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How Does a CNC Router Work?

August 07, 2019 2 min read

The handheld router is a critical piece of equipment for any experienced woodworker or carpenter. They are typically used to cut out edges, dadoes and rabbets or to create intricate shapes in a range of materials including wood, plasterboard and sheet metal.

The trouble with handheld routers is that they are time-consuming to use and difficult to master. Even skilled and experienced carpenters are prone to making mistakes which can be costly to fix. So it was only a matter of time before Computer Numerical Control (CNC) was incorporated into these devices to make them more versatile and efficient.

How do CNC routers work?

In their most basic form, a CNC router consists of four components, the cutting bed, the spindle, the drive system and the controller. The cutting bed supports the material while it’s being cut. The spindle is the part which does all the cutting. The drive system is essentially an arm which connects to the spindle allowing it to move in three directions while the controller tells the arm which direction to move the spindle.

Allows cuts to be made along 3-axis

On most CNC routers the drive system allows the spindle to move and cut in three directions along the X, Y and Z-axis. The X-axis runs from right to left, the Y-axis runs left to right and the Z-axis runs up and down. This allows the machine to carve some very interesting and complex shapes much more accurately and quickly than a machine operated by a human.

Plans can be loaded directly from drawing files

For the machine to work, the controller needs to know which direction to move and how far to cut. This information is supplied in a digital format such as a .dxf file. This is then converted into a 2D or 3D image using software such as G-code. This can be either embedded on the device or installed on a separate computer connected to the machine.

The final product is created quickly and error free

Once the final image has been created it is relayed to the CNC controller which converts the digital signal into varying voltages and currents. This allows the arm to move with incredible precision. The machine then follows the plan precisely to create the final product in much less time than a human operator could achieve.

While all this sounds incredibly complicated this is far more information than a typical operator will need. In practice, a CNC router is extremely easy and intuitive to use. The exact process varies from machine to machine depending on their size and complexity. But even the most complex machines are plug and play devices with little training required by the operator.

This makes CNC routers incredibly popular devices in workshops of all sizes. They are easy to use, don’t make mistakes and can speed up production considerably. So if you haven’t already added a CNC to your workshop inventory, now is the time to think seriously about making the investment.