Tips For Buying Your First CNC Router

There are many options when considering a new or used CNC machine.  This article covers some key points you should consider when purchasing a CNC. There is a price point for about any budget including some open source machines that allow you to 3D print many of the parts.

Looking to add a personal touch to gifts, but don’t know how to go about doing it?  Maybe you are a woodworker and want to enhance your abilities or save on labor producing repeatable products.

Technology and pricing has reached a point where everyday individuals can purchase an entry-level laser cutter for an affordable price.  There are much larger versions of CNC machines for industrial use (check out the industial CNC machines for sale on Machine Rocket.)

If you have worked in any type of graphic design for print or other mediums your path to CNC software will be a little easier.  But not to worry, even without that experience, you can produce quality products.

Some Things To Consider:

1. Price

Yes, above everything else, know how much you can pay (and afford). You can get into new CNC DIY type machines for less than $600.  The next level up would be in the $1500-2500 range, and the top of the range for makers would be in the $5K to $6k range.  We see a lot of folks in that sweet spot around $2000.  While you can save some money you will sacrifice either quality, support or will have to “figure” a lot of things out on your own including where to source parts.  

2. Software Compatibility

Be sure and check what software your machine works with and what operating systems (Windows, Apple) it works with.  We see a lot of machines that don’t offer Mac versions of the software.

Many machines come with software for free, very cheap, or a pay as you go monthly subscription.  Be sure and see what it available that works with your machine.  Also be careful on the online software.  Sometimes that will require a constant Internet connection to use it effectively – a problem if you don’t have good wifi Internet in the shop.

3. Material Options

What kind of materials do you want to personalize? Sometimes it is a matter of the bit or end mills you use and how fast you can run through the material.  This is where quality (price) can have an effect on your work flow.  Example carving letters in birch plywood is going to be a faster operation and far easier on the machine than carving the same in aluminum.  So be sure and think about the material you will mainly be using – then choose a machine that is rigid (built strong enough) for your operations.

4. Size

How much space do you have to work with? Do you need something that will fit on your desk, or are you alright with a stand-alone device that is about the size of a desk on its own? As you increase the price point and boost the features you’ll also find many of these devices are substantially larger (and heavier) than what you find on the less expensive side of the spectrum.

What products you are wanting to produce should also be a consideration.  Routing cabinet doors will take a completely different (larger) machine than one to create signs.  Always buy as much as you can afford.  Note – many machines are rated in width by depth but keep in mind you will be shy a few inches of the actual table size. So asked about workable space – not just the size of the machine.