The Basics of a CNC Wood Router

How does a CNC wood router work?

A CNC wood router functions the same way as any other type of CNC machine. A CNC is a computerized system machine that uses electronic controls to drive a mechanically designed system. Computerized machines produce work that is accurate and offers great precision compared to human-operated machines.

A typical traditional CNC router machine moves a 3-way movement usually referred to as X, Y and Z. The X-axis moves front and back and is the longest. The Y-axis moves or runs from left to right while the Z-axis moves up and down. Here you can clearly how each axis is labeled respectively.

CNC routing machines are robust due to their ability to move in three directions. They move in a unison form, allowing the machine to carve different shapes.

Important Components

Here we will identify the major components of a CNC router machine and see how they are integrated to work perfectly. The image below clearly shows the labeling of all important components of the CNC wood routing machine.

There are other additional components for sophisticated CNC routing machines but almost all machines have these:

Let’s have a closer look at these components carefully and in detail.

cnc wood router

The CNC Controller and Computerized System

The CNC controller and computer system are the most important components of this machine. They control how motors and drive systems move and how far they can achieve this. It’s important to feed the computer with a design to achieve success.

The most commonly used format for making these designs is the dxf format. The machine user proceeds to use apply a CAM software package together with the CNC controller software. This two software are unique and help to convert 3D and 2D images into a tool path code. An example of this tool path code is the G-code.

The computer system plays a critical role in converting commands into digital signals. These signals rely on the CNC controller where digital signals are converted to varying voltages. Voltages and currents help to control the drive system with efficiency.

This computerized system performs better than human handled CNC wood routing machine. The overall process of working with a CNC routing machine is the same. Depending on the manufacturer, the user interface may be different but the overall process is the same.

The first process is to come up with a digital design and then incorporate special software for making tool paths. The CNC machine follows this tool path to make different designs.


cnc router spindle

The CNC routing machine has an important component referred to as the spindle. It’s tasked with cutting and works similarly to a normal wood router. The spindle is classified based on the power rating. The horsepower for the spindle is derived in English standard units while Watts is in SI units.

The rotation of the spindle allows the cutting tool to cut materials in different shapes. The speed can be controlled by the user promptly. Spindles designed for cutting on materials such as wood and plastics usually revolve at a range of about 8000 to 30000 per minute. Spindles designed for cutting hard materials usually are slower and revolve at a range of between 2000 to 10000 RPMs.

CNC wood routers can cut soft or non-ferrous types of metals like aluminum foils. Cooling is always necessary when cutting these hard materials to guarantee accuracy and efficiency. When cutting through these metals at a fast speed, the spindle, and material being cut require cooling. This is made possible by the presence of the coolant system.

Depending on the type of spindle you are using, some are driven through the CNC controller. The machine helps to regulate RPM with respect to the material being cut and the feed rate. Additional installation may be set up to include an automatic tool changer, a touch probe, and a tool sensor.

CNC Router Cutting Bed

cnc router bed

This is the place where all the work happens. The cutting place usually comes in different types but they all play the same role. This board helps in supporting and securing the materials being cut.

Different designs are available in the market and some notable ones include; the T-slot design and the Vacuum table. The T-slot is the most commonly used design and uses bolts and clamps to secure materials to the bed.

The vacuum table design is ideal for high end makes and works well for users who use the same design several. It is however restricted to work on flat surface pieces such as wood. The T-slot is the most advocated and versatile as it can hold any type of piece. However, the designs lack efficiency and fast speed when setting up.

These are the two primary types of cutting boards available in the market. Other designs combine the T-slot and the vacuum table design altogether. They are however rare to get in the market.

The Linear Drive Systems

The linear drive system helps the spindles to move along the axis and it includes a motor, lead screw assembly description, and a linear bearing system.

To link the mechanics and electronics, a motor is needed to make the component complete. The CNC controller provides the motor with power and hence achieving a rotational power when the lead screw assembly is needed.

Two types of motors are found on the CNC wood router machine. They include the stepper motor and servo motors. The stepper motors have a un-closed-loop system, are cheap and have good performance ability.

On the other hand, the servo motors have a closed-loop system. They receive directions from the CNC controller and transmit signals to a controller that verifies the completion of work.

The high-end models usually have closed-loop systems. The type of controller used usually depends on the motor type. The control of these two types of motors is not the same.

The power offered by the motor has to be converted from rotational to linear motion. It’s at this stage the lead screw assembly takes control of power. The linear bearing assembly together with the lead screw assembly works simultaneously to move the gantry along its axis.

Different machine designs use varying methods when converting rotational motion to linear motion. This varying makes some machine designs better than the others. Some common designs include:

  • Lead screw and nut assembly
  • Ball screw and nut assembly
  • Rack and pinion assembly

Every system is unique and has own pros and cons which we will discuss another time. However, detailed information about the systems can be found on our official website.

Other Important Features

The gantry style design is the most commonly used style by CNC wood routers. The Y-axis is usually suspended over the cutting board. The gantry assembly glides well on the linear bearing assembly to allow easy movement along the X-axis.


Hopefully, you are now armed with a good understanding of how a CNC wood router works. The computer plays a critical role in giving commands to the CNC controller to influence the working of motors. Motors are tasked with turning the linear drive system on.

This system helps to move spindles in a 3D format. The spindles consequently rotate the cutting material allowing the material to be cut to carve.

More info can be viewed in later sections found on our official online website. You will find important information on tips for buying a CNC router machine and learn more about CNC wood routers.

Let’s now proceed and take a deep look at how these machines work. Here we will look into detail on different parts and features of a CNC wood router machine.

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