaled to fit in the small shop.
The Axiom AR4 is a best-in-class machine with a liquid-cooled 3 HP variable-speed spindle, high-torque precision stepper motor, precision ball screws on every axis, an extruded aluminum 24 x 24-inch table, and a cast-aluminum frame. It requires a 220-Volt power supply and runs spindle speeds up to 24000 RPM.
The AR4 is the smallest of 3 AR Pro models, but it still weighs 320 Lbs. The machine is operated via a handheld controller that reads the design file from a flash drive, making a connected computer unnecessary.
Technically a bench-mounted unit, the Axiom is actually nothing less than a compact industrial machine. When you order the AR4 from Axiom, you get to configure it to your needs, and they will literally build you a custom CNC machine from fine precision components that come together in a CNC router that provides extreme accuracy, repeat-ability, and high production speed.
It is immediately easy to see that there are no corners cut on the AR4 as every nut and bolt is of the highest quality. The industrial-grade screw-in data cable connectors, heavy ball screws, and onboard cooler are features that set this machine far above any of the standard units on the market.
When you consider the quality and capability of this CNC router, and the fact that it comes with training and life-time support, the price is actually very reasonable Router.
CNC Shark HD 4
The Next Wave Automation CNC Shark HD 4 is the upgrade of the popular Shark Pro Plus, and it has a number of features that the advanced DIY CNC user will appreciate.
The first improvement is the heavy-duty reinforced gantry and interlocking aluminum table, a setup designed to reduce the wobble and backlash that were downsides of the previous Shark models. The new color touchscreen pendant controller is as easy to use as a smartphone and it lets you run programs from a flash drive.
This unit is designed for commercial use and made to handle large routers like the Porter-Cable 890, the Bosch 1617, or the Next Wave Automation water-cooled spindle. Auto-edge and auto-sensing locate and measure the workpiece and then identify the toolpath start point wherever it is positioned in the 25 x 25 inch bed. The Shark HD4 comes with Virtual Zero software that maps the workpiece surface for maximum accuracy. VCarve Desktop V9.0 Design Software and the Vector Art 3D Sampler Pack are also included in your purchase.
We were impressed at the rigidity and stability of this 187-pound machine—it is also simple in design without a lot of excess parts and attachments. There is no need to have a computer connected to this machine, adding convenience for repetitive runs.
CNC Piranha XL
The CNC Piranha XL offers an extended work surface and many of the same operating features as the CNC Shark HD, but at a much lower price point.
It has a touchscreen controller along with auto-edge and auto-sensing capabilities, and comes with the Virtual Zero work piece mapping software, as well as the VCarve Desktop V9.0 and the Vector Art 3D software packages. The machine has XYZ travel dimensions of 12 x 24 x 4 inches and can run Bosch, Dewalt, Porter Cable, and several other similar palm-style routers. It can run anything the router can cut, but works best with wood, plastics, and soft metals. There is no need to have a computer attached to the machine—just create a design, save it to a flash drive, plug it into the USB port on the pendant, and run the program.
We love the fact that this CNC machine comes fully assembled. At 75 pounds, it is stable but still fairly portable. When everything is set up, the machine has a clean and simple look without excess cabling to get in the way. Operation is also super-simple—basically plug-and-play—with little adjustment needed. However, we found that accuracy is improved if the unit is leveled and clamped or bolted into position.
This is an easy-to-use and fun machine, and we recommend that first-timers save their money, skip the lower-end machines, and move right up to the Piranha XL.
Taishi Desktop CNC Router
This CNC router had a lot of similarities to the JFT machine in terms of operating specifications and technology.
It is constructed of solid 15mm aluminum alloy plate—weighing in at over 120 pounds with a small 35 x 26-inch footprint and 21-inch gantry height, it is a rigid and stable machine. Cutting is done by an 0.8 KW air-cooled spindle running up to 24000 RPM.
The Taishi can produce engraving speeds up to 137 inches per minute. Power supply is 110/220 Volts. The machine has an external 3-axis control box and VFD inverter spindle speed regulator. A desktop computer running Mach 3 software is required to operate the unit.
We were impressed with the solid build of the table and gantry, the smooth motor operation, and the low noise level. The Taishi is a very solid machine for the hobbyist or small-materials craftsman. Once leveled and mounted, the machine will cut to 0.04mm accuracy and reset to within 0.05mm.
This CNC machine was the best of the mid-priced compact units we looked at, and it would make a nice addition to any work bench.
BobsCNC E3 CNC Router Engraver Kit
The BobsCNC machine is a home-built kit that makes a good starter or student CNC unit.
The primary material in this unit is wood. The BobsCNC machine offers a generous 17.7 x 15.3 x 3.3-inch cutting area, and it comes with a DEWALT 660 router. The cutting head and gantry run on an SG20U-supported rail system. Control is carried out by an Arduino-based microprocessor running Grbl motion-control software. A connected computer is required to run this CNC router, and Windows, OSX, Linux, and Raspberry Pi are all compatible.
This is an interesting CNC machine—putting the kit together is a project in itself, and an educational experience, however, the extra effort will be worth it for some users considering the price point in relation to the size of the machine and the fact that a router is included.
The solid wood construction has some benefits but also major downsides—it is impossible to remove flex from the bed and gantry, particularly with the number of joints and fastener connections there are. We also found ourselves constantly checking and tightening, and things will only get worse with wear.
On the other hand, wood is environmentally friendly and is easy to work with for users who would like to make modifications. This is a fun beginner machine as long as you know what you are getting into with it.