Best CNC Routers of 2018 – Take Your Woodworking to the Next Level

CNC Routers—High Tech Meets Traditional Craftsmanship 

Computer Numerical Control or CNC is a method for automating 3-dimensional cutting and milling processes, and the best CNC routers will let you produce factory-grade work in a small home shop. By using a computer and software to direct a pre-determined cutting process, CNC routers deliver precise and consistent work along with exact reproduction and high productivity rates, if desired. A CNC router will let you work with wood, plastics, foam, and many other materials to produce carvings, decorations, panels, sign boards, frames, moldings, furniture—your imagination is the only limit.

Explore a New World of Woodworking 

Nowadays, it is easy to find a CNC router that offers precision and speed at a price that is affordable to the DIY craftsman. Fun to learn and simple to use, a CNC router will bring your designs to life in minutes—come on along as we take a look at some of the best CNC routers on the market.

Best CNC Routers - Comparisons 

8 Best CNC Routers - Reviews

1. Axiom Precision AR4 Pro+ 4-Axis-Ready

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

What we liked

  • Highest quality and capability
  • 4-axis capable
  • Training and service after the sale
  • American-made

What we didn't like

  • Heavy weight
  • High price

2. 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. 

This is the top-of-the-line among DIY CNC routers and will serve high-end DIY or light manufacturing users well.

What we liked

  • Commercial-grade reinforced build
  • Touchscreen controller
  • Compatible with large routers
  • Built in the USA

What we didn't like

  • Heavy
  • Not compatible with Macs
  • High price point

3. 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.

What we liked

  • High capability at a low price
  • Touchscreen controller
  • Built in the USA

What we didn't like

  • Some instability if not bolted down
  • Not compatible with Macs

4. JFT CNC 3040 CNC Router/Milling Machine

The JFT 3040 is a Chinese import that offers industrial-grade features including all-metal construction, a 22 x 14 inch work bed, and 11.8 x 15.74 x 3.5 inches of XYZ travel. It is a 110-volt water-cooled machine that can handle long, continuous operation periods.

The 3040 has a powerful two-phase stepper motor that produces .59 NM of torque. The spindle turns at speeds up to 24000 RPM and can engrave at speeds of 2-137 inches per minute. A separate housing contains the control unit, and it can operate on several types of software including ArtCAM, CopperCAM and others.

The JFT CNC router stands out from the pack with its utilitarian appearance and heavy construction—the hard-alloy aluminum gantry and 16mm ball screw look like they can stand up to industrial use, and the machine is plenty rigid overall.

There is a learning curve to setting up and operating this unit, but once it is running, it beats out most other machines in terms of speed and power. It also runs very quietly.

We normally shy away from off-brand imports, but reports from other users indicate that customer service and support from JFT is good. This machine lets advanced users bridge the gap between hobbyist and pro-level equipment at an affordable price point

What we liked

  • Heavy-duty construction
  • Rigid and stable
  • Water-cooled operation
  • Compatible with several operating systems

What we didn't like

  • Weighs 100 lbs.
  • Chinese import

5. CNC Piranha FX

The CNC Piranha FX is the base model CNC machine put out by Next Wave Automation.

It is a small unit with a 12 x 18-inch table and 12 x 13 x 3 inches of XYZ travel. Like its higher-end Next Wave cousins, the Piranha FX runs Bosch, Dewalt, and similar palm routers. It also supports the 3D Digital Duplicator touch probe that allows tracing and duplication of objects down to 0.001" detail. This machine offers touchscreen control and all the other operating features found in the more expensive Shark and Prianha XL models.

Users wanting to specialize in soft material and fine work might save some money with this machine—as far as we can see, the only differences between the FX and the far more expensive Next Wave units we reviewed are in size and rigidity. All the enjoyable operating system advantages are here, but accuracy is compromised due to movement in the gantry. If the focus is on working light material at a slow pace, router and bit size could be minimized—this would probably cut backlash and wobble to acceptable levels.

The Piranha FX is basically a very nice machine, and if you think it will work for your application, choose it and save some money—otherwise, you might want to step up to a higher-end model.

What we liked

  • Good balance of capability and price
  • Touchscreen controller
  • Built in the USA

What we didn't like

  • Not rigid enough
  • Not compatible with Macs

6. 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.

What we liked

  • Very solid construction
  • Easy assembly and setup
  • Accurate
  • Quiet running

What we didn't like

  • Quite heavy for a portable CNC
  • Requires a connected desktop computer

7. 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.

What we liked

  • Easy to assemble
  • Good starter CNC machine
  • Good customer service
  • Compatible with OSX

What we didn't like

  • Does not include software
  • Difficult to run accurately

8. MYSWEETY DIY CNC Router Kit

The MYSWEETY comes as a kit that includes all parts, and it is constructed mostly of aluminum with a few plastic components.

This 3-axis CNC machine can run on 110 or 240 Volts and provides a 6.5 x 7.5 x 2 inch work area. The cutting plate is aluminum, and the 7,000 RPM spindle is controlled by 3 two-phase 1.3-ampstepper motors. Assembly is easy, and there is plenty of support available online. Grbl Controller software is included, and you can run a variety of programs for toolpath creation.

We liked the fact that this very low-priced CNC router looks like a scaled-down model of an industrial machine. It is fun to put together and interesting to watch in operation. It does have a learning curve as you have to supply the computer and tool path software and make it all work together. The package comes with PCB cutting bits, so expect to buy bits if you want to cut wood and other materials. The ER 11 power supply and LED readout also need to be purchased separately.

The MYSWEETY CNC router offers great value for the money if you are looking for an introduction to CNC routing, a small production hobby machine, or even an educational gift for a child.

What we liked

  • Good for beginners
  • Comes partly assembled
  • Runs a variety of materials
  • Compatible with several operating systems

What we didn't like

  • Some key components are plastic
  • For small work only

Become a Maker 

As you can see, there is a broad range of price points in the world of CNC routers, but they are actually very simple tools. You are paying for a few features that make operation easier and more efficient, but the cost mainly goes toward getting the solid build and sturdy operational characteristics that are required to produce consistent precision and accuracy.

If you enjoy CNC work, you are likely to quickly outgrow any of the lower-end machines, so our overall advice here is to learn as much as possible, work with machines when you can, and save your money for the best CNC router you can afford.

Sean J. Stone
 

Sean has been a woodworking enthusiast for 8 years, and in that time has written huge resources on woodworking and tools.

  • amanda says:

    Is this about the DIY or hobby cnc router machine? There are precise cnc router machines with larger size, like 4*8.

    And hope to see more such similar post about cnc router manufacturers wherever in USA or China.

    By the way, we are omni cnc router manufacturer. http://www.omni-cnc.com

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